By Dr. Rick Flanders
A great man once said that most Christians are so subnormal that when some rise to the normal, they are considered supernormal! Here is the problem we face. Worldliness, carnality, and indifference have become so much the usual condition of Christians that passion, power, and purity seem extraordinary! Let us recognize that Bible Christianity is a very powerful thing whenever and wherever it is lived out. Sadly, we have so seldomly seen it that men are persuaded that it is beyond the normal. Yet effective evangelism, abiding peace, Spirit enablement, as well as severe persecution are the norm for the Christian life. Our unbiblical conception of revival points to our great need for it!
A third strange and incorrect idea that we often hear is that revival must meet certain historical criteria to be correctly called “revival.” It is amazing how unscriptural are the requirements some believers set for revival!
The number of conversions, the endurance of the converts, the effects on society, and unusual phenomena are all considered when critics decide whether or not a religious occurrence is a “revival.” But a revival is not in closed taverns, reduced crime, strange experiences, massive numbers, or church harmony. It is in believers turning back to a life surrendered to God! When God revives His people, their witness for Christ has new power, but the specific effects of that power may not match exactly the effects of other revivals in the past.
The second chapter of Acts says that Peter and the congregation at Jerusalem were “filled with the Holy Ghost” (v. 4) and spoke the Word of God in His power. They were in a state of revival. As a result, those who heard their witness to the resurrection of Christ “were pricked in their heart” (v. 37) and repented. Some three thousand were saved and baptized as a result of the revival on that Day of Pentecost (v. 41).
The seventh chapter of Acts tells about the deacon, Stephen, who was “full of the Holy Ghost” (v. 55). He was in a state of revival, and as he witnessed for Christ before the council of men that had arranged for the Lord’s crucifixion, the power of God brought conviction. “They were cut to the heart,” the Bible says (v. 54), but the result was rage, not conversion. These sinful men “ran upon him [Stephen] . . . and cast him out of the city” (vv. 57-58). There they stoned the deacon to death. But let us note that there was a state of revival in the Christian of Acts 7 just as surely as there was such a state among the Christians in Acts 2! The revival was in the hearts of the believers, and the expected blessing of convicting power did come in both cases. Yet in one situation, a multitude was immediately converted, and in the other, the believer was murdered (although fruit was indeed produced through the eventual conversion of Saul-Acts 7:58 and 9:3-6). The particulars were different because they were incidentals, not essentials. Essentially, revival was the same in Acts 2 and 7. In the Bible we are instructed accurately about revival, but that is not always so in history books!
Revival is God’s bringing us back to normal! Mr. Finney said, “[A revival] is the renewal of the first love of Christians, resulting in the awakening and conversion of sinners to God.”1 Bill Rice III says that revival is a return to Bible principle. Vance Havner defined revival as Christians returning to normal.
Revival is also predictable. It can be expected when it is sought on the basis of God’s Word. Judges 10 shows us that we can expect revival in response to our repentance because of the very nature of the heart of God! “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” Something in God moves when men move toward Him.
The aspect of God’s nature that responds to man’s repentance is His mercy. The great revival Psalm, number 85, says in verse 7, “Show us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.”
Psalm 89 says in verse 1, “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever.”
In Psalms 106, 107, 118, and twenty-six times in Psalm 136, we read that “his mercy endureth for ever.” The reason God’s mercy endures forever is that the eternal God is essentially merciful.
The prophet Habakkuk prayed for revival, and in his prayer he said, “In wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). God always remembers mercy in times of His wrath. Think of the covering coats He provided for Adam’s nakedness on the day of his fall and God’s curse. Think of Noah’s ark at the time of God’s terrible judgement in the Flood. God is always merciful, even when He is angry, and that is because He is unalterably merciful.
Have you noticed what God did when weak and wicked King Ahab repented?
“And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.” (I Kings 21:28-29)
Even Ahab found God merciful, and he was the worst of the kings of Israel! Can you remember who was the most wicked ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah? It was Manasseh. Have you heard that Manasseh found God’s mercy, too?
