Revival, the Spirit, and Your Spirit, Part I

We live in an exciting day. Revival appears to be breaking out on a number of college campuses. This has led to a number of online interviews, social media posts, and blogs (yes, here’s another) about the nature of revival.

Is this revival that seems to have started at Asbury college genuine?

I think so, but I perceive it didn’t just start at Asbury. What happened there was perhaps the most visible event to date; and it is so encouraging. I perceive it is a signaling event by the Holy Spirit to awaken other believers to what some of us have already noticed—that God is moving amongst his people and causing them to stand against the darkness of our age.

But will this revival sustain? Will it grow to be more than just a time of people drawing near to God in a building—to perhaps a fuller or kingdom-exploding work of power?

The Reality of the Spirit and the Way God Works

A general theme I have noticed coming out of all the press regarding the recent revival is the idea that revival can only come of the Holy Spirit.

And while that is true—it is not entirely a fully fleshed-out idea as far as what the whole of Scripture reveals. The reality of revival when understood from the entirety of the Word is far more complex and, well, encouraging. Yet we do need to understand something vital about how and when the Spirit initiates revival.

If we care to study Old Testament prophetic books properly we can see something both very encouraging and also troubling about the possibility of revival.

First, throughout the worst days of Israel’s history—the Dread Sovereign Lord of all desired and sought revival—up to a point.

First, a word about looking at prophetic works properly.

We are to come to these works prayerfully seeking to unearth the message God himself intended us to receive. This is theologically the concept of exegesis, meaning that we should seek to extricate from the text the meaning the author imbedded.

Exegesis seems to be rare amongst believers today. Rather we do what some have termed “newspaper eisegesis,” which is when we see something happening in the world around us and then we turn to a prophetic writing to try to match what we see to something prophesied. This has already happened with the Asbury revival.

The problem with eisegesis and matching events in the world with prophesied events around us is two-fold.

First, God has not changed. When man rebels and hurts the hearts of God—his judgment against such sins would be the same today as they were regarding the prophesied events the words actually pertained to.

Second, man has not changed, and he continually sins in ways eerily similar to the prophesied events which our God was actually warning about.

To wit, in my life I have seen sincere believers stating that the USSR of the 70s’ and the USA would meet in the climactic battle of Armageddon. Their leader, Leonid Brezhnev, with his dramatic and flowing eyebrows, was the antichrist. The end was near—the 144,000 would soon be called home.

It came to nothing.

Those who used the Bible for eisegesis soon recognized the true antichrist as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He had a birthmark, no, the mark of the beast was clearly on his balding head. Now we knew the end was near.

It came to nothing.

As the eisegetic game of “pin the tail on the Antichrist” continued, names such as Sadam Hussein, Bill Gates, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama made the true Antichrist list.

It has come to nothing.

Except that a listening world hears Christians confidently and continually looking at world events around them and proclaiming that the Bible clearly tells us what these events mean—that the Christ is about to return, the rapture is near, and that things are going to get weird.

It comes to nothing, except that the Word of God is discredited time and time again. When believers confidently tell the unchurched or the doubting-but-weak believer that the prophetic works speak clearly to events in our time—and then time and time again are proven wrong, the message to the non-believer is very clear. The Bible is false.

It seems that no matter how many times or how boldly these prophetic interpreters are wrong—the newest ones never acknowledge that this eisegetic method has been a complete and utter failure through time.

So may we, as believers, stop the eisegesis?

What Prophetic Books Actually Teach About Revival

Jeremiah and the Lamentations of the same prophet are perhaps the saddest of the prophetic works.

Yet at the same time, the book we know as Jeremiah is a love letter from God to his “bride.” The method and message is consistent throughout this prophetic work.

God chooses certain people to rise up and walk with him in a fuller faith. Their role is to call the wayward people around them back to their Creator and Lord. In Jeremiah, the Father portrays himself as a husband who is calling to his wayward bride to remind her of the challenges they had walked through together—and how good his love was:

“I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt, disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.” (Jer. 2:2,3)

The message here; we have a relationship, and my desire is to protect you from your enemies and to shower you with love. In other words, the LORD is always seeking a revival of the relationship with his people and his wayward children.

So when we see a sudden movement of people toward God such as in the perceived revival beginning on college campuses in Kentucky—it may just be a visible indication that the Spirit is moving in the same direction as the LORD has always moved, and more are responding.

A Vital Distinction to be Made

But if we continue to exegete the prophetic works, we find two important principles that may apply to our current perceived revival.

First, God’s call to his people is more than just a call to appear to be repentant. It is a call to be truly repentant, which requires that not only do we confess our sinful ways but we turn and do love as Jesus did. The words of Jeremiah indicate that the children of Israel seemed to be cleansing themselves but it was not genuine:

“Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord God.” (Jer. 2:22)

God does not desire just the appearance of a heart given to him, he desires a joining of heart. As Yeshua the Christ would later say, “Abide in me, and I in you…”. (Jn. 15:4) This is vital to grasp—this is to be a joining with our Savior in such a way that Jesus lives in us, and we live continually in him. That may involve going to a chapel and crying out to God—but could we appear to be repentant for another reason?

That leads us to the second point. Later in the book of Jeremiah—while it seems everyone but the prophet himself has rejected God—a sudden glimmer of hope appears. I remember the first time I read this passage I was thrilled…but it turns out to be one of the saddest (and most instructive truths) I’ve ever read in the Bible.

In the later part of the writings of Jeremiah the commander of the army Johanan and a host of others approaches the prophet and finally appear to be doing what God wanted all along—they were repentant and wanted to know what God wanted. While the rest of Judah was panicking and running off to Egypt for safety this group of revivalists asked the following:

“Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the LORD your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but few, as your eyes can see us—that the LORD your God may show us the way we should go, and the things we should do.” (Jer. 42:2, 3)

It is so refreshing to see, in the midst of a horrible time in Judah, a revival of a humble spirit before God almighty. In fact, when Jeremiah seems to challenge their motives a bit, they so genuinely seem to affirm their resolve and faith:

“May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the words which the LORD your God sends us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.” (Jer. 42:5, 6)

So exciting, a people who are starting a true revival of listening to and obeying whatever it is the LORD tells them, even if it is seemingly bad! This has to be a genuine revival, right?

Ten days later, Jeremiah has received the message the true revivalists have asked for. In the face of an approaching conquering army, they are told:

“Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid…I will grant you mercy.” (Jer. 42:11, 12).

The path of revival for this group of the faithful remnant was to look straight into the face of a conquering and evil king and rely on the mercy of an invisible God. That was what revival was going to look like for the faithful remnant of Israel.

So they had their answer from God through Jeremiah. The answer they had sworn to abide by, no matter whether it was good or bad. So they replied:

“You are telling a lie. The LORD God did not send you…” (Jer. 43:2)

Johanan and all the faux-revivalist packed their bags and headed to Egypt, which was what they believed God wanted them to do to begin with.

What is the lesson we should take from this in the face of an apparent revival?

Well first, is there another reason why some may be heading to college chapels and kneeling in apparent repentance?

It’s a hard question—but we do live in the most narcissistic age in the history of the world. Possibly appearing on social media at a prominent revival—gives a person a lot of “strokes,” know what I mean? For a person who desires to be authentic and very spiritual—to post your selfies of you at a noted revival event feels good.

But the key question is, would you drive for hours to repent and not only forsake posting (or even taking) selfies, but not even tell anyone? God knows, right? Is that enough for you, or is your motive to exalt your image and authenticity rather than our Lord’s awesomeness?

I know this will offend some people, but the words of Jeremiah were very offensive to those God was speaking to as well, right? I am not accusing anyone of anything, but rather challenging us to examine our own hearts and not allow ourselves to be deceived by our own desire to appear to be in a revival.

God called Johanan and the others who sought his will to step out and do something different than what most everyone else was doing, and it was going to be terrifying. While others were running to Egypt to escape the terror of the Babylonians, the LORD God told this group of seekers to stand only with him, and see him work in the face of what seemed to be impossible odds, and be the image of the One True God to a godless enemy.

Johanan and company instead chose the path of self-idolatry. Doing what they assigned to God as his plan, because they felt better able to manage the consequences. By going to Jeremiah and saying all the right things they momentarily had the appearance of revivalists; but when the actual word from God appeared—they were revealed to be idolaters. They had enthroned themselves on the throne of heaven.

So honestly, going to a chapel and quieting oneself before the God of heaven may be a good starting point, but in what way will we stand with God and be Jesus to a world who desperately needs him?

I deal with this issue in greater detail in my book Superhero; Being Who God Says You Really Are. But to put it briefly, I perceive that sincere believers today often use the concept of being Spirit-led as a form of spiritual-sloth and as an excuse to live in fear. If we are waiting for the Spirit not only to inform us of what to do but to also force our hands to do it, we have an improper view of God Himself.

Think about it, in Genesis chapter 4 when our Creator sees the darkness in Cain’s heart—he speaks with him and tells him what he needs to do, but he does not force his hand. Cain goes on to bludgeon his brother to death.

Johanan and the other faux-revivalist did what they felt was what God wanted them to do and payed the price. Their feelings were dead wrong. Perhaps the biggest price of all though was that they missed seeing the glory of God appearing in power in the midst of a terrifying moment of their nation’s history.

May we have the courage to not only hear the Spirit in a time of revival, but have the courage then to go out an do love as Jesus demonstrated. May we hand our fears to the fearless one, and be love to a lost and dying generation.

The big point for Part I is that I do believe we are in the beginning of a time of revival. The Spirit is moving upon people and sometimes in a big and visible way. But these highly visible acts of contrition and seeking in college chapels must be followed by God’s people choosing to live boldly, obediently, and humbly out into our world to share the love of Christ. The large crowds in chapels and churches may be a good starting point—but if that is all it amounts to, it will be worthless.

Large crowds gather at sporting arenas and concerts as well—but it all lacks power. We must consider Paul’s admonition that there are those who have “…the appearance of godliness, but [deny] its power.” (2 Tim. 3:5). If we are truly seeking to forcefully advance the kingdom of God through our lives in a narcissistic age—are we willing to do so if no one sees us at all? Will we do good as the Spirit leads without social media selfies? Would you do a short-term mission trip without the requisite picture of you with a cute child of a different ethnic group? Do you desire the praise of a friends saying “What a godly and faithful person you are,” or are we content to do good with only God knowing what we did for him? Would you serve the Creator who gave you life in anonymity?

Is your revival found in your dying to self and letting Christ live in you, or just a repackaging of you in a spiritual-looking garb that makes people think well of you?

Let us choose to make much of our Lord and Savior, and have our identity subsumed in his.

This requires something of you, the Holy Spirit will not force your hand…more in Part II.


Image by Pazargic Liviu/Shutterstock

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