What Brings Revival?
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Breaking Up Unplowed Ground
When we begin to contemplate the conditions of revival, we need to start with the "unplowed ground" in our own hearts. This is anything that blocks our relationship with God, and keeps us from maturing — any obstacles to loving God, hearing His Word, and obeying Him. Some of these include: unconfessed sin, pride, rebellion, hardened hearts, apathy toward unbelievers, lost love for Christ, and superficiality (shallow faith reflected in prayerlessness and lack of Bible study).
We may not feel that our hearts are hardened. We may attend church, worship God, lead a cell group or Bible study, and minister in the choir or Sunday school. Yet our commitment may be outward only. To live as a faithful disciple, continually responsive to the Spirit and instantly available for service, we need to ask God to show us our hearts, to repent continually of known sin, and to seek his face. The Lord asks, "Who is he who will devote himself to be close to Me?" (). As David said, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" ( ). Apart from Christ, we can do nothing. And as we humble ourselves before God, He will cleanse us, restore us, and transform us into the image of Christ. Cleansing from sin lays the groundwork for revival. We have the promises of God.
Out the Thorns
Besides breaking up our unplowed ground, we need to keep from "sowing among thorns." In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the seeds sown among thorns grew a little, but then were choked by the thorns, so that they were not fruitful. Jesus described the "thorns" that can choke out our own fruitfulness, hindering the life of Christ in us and the good works He has foreordained for us to do. These thorns are "the worries of this life," "the deceitfulness of wealth," and "the desires for other things."
The Lord told the Israelites in Jeremiah 4 not to sow among thorns, He was lovingly warning them not to let anything choke out His Word from their lives. They needed to pay close attention to what He said, take it to heart, and obey it. Yet, as was mentioned earlier, they ignored this warning.
In preparation for revival, we must examine our own lives to see if anything has become more important than our relationship with the Lord. If so, we are in real danger of being choked by the thorns that distract us from God. This is serious and not to be taken lightly. We need to ask ourselves, do we have an undue preoccupation with the worries of this life? Do we keep putting off our time with God until we can fit it into our schedule? Do we fret about material needs instead of trusting God? God knows we have needs. Yet they must not hinder us from trusting Him, from keeping in constant communion with Him, and being responsive to His Spirit.
We also need to ask ourselves questions about our attitude toward money and material things. Are we pursuing money with the wrong motivations? Are we storing up wealth with no consideration for the poor? Do we consider money and possessions to be our security, rather than the Lord? There is nothing wrong with money, in and of itself. Yet God does not want a desire for wealth or security to come before our trust in Him. Jesus said that without God it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. He said this directly after the rich young ruler refused to follow Him because he would have to give up his riches. This incident recorded inis instructive. Jesus had just invited the young man to follow him and become one of his disciples. He might have been another Peter or John. He had the potential to be dedicated uniquely to God. Indeed, Jesus "loved him" (v. 21). Therefore, we must not miss Jesus’ call to follow him by having a distorted view of money and possessions, and what they can provide for us.
Finally, are we setting our hearts on "other" things — things that are not of the Lord, or do not have eternal value? What are our priorities and goals? We live in the "real" world, and must go about our daily lives and tasks. We have jobs, spouses, and children who require our care. There is nothing wrong with these things; they are a normal part of God’s created order. Yet Jesus said, "Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (, emphasis added). Are we seeking first the Kingdom of God? Do we love Christ and obey his commandments? Is Jesus Christ really the Lord of our life? The apostle Peter wrote, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" ( ). Such a Spirit-led examination of our hearts and motivations is essential. And it is a regular part of Christian discipleship and growth. But in preparation for revival we are to seek God and examine ourselves with special dedication and intensity. This does not mean brooding introspection or self-condemnation. Rather, it means an honest look at the way we are ordering our lives. Other interests in life should pale in comparison to seeking God, praying for renewal, and obeying him. This is not a license to neglect our families and responsibilities. But it does mean scheduling our time and sacrificing lesser priorities to seek God wholeheartedly, and with humility.
Righteousness and Truth as Seeds of Revival
After we have removed the thorns from our lives (an ongoing process), we need to "sow seeds of righteousness" in preparation for revival. Two of these seeds are integrity and truth. We need to renew our own commitment to biblical truth, accountability in church fellowship, and the authority of spiritual leadership. In our churches we need to preach the whole Gospel, not a "watered down" version that neglects ongoing discipleship and faithfulness. When sharing with unbelievers on a one-to-one basis, we must also emphasize the full Gospel in our conversations. And above all, we need to be living testimonies to the truth of Jesus Christ. Our lives, our words, our actions need to be honest, faithful, and sincere. As St. Francis said, "Preach the Gospel all the time; if necessary use words."
Accountability as a Seed of Revival
As just mentioned, we need to renew our commitment to church fellowship and accountability. Historically, we’ve seen how small bands of people, such as Wesley’s "Holy Club," gathered for mutual growth and responsible Christian living. Such small groups are essential for personal holiness before God. On our own, we are likely to become spiritually lazy, to ignore or bury sins rather than repent of them, and to pursue selfish gain and desires instead of godly purposes.
