Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Looking for Signs: Revival in Our Times

There's a lot of talk in the "Christian" world these days about revival. Someone is always muttering excitedly about this "movement" and that one, an end-times spiritual revival. So many people are just waiting for the big one, like a bunch of spiritual surfers just waiting to catch a big wave - one that will sweep gloriously across people and nations and carry us euphorically along on its crest. Churches, when they are filled with anything, are filled with cries to God to "send down fire" or "rain on us".

This, my friends, is rank foolishness. The Bible promises us no universal end-times revival, no outpouring. In fact, you want to know what it says about the "end-times"?

Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. (I Timothy 4:1)

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. (II Timothy 3:1)

Now as to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our meeting with him, it is our desire, my brothers, That you may not be moved in mind or troubled by a spirit, or by a word, or by a letter as from us, with the suggestion that the day of the Lord is even now come; Give no belief to false words: because there will first be a falling away from the faith, and the revelation of the man of sin, the son of destruction, Who puts himself against all authority, lifting himself up over all which is named God or is given worship; so that he takes his seat in the Temple of God, putting himself forward as God. (II Thessalonians 2:1-4)

That all sounds pretty hopeless, but it's not. Remember Elijah, who went all doom-and-gloom when he felt that he was the only Israelite left following God?

...have you no knowledge of what is said about Elijah in the holy Writings? how he says words to God against Israel, Lord, they have put your prophets to death, and made waste your altars, and now I am the last, and they are searching for me to take away my life. But what answer does God make to him? I have still seven thousand men whose knees have not been bent to Baal. ( Romans 11:2-4)

There is yet hope for a revival. It won't be the one we have dreamed of, sweeping across nations and making magicians of priests and pastors. The holy God will not be conjured or summoned with repetitions or spells.

If we lack the kind of power we ought to have, the trouble is not that he needs to be pleaded with. The problem is not God; it is us. We've been looking for great signs of our God's power, and displays of his wealth, but we seek them for our own vindication and our pride; these things defeat His purpose. He designs to demonstrate not his power, but his love, his worth, his purity.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

We won't find revival by seeking it for governments or cultures or nations; we will find it when we seek it for our own hearts and lives. We won't receive it when we look for signs and special powers; we will receive it when we bend ourselves and allow the sword of truth to cut through our own flesh and our selfish wants. Revival won't come to us as a sweet, warm rush; it will humble us and shake us and tear us free from the tyranny of our comfort.

If we truly belong to Christ, and if we truly long for a renewal of our stone-cold, fattened, lazy hearts, we need to do more than squeeze out tears and chant prayers. They insult a great and giving God. Why should we seem to beg before a throne that has ever been the source of grace?

...He who did not withhold even His own Son, but gave Him up for all of us, will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

So then, how ought the children of the Living God seek strength and renewal and fresh perspective from him? Real revival will begin, as it always has, with repentance: an awareness of our awful selfishness, and a willingness to learn rather than our bullish desire to teach.

"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord... (Acts 3: 19)

Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Your ways. (Psalm 119:37)

We can learn much from the experiences of Israel. I remember sitting in Sunday School as a child, hearing stories of the Israelites and rolling my eyes at their fickleness - but we, the followers of Christ, who have so much more, are just as foolish and just as easily turned aside. When Israel was brought back to the worship of the Living God, it was almost always through the reading of God's book - their books of the Law, and our Old Testament. We will find ourselves unable to repent, and unable to find renewed perspective, unless we act on a Spirit-given desire to learn the ways of our God, and submit ourselves to the discipline of reading from His book and laying ourselves open before him in prayer.

The desire for real revival is good and God-given. But let us not be deceived into seeking signs and supernatural wonders. Let us not look for God to change many people miraculously. Let us look for him to transform our perspectives, and soften our hearts with his love. Let us bend ourselves low, and allow God to change us, one by one, the hard way. Then we will have revival.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints... (Ephesians 1: 18)

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