In many of the churches I visit, many leaders believe the only hope for the Church is for God to send a real revival. In many places, there is constant prayer for God to rend the heavens and come down as he has done of old.
I sympathize with this desire. I believe real revival is a biblical phenomenon. After all, there have been times throughout church history where God has massively poured out his Spirit upon the Church. Each move of the Spirit, in turn, spilled over into the world resulting in the conversion of many. So, I readily identify with those who have concluded revival is the only hope for the Church and the world as well. My conversion came during a time when God had massively poured out his Spirit in our country.
Having said that, revival is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament letters sent to churches as something they needed. Instead, the apostles reminded the people what they already received, subsequently strayed from, and what the apostles called them back to follow. In the Galatian letter, for example, the apostle Paul doesn’t tell people they need a fresh outpouring of the Spirit; rather, he told them to return to the apostolic Gospel, which they had forsaken. The writer of Hebrews reminds his readers that they: “…must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1). They didn’t need to hear something new but pay closer attention to what they already heard.
In my book For Truth’s Sake, I have a section entitled, “Revival Sometimes, the Gospel Always.” I think says it best. Church history documents at various times, God pours out his Spirit mightily upon his Church in revival power. We can certainly ask God for this again in our own time. But we must do so not because we believe revival is our only hope. For though revival only comes when God sovereignly decrees it, he has given us a powerful resource that is always with us—the Gospel. That is why the apostles continually call the Church back to the Gospel when it drifts from it rather than call for revival. They knew that the Gospel is always relevant, always fresh, always carrying with it the power of God.
Theologians who lived during the First Great Awakening viewed revival as primarily a time when usual Gospel activity heightened. It was quantitatively not qualitatively different. In other words, God took ‘normal’ Gospel means such as preaching and greatly heightened its effectiveness. That means normal Gospel work is the basis of revival. In revival, God takes what the Church usually does and supercharges it. That means that the best chance for revival is when the Church is faithful to the Gospel and the means that He has given us; prayer, the study of Scripture, Gospel preaching, etc. If revival comes we won’t stop doing these things—we will just do them with a heightened sense of God’s presence.
Therefore, the good news is we don’t have to sit idly by, hoping for a revival, feeling hopeless till one comes. The Gospel is the power of God. Even if revival tarries, God has given us the Gospel as the means of meeting our every need. It is in the application of the Gospel to our lives that real change occurs. Paul never told a church to wait for some future move of God to correct its ills. Rather, he constantly referred churches back to the Gospel which he preached, reminding them that they needed to stand firm in it (I Corinthians 15:1-2).
God may send revival if he so chooses—God knows we need it! But in the meantime, let’s not throw up our hands in despair feeling hopeless till it arrives. The message of the Gospel is powerful to transform hearts so that we are living in constant revival presently.
All around us, we can witness the evidence of the Gospel at work. Recently, God led one man in our church to read and study a particular Scripture passage; he experienced life-changing transformation as he meditated on God’s Word. Should we ask for revival? Yes, by all means! Let’s remember though that while revival is sometimes God’s answer, the Gospel is always God’s provision for every need we shall ever have. Revival Sometimes, the Gospel Always!