By Pastor Glenn Pease
Clovis Chappell, the great Southern preacher and author, said in one of his messages, "What announcement could the average pastor make to his people next Sunday that would create less enthusiasm, less approval, less holy expectancy, then that he would soon to begin a revival?" Rather than this being a beginning of anything creative, it would in most cases meet with a yawn. The word revival use to be an exciting word to Christians, but in modern times it has lost its charm. Chappell points out that we are not opposed to revival in other areas of life. The revival of nature appeals to us, and we anticipate spring. New life is restored to the vegetation of earth. The bare limbs of trees are clothed in glorious green. The naked earth puts on the garments of grass and colorful flowers. We rejoice and feel good about such a revival.
We love a revival of the body. If it has been sick, we rejoice when it is restored to health, and we walk in joy with our new strength. It gives us a new zest for living to be rid of the body as a wearisome burden, and have it restored as willing companion of the spirit. Such a revival is cherished. What if it could be announced that the economy was heading for revival? Everyone would eagerly listen to such an announcement and receive it with enthusiastic gratitude. Chappell says, "But when we begin to speak of a revival in religion our interest wanes, our minds wander, we slip into a comatose state and wonder how soon the tiresome ordeal will be over." Even if this is an exaggeration, the question is, why is it close to the truth?
The answer seems to lie primarily in the fact that too many so-called revivals in the past have been man-made counterfeits. Many have gotten up a 3 ring circus and manipulated masses about by the use of emotional techniques, and then left them to settle down into a state of coldness and depression, making them worse off than before. This negative experience has made Christians fear revival. Counterfeit healings have made people skeptical of believing in the real thing. S. P. Long in his book Prophetic Pearls wrote of conditions many years ago. "The religious vaudevilles which have been carried on in some of the cities in this country during the past few years by the get-rich-quick actors who do not fit in the pulpit, or on the stage, has so disgusted the cool-headed, thinking Christians, that we have been led almost to shun the word, 'revival.'"
Many of us can identify with this negative attitude to revival, but let us recognize that no abuse of truth should be allowed to rob us of the use of it.
We dare not throw out the baby with the bath water. Let us not cease to quote the Scripture because the devil himself quoted it to the Lord in temptation. Everything good can be used poorly, and even for evil, but it is folly to forsake all good because it can be abused. Revival is not only a good word used in Scripture, it is also a good and positive experience. When rightly understood, we will long for it in the religious realm as we do in all other areas of life.
The prefix re means back, and it refers to going back to some original or former state. To re-pay is to pay back, and to re-strain is to hold back, to re-ply is to talk back, and on and on we could go. So the way to get ahead is to go back to the best you ever were. This means we were at some point in the past more dedicated, and now we have become cold and lost the fire we once had. Revival is not going back to the same old thing, but to that which is better, and to the best we have ever been. The Renaissance was a return to the classical spirit and a restoration of the noblest achievements of the ancient world. The Reformation was a return to the Bible and a restoration of New Testament Christianity. A revolution is an overthrow of the present system in order to return to a former system thought to be more excellent. Revival is getting back to the best.
There are numerous synonyms of revival. You have renew, refresh, renovate, resuscitate, reanimate, reinvigorate, and even to repair, for that is to restore something to its original and better state. It does not matter that a person or church is dead, for Christianity is about the resurrection of the dead, and the good news is that revival can bring the dead back to life and restore people and churches to what they were at their best.
Notice why the psalmist is praying for revival in verse 6. What is it that he expects to gain by being revived? He asks, "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?" The goal is a right relationship to God that makes the people joyful. Emotion is involved in revival, and especially the emotion of joy. If you can look back on happier days in your Christian life, and days of greater rejoicing, then you need revival. We need to be restored to the joy and zeal in service that we once had.
Revival implies a loss of something we once had. You cannot be restored to what you never had and never were. You cannot go back to where you have never been. The Psalmist looks back to the marvelous mercies of God in the past in the opening verses. His request for revival grows out of his recollection of the past. Note the past tenses in, "You showed favor to your land, you restored the fortunes of Jacob, you forgave the iniquity of your people, and you covered all their sins." Then he goes on in verse 4 to say, "Lord, do it again, restore us again." Who wants to live in the winter of coldness and gloom when the spring we once experienced is possible again, and with all of its warmth, beauty, and joy? Some unknown poet wrote,
A hint of softness in the air,
The answering note to nature's prayer;
Spring's wondrous miracle to be-
Let it be springtime, Lord, to me!
Long have I dwelt in winter's night,
When moon and stars withheld their light,
With raging winds and roaring sea-
Let it be springtime, Lord, to me!
Who of us can look at revival, as seen in this light, and refused to long for it? The only ones who may not have a longing for revival would be those who are right now in the happiest state they have ever been in their relationship to Christ, or possibly those who have so little experience that they cannot look back to former joys. Most of us, however, have lived long enough to know that the joy that is in Christ can be greater than what we now have. Let us, therefore, pray, "Revive us again, that we may rejoice in Thee."
There must be reviving to be rejoicing. Had the Prodigal Son never looked back to the good old days of love and comfort in his father's house, he would not have risen, returned, and been restored to fellowship and have a great party with rejoicing. The story of the Prodigal is the story of revival, and the story of revival always has a happy ending, for it is a restoration to a rightful relationship with God. To often we are just enduring our salvation and not enjoying it. It is a distress rather than a delight, and a burden rather than a blessing. That is why we do not share it with the world. But when believers are revived there is an outreach that touches the world. The Psalmist after looking back to the good old days begins to anticipate even better days ahead. There is a shift in the tenses from past to future.
Note in verse 8 that he says, "I will listen to what God the Lord will say; He promises peace to His people..." And in verse 12 he says, "The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest." When revival comes we can look ahead to God's being a blessing to our world through us. The history of revival reveals that when Christians are right with God, and are rejoicing in Him, He uses them in marvelous ways to accomplish His purpose. They develop a greater compassion for the lost. When Christians are not happy themselves they tend to be indifferent to the needs of the world, but when they are revived and happy they have compassion, and they go into action to meet the needs of the world.
Dr. F. B. Meyer said, "There has never been a great religious revival without social and political reforms." Stephen Olford in his book Heart Cry For Revival says, "The abolition of slavery followed a revival. The end of child labor resulted from a revival. Movements like the YMCA, the Salvation Army, and most of our charitable and educational institutions stem from revivals. Most of the good that God has given to the earth has come out of revival, and that is why we should always be praying-
Let it come, O Lord we pray thee,
Let the showers of blessing fall,
We are weeping and expecting,
Oh, revive the hearts of all.