As you know, each Spring we have our yearly revival services where we prayerfully bring in a speaker who is faithful to the Word of God and reliant on the Spirit of God as he is used by God to preach to the people of God and woo souls into the Kingdom of God (got all that?). This year, our revival services kick off with a youth rally on Saturday, March 17, followed by services on the 18th-21st (Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m., then Sunday night through Wednesday night beginning at 7:00 p.m.).
Recently, my good friend Mark Combs (who is pastor of Summit Community Church in Hazard) and I were having an interesting conversation about revival services. Growing up, I always took them for granted. We discussed how oftentimes it seems as if people wrongly mistook revival services as an appropriate (and often only) time to engage in evangelistic work — and even then, it is done by the musicians and the preachers, not necessarily by the people of the church.
Because of this misuse of revival services, we as young pastors try to avoid singing the “because-that’s-what-we’ve-always-done-before” blues. As a result, this conversation made me contemplate this one simple question: “Are revival services still a good thing?” Have they outgrown their usefulness? Have we moved on to other more productive types of ministries and meetings?
Since I’ve been at Boone’s Creek, we have had revival services each Spring. These revival services have been good for the brothers and sisters in Christ in our church for a number of reasons.
Revival Services are an Initiated Time in the Word
I am convinced after being in the ministry for fifteen years that we must be proactive in readying ourselves for when the Spirit of God chooses to move on his people. Too many well-intentioned evangelicals who love Jesus and want to see souls saved and see Christians committed to their Lord and his church make the mistake of thinking they can manipulate situations through preaching or other special events which will be key in having folks “come to Jesus.” We think we can tell the Spirit when to move, but we just can’t.
You see Jesus himself tells us in John 3:7-8: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” We do not know when the Spirit of God will move. This is on God’s timetable — not an activity or a movement that can be manipulated by any human. Too many folks look down on revival services for that reason —- too many man-centered churches using man-centered techniques.
Yet (having said all that), what we are responsible for is getting ourselves ready when he does choose to move. We must certainly be proactive as individuals and as a community of faith to get our vessels ready. When we expect company, we make a full-fledged effort to get our houses ready. Revival services serve that function: where a people of God initiate a time in the Word of God so that when his Spirit moves, we are ready because the Word has readied us.
First Corinthians 2:3-5 sums this up beautifully:
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Revival Services are an Anticipated Time in the Word
Whenever we schedule a revival service, we obviously find a Spirit-led speaker who will come ready to open up God’s Word. About two months prior to this, we begin to promote these special services, giving our people a chance to anticipate this special time in the Lord.
During this promotion time, we must be careful. How easy it would be to promote special singers, special fellowship dinners, or even to promote the preacher delivering the Word of God. This year, Bro. Mike Caudill from First Baptist Church, Hindman, KY, will be our guest preacher. Mike has a pastor’s heart with a passion to see people come to Christ and know God through his holy Word.
Yet we cannot elevate the people and events in the service above the reason why we have these special services: to be reawakened to the glories of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be motivated by those glories to put feet to our faith. This is what we must anticipate. This is what we must promote. Not people, places, or events —- we must promote Jesus Christ who is the Gospel. Hear Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me … How can you believe, when you receive glory from one an other and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God (John 5:39, 44, ESV)?
Revival Services are a Concentrated Time in the Word
Revival services are about concentrating on the Spirit of Christ reawakening our heart to the joy of the Gospel. We believe the Gospel is not simply a set of facts we have to hold to to get to heaven. If that were the case, the Pharisees would be knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door before all others. No, the Gospel is a way of life, something that the Christian must continually preach to himself in order to live a life of worship before God not just in church but in all areas and in all relationships. Revival services (or whatever you choose to call them), are four days and five services of redirecting our focus on Christ who we pray will awaken our hearts to a passion and a delight for himself.
In our culture, it is impossible to concentrate on any one thing. We have so many options. I sit here at my computer and can be distracted by e-mail, iTunes, web pages with sermons and news items, telephone, and even men hammering outside as they install their windows. I can go home and be distracted again by phones as well as television, books, and a myriad of other household activities. We are an ADD/ADHD culture who seeks to either multitasks or impatiently moves on to another project when the original project bores us. C.S. Lewis noted that “we are far too easily pleased.” I would add that our culture is far too easily bored and distracted.
