America's Greatest Need: Revival!
A Work of God's Grace
In 1983 the Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave an acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. In that speech, he recalls the words that he'd heard as a child which still were fresh in his mind. When one of his elders sought to explain the horrible and ruinous upheavals that were taking place in Russia at the time he remembers them saying: "Men have forgotten God! That's why all this has happened!" Solzenitsyn then went on to say:
"If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: 'men have forgotten God.'"
If Mr.Solzhenitsyn were living today, he would not be encouraged. Men still have forgotten God. And if anything, things have gotten worse since his death in 2008.
It isn't hard to see that we are in a Civil War of sorts between we who espouse traditional Judeo-Christian values and those who would seek to reinvent America. As a result, we are suffering the casualties of that war. The role of the traditional husband and father, for instance, is being downplayed and what was once seen as the strength of the male gender is being touted as "toxic masculinity."
We are seeing also, an increasing number of single-parent households in America as well as homes where people never bother to get married, with all of the cultural problems that this is causing our society. That is especially true where children are growing up without the stable influence that a loving father brings.
There is study after study that tells us that a man and woman coming together as one flesh in a marriage is the most stable and reliable way to rear happy, more adjusted children. Yet that is happening less and less.
Sadly, we are also arguing over things that are both rooted in science and in thousands of years of human history such as how many genders there actually are. And we are making decisions which should never be debated by arguing, not just about the life of the baby in the womb, but over whether or not we should allow a child born due to a botched abortion to live or die.
These things are sad, and while I do believe that the Christian should be speaking out against the evils and excesses of society, it is not this type of activism that will bring about the desperately needed change that America and other countries require.
Change starts at home, with the Church, the Body of Christ. Throughout history, the thing that has made the most major impact on the society and culture around us is when the Church acted like the Church, preaching the Gospel and living out what it believed before a watching world. Even before the inception of the Christian Church, God has brought about change through various revivals among His people that have, in turn, helped to change the world and bring about God's sovereign plans. We need revival again.
What is a revival? It is a supernatural work of God's grace whereby He touches a community of the faithful, leading to a spiritual awakening from a state of dormancy or stagnation in the lives of believers. It includes a resurfacing of a love for God and an appreciation of His holiness.
A revival gives the believers a passion for God's Word and His Church. It includes an awareness of sin and a desire for repentance and to be cleansed from that which gets in the way of our relationship with God, both individually and corporately. It deepens the believer's faith and gives them a desire for God's mission to spread the good news of the Gospel to the world in which they live.
Revival is a re-encounter with God's Word, His work and His mercy. And when God's people are revived, it leads to changes in the society around them. That includes mass conversions of non-believers as well as social reforms.
I. America's Past Revivals
It is hard not to believe that God has had his hand on the United States of America if you just look at its history. From its very inception, this country is somewhat of a miracle. When you think of how we defeated one of the greatest empires in the world at the time, Great Britain, to win our freedom, it is nothing short of impossible that we should even be here. But it is just as miraculous that the Lord continued to bring revivals to God's people at seemingly just the right time in history.
Revivals in America are collectively known as "Awakenings" and they refer to three or four waves of religious enthusiasm which occurred between the 18th century and late 20th century. The two that are well documented in American Church history are known as the First and Second Great Awakenings. The awakenings all resulted from powerful preaching of the Word of God which gave the listeners a sense of personal guilt and a need for salvation in Jesus Christ.
The First Great Awakening began in the 1730s and lasted until 1740, though there were pockets of evangelism that occurred before these years. There were some key figures that God used to preach to the people. Two of the key people were Solomon Stoddard who was the grandfather of the more famous Jonathan Edwards. Edwards and his congregation later started what was known as the Frontier Revivals in the mid-1730s.
The British evangelist George Whitefield was also a key figure in this revival. He arrived in Georgia in 1738 and did a number of successful evangelistic campaigns.
It was in the aftermath of this great revival that our country was formed in 1776. One could argue that the religious fervor of the Great Awakening was a major factor in the decision to split from Britain and in the forming of our nation.
The Second Great Awakening was a religious revival that began in the United States in the late eighteenth century and lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century. While it happened across the whole U.S, it was especially strong in the Northeast and the Midwest. This awakening was unique in that it not only involved the wealthy elite of New England but moved to the less wealthy and less educated as well.
One of the greatest preachers of this era was Charles Grandison Finney whose preaching in Rochester, New York in 1839 alone resulted in approximately 100,000 converts.
