One of my favorite fun movies is The Princess Bride. If you know it, then it’s probably run through your mind already, that classic line, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” We have a lot of words in the church like that – words we throw around without really understanding what they mean. Revival is one such word.
To watch the church, one would come to the conclusion that revival is desperately needed in our nation, and that it is a form of evangelizing the lost. We have “big tent revivals,” and we pray for revival in our communities. Revival is in fact sorely needed in our nation, but revival is not for the lost; it’s for the church. According to the American College Dictionary, to revive means “1. to set going or in activity again, 2. to make operative or valid again, 3. to bring back into notice, use or currency, 4. to restore to use or consciousness.” Revival is defined by the ACD as “an awakening, in a church or community, of interest in and care for matters relating to personal religion.” What stands out is the word, “again,” and the strong inference to a return to former vitality. The lost need to be redeemed, not revived. Only those who have once tasted of eternal life need to be revived to life again. We have grown weary in this wilderness and lost our zeal and fervor for the things of God.
The need for revival among the saints is not new. In the Old Testament God calls to his people: “Arise (awaken), shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1). Writing to the churches in Rome, the apostle Paul admonished the saints to “wake up from your slumber” (Romans 13:11). And in Revelation, Jesus beckons to his churches to “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:5), “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God” (to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:2), and “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (written, not to unbelievers, but to the complacent church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:20).
When the children of Israel wandered those forty years in the wilderness, they grew lax. In Hebrews 3:15-4:7 the legacy of a stubborn, obstinate, backslidden people serves as a warning to us. Do not let the world lull you to sleep. We need seasons of revival to keep our faith fresh before us and to kindle the spirit of zeal we are given in Christ. Zeal is defined by the ACD as, “ardor (fervor) for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence.” Zeal is sorely lacking in the American church, and we need God to breathe it into us again. We need revival.
This long season of prosperity, comfort, and ease has quelled the fire of zeal in our spirits. “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23), and we are a very rich nation. We need to set in action the cause of Christ corporately and individually. We need to make the church operative and valid once again in our communities by living for Christ rather than trying to make our way and find our place in the world. We need, and ought to desire, to see God move among us in such a way that the unbelieving world can’t help but take notice. Each of us needs to awaken our interest in and care for the honor, glory, character, and purpose of God. Apart from this there is no life, only existence … which serves no one.
We need to stop aiming our revival prayers at the world. We need to ask the Father for the revival of our own heart and spirit. If the world does not encounter vibrant faith in you; if the life we claim to live is comatose, and looks suspiciously like the death we claim they live in, why would they want such lifeless life for themselves?
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3) Let’s pray and seek our way into that!