When you hear the word REVIVAL what is the first thing you think of?
Having worked in a couple of different church environments in the last decade, I would say that most “church folk” think of a date on the calendar and powerful evangelists preaching the rafters down in a big white tent behind the church. I would say, too, that for more than 100 years millions of people have come to know the Lord Jesus as their Savior this way. Churches traditionally have grown numerically by the hundreds and thousands at events like this throughout the years. But have those same people experienced the abundant and supernatural life that Jesus came give them?
I think the evidence in our political office, our daily news reports and the ever growing social and moral divide in this country indicates for the most part people have not moved toward spiritual maturity in sound doctrine. Admittedly there are regions and parts of the country where churches are growing exponentially in both numbers and spiritual maturity. Still, numerical growth tends to be the primary focus for gauging spiritual growth and for this girl I feel like Daniel when he said to his nations leaders, “You have been weighed in the balance and found lacking.” (See Daniel 5)
Last night my father and I were discussing the trend of people turning to churches during hard times in America. I said that I did not believe that people turning to church and God out of the crisis of need indicates true growth in the church. And while this type of return indicates a resurgence of believers expressing their positive volition toward God it also begs the question: What happens when their circumstances recover?
Some churches have taken their rolls not based of the number people who walk in the door, but on the number of people they send out on mission and ministry assignments around the world. I personally believe this is a more accurate way to gauge the growth that is occurring within the walls of the church.
In January Kevin Turner with Charisma Magazine notes:
“Revival is not when the top blows off but rather when the bottom falls out.” Those words were spoken to me several years ago when I asked the late Leonard Ravenhill to define revival. According to him, most religious activity in the United States does not resemble true revival. We know only a cheap imitation.We schedule popular speakers and the best musicians and set aside a week for special meetings. We call that revival. Our meetings are set up by organizers, not agonizers. We have reduced a move of God to a method. Yet the Bible says God is looking for a man.”
I have heard many pastors speak of a coming revival, but they only get busy about the business of increasing numbers when the budget is short or the numbers goal needs to be met. To me it seems to be lacking the element of seeking not just a number of people to fill first the seats and then the baptistry, but also the halls of the church receiving not just salvation and a weekly sermon, but also the growth in knowledge of Jesus Christ that happens when discipline turns to discipleship and solid sound doctrine is taught and caught. Are we calling people to church for a lively and emotional experience in worship followed by a mid-week prayer, pat on the back and fellowship service without really helping them realize true repentance, true change of mind and heart that produces a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ?
Somewhere lost in all of the smoke, lights and amplified music looms absent the hunger for God’s purpose and plans in the lives of the individuals coming to the church. In Texas, church attendance has been on the upswing in the past decade. Mega-churches and future megas are popping up on the landscape of our hills and prairies in both the urban and rural settings. Yet, are the people truly growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the influence of the Holy Spirit?
These are the questions my heart is asking as I drive down the street and see car bumpers and back windows with red, white and blue “O” stickers promoting hope and change through our secular government. Is this really good, positive change that will impact hearts and lives and make America a better and more noble country? Furthermore, is our church offering anything different than a slick commercial presentation that draws people in, puffs them up but never really reaches into their heart and soul to produce the quality of spiritual maturity that is the mark of the overcoming life?
When will it end and what will the outcome be?
This has been a burden on my heart since 2008 when I began to pray for the fall elections. God took me to the book of Joel in prayer that season andfaced on election night. Just as the people of Israel cried out for a human king over their sovereign God at the end of the book of Judges and the beginning of 1 Samuel. Our people in this country were crying out to have their own heart’s desires satisfied and not so much the desire of God’s heart persay.
Church people across America rend their garments but not their hearts. We have ceased to allow our hearts to grieve over the spiritual state of our nation, but instead we grieve the personal toll it is taking in our own households. Lamenting the effects of economic despair and an overblown government influence but not seeking God’s heart regarding the spiritual bankruptcy that is so evident in our evening news reports and the town square..
After years of studying the Old Testament accounts of the repeated rise and fall of Israel with God I realized the reality we face as a nation in captivity. The end result is bleak: A nation deceived into believing they are free when in fact they have lived in mental and spiritual bondage for nearly a thousand years while observing religious rites in place of true relationship with God. I believe with all my heart that as a nation we see the rotten fruit in our government and the spiritual response from God that the hearts of this nation have been crying out for these past few decades. This season has been a time when God broke my heart for this nation.
Consider the words of the prophet, Joel: “‘Now, therefore,’ says the LORD, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’ So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.” (Joel 2:12-13 NKJV)
People in America rend their garments but not their hearts. We have ceased to allow our hearts to grieve over the spiritual state of our nation, but instead we grieve only the personal toll it is taking in our own households and comfort. Lamenting the effects of economic despair and an overblown government influence but not seeking God’s heart regarding the spiritual bankruptcy that is so evident in our evening news reports and the town square.
