Revival In America
We know it: It’s easy to feel discouraged about what’s happening in our country. Reading the headlines or just looking at the world around us can be downright depressing. All too often what should be considered “wrong” is being promoted as “right” and what is truly “right” is being degraded as “wrong.”
We're not to sit back and talk about how bad things are. We are to be actively, lovingly sharing and living out the truth. This is possible only with God's help.
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).
We believe that the Lord alone holds the key to winning the battle of good versus evil. Even during dark times, we must not wave a white flag. We must not give up. We must overcome evil with good.
We need to shine the light of Jesus to a very dark world. Pour out your feelings to the Lord. Choose to trust Him. And, in spite of our feelings, we must discipline ourselves to pray, pray, pray and continue to live out the love and truth the Lord has given us in His Word. We need to pray for true revival to sweep across our nation.
That is why we are dedicating this edition of Unite the USA on the topic of the power of prayer and revival.
We all need Jesus. The darkness found in the world and in our country fails to overwhelm the marvelous light of Jesus Christ. Yes, nothing dims His light. He is the One Who can deliver us from evil and bring ultimate victory but we must turn to Him.
Dr. Tim Keller said it well, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Isn’t that amazing? None of us are justified by our own merit. We are all sinners in need of the One and Only Savior: Jesus Christ. Knowing Him and living like Him is what we all need and that is what our country needs.
We need to listen and obey what was said in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Remember: Authentically sharing Christ and praying always count! As Christians, we are called to live like Jesus and to pray. We are to do His work while living on this earth. And as Christian Americans, that means praying and taking appropriate action to help others. It also means fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens. It is important to do our part in civics and to vote.
So put the white flag down and get down on our knees and pray. Join us in praying for softened hearts to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and that more will choose to know our Lord, Jesus Christ. Friends, sincerely knowing Jesus is our one and only hope. Amen?
In God we still trust,Carrie Stoelting and Stacie Stoelting Hudzinski
The Power of Prayer
James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."
It is important to pray. And it is important to pray for revival in our country and beyond. Come, Lord Jesus!
Featured Bible Verse
Unite the USA's Featured Veteran of the Month:
‘Lord, Do It Again’: Tim Keller on Revival
By Dr. Tim Keller
When I became a Christian at Bucknell University in 1970, the small InterVarsity group had perhaps 5 to 15 people coming at various times in the first two years I was involved. Suddenly, in my junior and senior year, the numbers went up 10-fold. A lot of people were becoming Christians.
This wasn’t just before cell phones and social media but before answering machines. There was no campaign. There wasn’t any media. We hardly used the word “movement.” There was no top-down coordination, no committees, nothing.
Student of Revival
I graduated from college, decided I wanted to go into ministry, and went to Gordon-Conwell Seminary. In the fall of 1972, church historian Richard Lovelace was teaching a course called “The Dynamics of Spiritual Life” for the first time in his career. It distilled his historical research on revival. He’d been a historian of revival and had studied the Awakenings. The course stunned me because it was, to a great degree, describing what I’d just seen on my college campus.
I went into ministry at the age of 24 and for nine years pastored a Presbyterian church (PCA) in small-town Virginia. After that, I went off to Westminster Seminary and taught there for five years.
Revival Comes to New York City
We went to New York City to plant Redeemer Presbyterian Church in 1989. Between five and six months after we got there—from early 1990 until late 1991—it happened again. I saw largely the same dynamics I’d seen back in college. It felt the same. It smelled the same.
Our church grew in the middle of Manhattan at a time when people were moving out because of the crime. We didn’t have church shoppers. We were starting from scratch. It was a difficult spot to start, and yet the church grew to about 1,000 people attending services in two years.
I’m a better preacher now than I was then; it’s not like people came to us looking for a good preacher. We certainly weren’t well-organized. We didn’t have a large staff. What was going on? I think it was what has been historically called “revival.”
How Not to Define Revival: Frontier and Pentecostal
There are different definitions. One is what I’ll call the frontier definition: revival is a season of extremely vigorous evangelistic exertion.
I was a Yankee who moved to the South in the 1970s. I was young—24 years old—and was also relatively a new Christian with only about four years following my conversion. I didn’t have an evangelical background at all, having grown up mainline Lutheran. So I was surprised to come South and see churches advertise “Revival: April 21–27.” I thought, How could they do that? How do they know it’s going to happen from April 21 to 27? And what’s wrong with April 28?
A second approach to revival could be called the Pentecostal approach. The Pentecostal-charismatic approach—probably the dominant approach in the worldwide church—includes church growth generally but particularly emphasizes the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.
How to Define Revival: 3 Elements
I arrived at a definition of revival from reading history, from reading the Bible, and from my own experiences. Revival isn’t something human beings do or the extraordinary apparition of the Holy Spirit. Real revival is the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit.
The ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit are conviction, conversion, assurance, and sanctification. When those operations are intensified across a church, denomination, city, or country, you’ve got revival.
