All of my adult life, I have longed for revival. Like many Christians, I have dreamed and prayed for the times I have read about in history where people were caught up in a move of God’s Spirit in their community or nation. Such stories make great reading because they are beyond our normal experience. The narratives from different generations are always full of God testimonies – surges of spiritual energy that lifted churches off their feet, people hurrying to get their lives right with God, Christians on fire for Jesus, unusual miracles and healings making headlines in papers, streets and neighbourhoods touched by the numinous presence of the Lord. Such seasons may last a few weeks or a few years, but they are genuinely remarkable accounts of God’s Spirit on the move.
We haven’t seen a major instance of revival in the UK for a couple of generations or more. Is that because the Lord isn’t working in that way any more? Or that our culture and situation isn’t responsive to such pulses of the Spirit? Maybe we need to reflect on our expectations of revivals and renewals within our current generation. I have thought about this a lot over the years. On reflection, however powerful revival stories are, I think there are some mistakes we can make with preconceived visions of revival and how it affects our praying and thinking:
Firstly, sometimes we have over-inflated these hopes for revival, and made them the only measure of success or answered prayer. It is as if we say, ‘If God isn’t doing that, then He isn’t really doing anything of note right now’. And of course, God is doing so, so much in our towns and all over the world. Whilst we are waiting for the next move of God, we can be missing, or not fully appreciating, all the small things that are happening, sometimes right in front of our noses. The movements of unity, prayer and mission in towns across this nation, the explosion of worship events and prayer rooms, the number of Spirit filled relevant churches touching their communities, the rise in ethnic minority Christian congregations, the profusion of social action projects across the poorest of our communities, the small scale local church evangelism that is reaching thousands every year.
Secondly, there is strangely a converse problem, that we can sometimes try to over exaggerate what is currently happening. That is to say, ‘If God is bringing a little blessing right now, then maybe this is the revival we are seeking’. Our Western culture likes to take something and package it. We have revival conferences, Christian worship and renewal events, special mission activities that we either shoe horn all our hopes – that this will be the event or the place that God will visit; or we take what is a real but limited time of blessing, and make it out to be more than it was. I don’t think the Lord really needs that kind of help from us. If He has done something that brought genuine renewal in lives, or blessed a certain conference, great; but we don’t need to say it is more than that.
Thirdly, if our understanding of revival is too narrow, not only do we miss the smaller picture, we may miss seeing the larger waves of the Spirit occurring worldwide. That is the kind of thinking that says, ‘If God isn’t doing it here in my backyard, then He probably isn’t doing it anywhere’. When I google ‘revivals in 2019 in the world’, there are only a few notable occurrences. And yet there are many more areas in the world where churches are growing at a massive rate, where many are turning to faith in Muslim majority nations, thousands of places where healings and miracles are happening in localised ‘Holy Spirit hotspots’, prisons where remarkable conversions are happening amongst many of the inmates, whole unreached people groups being evangelised and reached for the gospel. We might need to reframe our understanding of how the Spirit is moving in 2020 in our world.
What is God doing right now? I would say quite a lot! A lot in the smaller scale growth and impact of the kingdom at a micro level. And a lot in the larger scale moves of His Spirit amongst people groups and in hotspots globally. We may wish He was doing things differently where we live, but I actually think God is at work in a more profound way across the world than any of us realise. God doesn’t necessarily want to downplay our revival hopes, but I believe He does want to reframe them. The book of Acts was so much bigger than about a localised revival. It was an explosion of church growth and missionary activity that was genuinely world changing over a couple of generations. The days we are living in I believe will in a similar way be more amazing and world changing. We haven’t quite got conceptual categories to understand yet what is beginning to happen across the earth. The words ‘glory and shaking’ are perhaps the bigger terms that we need to start getting our heads and hearts around, into which times of revival and awakening will occur, in both similar and different ways that we have thought so far.
The next handful of blogs in coming weeks will start taking a look at how we marry our longing for revival with biblical prophecy about the End Times. I this help to enlarge our understanding of the ways God is at work and how we can navigate these times. What is coming is bigger than just ‘revival’, and the Lord wants us to be on board with all He is about to do.
God bless you.