Revival: What it is and Who Needs it

by Derek Gentle


Revival is certainly a word in the Baptist vocabulary. In Baptist life, it is usually used to describe a series of worship services in which a visiting preacher, and sometimes a visiting choir director, come to a church to lead special worship services. These services have a special emphasis placed on leading people, who do not yet have a relationship with Him, to Christ. The church members often help out by doing such things as singing in the "revival choir," bringing their friends to "pack a pew night," or serving pizza to teenagers before the service on "youth night." Sometimes the services are preceded by "cottage prayer meetings," where the members go to a member's home to pray together for the services. This is pretty much what the word meant as as we heard it growing up. Because of this tradition, there remains a "terminological inexactitude" (to borrow a phrase from Churchill) among many Baptists concerning the meaning of the term, revival.

Evangelism is not that to which the word revival refers. Revival is what God sends, not to the lost, but to His own people, the church. The dead can not be revived; they require resurrection. In revival, God does a fresh work in those who have life, yet who have grown weak through sin or neglect. It is true that evangelism will inevitably flow out of revival. Evangelism is important! But in terms of methodology, more and more, we are having to learn how to do that work outside the walls of the church. Unbelievers are not going to come and hear as often as they did in earlier generations. We are having to learn to share the faith in natural ways with those with whom we have relationships.

Here are some better definitions of revival; these will be found to be more consistent with biblical teaching:

"Revival is that sovereign work of God in which He visits His own people, restoring and releasing them into the fullness of His blessing." - Robert Coleman

"Revival is a return to spiritual health after a period of decline into sin and broken fellowship with God... Revival is for God's people when they need to be forgiven and restored to life, spiritual health, and vitality" -Blackaby & King (Fresh Encounter, Lifeway, 1993)

"Revival is an extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit producing extraordinary results." - Richard Owen Roberts

Look in the Bible. Notice how many times it says, "me" or "us" when speaking of revival. Here are some examples:

Psalm 119:156: "Great are Thy mercies, O Lord; Revive me according to Thine ordinances"

Psalm 119:37: "Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Thy ways."

Psalm 119:88: "Revive me according to Thy lovingkindness, So that I may keep the testimony of Thy mouth"

Psalm 85:6: "Wilt Thou not Thyself revive us again, That Thy people may rejoice in Thee?"

Habbakuk 3:2: "Lord, I have heard the report about Thee and I fear. O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy"

Like the old song says, "It's me, it's me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer."

When is revival needed among God's people? When they have their left first love. God's people need to be revived when they find themselves going through the motions, having "a form of godliness but denying its power" (2nd Timothy 3:5). God's people need revival when they are wallowing in sin, perhaps regretting their sins, but unwilling to thoroughly repent of them. God's people need revival when they are neglecting their relationship with Christ. Revival is needed when we are low on zeal and have grown lukewarm.

J. I. Packer lists five Marks of Revival:
(1) Awareness of God's Presence
(2) Responsiveness to God's Word
(3) Sensitiveness to sin
(4) Liveliness in Community - A revived church is full of life, joy, and power of the Holy Spirit
(5) Faithfulness in testimony - an evangelistic and ethical overspill into the world.

We can all agree with Spurgeon as he described the kind of revival he wanted to see:

"We need a work of the Holy Spirit of a supernatural kind, putting power into the preaching of the Word, inspiring all believers with heavenly energy, and solemnly affecting the hearts of the careless, so that they turn to God and live. We would not be drunk with the wine of carnal excitement, but we would be filled with the Spirit. We would behold the fire descending from heaven in answer to the effectual fervent prayers of righteous men. Can we not entreat the Lord our God to make bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the people in this day of declension and vanity?"

Is there a "formula for revival"? Sometimes, you hear 2nd Chronicles 7:14 used as a recipe for revival:

"If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

But that's the whole deal, isn't it? Getting God's people to humble themselves, to pray, to seek God's face, and repent? It would seem that if all that is happening, you have revival! The condition being met in this passage leads to forgiveness and restoration; at least that's what it says after the word, "then".

So, should we pray for revival? Of course! That's what we see the Psalmist doing in the verses above. But can we reduce the work of a sovereign God to a man-dependant formula? No. Revival is the work of God. We pray for it because we are dependant upon Him to send it.