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There are only a few things that go on my weekly prayer list. One of them is revival. I believe God has moved in the past to ignite great awakenings. I believe he can do it again. And I believe Christians would do well to preach and pray for a Christ-centered, God-glorifying, gospel-loving, Spirit-given revival in our own day.

Of course, this begs the question: what is true revival. I’ll come to a definition in a moment, and take tomorrow’s post to say more about the shape of biblical renewal and reformation, but let me start by dispelling a few false notions about revival.

First, revival is not revivalism. Obviously, when you add the “ism” is sounds scary, but I think there is an important distinction to uphold. By revivalism, I mean a man-timed, man-made, man-determined event.  In the early nineteenth century, a profound shift took place.  Whereas before revivals were seen as sovereign works of God that one prayed and fasted for but could not plan, beginning in the 1800s revivals became programmed productions.  You would put up a tent and announce a revival next Thursday.  If you put a new song here, a choir number there, a certain style of preaching, an anxious bench for sinners under conviction, you could be assured of a response.  That is man-made revivalism, not true revival.

Second, revival is not individualism.  By that I mean that a revival is a corporate event.  It is a wonderful thing when God changes a single heart, especially in the midst of many dry bones, but that is not what we are talking about.  When God sends revival, it sweeps through an entire church, or churches, or community, and touches a diversity of people (e.g., young, old, rich, poor, educated, uneducated).  It is not just an individual transformation, as wonderful as that is.

Third, revival is not emotionalism.  To be sure, true revival may have great emotion.  But emotion in itself does not indicate a genuine work of the Spirit. You can raise hands, or stand stiff, weep hysterically, or have a great calm, fall down on the floor, jump up and down, shout Amen, pray loud prayers or soft prayers, feel very spiritual or feel very little.  These are what Jonathan Edwards called “non-signs.”  They don’t say anything one way or the other.  If you lift up your hands when singing a praise song, it may mean that you are enraptured with the love of God, or may mean you have an expressive personality and the music provides a power release.  If you sing a hymn with solemnity and gravity, it may be that you are singing out of profound awe and reverence, or it may mean that your religion is mere formalism and you are actually bored out of your gourd.  True revival is marked by more than the presence or absence of tremendous emotion.

Fourth, revival is not idealism.  Revival does not mean that heaven arrives on earth.  It does not usher in a spiritual utopia.  It does not solve all the church’s problems.  In fact, revival, with all their blessings, usually brings new problems.  There is often controversy. There can be pride and jealousy. There may be suspicion. And besides these works of the flesh, Satan often stirs up counterfeit revivals.  He sows seeds of confusion and deception.  So as much as we ought to long for revival, we should not expect it to be the cure-all for life’s problems, let alone a substitute for decades of quiet, faithful obedience and growth.

So what is true revival?  Here’s my definition: True revival is a sovereign, swift, extraordinary work of God whereby he saves sinners and breathes new life into his people.

  • True revival is a sovereign (dependent on God’s timing, God’s doing, granted according to God’s pleasure)
  • swift (conversions, growth, and change happen relatively quickly)
  • extraordinary (uncommon, surprising)
  • work of God (not ours)
  • whereby he saves sinners (regeneration leading to faith and repentance)
  • and breathes new life into his people (with renewed affections, commitment, and obedience).

One of the best examples of true revival in the Bible is the story of Josiah in 2 Kings 22-23. The story is not a blueprint to duplicate in every respect, especially because Josiah is king over a theocracy. But the story is instructive in so far as it gives us a picture of a sovereign, swift, extraordinary work of God.

We will see what that picture looks like tomorrow.

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22 thoughts on “A Surprising Work of God (1 of 2)”

  1. I like this overview so far. However, I’ve heard an historian say that we don’t need a revival, but an awakening. In a revival, people get saved or recommitted, but an awakening changes the culture. If we had an awakening like the First (during Jonathan Edwards) Second (during Charles Finney) Great Awakening, in proportion to the population, there would be over 30 million people saved and over 70,000 churches built in about 3 years. While we might not build buildings today, we might form new fellowships. However, the First Awakening united us as a people and led to the Revolutionary War; the Second led to Abolition (and eventually the Civil War), Women’s Suffrage, and the Great Missionary Movement of the 1800’s. We don’t need a revival in this country. We need a Third Great Awakening!

  2. David B says:

    Really benefited from this commentary on revival. Great points all the way through.

  3. Jim says:

    I’m convinced we won’t see true revival until churches stop trying to schedule them!

  4. Rob says:

    I agree with your observations and I believe in setting aside special services that encourage and challenge us to truly seek a mighty movement of God’s Spirit within the church. We have “Revival” services scheduled next week. As I’ve urged the church to pray and seek the Lord and repent from sin and trust Him more and love Him wholeheartedly and follow Him more faithfully in obedience, God has already begun reviving our congregation. No, we can’t schedule true revival. That is indeed God’s sovereign work. But we can sure get on our knees and come together expecting God to breath new life into our dry bones.

  5. Mark Zellner says:

    Terrific article. I’ve been reading through Why Revival Tarries by Leonard Ravenhill, and it offers some good additional information on what it will take to get there.

  6. Toby says:

    What a great post! Revival is not Idealism is a great reminder to us to trust in God and not our on efforts or outcomes.


  7. Mark B. says:

    Amen. I join with you in praying for a revival. The church needs it and the world needs it. Thank you for the post, I appreciate your blog.

  8. anonymous says:

    and I am reminded-please pray that EVERYTHING built on sand, will sink and shift and come tumbling down

  9. Warren Jones says:

    Appreciate this article. Thanks for sharing with us.

  10. Warren Jones says:

    Thanks for sharing. Appreciate the post.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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