Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Revival That Never Burns Out

My church is kneeling alongside many others in the State of Louisiana, all knocking on heaven's door, petitioning God, crying out for revival. Twenty-one days of fasting and prayer.

In whispers, in loud voices, we come together in unity and ask for God's revival to come to our State. Yet, in the still silence of my prayer closet, I have admitted to my heavenly Father what He already knows anyway--that my flesh is more than a little scared of revival.

Being revived isn't always easy. Being revived doesn't always lead us where we expect to be.

As a young adult, I understood revival to mean people would be miraculously drawn to the church until it was standing room only in a building where over half the seats were usually vacant. I envisioned The Great Awakening happening again, with my generation being washed down the aisles to the altar where they left their sin and were covered by the blood. I saw a period where the light of Christianity would not only fill the pulpits but also the darkest corners of the world outside the church's doors so that holiness blanketed the surrounding community like an overnight snowfall--silent in its coming but unmistakable in the light of morning.

Then, my church began praying for revival. And it came. But it was nothing like what I had read in the history books. Instead, revival ripped through my church as a refining fire that scorched and burned deep, as an earthquake heaving the very ground in two with part of my spiritual family on either side of the chasm.

When the earth stopped moving. When only fine tendrils of smoke rose from the charred joists remaining on their firm foundation. Then, I realized--this was revival. This was what I had prayed for.

I also learned something more: this revival we prayed for was not the end result. Revival is only the beginning.

In the book of Nehemiah, revival happened. It started when those returned exiles from Babylon gathered round to read the law: "And all the people gathered as one man at the square....Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square...from early morning until midday" (Neh. 8:1-3).

The Levites "explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading" (8:7-8).

Whether the returning exiles no longer understood Hebrew or whether the Levites were just explaining the meaning behind the words so that the people understood--I don't know. Yet, what happened next is certain--God's Spirit came down to bring revival.

Upon hearing the Law, the people's hearts were convicted of their sin so that "all the people were weeping" (8:9). Ezra and the Levites even had to tell the people to calm down, to stop weeping and, instead, praise the Lord because this was a set time of celebration, a great festival of joy.

"Because they understood the words which had been made known to them," what happened next was a Feast of Booths like Israel had not seen since the days of Joshua: "The entire assembly of those who had returned from captivity made booths and lived in them....And there was great rejoicing. He [Ezra] read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day" (8:12, 17-18).

This revival brought great unity--between God and man as well as among all God's people.

After seven days of reading God's word, the people, the people were changed so that "on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them...and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers" (9:1-2).

This is a good vision of revival: the people of God. In unity. Fasting. Confessing their sins. Worshiping God. And, in the end, making a new covenant with God, "taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God's law, which was given through Moses, God's servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of GOD our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes" (10:29).

It all seems wonderful. Yet, two chapters later, when Nehemiah returns after a trip to Babylon, he finds God's people have fallen back into their old ways. They have "forsaken" the house of God, neglected to pay tithes, worked on the Sabbath, defiled the priesthood, and intermarried with foreigners so that "their children...none of them was able to speak the language of Judah" (13:11,24).

Revival was purifying. Joyful. Necessary. Yet, revival was not the end result.

Nehemiah seeks to show us that once revival comes, God's people must still rely on Him to maintain revival in their lives, to persevere in a sin-fallen world.

After revival comes, our relationship with God still needs constant maintenance and the knowledge that yes, an end is coming...but this isn't it.

To sustain revival once it comes, we must worship Him daily in continued song, prayer, and fasting. We must stay in the Word. We cannot allow ourselves to grow apathetic in thinking we have achieved what we prayed for, so that's it.

No. This isn't it. Not until the eastern skies break open and Christ comes to reign as Lord.

1 comment:

  1. This is great. I love (and am terrified by) the imagery of a revival like "an earthquake heaving the very ground in two" or a "refining fire." Something that changes us for good.