And when you’ve got revival, three things usually happen.
1. Sleepy Christians Wake Up
When the Holy Spirit begins to do his work, he brings repentance and assurance. Ordinary Christians aren’t usually sad enough or happy enough. We’re not convicted enough about our sin. We’re not experiencing deep repentance and therefore we don’t experience high assurance.
But when the Spirit bears witness with your spirit, when the Spirit comes aside and says, “It’s true,” he’s bringing us assurance. The conviction of sin and the assurance of who you are in Christ, the assurance of God’s love—it wakes up sleepy Christians, most of whom are sleepwalking through life.
2. Nominal Christians Are Converted
Revival also converts those who are Christians in name only. Churches are filled with people who think they’re Christians—they’re baptized, they’re members, maybe they’re even officers. When revival breaks out, a lot of them will come to you and say, “I thought I was a Christian. Now I know I never was. I never really understood what it meant to be saved by faith.”
As a pastor, you can often sense the people who don’t have the savor of Christ about them, though you can’t always say for sure which ones are or aren’t saved. During times of revival, the Spirit goes through and does work the pastor can’t do.
3. Conscious Non-Christians Come to Faith
Churches grow during times of revival. Many in the community come to faith in Christ, partly because when sleepy Christians wake up and nominal Christians get converted, it beautifies the church. The church becomes an attractive place. It becomes a powerful place. And this change happens for various reasons.
On the one hand, sleepy and nominal Christians begin to reach out to their neighbors in a way they weren’t doing before. On the other hand, people hear about it, and the news spreads. Whole churches and unconnected people come in just because they’re curious. In other cases, they come in because they’re brought in.
How Revival Changes the Church: Marks of a Revival We’ve considered what happens in a revival, but what are the marks of revival?
1. The Gospel Is Recovered
Times of revival almost always have some sense in which the gospel is recovered. The gospel is believed and communicated in a newly vital and vivid way, and it’s recovered from legalism and antinomianism. These are the errors on both sides of the gospel. The gospel isn’t that you’re saved by works. The gospel isn’t that once you’re saved, it doesn’t matter how you live. Instead, the gospel is that you’re saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone or remains alone—it issues in holiness of life.
Almost always, revival happens when a church recenters on the gospel. Either a church has to move away from a rigid, joyless, anti-everything conservatism into a more positive gospel-centered, grace-filled Christian life. Or a church must recover from the liberalism that doesn’t really believe in the atonement, doesn’t really believe in hell, doesn’t really believe we’re sinners or that Jesus had to propitiate the wrath of God. A recovery of the gospel occurs in one or the other of these directions.
2. Repentance Is Normalized
Revival is marked by a sense in which repentance becomes normal. The early stages of a revival that led to tremendous growth in the Korean church started at the beginning of the 20th century, around 1905–10, in Pyongyang. Repentance was a big part of it.
In one place, revival spread in some of the towns where many of the proprietors were Chinese. Often, the Chinese were the rich people in town and owned the businesses. One account I read claimed many Chinese proprietors were astonished because when the revival started to spread, Korean Christians—who were sleepy and woke up—came under conviction of sin and started coming back to the proprietors and confessing they’d robbed or cheated them on a deal. That’s repentance.
3. Corporate Worship Is Anointed
Another theological mark of revival is anointed corporate worship. You’ve probably heard about the Asbury Awakening in 1970 that went on around the clock for weeks. During the chapel services, students started getting up and confessing, “I’m sleeping with my boyfriend and I really want to stop, and I’m confessing this to God.” It also happened at Wheaton. This public confession brought about a remarkable spiritual seriousness on the campus. But I don’t think this is quite the same thing as anointed worship.
When I say anointed worship, I mean non-Christians and everybody else knows God is there. Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 explains what happens when a nonbeliever comes in and secrets of his heart are revealed so he’s cut to the quick. What does the unbeliever say? He doesn’t say, “Oh, I’m cut to the quick.” No. He says, “God is truly here. God is truly among us.” The unbeliever is overcome with a sense of God’s presence. That’s a theological mark of revival.
4. Disciples Are Multiplied
Where there’s revival, there’s always church growth. You can have church growth without revival, but you can’t have revival without some church growth. Why? Because when God is working, it’s impossible for you to keep your mouth shut about the gospel around your friends.
Problem of Methods for Revival Notice I haven’t offered methods; I’ve given theological marks. The anecdotes I’ve shared are perhaps concrete enough that you could detect revival if you saw it. But still, you wonder, “How do you get revival?”
If you look at the 18th-century Great Awakening with John Wesley and George Whitefield, you’ll see there was an electrifying method: outdoor preaching. The preaching style was a method.
But there was a revival in downtown New York from 1857 to 1859 that had nothing to do with outdoor preaching. The revival happened through noontime, lay-led prayer meetings that happened all over the city every single day. People were coming in, praying, and hearing the gospel.
