Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Longing for Revival

[This entry follows a sermon called "Revive Us O Lord". Click on the title to find the audio.]

This past Sunday, our congregation focused on this statement, in light of the message of Psalm 85: We cannot plan revival, but we should plead for revival and believe God will answer. Feeling stale can be the experience of an individual Christian, and it can be the experience of an entire congregation. Psalm 85 is the expression of a people who have known the goodness of God (v. 1-3) and long to experience it afresh (v. 4-7). When we experience stagnant times in our spiritual lives, we too should look back on what the Lord has done for us in Christ and plead with Him to give us fresh joy...fresh life.

There is a sense of desperation in this kind of praying because we know that if God does not answer, we will remain stale. We certain cannot revive ourselves...we cannot refresh ourselves. We need God to act on our behalf and breathe new life into our stagnant spiritual state. After Sunday's service, I was discussing this desperation with a man in our congregation, and it reminded me of a story.

I once heard that Socrates had a student come to him seeking his help. "What do you want?" the eminent philosopher asked. "I want to be wise." Socrates led the young man to sea shore, and they waded into the water together. Socrates promptly plunged the student's head beneath the water and held him there.

After a few moments, he allowed the student to stand and asked again, "What do you want?" The student replied, "I want to be wise." Again, Socrates plunged the young man's head under water...this time holding it longer. Eventually, the student came up with a bit of a gasp, and Socrates asked more firmly, "What do you want?" "Teacher, I want to be wise."

For the third time, Socrates pushed the boy's head under water...holding it still longer. This time, the boy was struggling under the water, eventually fighting his way out of Socrates' grip and up to the surface. "What do you want?" The boy shouted, "Air! I need air!" Socrates instructed him, "When you want wisdom the way you now want air, then you will have wisdom."

That's the kind of desperation that the one praying for revival should feel. Alexander Cumming, a minister who lived in the 18th century, said: "It is the invariable constitution of the kingdom of heaven that blessings of great magnitude are not imparted except to the prayers of deepest urgency." Desperation...deep urgency. Does this mark the way we pray for God to revive our own hearts? For God to bless our church with "blessings of great magnitude"? Do we even pray this way in 2011?

It is interesting that we can think about a subject such as revival on a Sunday morning, and then the busyness of the week can set in and make our memory fade. I know that the dentist, the doctor, gymnastics, homeschool co-op, and basketball practice have filled our family's schedule in the 48 hours since Sunday. You the midst of service, we may feel a great sense of urgency to pray for God to bring greater conviction of sin, greater commitment to the cause of Christ, greater fruit in our evangelistic efforts, and more. Yet, the routine of life can dull that great urgency into a sweet memory of a 'good service.'

What should be our response to this? Even more prayer...fighting in prayer...remaining steadfast in prayer. I said it Sunday, but in the evangelical world, we have trained ourselves not to feel this desperation for God to work in our midst. We have relegated desperate prayers to the realm of tragic events, when it seems that the general ineffectiveness of many churches (maybe even our own) should feel more tragic.

Of course, we resist the idea that we can formulate services and programs that can produce immediate, large-scale, genuine, spiritual results...and this is a right resistance. Yet, it seems that in resisting this path, we seemed to convince ourselves that the very absence of immediate, large-scale, genuine, spiritual results is the evidence that we are doing things well.

Of course, it is true...many of us will not see the kinds of awakening and conversion that we read about in church history under the preaching men like Edwards or Whitefield. And when we don't see these kinds of results, we do persevere because God works through what seems mundane to us. We don't despise the days of small things.

However, shouldn't we want great awakenings in our churches? Shouldn't we long for God to save on a large scale? Shouldn't we long for God to make His glory known in this way? Knowing the desperate wickedness and depravity in our world, shouldn't the believers' soul cry out for God's reviving work? Psalm 85 looks back on the past work of God and longs for it again; shouldn't we do the same?

For those of us who believe in God's sovereignty, this kind of desperation should be increased...not decreased. We may plant, and we may water...yet, it is only God who can give the increase. And this God who gives the increase has designed that His work is regularly accomplished in response to our prayers. So, we don't lose heart in the days of small things...and we don't stop desperately praying for God to do more.

I close with these words from C.H. Spurgeon: “Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival of religion– men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here, as in the times of former generations.” Amen.