This Second Great Awakening in America is largely credited for such social movements as the temperance movement, which preached against the evils of alcohol. This Awakening also lead to the concern for women's rights including their right to vote. And it contributed to the Civil war and the abolition of slavery. All this while bringing Salvation to many individuals.
Some like to discuss a third Great Awakening form 1850-1900. This brought about a lot of new denominations, lots of missionary work and something called Chautauquas which was an adult education movement in the United States.
Sadly, the Social Gospel movement came out of this era as well, which is a movement which emphasizes social issues rather than the Gospel of the Grace of God. However, from this time also came the work of Dwight L. Moody who preached the good news of Salvation very clearly.
The Fourth Great Awakening is heavily debated. Some don't include it in the historical record at all. It happened in the late 1960s and early '70s. Pastor Greg Laurie, who is an evangelist and preacher at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, talks about the Jesus Movement of that time from which many modern evangelists and preachers of today came. He himself is an evangelical minister who was saved during that era.
II. Revival is Biblical
The word revive is a good biblical concept. In Psalm 119, for instance, the Psalmist asks God to:
-Revive me according to Your Word. v.25
-Revive me in Your ways. v.37
-Revive me in Your righteousness. v.40
It is a constant need in the Christian life and in the Church of Jesus Christ to keep close accounts with God. We need always to be sure that we aren't straying from His presence and His Word. However, when we do, we need revival.
A true Christian will never lose his salvation. And the true Church of God will always be just that. Revival isn't bringing life from the dead. That happens in salvation. This is more like a plant that is wilting and falling over for lack of water. What it needs is something to quench its thirst. What the Church needs is someone to preach and teach the Word to a Church with dry faith.
The Bible is full of many instances of personal and national revival. Just read the accounts of the people of Israel under of Moses and Joshua and you'll see a people who stray from the Lord, only to be brought back again and again by a loving, merciful God.
The book of Judges has a sin cycle that is repeated over and over again. At the beginning of the book, their leader Joshua is dead so the people begin doing that which is right in their own eyes. The land isn't fully possessed yet that the Lord has given them and they are influenced by the pagans that surround them. The people begin to worship idols.
If you read this book you begin to see a pattern (Judges 2:11-33).
- Turning from God to serve idols.
- God turns Israel over to oppressive nations.
- Israel turns to the Lord, crying out to Him for help.
- God raises up a judge to deliver them from bondage.
Unfortunately, Gods people haven't changed much. We, like Israel, have a tendency to go astray and turn to idols of our own making. We need to cry out to God for deliverance more than we'd care to admit.
III. Revival Under King Josiah
In a later time in biblical history, we have a unique moment of revival under godly king Josiah, the last good king of the southern kingdom of Judah. He became monarch upon the assassination of his father, King Amon when he was just eight years old. And he ruled from 649-609 B.C.
The Bible describes him as a very righteous king who walked in the ways of his ancestor, David. He didn't turn aside "to the right hand or to the left." (II Kings 22:2). Josiah is also one of the people mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew found in chapter 1:10-11.
Josiah was entirely different from his grandfather Manasseh who was one of the kings who was blamed for turning the people from the worship of Yahweh, the one true God. He was more like his great-grandfather, Hezekiah who was a good king and noted reformer.
According to Scripture, it was in the eighteenth year of his reign that Josiah decided to take the tax money that had been collected and use it to renovate the Temple. He ordered the High Priest Hilkiah to do this. It was during this time that Hilkiah discovered the book of the law while cleaning the treasure room of the Temple. This was probably a copy of the book of Deuteronomy.
II Kings 22:11 tells us that when Josiah read the book of the law he immediately tore his clothes. This was an act of contrition because the people had obviously disobeyed the law all of those years.
Then the king consulted with the prophetess Huldah who told him that the evil foretold in the document would indeed come to pass because of Judah's disobedience. However, she told him that the evil wouldn't happen in his time because his heart was tender and he humbled himself before the Lord (22:18-20).
After hearing what needed to be done, Josiah then proceeded to call an assembly of the elders of Judah and of all the people. He then read the words of the law before the people and had them commit to keeping it. He and all the people went into covenant with the Lord to keep it (II Kings 23:1-3)
He ordered the exclusive worship of Yahweh, and forbid all other forms of worship. He removed the implements of the worship of Baal and the host of heaven from the Temple. The local sanctuaries, called high places, were destroyed. He had the pagan priests executed. and even had the bones of the dead priests exhumed and burned on their altars. He also resumed the Passover celebration which had not been observed in years (4-24).
