Last Sunday, Pastor Ellis preached a powerful sermon on revival. He shared with us the history of some of the great spiritual awakenings in this nation, how they started with a handful of people gathered for prayer, and he called us to together that night for a time of prayer, confession, and worship. More than 300 people responded to that call, the largest such gathering at Chapel Hill that I can remember. Worshippers reported they had never experienced anything quite like it; that they were so glad they were there and wished it had gone on longer. In fact, after 90 minutes of prayer and worship, our high school students descended to their usual meeting space on the first floor…and continued for another hour.
Revival. Is this what revival looks like? What is revival? Why do we need it? What causes it? Timothy Keller offers this definition: “Revivals are periods of great spiritual awakening and growth. In revivals, ‘sleepy’ and lukewarm Christians wake up, nominal Christians get converted, and many skeptical non-believers are drawn to faith.” I would add that during times of revival, the Holy Spirit often manifests himself in powerful and miraculous ways.
Our country has experienced many revivals. The two most famous were The Great Awakening of 1734-43 under the leadership of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, and the Second Great Awakening which extended for 40 years, 1800-1840, spearheaded by two Presbyterian pastors, James McGready and Charles Finney.
But there were others. The Businessmen’s Revival of 1857 started with six New York businessmen gathering for prayer in the face of the Bank Panic of 1857. Then there was the Civil War Revival. Soldiers in equal numbers on both sides were so horrified by their own barbarity that they turned to God in repentance. D.L. Moody led the urban revivals of 1875-85. The Azusa Street Revival of 1906, which lasted three years, is considered the birthplace of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.
Following the brutality of World War II, Billy Graham preached to over 180 million people and Bill Bright launched Campus Crusade for Christ. And I was a product of the Jesus Movement from the 1960s and 1970s, which spoke to a generation of young people who longed for something more than the drug and sex-saturated culture of the time.
Over the centuries, revivals have manifested themselves in different ways. But they have several characteristics in common:
- Revivals are always a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit that cannot be manufactured by human means or effort.
- Revivals often come at a time of great social upheaval, decline, or despair.
- Revivals are regional or even national in scope, often including sundry, unrelated churches and denominations at the same time.
- Revival is usually born of a season of repentance and prayer.
- Revival usually starts first with the lukewarm Christian, an infusion of “vitality” into listless and fruitless lives. You can’t “RE-vive” what wasn’t already “vived.”
- Revival also results in large numbers of new professions of faith.
- Revival often leads to cultural transformation.
- Revivals can be “messy” because they break out of or move beyond accepted religious norms.
Scripture teaches us to long for…to ask for…God’s reviving work. Habakkuk cried out, “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” Psalm 85:6 implores the Lord: “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”
Is this the cry of OUR hearts, Chapel Hill? Do we long for greater spiritual vitality, joy and fruitfulness? For more conversions? For a radical change in the direction of our society? I think we do. Are we at the beginning of a season of revival? Perhaps. The stirrings at Asbury College and in other university settings are exciting. The response in some parts of the country to the movie Jesus Revolution have been overwhelming and encouraging. And our own experience last Sunday night gave us a taste of God’s Spirit at work, stirred a longing for more.
Your elders are paying attention to what God is doing in our midst. We are seeking the Lord’s leading, especially regarding a greater emphasis on prayer. And in the coming months, we are going to offer more opportunities to gather for times of prayer and worship as we cry out to the Lord, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” Meantime, I’d repeat my challenge to you: join me daily in entreating the Lord to revive this congregation by the power of his Spirit. Let’s ask God for this great and awesome gift…and see what he does.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.