We do not belong to Christ in isolation. We are always part of the Church — the Body of Christ — and we need each other, if our spiritual lives are to be sustained. Healthy groups that practice accountability do not degenerate into social clubs. And they do not allow the leader or others to control people’s lives and subject them to humiliation for confessed sins. An accountability group should be characterized by a commitment to biblical truth, unconditional love, humility, prayer for one another and for the lost, bearing one another’s burdens, testimonies to God’s work in members’ lives, worship in Spirit and truth, and concern for the community and world.
Prayer as a Seed of Revival
After cleansing from sin, there is no greater or more essential foundation for revival than prayer — not casual prayer, but intercession that involves time and commitment. This is serious business because when we enter into prayer for revival, we are immediately thrust into the middle of a spiritual battle: a battle for the eternal destiny of the souls of men, women, and children. Our adversary does not take this struggle lightly, so we should not either. We must seek the filling and empowering of the Holy Spirit for effective spiritual warfare, and keep a continually cleansed heart before the Lord.
Our prayers need to reflect a divine love and concern for those who do not know Christ. Jesus "came to seek and to save what was lost" (). As we are drawn closer to Him in devotion and service, we will share his priorities and concerns. Jesus wept over the stubbornness of those in Jerusalem who refused to come to Him. He told the parable of the shepherd who celebrated finding one lost sheep and bringing him safely home. He said, "I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent" ( ). As we mentioned earlier, Jesus also told the parable of the prodigal son: the father rejoiced at the return of his son who had rebelled but had now returned home. And states that God is "not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." Scripture is replete with God’s calls to the lost and rebellious.
Although these scriptures are familiar, often they make little impact on us. But as we seek the heart of Jesus Christ in prayer, we will begin to comprehend the reality of eternity. We will share our Lord’s grief and pain over those eternally lost if they do not repent and believe. And we will also share in the unconditional love He has for them. This understanding will not come unless we align our desires and motivations with God’s. Likewise, we will not be motivated to pray unless we have this oneness with the purposes of God. Dedicated intercession, so essential for revival, requires us to identify with those lost in their sins and to take personal responsibility for the sins of the nations.
Faith as a Seed of Revival
Since faith is essential to spiritual effectiveness, it is likewise crucial as we prepare for revival. Society’s myriad problems cannot be solved through human strength and wisdom; rather we must rely on God’s promise to heal our land when we humble ourselves and seek his face (). Regarding the possibility of revival, Jesus Himself told us to "open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest" ( ). The Lord challenges us to see the potential for revival at home and abroad and then exercise our faith, believing that the nations will be a spiritual inheritance for Christ’s Kingdom. As we begin to share the Lord’s desire to bring spiritual awakening, He will help and strengthen us. Once we realize this and put our complete confidence in Him, we are on the right track toward revival.
Consecrate Ourselves to the Lord by Circumcising Our Hearts
After breaking up our unplowed ground, guarding against the thorns of spiritual distraction, and sowing seeds of righteousness, we need to "circumcise" our hearts before the Lord. In the Old Testament circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Later, the law was given to Moses as a covenant between God and Israel. The Israelites failed continuously to love God and remain true to the covenant, so that God referred to their faithlessness and rejection as "adultery," with all its painful implications.
With the coming of Jesus Christ came a new "circumcision" representing the New Covenant God makes with believers. The problem of faithlessness has been solved by God in the New Covenant, because He puts His law in our minds and writes it on our hearts (). The apostle Paul wrote, "circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code" ( , emphasis added).
It is clear from Scripture that circumcision of the heart is the work of God. How then are we to circumcise our hearts to the Lord? This act corresponds with what Jesus told us is the greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (). We should settle for nothing but total dedication of our hearts and lives to God. On the basis of the New Covenant, we belong to Him and are to give ourselves completely to Him in love and obedience. This dedication and obedience is to be marked by joy, not fear, because Christ lives in us and enables us to love and obey Him. He said, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command" ( ).
We are to live in the New Covenant God has made with us, not just consider it part of our theology. Revival will come when Christians dedicate all that they are and all that they have to Jesus; when they say, "Whatever the cost, I give myself completely to You; work Your will in me."
Personal revival is an essential element of the conditions of awakening. In the cycle of revival, it is what bridges cultural crisis and mass conversion. Therefore, it is absolutely critical in preparing the way for a general revival. Personal revival begins with spiritual discipline: yielding to the conviction and prompting of the Holy Spirit, and living in faithfulness, integrity, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice.explains that "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness." Discipline is not generally a pleasant experience, but as we learn and grow from it, the life of Christ becomes manifest in us and we are prepared for the widespread revival God wants to bring.
How do we seek revival in our own lives? We must first acknowledge that God knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves, and that He is aware of the areas we need to correct and change. Therefore, we must ask God to show us our true spiritual condition and reveal the deficiencies in our lives. This is not to bring condemnation, but rather to manifest His holiness and to free us from sin. Holiness is one of God’s major goals in revival. He desires that His people be holy, because He is holy (), and that holiness permeate society. The Lord is concerned with our character and the state of our hearts. We are often concerned primarily with our accomplishments. While He desires that we are productive and do good works, we must first serve Him with pure hearts.
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