About a week ago I had a wonderful conversation with a man in our church that had just turned 90. You wouldn’t have known it by his appearance and energy. He seems fifteen years younger than his actual age. He was reminiscing “about the good old days” back in the late sixties and early seventies when what folks experienced inside the church walls would literally overflow onto the streets and through the city. There was a pervasive joy throughout the ministry. Lives were being changed and people were coming to Christ right and left.
I remember those days, though I lived in Southern California at the time. The Spirit of God was moving throughout the land and almost anything you would do in ministry would bear fruit. I’m fairly well-read in the history of Protestant awakenings and I am convinced that what we experienced in our country in the early 70’s was a sovereign move of God – a revival.
It seems that evangelicals are always praying for revival. We even have hymns and songs that express that earnest desire. And I think that impulse is right and good. Our world is in a bad place. Along with our economic and political problems, at root, our culture is in moral crisis. A genuine Holy Spirit empowered revival would go a long way in “righting the ship” and restoring goodness to our nation. It has happened before; it can happen again.
But true revival is a sovereign move of God. No one can say for sure why, how, and when awakenings happen. We can observe that revivals are always preceded by a sense of moral impoverishment among the people leading to repentance. But even that awareness is a grace given by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). We can preach holiness and repentance. But in the end, it is the Holy Spirit poured out on the people that convicts them of their sin.
Pray. Pray for repentance and revival because our world is increasingly dark. But along with prayer, we need to do the diligent and faithful work of renewal. Praying for revival (this sounds heretical, I know) can be cliché and a cop-out for us as evangelicals. We can sanctimoniously pray for awakening while ignoring the hard and honest pursuit of personal transformation. It can be like praying for money to make us rich while refusing to go to work.
I better explain myself. We can and should pray for a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit to awaken us. Lest I be misunderstood, “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” But while we wait and pray, God calls us to faithfulness.
By renewal, I mean the process of daily pursuing God. By renewal, I mean taking on the courageous posture of looking at ourselves and the church and measuring who we are and what we do by the standard of Christ rather than the world. Sometimes it means questioning what we’re doing. Swimming against the evangelical stream like spiritual salmon. It can be hard and frustrating work.
Where is renewal happening in the church today? Lots of places. Renovaré calls the church and believers to transformation through spiritual disciplines. Not as a means of gaining God’s approval, but for putting ourselves in a place to receive God’s outpouring grace. Renewal is happening in younger evangelicals who call us to service and to be agents for God’s justice in the world. Renewal is the passion of the emerging church with its questioning of Baby-Boomer-American-Consumer-Christianity. Renewal is happening in worship as lyrics get more radically biblical and leaders call us not to lust for the future but to recapture the riches we’ve lost from the past.
Pray for revival. But engage the courageous challenge of personal transformation through renewal.