Here are a handful of things that I believe prevent the move of God in our nation and generally speaking, in many of our churches.
1) Church leaders assuage the suffering of people with false hope and messages about peace. The church has become a place of enabling destructive life patterns rather than reaching and ministering to hurting people. (See Jeremiah 8, 11)
2) Churches have institutionalized the message of the gospel from a life changing message of redemption, transformation and absolute truth. To a feel good infomercial about materialistic desires and a ticket out of hell. Grace is not smooth or slick, but it is free and unearned. It is not cheap and though the gift is free the responsibility to live in the gift is both costly and requires sacrifice. (Think of how Paul wrote of those weak-willed women who sought only what their itching ears wanted to hear. He basically says that these false teachers who reach these people are nothing more than charlatans, snake-oil salesman with a slick line but no substance of God in what they teach.)
3) Churches continue to embrace messages emphasizing the law of God over His love. Favoring the written words of men over the quickening work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s heart. Puffing up with knowledge of what is holy without ever leading others into a life-changing experience with the One who is Holy. (The Pharisees in Jesus’ time.)
4) A focus on numbering the congregation and lining the collection plate outweighs the spiritual condition of the people within the walls and the community dying in sin beyond them. It seems we have begun pointing people to programs and systems of management rather than the Jesus, the Word of God, who creates and sustains everything He has spoken into existence even now. (Think of David numbering his troops.)
5) Churches by denomination tearing and clawing at each other publicly over splinters of doctrine while not dealing with the gross neglect happening within their own camps. (Think Jews and Samaritans, Essenes, Pharisees and Sadducees, Jonah and Nineveh)
Not all churches fit these five characteristics, but many do. Many who are in decline wondering how to pay the bills and keep the lights on struggling to meet the demands of a lost and dying world. Trying to schedule and manufacture a move of God to call revival without taking the look inward to see why the move has stalled out in the first place. (Consider Joshua and the battle at Ai.)
Revival in a tent two weeks a year is a powerful tool, when speakers come and spread messages of grace, hope and redemption. But for the present resurgence in church numbers to find revival and ultimately spiritual awakening for this nation – the church leadership will have to dig deeper and move further into areas that press at the comforts of the people in their seats and brings forth a hunger and thirst for God’s Word that Ezra and Nehemiah saw in the hearts of the captives returning to Jerusalem. In the books bearing their names the historical account of Nehemiah’s journey to restore the city of Jerusalem and Ezra’s return to restore worship in its temple is profound.
Nehemiah 8:1-12 (NKJV)
1 Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.
2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.
3 Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
4 So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.
6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place.
8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.
10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”
12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.
What must be understood from this reading is that these people, many of whom were born in captivity, stood for six hours listening to the reading of God’s Word and then even longer while the leaders explained what the reading meant and taught them about it. As they listened to the reading of God’s
Word for the first time in what must have been scores of years their eyes brimmed with tears and their hearts overflowed at what they heard. So much so that Ezra and the leaders with Him had to encourage them and comfort them so that they would celebrate rather than grieve. This revival began when one man heard about the condition of his homeland and began to grieve in his heart and intercede on her behalf before both God and the government officials under which he lived. Nehemiah followed Daniel and the nation of Israel gathered together once more but only for a season. By the fifth chapter of the book of Matthew only a few centuries later, the leaders of Israel were so jaded by their own legalism and false worship that they missed the promised one, God’s Messiah, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Will America have to go into the enslavement of total physical captivity wrought by her own depravity to realize the revival and spiritual awakening she so desperately needs?
In closing, I would like to return to Joel 2:
Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, And do not give Your heritage to reproach, That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ” Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, And pity His people. The LORD will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, And you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations. “But I will remove far from you the northern army, And will drive him away into a barren and desolate land, With his face toward the eastern sea And his back toward the western sea; His stench will come up, And his foul odor will rise, Because he has done monstrous things.” Fear not, O land; Be glad and rejoice, For the LORD has done marvelous things! (Joel 2:17-21 NKJV)
Do you see the picture of the spiritual leaders here?
God does not look for polished orators with a smooth line to win souls to Jesus. He looks for the hearts of the spiritual leaders of His people to walk out on the door of their churches and see the suffering of His people and return to the altar responding to the suffering with the grief God, Himself, bears for the people’s circumstances. He waits for the hearts of the leaders to turn and repent and in so doing to lead the hearts of His people back to Him. Hungering and thirsting after Him and the move of His Spirit which will sustain us.
National revival and sustained spiritual awakening happens first in the hearts of pastors, church leaders and ministers who rend their own hearts in repentance over the suffering they see in the lives of those around them.
See Also: USA Today article regarding Billy Graham weeping for America. A few churches I see who are truly drawing and helping people to thrive in resurgence, revival and awakening. Feel free to share any other churches that you feel are moving this nation to awakening and spiritual maturity – a return to God – in your comments below.