“And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.” (II Chronicles 33:12-13)
The verses that followed these remarkable two tell us that the king experienced a full-scale revival in his own life and spent the rest of his days working to undo the harm he had done by his sins! How could such a man have a revival? The answer is in the fact that God is and will always be merciful and that His reviving work can be expected in response to our repentance. Hear what God’s messengers have told us!
“In the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them Saviors.” (Nehemiah 9:27)
“Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Isaiah 57:15). “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:10).
Yes, we can have forgiveness, help, and blessing from God in response to humble submission, steadfast faith, sincere repentance, and solemn commitment. God is, and has always been, the Great Reviver of His people!
Certainly in our day we ought to seek personal, corporate, and general revival in the way the Israelites did in Jephthah’s time. Pay attention to what characterized their quest for revival.
There Was Confession!
“And the children of Israel said unto the LORD, We have sinned:” (Judges 10:15a)
They harbored little hope for a response, but they nevertheless confessed their sins to God. Can we expect a particular reaction from God when we sincerely confess our sins?
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)
God is “faithful” to forgive when we confess. Forgiveness is not a sovereign act unrelated to our attitude, but the promised response to our confession, rooted in divine mercy. These days, Christians who have lived their lives in love with the world and in neglect of their Father’s commands ought to make serious business of confessing their sins. Godly men and women of the past have sought revival by writing out their sins and spending time confessing them. Thoughtful reflection on our sins of omission as well as our habitual sins of commission will reveal clearly why we see so little of God’s blessing in our lives. However, earnest confession of all these sins will certainly secure our God’s forgiveness. And the God of Israel will revive us again!
There Was Submission!
“do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee;” (Judges 10:15b)
The children of Israel were resigned to accept God’s will for them, no matter what it was. Can we expect the Lord to do anything in particular when we yield to Him in this way?
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)
The admonition to surrender is attached to the promise that those who surrender all will “prove” the perfect will of God in their lives. The Lord will set our steps on the right path when we submit our lives unconditionally to Him! He wants us to fulfill His will, and He will see that we do when we become willing. His mercy guarantees it.
There Was Prayer!
“Deliver us only, we pray thee, this day.” (Judges 10:15c)
When we ask “any thing according to his will,” the Apostle John told us “he heareth us” and “we have the petitions that we desired of him” (I John 5:14-15). Men who pray for things that God says He wants for them can expect to receive the blessings they seek.
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Do we want revival blessings? Then we should ask for them. Do we desire holiness? Let us ask for it. Do we hope to win others to Christ? Let us pray that the Lord will grant these things. It is in His nature to respond to such prayers.
There was Repentance!
“And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD,” (Judges 10:16a)
God did not tell His people that if they got rid of their idols He would deliver them from the Ammonites. He did not lead them to believe that if they served Him again, He would come to their aid. They just did it anyway. They repented of their sins, repaired their ways, and returned to the service of the true God because it was right to do so!
“and his soul was grieved…”
Their repentance brought his mercy, a response we should expect.
In his journal, Benjamin Franklin described what was happening in Philadelphia as a result of George Whitfield’s revival preaching. “From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion it seem’d as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”2
A general revival was prevailing in the city, and it was seen and heard in the changed lives of sinner and saint alike. Sometimes I think that if Christians began to act as if a general revival had come perhaps the Lord would send one! Perhaps we should just change our ways and see what happens! We could gather our families nightly to sing the praises of the Lord. We could start praying as if we believed that God would revive us again. We could give up the things in our lives that generate or fan the love of the world. We could begin witnessing for Christ boldly and habitually. We could have meetings to seek revival as in time of old. Repentance turns the heart of God. Certainly we ought to repent! We can have the revival we need, as individual Christians, as servants of the Lord, and as congregations of believers. God is the Great Reviver of His people and can be expected to respond to our repentance and prayer. He is ever merciful and will hear our cry!
Dr. Rick Flanders, a pastor for 36 years, is now in a full time itinerant preaching ministry and the author of Back to Normal: Understanding Revival. He is an expert on the history of religion and religious revivals in America and speaks optimistically about the possibility of a new revival era in the future. For more information or to order materials contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
1 Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1868), p. 14
2 Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (New York: Washington Square Press, 1955), pp. 128-29
Dr. Flander’s book can be purchased at Amazon.