We need to be careful what we ask for, because we just might get it. Christians are prone to throw around prayers for revival like a germaphobe with hand sanitizer. We see the grimy corruption of our culture, and we desire things to be a bit more “tidy”. So, our sense of “Christian-ese” motivates us to throw requests for revival into our prayers, like radishes into a salad. Revival indeed is the solution to the maelstrom of sin which our society is caught in; but as we ask and implore God to grant revival, we best be prepared for what we’re asking for–if that’s at all possible. We most certainly will never be “prepared” for revival, in one sense; but we most definitely need to know what it is we are asking for when we ask God to give revival to our families, communities and nations.
To be clear, we are not asking for more teary-eyed worship nights, with so much swaying to the music. We are not asking for mere social reform to satiate our nostalgia for Victorian sensibilities. We are not asking for spine tingling pep-talks which let us vent our pent-up emotions. We are not asking for some kind of confessional catharsis.
We are asking for a sweeping fire of repentance. Revival is, in fact, a massive gift of repentance to an individual, family, community, and/or nation. Thus, revival–when God grants it–results not in simple tearful behavior modification, but in repenting from allegiance to worldliness, moralism, and humanism, and turning in faith and allegiance to Christ, His covenant, and the laws found in His word for how we are to order society.
True revival results in a new cultureWhat this means is that true revival results in a new culture. Its fruit is a more thoroughly Christian culture. Regardless of the extent of the revival, the true fruit of a revival is that people get married, have kids and raise a Christian family; they start businesses which operate on Biblical principles; they run for office, to guide the civic sphere to work in submission to Christ’s Kingdom; they undertake science experiments to develop remedies to disease, and invent newer & better equipment to due our work/communication with; and they compose songs & symphonies, write stories, make movies, take photographs, and paint beautiful, good, and true things. In essence, things get really practical after a true revival.
Two Biblical examples of this are the Exodus and Pentecost. To paint with a broad brush, these were both revivals, which attest to God’s people returning unto God, by God’s power. In the first instance, notice that following the great deliverance of God’s people out of Egypt, God spends 3+ books (half of Exodus, and all of Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy) laying out the ordering of a God-honoring culture. Following this great revival of true religion, we witness a zeal for ordering a community according to God’s standards (and of course plenty of sinful blunders along the way).
At Pentecost, we see the greatest revival found in Scripture (and it is set in contrast to the first Pentecost, which I’ve written about here); but in the following chapters, what do we find those who experienced the revival doing? Well, for starters, organizing potlucks (Acts. 2:42); they began ordering the early church into, might we call them, parishes, districts, groupings, etc. Then we see the Apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ordaining the first diaconate. Then we see missionary undertakings, which produced the need for councils (Acts 15). We also have the rest of the New Testament, much of which is devoted to the outlining of how Christian families and Churches are to be ordered. To pull it all together, John’s Apocalypse sets forth the vision of Christ ruling over all the nations with the Sword of His Gospel. After the glorious revival of Pentecost in Acts 2, the entire New Testament is devoted to building and establishing a new culture, one that is under submission to Christ and His Word.
When revival comes, we are not aiming to have Kleenex’s stock rise due to all the tearful confessions (though repentance often is accompanied by such emotions, and there is no intrinsic problem with those feelings). But the proof is in the pudding–as the British, I think, say–and the fruit of true revival is true repentance, and that means turning away from sinful ordering of society, and submitting to a Scriptural ordering of society. That has implications for the individual, the family, the church, and communities large and small (towns, cities, and nations).
The problem with the common understanding of repentance and revival is that we are far too heavily influenced by some of the most unhealthy aspects of the revival-ism (of the likes of Charles Finney). So much so, that we have geared even our weekly worship services to cater to a sort of Protestant Confession booth, were we get a cathartic release every Sunday, only to continue on in the same sorts of worldly habits and thinking the rest of the week. What we truly need is a Christian reformation of culture. That is what we are really asking for when we plead with God to grant revival. This all is not to in any way impinge our praying for revival, but to enrich our understanding of what God does when he revives a people.