Friday, 5 February 2010

Revival – some thoughts

I suppose many definitions could be given of revival, although most of them would be related to historical records, which means that there is the fact of revival. There are so many records of such spiritual occasions that only a perverse person would deny they occurred.

Further, many factors related to it can be assessed biblically, which means that there is a theology of revival. A theology of revival attempts to explain God’s action in promoting his kingdom through the gospel. It looks for biblical doctrines that describe, for example, the involvement of the risen Jesus in revival, the work of the Spirit in revival, the activity of the devil in such periods, the contribution of prayer made by God’s people for such times and in such times.

A third aspect of revival are features that are absent from some revivals and present in other revivals, which indicate that these features are not necessary for a revival to occur. Most of these things would come into the category of social consequences, and they may be beneficial or not for the community. For example, some revivals are accompanied by great improvement in the living standards of the poor (the revivals connected to 1859 in Britain and America had that consequence). Other revivals are followed by increased persecution of God’s people, resulting in loss of living standards (this happened throughout the twentieth century in communist countries).

A fourth feature of revival is that we inevitably visualise it through our own understanding of it. There have been frequent revivals in the Highlands, particularly the Outer Hebrides during the last two centuries and details of what took place in them have become part of our spiritual heritage. The knowledge of what God did then creates within us a longing for him to do it again. As I have listened to these accounts during the last three decades since I was converted, I have sensed that many people assumed that, when the next revival comes, it will be a repetition of what occurred previously. But while the gospel message will not change and the response of repentance and faith will be essential, there may be features in the next revival that will be totally different from previous ones.

For example, if a revival began tomorrow, what would be the contribution of modern technology? Revivals in the eighteenth century occurred within the limitations of the time: information containing points for prayer was conveyed by letter that could take months to reach their destination, preachers travelled on horseback or walked between places, and sometimes places experiencing revival were unaware that communities twenty miles away were also enjoying God’s blessing in a similar way (it also meant that some communities were unaware that a revival was taking place anywhere). Revivals in the nineteenth century utilised the invention of the telegraph and the development of printing of books to help spread the revival. A revival thirty years ago had the means of tape recordings and telephones to help it (we may not be familiar with that because we have not experienced a revival in which they were used.) But if a revival comes tomorrow, it is likely that the Lord would use our current technology as one of the means of bringing people to repentance and assurance. Sometimes, we look at the millions of people in our society and we ask ourselves, ‘How can we reach all these people?’ The question usually expects a negative answer. Whether God will bring a revival or not tomorrow, it is obvious that through modern technology the gospel can be preached to millions of people simultaneously.

And if God poured his Spirit out on our nation, it would not be difficult for the gospel to get prime time slots on TV schedules. The forms of media (newspapers, journals) that existed in times of previous revival were quick to report on revivals, and there is no need to imagine that modern media would ignore a widespread revival.

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