April 2021 – A television documentary on the styles and products of the 1970s noted that the era was a time of the creation of “artificial” things. That decade saw the emergence of artificial wood paneling on cars, artificial logs in fireplaces, and artificial sweeteners in the sugar bowl. Architects illuminated buildings with artificial light (to save electricity), and chemists created artificial salt (to save arteries).
What might the 1970s and the church of 2021 have in common? As the narrator of the documentary casually said the words, “salt substitutes and artificial lighting,” a thought occurred to me: That phrase could describe today’s church, artificial and devoid of the power of God. Christ called His followers to be “salt and light” in this dark world (Matthew 5:13-16). Fulfillment of this assignment calls for the diligent pursuit of God’s presence and power – not to mention the consistent yielding to His authority.
Looking back at the ambitious inventors of the 1970s, we realize that plastic never took away the value of natural wood, and saccharine couldn’t surpass the taste of real sugar. Similarly, nothing can take the place of God’s Spirit-filled church when it comes to positive impact in a culture.
What is revival?
Many Christians living today have never experienced a true revival. This is most unfortunate. Otherwise faithful Christians may not be seeking revival because – never having known “a localized visitation from heaven” (as revival has been described) – they don’t crave something they’ve never yet experienced.
The people of Judges 2:10 did not know Jehovah “nor the work He had done for Israel.” Godly men and women of times past and the gracious Lord they served had become but blurry footnotes forgotten by a culture that had moved on. This is not dissimilar from our nation today. Years before his death in 1975, historian Arnold Toynbee warned that America was “living on spiritual capital from our Christian past,” and he predicted the “dismay” that would be felt when that reserve ran out.
While recounting the power of a certain revival from earlier times, an older minister said to me, “If you’re ever in a place where God really shows up, you’ll never forget it. And you’ll never be satisfied until you see it again.” The timing and the extent of a spiritual awakening are very much matters of God’s providential choice. Jesus said that the winds of the Holy Spirit blow where they will (John 3:8). But in praying, repenting of sin, and earnestly crying out for God’s intervention, the church can certainly position her sails to “catch the wind” of revival.
What is its impact?
When God brings revival to His church, there is holiness and unity among believers. The authority of Scripture becomes a priority as Christians gladly submit anew to the Word of God. Revival brings evangelistic urgency as compassion for the souls of lost people is birthed in the hearts of Christians.
True revival significantly impacts the culture at large. Decades ago, scholar Will Durant observed that America was living on a residue and “shadow” of our formerly robust Christianity. He expressed serious concern for the welfare of those living when that “shadow of a shadow” had finally disappeared.
English preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) said, “If there be but a dozen men in the church who set their faces for revival, we shall have it. Of this my heart has no doubt.”
May the Lord move our generation to seek revival as if our very survival depends on it – because in reality it does.
Alex McFarland (alexmcfarland.com) is founder of Truth for a new Generation and co-host of American Family Radio’s Exploring the Word (M-F, 3:00 p.m. CT). June 25-27. He will be teaching on principles of revival from the book of Acts at The Cove / Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina (thecove.org).