The other day I had correspondence with a pastor-friend regarding how some people in congregations do not always welcome the term “Revival.” I also listened to a sermon by another pastor-friend that same day. The original correspondence and the thoughts from the sermon came together below.
Why is it difficult for many people who believe that they are living faithfully to hear that they need “revival.” I wonder if, in part, because “Revival” has taken on so many different understandings over time, which, recently, has to deal with ‘salvation.’ I can hear the objections: “I’m already saved. I don’t need a revival. What? Do you think were heathens and that we are unsaved?”
It is similar to the resistance sometimes experienced when we preach “Repent” – the image that people conjure up in their mind is a sweaty madman wearing a sandwich board, standing on a street corner, and yelling at people as they pass. When, in truth, “Repent” was a welcome invitation 2000 years ago. “Turn around, you’re going the wrong way. There is grace to find your way onto the path of truth.” The call to “Repent” was a gift of invitation to people rather than condemning judgement.
I believe that “revival,” too, is a gift of grace for people.
I think of the Pentecost Revival in the upper room. People – maybe as hungry for God and faithful as they would ever be – waited expectantly for a new direction of what would be next. Waiting for Revival in this context was not something that ‘unsaved’ and ‘backsliders’ did. Rather, Revival was a gift to people faithfully pursuing God and wanting to move on to the next phase of the journey. I refer to this as, “the Pentecost Revival,” because I think we see the theme of Revival throughout the Scriptures.
Revival occurred frequently in the Wilderness during the Exodus as the people would wake up in the morning and look out the flaps of their tents to see if the Cloud over the Tabernacle had lifted (Numbers 9:15ff). “Is today the day that we move on, and if so, then to where?” Journeying was not always easy or welcomed by everyone. Moses dealt with a ton of complaints. The attitude of Revival helped to keep the people faithful.
Yet when the people lost this attitude of Revival – when they wanted to be locked into land, country, and King more than anything else – they forgot to rely on the daily sustenance from the Great I AM.
We can also see this Self-Reliant attitude, which is opposite of the attitude of Revival, present in the Wilderness (“We want to go back to Egypt, remember when we had leeks and melons, etc…”). This opposite attitude was able to manifest itself more prevalently once Israel entered into the Land. This attitude says, “We’re fine, we’re comfortable, we’re settled. Thanks, God, for the help, but we’ll take it from here.” It is this Self-Reliant attitude that eventually led to Exile. Yet the Lord, faithful and patient, offered Grace and Exoneration to the people even while they were in Exile.
Maybe another aspect of our struggle with “Revival” today has to do with the constant struggle of God-Reliance vs. Self-Reliance. True Revival continually challenges and calls us away from self-reliance and towards God-reliance – which is the story we see in Scripture. But what happens in situations when we feel “Blessed and Chosen” – when we feel that everything IS comfortable and okay? Another pastor-friend preached a sermon two weeks ago and his words capture this idea (thanks, Dr. Howell).
“When people say, “God chose me,” what they tend to mean is that they have a comfortable life, they have a nice house, they have a good job, and things seem to be going well. That’s the mistake that we make.”
Dr. Howell goes on to talk about Paul in Prison. “[Paul] isn’t saying that you’re chosen so that you can have a really groovy life. Paul is in prison when he is writing this… But with God we are never unChosen. God chose us before the foundation of the world.”
Wow, God chooses us to be Holy, and even though we may feel unHoly at times (or if you’re like me, much of the time) that doesn’t matter. God chose us to be Holy, and that is why we need God’s help. That is why we need to receive the gift of “Revival.” God chose us to be holy so that we could participate in the Holy work of healing the world – a work we cannot do on our own, yet a work into which we are invited.
What we also see in scripture is that the good leaders were those who continually led their people towards God-reliance, which was not always the popular decision.
Gracious, Loving, Faithful God, thank you that you offer to us a better way than our own ways. Thank you that you pursue us diligently and, at times, incessantly as we grow as disciples. Thank you that through the power of your love you can break the bonds of self-reliance and free us for joyful obedience. This is our prayer for ourselves. This is our prayer for the UMC. This is our prayer for your Global Body. Give us this day our daily bread. Help us to rely upon you. Bring Revival according to your will and your way, and empower us to journey faithfully where the winds of revival blow us. In the strong name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.