King Josiah made such sweeping reforms that this is what Scripture says of him:
"Before him, there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise." (23:25).
God indeed brought great revival through this righteous king.
IV. What We Can Learn from Josiah
Although America is not a theocracy, (i.e. a government ruled directly by God), and we don't have a monarch, we can learn a lot from God's people Israel, and godly Josiah.
In his day, as it will be in ours, revival starts with God and His Word. We have to read it, hear it, memorize it and have a godly pastor or teacher expound the Scriptures for us as well. It is no wonder that things are as bad as they are in the church and in this country today since biblical illiteracy is abundant, even in the pew. We need more preachers who faithfully administer the Word of God to congregations eager to hear and learn it.
Which brings us to the second key. When Josiah and the people heard the Word, they immediately recognized their need for a revival. In our world today, we have millions of people outside the church, and more importantly, outside of Christ. The book of Ephesians says that they are without hope and without God in the world (2:12).
Sadly, within the church itself, many congregations are worldly and ineffective. Too many preachers don't preach the Word in many churches and thus lack any spiritual power to change the world.
And individually we have to realize that we are in need of revival. Our personal lives often lack a good testimony and so we don't tell others about Christ. Or, if we do, we are considered hypocrites by the world we are trying to save. We don't know the Word of God and so don't live it out as we should.
Another thing we have to do is believe that if God has brought about a revival in the past, He certainly has the power to do it again. Josiah knew that the Lord was a God of compassion and mercy who has saved his people before. Therefore, he tore his clothes in contrition to prove that he was serious and wanted the Lord to relent and show mercy to him and his people now.
We today often forget that we serve the Almighty God, Maker of the Heavens and the Earth. Nothing is impossible for Him. He can indeed save America just as he has preserved her in years gone by.
Next, we have to pray for God's Spirit to bring another Great Awakening to us His people and that He will fill His Church with His presence and cause us to be full of the Fruit of the Spirit. We have to pray that the Lord will give us a heart for the lost to go out and tell them that God loves them and wants to save them from an eternity of separation from Himself in Hell.
We finally must remove any obstacle to the Spirit's moving in our lives and in our church's corporate life by getting rid of any known sin. Sin is the greatest barrier to a true and complete revival. Just as good king Josiah removed the idols from the Temple and high places from Judah, we must remove the idols from our lives as well. Of course, we don't kill anyone today, but we have to remove people from our lives that are leading us into sin. We may have to find different best friends to hang out with. As Scripture teaches us: "Bad company corrupts good character" ( I Corinthians 15:33).
We must, in short, do all we can to bring about revival while allowing God to make the decision if and when He will bring it about in the Church He has founded.
A Lutheran Bishop tells of a parish that he visited in California where there was a red and orange banner on the wall that said: "Come Holy Spirit! Hallelujah!" It declared this directly below a picture of a burning fire. He was excited by the sentiment until he read the sign directly beneath the banner that said: "Fire Extinguisher!." So much for the commitment, this group had to spiritual renewal.
Viewing the landscape of the church in America today, we could get discouraged. That is until we read the story of William Wilberforce of England. Wilberforce, who lived from 1759-1833, was a British politician, philanthropist and the leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade in England.
As Wilberforce surveyed the terrible spiritual and moral climate of his day. These are his words that he wrote:
"My own solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her navies or armies, nor on the wisdom of her rulers, nor on the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion that she still contains many who love and obey the gospel of Christ. I believe that their prayers may yet prevail."
A few short years after he wrote these words, England, the country that he loved, experienced one of the greatest revivals in modern times, bringing salvation to thousands and widespread social changes.
He died in 1833, just one month after the House of Lords passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which eventually abolished slavery in all the British Empire. This was something that Wilberforce gave most of his adult life to eliminating.
Like this great man of God, I don't put my solid hopes for the well being of the United States on her navies or armies, the wisdom of her rulers, nor the spirit of her people. I too believe that this country still contains many who love and obey the gospel of Christ. It is my hope and belief that their prayers may yet prevail in bringing about revival to this great nation in which we live.
Let us be men and women of prayer and faith that God will once again give us a moving of His Holy Spirit in the minds and hearts of the people of the United States of America. And after praying, let us go to work and spread the Gospel of the Grace of God to the whole world around us. May the Lord use us to change this nation and this world for His glory and bring about a revival like this great land has not yet seen in all of its history. Lord, please make it so!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley