Revival, Renewal, Worship & Other Questions
“What we need is revival.”
Many would agree with that statement, but it’d be wise to probe a bit deeper to discern what exactly is meant because there are a host of masquerades referred to as revival.
Our concept of revival has been variously defined as an event, economic prosperity, political power or a mile-high emotional experience that sends goosebumps down our spines, but needs to be repeated on a regular basis because evidently it lacks sustained potency.
From time to time, there are reports of gatherings where people collapse, apparently as a result of the power of God falling upon them. We hear stories about protracted meetings where signs and wonders are a regular occurrence, where so many people are slain in the spirit that they are stacked up like cordwood along the altar.
Is that what revival and renewal are all about?
What best describes revival?
A Way Of Life
All of the above could be definite manifestations of God at work in our midst, but taken by themselves they most certainly are not revival or renewal. If the magic and mystery of the moment is the focus, then we are not talking about Biblical revival—not by any stretch of the imagination.
At best, these kinds of experiences are simply exercises in emotional bloodletting and at worse; they are idolatry dressed up in the brightly colored rags of spiritual entertainment.
Does anyone honestly believe that the Creator of the universe is some cosmic voyeur, peeking in on us as we sort through our emotional dirty laundry?
According to the prophet Amos, genuine revival is tied to letting “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” It does not come as a result of the “noise of your songs” or the “music of your harps”.
Revival becomes reality when we put all our knowledge, education and enormous resources to work dismantling injustice in all its ugly forms. Isaiah made this clear when he said, “if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday”.
There is no question that true worship and revival is inextricably attached to justice happening as a direct result of the conduct of our lives. Revival is a way of life, not an event that needs to be repeated again and again and again, like some weak vaccination that didn’t get into the bloodstream the first time.
Jeremiah tells us that God’s compassions and mercies are continually available to us. In fact, “they are new every morning”, so God has already provided all that we need. The onus is on us. We must open ourselves up to receive the revival and renewal flowing from our Heavenly Father, and then live in the light of justice.
Style Versus Substance
We have taken a left turn away from practical principles and inexcusably muddied the waters by choosing to exchange substance for style. When justice is removed from the equation, we take the spotlight off of God and place it elsewhere.
For example, renewal has somehow been linked to style of worship, with the idea that a strictly contemporary music format is required for a congregation to be in a renewal phase. Any eclectic mix is discouraged or downright trashed as the native diversity of sounds and songs is replaced with a one size fits all mode imported from some successful ministry.
Loudness and repetition are the norm. Any classical influence and the great hymns of the faith are shelved. Presumably they are too inaccessible for today’s audience, though when it comes to worship, isn’t the audience supposed to be God? Since creativity is at the heart of who God is, doesn’t it stand to reason that he is pleased by the full spectrum of human expression in worship?
It fascinates me that in talking to his disciples about prayer, Jesus told them not to “keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words”. At its bedrock level, isn’t our congregational singing simply corporate prayer set to music? If so, when did our unchanging God change his opinion about “vain repetitions”?
Issues Of The Heart
In the current environment, a strange kind of dichotomy takes place, where the body of Christ is splintered into revival haves and have-nots. If your congregation is on the praise and worship bandwagon, then you can claim revival, regardless of whether or not there is any integrity given to justice and mercy issues.
If, however, you worship with a group that has a tendency to be traditional in its approach to God, you’re automatically made to feel that somehow your experience is second class and lacking vitality.
A sort of cut and paste paranoia takes place as the pressure to contemporize and get with the program increases. There is no thought or room given for the natural development of a congregation’s most fundamental personality, so schizophrenia evolves that dangerously erodes effectiveness and mission.
Would anyone seriously defend the position that our omniscient God is even vaguely interested in style? Isn’t his primary concern for our spiritual authenticity; doesn’t he place the highest priority on our character of brokenness and dependence on him? Revival, renewal and worship are the crucial issues of the heart, not abstract or technical discussions about instrumentation and form.
Emotions & Thrills
Don’t get me wrong. Those supernatural warm fuzzy times of worship are necessary and should be treasured because we are psychologically complex beings and it is essential for us to be emotionally connected to our Lord and Savior.
However, if we walk away from one of those touching the face of God encounters and are not compelled to “do justice and love mercy”, then Biblical revival has not occurred. Rather, our heart strings have been strummed or manipulated, and we’ve shared a collective behavior episode that professors speak about in Sociology 101.
No matter how other-worldly or profound the manifestations may appear, if we do not pick ourselves up off the floor and walk away from the altar with a dramatically different perspective, then no kind of God-centered renewal has taken place. Our God is in the business of transforming lives, so if revival does not result in changes to our outlook and direction, then it is no revival at all, but simply a joker in a counterfeit mask.
It is just the adrenaline rush of an impassioned buzz that will leave us shaking like a jittery heroin junkie clamoring for the next chance to get high again. Like a drug addict, we will always need more and more of the juice to quench our desire and achieve the desired rush.
The glitter and fever of the previous euphoria inflates our expectations, so in order to feed our hunger for religious escapism we end up chasing after the experience. In doing so, we mirror the world’s theme park thrill rides attitude with its emphasis on momentary excitement and personal gratification.
Why do we worship God?
The danger is that the experience becomes an idol; the very real danger is that the experience itself becomes the primary focus of our attention and energy, rather than the end result of our pursuit of God.
When that occurs, we have been seduced to believe that form, style and outward appearance are the critical concerns of our faith. Then, like it or not, we are no different than that “wicked and adulterous generation” who begged Jesus to show them miraculous signs and wonders.
We reveal the extreme depth of our superficiality because we are not interested in taking God at his word, but instead, we demand that invisible truth come equipped with physical verification. We agitate for tangible proof of his existence; we have to see and feel the evidence of his presence in our lives.
Without even being aware of it, we drift into a pattern of worship in which we treat God as a celestial waiter at our beck and call. We don’t worship him for who he is, but for what he can do for us. We don’t approach him with awe, but simply show up in our glad-rags with an entertain-me expectation that feeds on itself.
Who God is and his high call on our lives gets completely lost in our incessant mania to make sure that all our emotional buttons get pushed. Our me-centered need for self-fulfillment diminishes God’s holiness, sovereignty and omnipotence.
“What we need is revival.” Amen.
What we need is to repent of our gross sins of idolatry, presumption and pride; we need to repent of the naked hypocrisy of our lifestyle choices; we need to repent for taking part in the coup that dethroned God; we need to repent because we’ve created God in our image and exchanged “the glory of the immortal God” for culturally palatable images that place no demands on us for justice or mercy.
If revival and renewal are the cries of the heart, then on the individual and corporate level, we must acknowledge that the deadness of sin has altered our perception and judgment so that we willingly settle for one of the hollow masks of revival.
It feels good, so we embrace it; but we must recognize that it is an empty façade that has no depth of meaning, and it carries no responsibility for life-changing behavior patterns. Until we consistently hold ourselves accountable to pursue the goals of justice and mercy in our worship, we are destined to a treadmill spiritual existence that is a pale shadow of the abundant life God desires us to live.
The prophet Amos determined the measuring rod for revival. What we need is for justice to “roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Amen and amen.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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