Revival: No Snakes, Dance, or a Canopy Tent in a Parking Lot


I’d like you to read a couple of verses and let them sink in. Allow your mind contemplate their truth:

  • “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give him will never be thirsty again! On the contrary, the water I give him will become a spring of water inside him, welling up into eternal life!” -John 4:13-14
  • “Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being…” -John 7:38
  • “You will know Christ’s love, which goes far beyond any knowledge. I am praying this so that you may be completely filled with God. Glory belongs to God, whose power is at work in us. By this power he can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” -Ephesians 3:19-20
  • “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do
    not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible
    and glorious joy,…” -1 Peter 1:8

When we read verses like these it’s almost as if we are confronted with an intersection—a twilight zone, if you will—where we are faced with a reality that we know intrinsically is to be ours, but we recognize that in reality it is not experientially the case:

  • Spiritual thirst drowned in a well within us, quenching our spiritual thirst…
  • Eternal life gushing forth from within…
  • Being completely filled with God, whose power can do infinitely more…
  • Living with a filling of inexpressible and glorious joy…

I don’t know what these verses stir up in you, it may be different from person to person. However, if perhaps you are finding yourself in this twilight zone of recognizing that these realities should be yours but somehow aren’t and you’re dealing with this tension within—whether it has been generated through these verses or elsewhere—then what I want us to consider may offer some help. I want us to focus on the subject of revival.

What I don’t mean by that is not some weird experience by which we engage in an Appalachian mountain-style religious experience, by which we handle snakes in our services and dance around frantically; I am also not talking about a scheduled Holy Spirit event under a canopy tent in a church parking lot where modern day revivalists try to connect with some experience of yesteryear.

I am talking about our own need for personal revival.

When preparing for this article, I kept thinking about the subject of Reformation. However, the more I contemplated on the subject, the more the need for revival popped into my head. Then I cam across this quote by R.C. Sproul that helped me find the connection between the two: reformation and revival. Listen to what he says on the subject:

What is the difference between revival and reformation? As the etymologies of the words suggest, revival describes a renewal of spiritual life, while reformation describes a renewal of the forms and structures of society and culture. It is not possible to have true reformation without first having true revival. The renewal of spiritual life under the power of the Holy Spirit is a necessary condition for reformation but not a sufficient condition for it. Therefore, though it is not possible to have reformation without revival, it is possible to have revival without reformation.

My goal is to briefly touch on the subject from a passage that helps us see our need for personal revival and how to engage in it. Look at Psalm 119. We are going to dig into daleth – verses 25-37:

25. My soul cleaves to the dust; Revive me according to Your word.
26. I have told of my ways, and You have answered me; Teach me Your statutes.
27. Make me understand the way of Your precepts, So I will meditate on Your wonders. 28. My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to Your word.
29. Remove the false way from me,And graciously grant me Your law.
30. I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me.
31. I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame!
32. I shall run the way of Your commandments, For You will enlarge my heart.”

There are two indicators of where the Psalmist finds himself personally: in verse 25, he tells us that his soul cleaves to the dust; in verse 28, we learn that his soul weeps because of grief. This acknowledgement of where he stands on the inside prompts him to ask God for “revival” and “strength.”

The word that is used for “revive” in verse 25 is the word chaya in Hebrew. It is used 249 times in the Old Testament, 31 times in the book of Psalms alone. In each case, it denotes the idea of being alive, to be restored to life, or to live.

Notice, how in the context of Psalm 119, this word takes shape:

    • “Revive me according to Your Word…” (verse 25)
    • “Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity and revive me in Your ways…” (verse 37)
    • “Behold, I long for Your precepts, revive me through Your righteousness…” (verse 40)
    • “Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, so that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth…” (verse 88)
    • “I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me…” (verse 93)
    • “I am exceedingly afflicted; revive me, O Lord, according to Your word…” (verse 107)Revival comes, as one commentator put it, “when we reach the end of our own resources, repent, and call upon the Lord to intervene.”

