[I started this blog some days ago. As I was writing it, our pastor brought a study on revival and prayer, even calling on a reading of 2 Chron. 7:14 in the same manner as mine here. I take that as confirmation of my post, though I am addressing the consequences of revival, not the methods.]
I have shared here before how I came to Christ at age 14, but spent my whole first year as a new Christian not setting foot across the threshold of any church building. This gave me a unique insight into my faith since I was shielded from so much of the cultural baggage that goes along with a ‘Christian upbringing’. The first church I decided to settle in was actually a Congregational church, yet one very much geared towards the youth, and that exercised the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Very unusual, yes. Yes indeed!
The youth within that church underwent revival! We hear that word bandied about churches a lot these days, and I always think “do you really know what you’re asking for when you pray or sing ‘send revival, Lord!’ or grasp what that means?” People tend to get some things about revival right, and some wrong. What is right is that it draws more people in; there were a number of new converts, and we saw the numbers of the youth quadruple in 2 weeks! But numbers is not what it’s about; it’s more about a turning of God’s own people to a new way of living and thinking. The oft-quoted verse of 2 Chronicles 7:14 needs to be looked at carefully, since it is seen as the blueprint for ‘revival’. Let’s put a slight emphasis on it:
“If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Here is where the first common mistake is made. Believers tend to look at the world around them and cry out “save them from their wicked ways, Lord. Send revival for this land!” Note the emphasis there. We become too busy looking at the specks in their eyes, when Jesus exhorted us to remove the planks from ours, before we can see well enough to remove their speck. Is that not what our Lord God is telling us? We need to turn from whatever it is within us that is wicked before he will ‘hear’ our prayers and act. I am currently reading an excellent book by Benjamin Corey; ‘Undiluted’ – a book recalling us to the radical message of Jesus that strips away the infestation of our modern culture that has weakened the church. We need to relearn how Jesus decried ‘holy people’ who only did and said ‘all the right things’ and encouraged people to be holy by seeing the sin within themselves and changing that. He spent more time with ‘sinners’ than with ‘saints’. He wanted to encourage them to become more than those ‘holy people’ they saw looking down on them.
The second most common mistake; people look forward to revival since they are convinced they will feel so good and righteous and nice and cosy. WRONG!!! The single, undeniable, most striking, unforgettable thing I experienced during that revival was conviction! That which Jesus sought to instil in us i.e. looking inwardly at our own hearts. I don’t mean feeling bad about saying a swear word or feeling some desire for something you should know better to avoid. I mean a reaction in your soul to even the most simple thought not in line with the Holy Spirit that keeps you awake at night, that does not allow you to sleep well until you sort it out, or make restitution with a person you wronged in some way. I found myself at that time doing strange things, like approaching a brother in church and actually saying, “Brother, I thought a wrong thought about you the other day. I think it came from some sense of jealousy, but it was just wrong. Forgive me!” This would be an internal thought hatched within my own ears that nobody knew about in the slightest. Nobody except God, and his internal monologue within me convicted me, to the point that I just had to go ask forgiveness. In so many ways this was painful and troubling, but it was also so purging. Like that gruelling training you do to lose weight and gain fitness that hurts your body but you just know you’re achieving something good.
Alas, the revival that we went through was not to last. I was at that church for less than a year, but within that time the minister and his wife managed to make it their mission to exact a humbling and submission from those touched by the revival towards them, not God! We can give it many labels, the most prevalent being ‘shepherding’ (which is strange since it is what ministers/pastors are called to do!); meaning a giving of an allegiance that should be reserved for God and God alone to a flawed church leadership (they’re all flawed) with no questioning or challenging of motives or methods. We went through a bad patch right after the good time, and though the minister’s wife had a dream about having to leave behind a well of blessing that would dry up to travel through a desert to a new spring, then a river, then an ocean of blessing, she herself chose to interpret that we were still to stay at the well and not move. At one external meeting for the choir, heated words were exchanged, but I determined to stay and sort things out. So I approached the minister and told him – I recall clearly the conversation as though it were yesterday:
“That’s great, Tim! So you’re behind me, then?” [I knew what he was implying]
“Mr. ______, I can’t be 100% behind any man. All I want to do is the Lord’s will.”
“I don’t want any of that! I want you behind me!”
“Right!” I said as I looked him square in the eye, then turned and walk out the door. I am not ashamed to admit that I went home and cried. This had become my home, my spiritual resting place, and at that tender age I was suddenly lost and spiritually homeless. I thank God that I had my own personal faith, grounding me firmly in my following of Jesus, not man. I was not a ‘yes man’ – never will be either! I thank God that he has given me the ability to walk alone and not be overly mindful of the walk of others – I can be concerned and pray for them but their problems don’t affect my testimony (most of the time!)
Revival is never about them. It’s always about you! Whether ‘they’ are non-believers outside the door, or fellow brothers and sisters across the pew, they are not your concern when you seek God, when you wish to experience his revival. Look at your heart, pray, and ask, as the Psalmist did, “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51). Unfortunately, it may only take one person to withhold their heart from such examination to ruin any chance of revival (remember Achan!). This is maybe why it is so rare. Seek it yourself anyway, and you can only pray others come along with you. As I said, it’s about you in the end.
One of my favourite songs is ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd. Gilmour’s guitar solo is my ringtone, and though the song relates to drugs, his guitar is enough for me to get high! It means a lot to me, especially the closing words before that two-minute (far too short!) solo:“When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse Out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look, but it was gone. I cannot put my finger on it now. The child is grown, the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb.”
For many years now I have just sat in church feeling comfortably numb.