Revival. We hear it a lot, we say it a lot, and we even sing about it a lot. But do we even know what revival means? Until recently, I really only thought of revival in terms of its dictionary definition. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “revival” as the act of returning “to consciousness or life: become active or flourishing again.” This brings many Christians to further wonder: What does biblical revival look like?
In researching, I learned that throughout history, the Lord has revealed Himself and His Holy Spirit to humanity through revivals and awakenings. These awakenings were characterized by spiritual fruit that was both authentic and biblically sound. Dating back to the 1700s, revivals were simple, spirit-dependent, and prayer-filled gatherings that demonstrated evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work. Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s most influential philosophical theologians, worked to differentiate between what marks a revival and what does not. He claims that the top five positive marks or indicators of the Spirit’s work are:
- Jesus is honored
- Satan’s Kingdom is Opposed
- God’s Word is Highly Regarded
- God’s Truth is Revealed
- God and Others are Loved
In short, Edwards frames the positive marks of the Spirit’s work by referring to 1 John 4:1-3 which says:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.”
This is what true biblical revival looks like. It is not man-made, manufactured, circumstantial, judgemental, entertaining, or lukewarm.
Repeatedly, throughout the Bible, we see beautiful glimpses of what God-centered revival looks like. In particular, the Psalms emphasize renewal and what it looks like to fully surrender and give God the glory. Psalm 19:7 says, “The instruction of the Lord is perfect, renewing one’s life; the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise.” And later, Psalm 51:10 says, “God, create a clean heart for me, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” When God’s sovereign hand is over revival, we know that the Holy Spirit has the power to stir and derail all man-made attempts to create what only God can do. Pastors Scott and Chris from Doxa Church in Redding California discuss revival on their podcast Doxalogic. They talk about how “only God can bring about revival” and how revival is God’s choice. Revival is not up to us. It never has been, and it never will be.
In contrast, revivalism is an attempt to reawaken the evangelical faith within a Christian community, church, or movement. It is appealing because it seeks to create a spiritual experience based purely on emotion. Revivalism is man-centered, manipulative, and seeks to tell an audience what they want to hear. As Christians, our minds should be set on things of the Spirit, and not on that which falls into the desires of the flesh (Romans 8:5, Romans 13:14). If our focus is on orchestrating a personal experience, we end up living according to our own will instead of the will of God. Charles Spurgeon argued that he would rather have no revival at all if it is rooted in false pretenses.“If God does not save men by truth,” he said, “[God] certainly will not save them by lies. And if the old gospel is not competent to work a revival, then we will do without the revival.” However, when we fully surrender our man-centered view and allow for the Spirit of the Living God to work, beautiful things happen.
So, how do we approach revival well and biblically? Throughout The Psalms, the word Selah is written in italics in the margins of the scripture. Selah means to pause, reflect, and listen to the Lord. It just happens to be one of my favorite words and has had a big impact on the way I see biblical revival as a whole. After researching and spending time meditating on what the Word of God says about revival, I can’t help but bring Selah into it. The fact of the matter is, we cannot see revival break out without pausing and listening to the Lord. By taking an hour to pause, unplug ourselves from the world, and get into God’s word, we can experience Jesus and His perfect love to the full. Pausing prepares our hearts for the work of God because, ultimately, revival is on God’s timeline, not our own. Selah is an act of surrender that reminds us to wait on Him. This simple word speaks volumes to what it means for us as Christians to see biblical renewal and restoration come over God’s people.
Lord, teach us to surrender and wait on You. Selah.
[…] experience. Nor am I saying we need to mimic what is happening at Asbury. Like Quentin Cole and Olivia Elder noted in their articles this week, we cannot orchestrate a work of […]