Somebody once said, “You can never get back into Narnia the same way twice. You got through the wardrobe once; it won’t happen again.” The same is true of revival. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made the point similarly about the Welsh revivals. When he looked at the churches that had experienced revival decades prior, one of the tragedies, he observed, was they were stuck in the method. It’s difficult to get people out of methods that worked.
Most of all, God has to do it. You say, “Well, of course God is sovereign.” But he often sends some sort of upheaval in the culture. God in his providence intensifies the normal operations of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want that to happen to the places where we are, but sometimes in God’s providence that might be what he does. You don’t pray for upheaval; you pray for revival. You pray for revival and say, “Do whatever it takes.”
Question: Is revival an offshoot of ministry like pro-life work?
Our main ministry in the church is to see the conviction of sin and conversion. You want to see people savoring Christ and enjoying Christ and becoming holy. So that’s the main thing.
When you say, “I’m pro-life and I would like to work for the unborn in our society,” I’d consider that work an offshoot because it’s a good work. You’re not justified by your works; you’re justified by faith alone. But that faith will result in good works. I’m not going to get any truly good works out of people unless they’re fired by faith, unless they have the gospel, unless their lives have been changed by the gospel. So when I talk about revival, I see that as the core of what we’re supposed to do; the other things I’d consider offshoots.
Question: What did revival look like in New York City?
First, we had people who came to Redeemer in those first years who’d been Christians in other churches. When you start a church, you’re always going to attract some from other evangelical churches. But we also had some dramatic conversions. A number of people began to experience a joy and a sense of Christ’s presence they’d never experienced.
A good thing about a place like New York is you have a lot of single people. It’s easier for single people to ask other single people to come to church than it is for a family. If the husband wants to come but the wife doesn’t (or vice versa), they won’t come. If the parents want to come and the teenagers say no, they may not come. But singles make unilateral decisions.
What surprised me was that when we saw the sleepy Christians and some nominal Christians wake up, they began to turn to their neighbors in a more bold and more humble way. When you have assurance, you’re bolder and humbler. You’re convicted of sin, so you don’t have the arrogance you had, but you’re also more confident and less concerned about what you look like to other people. So a gospel-transformed character makes you a better evangelist.
We had a group of people who were transformed by the gospel, and they just started bringing people in. The percentage of non-Christians I was preaching to every single week shocked me. When the people came, some of them became Christians. When you’re a brand-new Christian, after all, most of your close friends aren’t Christians. You’ve opened your life to and developed mutual trust with people who are lost. And in those first 18 months, we experienced an enormous explosion of people becoming Christians.
Question: Is revival for the parachurch or the local church?
It’s possible in a parachurch. One reason they had to do outdoor preaching in the First Great Awakening was that the churches had shut their doors to itinerant preachers like Whitefield. But converts were brought in to volunteer, in what they called “volunteering societies.” And slowly but surely, it renewed local churches—or in Wesley’s case, started a new denomination.
Critics would say, “The Bible doesn’t know anything about churchless Christianity, Christianity apart from the church.” When the Awakenings happened in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a lot of criticism that they weakened the place of the local church. There’s something to that. I think the First Great Awakening eventually strengthened the church, but it took a long time.
Question: How do you help those who experienced revival and long to experience it again?
You have to trust God to let it happen. As my wife would say, “Don’t try to be the Holy Spirit. You’re underqualified for the job.” Often what you have to say to younger people is “It’s the Holy Spirit who did it. It wasn’t your idea.” You have to be careful not to tell the Holy Spirit how he has to do his work.
Jonathan Edwards believed revivals inevitably have a certain layer of falseness—pseudo-experience, over-enthusiasm, people going berserk with it, people who want to be part of something and force their own emotions. He made a good case such falseness was inevitable and the entire revival shouldn’t be discredited because of it.
Question: Does cessationism hinder revival?
I’m a moderate cessationist. Some things go along with cessationism that might stop revival, but I wouldn’t say cessationism by itself does so. For example, along with cessationism can come a fear of experience—and that can kill. Reformed people are often afraid of experience; we’d rather have a logical argument. We’re for revival in general, but on the ground, we have a tendency to squash it.
Question: Would you be willing to share methods for revival?
We Reformed people love the First Great Awakening because it was spearheaded by tremendous preachers who went outdoors and faced the mob and preached people to conviction and conversion. I do think there’s a way of preaching the gospel that brings conviction—preaching to the heart, preaching Christ, preaching grace. I believe in that, but there are some churches that have spent five to six years working on extraordinary prayer.
That’s the main thing they’ve done, and they’ve seen fruit in people’s lives.
Revival is like an avalanche. You get a few sleepy Christians waking up, a few nominal Christians getting converted, and a few really interesting dramatic conversions from the community. And if there’s a real support of extraordinary prayer, those first little pebbles can turn into an avalanche.