“Revival.”

Now, there’s a word that comes pre-loaded with all manner of mental images, assumptions, and expectations.

To be “revived”, if we are going to be carefully specific, means that what was once alive, and then died, has been brought to life again. For example, a drowning victim who begins to breathe once more after a lifeguard’s intervention. Or when a patient’s heart stops on the operating table, and the next thing you hear is: “Clear!” Kah-CHUNK! beep-beep-beep… “We’ve got a heartbeat.”

reviveIn popular usage, of course, “revive” can also refer to any number of topics beyond the rigid understanding of “life or death”. A Shakespearean play can be “revived” following years of non-performance. An interest in a personal hobby can be “revived” once the demands of our schedules have become better balanced.

Among Christians, of course, the term “revival” is used to refer to anything ranging from a pre-planned series of meetings with invited guest speakers/evangelists, to a sovereign and unexpected move of the Holy Spirit.

But even in these cases, to be “revived” presupposes that you were once alive, but had become spiritually dull, dismissive, or embraced deliberate denial. Revival is not the same as evangelism. When people first become Christians, they are not being brought back to life; they are entering into spiritual life for the first time. (Ephesians 2:1-6))

Revival is for believers.

You can see it in the Old Testament, when the people of Israel — God’s chosen people — have a collective wake-up call regarding the destitute state of their spiritual lives. They respond by renewing their commitment to the Covenant with their heavenly Father. It was typically a time of sombre reflection, repentance, and “coming back”.

Examples include when Nehemiah read the Covenant to the people — who apparently hadn’t heard it in a long, long time — and they responded with tears and repentance (Nehemiah 8:1-12). Likewise, when King Josiah heard the Book of the Covenant for the first time, he responded with deep repentance and “came back”, and led his whole nation in corporate repentance as well (2 Kings 22, 23:1-25).

The message of the OT prophets could also be summed up with calling people to “come back” (repent) and follow God with all of their hearts.

Even Jesus’ last words in the New Testament — the letters to the seven churches in Revelation — echo this same sense of “come back” (Revelation 2 & 3).

Revival has always had a connection to repentance (turning back) and following God whole-heartedly.

Unfortunately in the 21st century, we have all-too-often made ‘revival’ look more like a three-ring circus than a genuine move of the Holy Spirit. As soon as anyone gets a whiff that God is stirring people, it is only a matter of time before the Traveling Revival Roadshow arrives.

And — sadly but inevitably — celebrity leaders attach themselves to this latest “move”, the CD’s are recorded, the video DVD’s are packaged, the claims of miracles and healings are exaggerated (or invented), anyone who exercises discernment is buried alive under a deluge of charis-slogans designed to silence questions, and eventually something causes it all to fall apart (again).

And then people are divided into two groups: (A) the disillusioned who give up, and (B) the die-hards who will just wait for the next circus sideshow anointed event, and do it all over again. (Nothing new under the sun; I wrote about this eight years ago.)

I am praying for a Holy Spirit revival. We desperately need the Real Thing.

Nothing qualifies me as an “awkward continuationist” more than the deep desire for revival — where Christians are so impacted by the Holy Spirit that they renounce sin in their own lives, are convicted of where they have compromised with the world’s thinking, and are emboldened to share their faith in the marketplace as they serve “the least of these”.

We don’t need another charismania three-ring circus.

We need — I need — a Holy Spirit-inspired revival that rocks our world and leads us back to Jesus.

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