Dreaming Revival As we wait for the Second Coming, what is our greatest need?
By Fordson Chimoga
As we near the end of the world, should we as members of the remnant talk about spiritual revival? Is spiritual revival something needed among church leaders, workers, and members? Is it relevant or irrelevant to focus our energies and resources on how to bring about spiritual revival?
In the book of Ezra there is a call for revival. Why? What was the setting?
The Israelites were in Babylonian captivity. They were there because they had transgressed God’s law. Obedient to God’s law, they were stronger than the other nations; but as soon as they forsook God, the reverse happened. They became weaker than the surrounding nations, were taken by King Nebuchadnezzar into Babylonian captivity, and became exposed to the evil teachings and practices of Babylon.
During their 70 years of captivity, most of the Israelites came to accept the lifestyle of Babylon as normal, and forgot the life of devotion and strict obedience to the God of their fathers. They started building houses and even marrying the daughters of Babylon. “When these things were done,” Ezra says, “the leaders came to me, saying, ‘The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, with respect to the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass’” (Ezra 9:1, 2).
Ezra’s time is distant, but the practices of his day are close to us. How many of us Christians still support our children marrying outside the church, despite Paul’s counsel that we “not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14)? How many of us leaders still pose ourselves as if we are rulers of this world? How many of us still fight for positions in the church as if this was the most important thing to have in this world? We have somehow been “mixed with the peoples of the lands,” just as during the time of the prophet Ezra.
It is interesting to note that according to the last part of Ezra 9:2, “the hand of the leaders and rulers [had] been foremost in this trespass.” Could this be true of church leaders today? Are we not immune to such evil practices?
Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name…?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Many Had Settled Down
Ezra was astonished by the unwillingness of the majority of the people to return to Jerusalem. The time had come to return as God had said, but most of the Israelites had become comfortable in their captivity. Ezra 9:5, 6 shows the spiritual struggles Ezra went through in trying to correct the situation: “At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God. And I said: ‘O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.’”
Ezra prayed to God not only for the forgiveness of his own sins, but also for the sins of his people. We should learn to pray like Ezra—not only for ourselves, but for the flocks assigned to us.
As a result of Ezra’s spiritual struggles and commitment to God, some people decided to follow him—a small group decided to return to Jerusalem with him. And we find evidence of repentance and revival. Ezra 9:8 says: “And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.”
Donald A. McGavran, regarded by some as the father of the church growth movement in contemporary Christianity, says that “two principal preconditions of revival … are prayer and feeding on God’s Word.”1 Let us briefly consider these two.
1. Prayer. How does prayer bring about revival? According to McGavran, “Revival is God’s gift. Human beings can neither command it nor make God grant it. God sovereignly gives revival when and where He wills. It ‘breaks out,’ ‘strikes,’ ‘quickens a church,’ ‘comes with the suddenness of a summer storm,’ ‘makes its appearances,’ ‘inaugurates a work of grace,’ and ‘blesses his people.’ But God responds to sincere continued prayer…. ‘Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.’”2
God is willing to bring about revival in our church—in both members and leaders, if we earnestly pray for it.
2. God’s Word. Feeding on God’s Word is the second precondition of revival. According to McGavran, knowledge of the Bible does not always lead to revival. But without it, revival in the classic sense does not usually occur. Historically, he says, a careful study of the Word has always preceded revival, as, for example, in Europe and America. The Korean revival of the twentieth century owed much of its power, he says, “to the thorough Bible study that formed an integral part of the Presbyterian Church’s regimen from the days of its inception in 1895.”3
We should not minimize the power a person can derive from the proper and consistent study of God’s Word. The Bible student does not remain the same. The Word of God impacts the life. Jesus said: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
What about the outcomes of revival—on the individual, on the group, on the entire church or community? McGavran lists, among others, holy living, “the restoration of New Testament Christianity.”
Another outcome, he says, is power—“tremendous spiritual power to do Christ’s will.” It affects our conduct as Christians, he says. The infilling of the Holy Spirit leads to the confession and renunciation of previously hidden sins. “Evil habits of mind and body—covetousness, … lust, addiction to drink, idolatry, race prejudice—that had for years enslaved women and men—are broken. The Holy Spirit gives new standards of justice and mercy to the revived, and they begin to advocate advanced social righteousness.”4
Finally revival drives Christians to proclaim the gospel. The believers, once revived, become coworkers with God. They take up the work of Jesus as their own. They are no longer forced to witness for Christ. Instead, witnessing becomes their second nature.
We are living at a time when this world is about to come to an end, and revival is more needed today than ever. Ellen G. White reminds us that “Bible conversion and sanctification—a radical change of heart and transformation of character—is the great need of the churches of today”5
1 Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1970), p. 134.
2 Ibid., p. 135.
3 Ibid., pp. 135, 136.
4 Ibid., p. 137.
5 Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 306.
Fordson Chimoga is an associate professor of theology at Zambia Adventist University in Monze, Zambia.