Revive Us, O Lord!
Reading: Psalm 147
It is not uncommon to hear Christians say, “What the church needs is revival!” Arguably, that is as true today as it ever has been. What would revival look like if it came? What is it that we need? Are we seeking an existential experience – an encounter attributable to the Holy Spirit through which one might say, “I know that I know God is real!” I welcome such experiences of the Spirit, when it is indeed the Spirit. But would that constitute revival?
He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. 16 He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. 17 He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? 18 He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow. 19 He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. 20 He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 147:15-20)
How does God Revive?
To revive means to make alive; the implication is “again.” How does God make us alive? Why did we, the church, sink into a deathlike state such that we need life again? We see the answer to this all the way back in the account of creation. When the earth was formless and empty, when it was lifeless and filled with chaos and darkness, how did God make it alive? Two things: The Spirit of God and the word of God. These are the agents of creation and these are the agents of recreation.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said…. (Genesis 1:2-3a)
God recreates the same way He created to begin with: God’s Spirit and God’s word. When chaos begins to reign again, when darkness envelops our lives, we need God’s word and Spirit to transform. It is both profound and simple. It’s the simplicity of it that we often despise. We want something more – more complicated, with a little more sizzle.
God recreates the same way He created to begin with: God’s Spirit and God’s word.
When God’s word has brought the judgment of “his icy blast” (Psalm 147:17), then we need His Spirit and word to melt the ice, to stir up the breezes (which is literally, “to cause His wind (Spirit) to blow”) so that the waters of life may flow (Psalm 147:18 NASB). What that looks like in human experience is: “He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel.” (Psalm 147:19) There are two things always required for God’s word and ways to be made known to His people: His Spirit and His word (see also 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
Why Does God Revive this Way?
If the essence of revival is to bring life, new life, then we should consider what brought death. Death came because Adam and Eve rejected God’s word and believed a lie, a distortion of that word (Genesis 3:1-5). If a rejection of God’s word is the source of death, then revival must be rooted in restoring the truth – in the revealing of God’s word.
If a rejection of God’s word is the source of death, then revival must be rooted in restoring the truth .
In the history of Israel, whenever there was a neglect of the instruction of God’s word, there was a decline in the spiritual life of Israel. When God sent the prophet Amos to declare judgment upon the people of Israel, that judgment would be brought about by the very opposite of what brings revival—a famine of hearing God’s word. When there is a famine of hearing God’s word, judgment is quickly on its heels.
11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. 12 People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. (Amos 8:11-12)
So if death and judgment come because of either a rejection of God’s word or a famine of hearing it, then life will come, and can only come, when the Spirit opens our ears to hear God’s word. Hearing, in God’s economy of things, always requires a preacher (Romans 10:14).
Preaching and Revival
Some might think it odd to think that believing, which requires hearing, requires a preacher. “Not anymore! Haven’t you heard of the printing press? We have Bibles laying all around our houses, and all we need for revival is God’s Spirit and a Bible.” I will grant that it is possible that God can work this way and that He even does from time to time. However, that is not His normal means of reviving His people. Throughout the history of God’s people there has been a relationship between the spiritual state of the people and how they relate to God’s messengers. We see this in the preaching of Stephen just before he was martyred.
Throughout the history of God’s people there has been a relationship between the spiritual state of the people and how they relate to God’s messengers.
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
Resistance to the Holy Spirit is equated to persecuting the prophets (the messengers of God’s word). Jesus spoke about the rejection of the messengers and its tie to judgment (Luke 11:47-50). On the positive side, when Jesus ascended to reign on high over everything in heaven and earth, He sent gifts to humanity in the form of those who preach, teach, and exposit God’s word (Ephesians 4:8, 11). Why? Because His reign is a reign of life and new creation. “He sent His word and healed them; He rescued them from the Pit” (Psalm 107:20 CSB).
Revival Requires a Miracle
Revival requires a miracle. A miracle of hearing, one might say. For the preacher preaches, the people listen, and unless the Spirit of God enlivens hearts to understand, we are left with lifeless words. What we need is prayer. Prayer that God’s people would not resist God’s word, but would recognize that in it is life. We must plead with God to reveal it to us – to make it plain – even as the preacher preaches. Or, we have to resort to a message that requires no miracle to understand.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,