Revival services give us an opportunity to focus and concentrate on the Word of God (the Scriptures) that shows us the Word of God (Jesus Christ —- John 1:1). God has used these revival services to help change lives if for no other reason that to help us concentrate for these few services during the week on His Word.
Ever notice how those who go off to a Christian camp or on a missions trip seem changed when they come back? They have concentrated that particular time on Kingdom work and Kingdom thoughts. This revival service can serve in just that way.
The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
Revival Services are an Extended Time in the Word
How long does one have revival services? Generations ago, no one would think twice about having a two-week long set of meetings where God would visit and do awesome things for the Kingdom of Christ. Nowadays, three or four day meetings are typical. Why so long?
We are creatures of habit and routine, are we not? It takes humans very little time to adjust to a situation — and when we do, it takes just as much time to adjust back to the original setting. Having revival services for an extended amount of time is key for our constitutional make-up. We often need a day or two to get the ‘self’ out of the way so we may be receptive vessels to receive God’s Spirit. Oftentimes, these extended times enlighten us as to how must ‘self’ has clouded our communion with Christ and our siblings in Christ, as well as our communication with God in worship and prayer.
This year, our revival services are from March 18-21. This means we will have two services on Sunday (normal), then a service on Monday night (OK, that’s weird having church on Monday, but … o-k, I’ll come), then Tuesday night (“You know, God really touched me on Monday night — I wonder what he will do tonight!”), then finally Wednesday night (“I know this is normally prayer meeting night and I usually don’t make it to that, but this is the last night of the services, and God’s really awakening my heart — I must come tonight to see how these times will end”).
Yet, they do not end, do they? It would be ludicrous to say, “OK, the revival services have ended — now back to business as usual.” If you have anticipated and prepared your heart spiritually for what God purposes in your heart, then your business as usual will become one who lives a life eyes wide open, awakened to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the
counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers
(Psalm 1:1-3, ESV)
Revival Services are an Edifying Time in the Word
Face it —- we’re selfish. We spend our time simply trying to figure out how to improve our personal situation. Too many come to church to have their personal needs met or to ‘get a blessing’ or to figure out how to ‘get right with the man upstairs’ (a dangerous expression if there ever was one). It’s inward-focused. It’s all personal.
And it’s not biblical.
Yes, Christ did die on the cross so that we as individuals may come to him and be reconciled to him by grace through faith (Romans 3:24-26). Yet in the Scriptures, our lives are never divorced from the community of faith known as the Church. And our lives are never separated from the world in which God placed us.
Look at Paul’s heart in Romans 9:1-3
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
You may read that and say, “Huh? Paul, are you willing to forfeit your salvation so your kinsmen of Israel may know Jesus?” That’s his passion —- and if you read through the book of Acts, you see his great effort in the power of the Spirit to go to the Gentiles so they may know the great salvation provided in Christ —- often to the expense of his own personal safety.
While revival services were never intended to be the sole evangelistic role a church plays, these services most certainly open eyes to our need to see the lost as Christ sees. We see the shepherd in Luke 15 who leaves the 99 sheep to go find the lost one —- and a party ensues over the finding of the lost sheep. This is the heart of God and it must be our heart as well.
Hear this: revival services are for Christians, not the lost. You cannot be re-vived until you have been ‘vived.’ You cannot be re-awakened until you have come out of your sin and slumber to your situation through faith in Christ’s work on the cross. When we are reawakened, we take that passion into the mission field God has placed us: work, home, school, travel, bowling alleys, golf courses, fishing holes, supermarkets —- everywhere. This is how Christ’s body works.
I am not against revival services —- I’m against man-centered, man-manipulated, entertainment-driven, and ill-focused revival services. May God tune our hearts to sing his grace as we seek all seek to be tuned to the Holy Spirit of God —- with His Word as our tuning fork. Hope to see you at the revival services this coming March.