Awkward Continuationist: Revival ≠ Circus

Revival. Now, there’s a word pre-loaded with all manner of mental images, assumptions, and expectations.

Objectively speaking, to be “revived” means that what was once alive, and then died, has been brought to life again. A drowning victim, for example, revived after a lifeguard’s intervention. 

Or when a patient’s heart stops on the operating table, followed by the terse command: “Clear!” Kah-CHUNK! Beep, beep, beep ... “We’ve got a pulse.” 

In popular usage, revive can also refer to any number of things.

A Shakespearean play can be revived following years of non-performance. An interest in a personal hobby can be revived once the demands of our schedules have become better balanced.

Among Christians, “revival” can refer to anything ranging from a pre-planned series of meetings with celebrity evangelists, to a sovereign and unexpected move of the Holy Spirit.

But even in these cases, to be revived presupposes that you were once alive, but later became spiritually dull, dismissive, or embraced deliberate denial. Revival and evangelism arent the same. When people first become Christians, theyre not brought back to life; theyre entering spiritual life for the first time (Ephesians 2:1-6).

Revival is for believers.

You see it in the Old Testament, when the Israelites – God’s chosen people – have a collective wake-up call over their spiritually destitute state. They respond by renewing their commitment to the Covenant with their heavenly Father. It was typically a time of sombre reflection, repentance, and “coming back.”

Examples include Nehemiah reading the Covenant to the people (who apparently hadn’t heard it in a long, long time); they responded with tears and repentance (Nehemiah 8:1-12). Likewise, when King Josiah heard the Book of the Covenant for the first time, he responded with deep repentance and “came back,” and led the whole nation in corporate repentance as well (2 Kings 22, 23:1-25).

The message of the OT prophets could also be summed up as calling people to “come back” (repent) and follow God with all of their hearts.

Even Jesus’ last words in the New Testament – the letters to the seven churches in Revelation– echo this same sense of “turn back” (Revelation 2 & 3).

Revival has always had a connection to repentance (turning back) and following God wholeheartedly.

In the 21st century, however, we’ve made revival look more like a three-ring circus than a genuine move of the Spirit. As soon as anyone gets a whiff that God is stirring people, its only a matter of time before the Traveling Revival Roadshow arrives.

And – sadly but inevitably – celebrity leaders attach themselves to this latest “move,” CD’s are recorded, video DVD’s are packaged, claims of miracles and healings are exaggerated (or invented), anyone who exercises discernment is buried alive under a deluge of charis-slogans, and eventually something causes it all to fall apart (again).

And then people divide into two groups: (a) the disillusioned who give up, and (b) the die-hards who will just wait for the next circus sideshow anointed event, and do it all over again.

Im praying for a Holy Spirit revival. We desperately need the Real Thing, not another three-ring charismania circus.

We need – I need – a Holy Spirit-inspired revival that rocks our world and leads us back to Jesus.

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