In verses 25-32, we can clearly see that the Psalmist finds himself there…

-He acknowledged his condition: “his soul cleaves to the dust; his soul is afflicted with grief”
-He told God about it: “I have told you of my ways…you have answered me”
-He asked God to do that which he could not do himself (his heart now made ready to receive):

  • Revive me
  • Teach me
  • Make me understand
  • Strengthen me
  • Remove the false way
  • Do not put me to shame

In the context of Psalm 119, this “revival” comes through the Word of God, when once we have acknowledged our own unrighteous inadequacies, when we are desperate for God to act out of “lovingkindness,” (mercy, intense covenant-loyalty) as opposed to based on our own merit. True, biblical revival comes through God’s Word, more particularly God’s promise to give life.

In verse 31, we see the reversal from his soul cleaving to dust to him clinging (or cleaving) to God’s testimonies…and he begs God to come through for him: “Do not put me to shame.” Notice how one commentator summarizes it:

“This is the way to revival. Out of our brokenness, out of our weakness, we cry out to God and He answers, according to His Word. He comes to revive us. He comes to strengthen us. He places us in the path of truth. To stand upon His Word and do it is the solid foundation for our lives (see Matt. 7:24). In our weakness, we find His strength (2 Cor. 12:9). This should give us hope. God will come and give us life once again.”

J.I. Packer sums up this kind of revival when he said, “accordingly found living in God’s presence (Coram Deo), attending to His Word, Christians in revival are feeling acute concern about sin and righteousness, rejoicing in the assurance of Christ’s love and their own salvation, spontaneously constant in worship, and tirelessly active in witness and service, fueling these activities by praise and prayer.”

Andrew Murray notes, “A true revival means nothing less than a revolution, casting out the spirit of worldliness and selfishness, and making God and His love triumph in the heart and life.”

Billy Sunday, a contemporary of D.L. Moody, said: “A revival does two things. First, it returns the Church from her backsliding and second, it causes the conversion of men and women; and it always includes the conviction of sin on the part of the Church. What a spell the devil seems to cast over the Church today!”

Revival and reformation. You can’t have one without the other…it must start with you and me personally, before it affects the church corporately. Then, and only then, can it reform structures and bleed into society and transform culture.

If today you find yourself in this twilight zone of knowing what biblical reality should be your experiential reality, I want to encourage you to follow the Psalmist’s approach:

1. Acknowledge your need and your sin
2. Go to God and  ask
3. Be in his Word
4. Beg him to do for you that which you cannot do yourself (grace)

If you and I are willing to do that–personally and honestly–then it will affect those around us: our families, our church, our community.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, if God touched your heart (renewal) and you dealt with it the way the Psalmist suggests—now go a step further: imagine, you’re not alone in this endeavor, but there are brothers and sisters around you that do the same and God touches a community of faith (revival), we would be setting the sails for God to impact society through us (awakening).

In closing, I want to leave you with a few definitions of revival, based on this pattern we have found in Psalm 119:

  • Revival is “God’s quickening of His people, touching their hearts and deepening His work of grace in their lives.” ~ J.I. Packer
  • Revival is an “extraordinary season of religious interest.” ~ Robert Baird
  • Revival is “the sovereign act of God, in which He restores His own backsliding people too repentance, faith, and obedience.” ~ Stephen Olford
  • Revival is “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).” ~ J. Edwin Orr.
  • Revival is “the awakening or quickening of God’s people to their true nature and purpose.” ~ Robert Coleman
  • Revival is “the return of the church from her backslidings, and the conversion of sinners.” ~ Charles Finney
  • Revival is “an extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit producing extraordinary results.” ~ Richard Owen Owens
  • Revival is “a community saturated with God.” ~ Duncan Campbell
  • Finally, revival is “the work of the Holy Spirit in restoring the people of God to a more vital spiritual life, witness, and work by prayer and the Word after repentance in crisis for heir spiritual decline.” ~ Earle Cairns

My prayer for you and me is twofold: may you become increasingly more dissatisfied with status quo Christianity—in your own life, in your church, and in your society; may you earnestly yearn for a fresh touch from God and have the courage to engage in the process with him by repenting, acknowledging, and asking; may you be a catalyst for a unique work of God in your church and through the same in the society you live in; finally, may we ask boldly for an awakening in our midst and be willing to do what is necessary on our part to set the sails.

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