When Revival Happens to Someone Else
When our Christian brothers and sisters in other denominational contexts see real blessing from God on their labors, let’s not let our various disagreements with them over doctrine and practice prevent us from recognizing the true work of God in their midst. Let’s not betray a belief that if God isn’t blessing us (or those most incredibly like us) whatever we are seeing must be a mere mirage of revival. Being different from us doesn’t put another group beyond the reach of God’s blessing anymore than it puts them beyond the reach of His grace.
Iain Murray describes biblical revival as consisting of “…a larger giving of God’s Spirit for the making known of Christ’s glory… a sense of God… not only in conviction of sin but equally in the bewildered amazement of Christians at the consciousness of the Lord who is in their midst” (Revival & Revivalism, p. 30). Revival is not a constant reality in church history or in the life of any specific congregation. Rather, it is descriptive of those extraordinary times when the Lord is pleased to pour out a greater abundance of saving grace, resulting in a greater zeal for Kingdom priorities and a vital spirituality characterizing the people of God. It is a time of unique energy and vigor regarding gospel labors, and of unique blessing from the Lord in those pursuits.
All churches would love to see such things become a reality in their own midst. Who would dare to say that they would not want the Lord to pour out such grace, to act in mighty ways to save sinners, to animate and revitalize His people? The desire for such blessing need not mean a depreciation of the normal, plodding rhythms of ministry and the ordinary means of grace. Indeed, Biblical revival is not a circumventing of normal ministry activities; it is a fresh and dynamic outpouring of grace through those very same means.
It is true that some people take revival and do unbiblical things with the concept. In fact, much of Murray’s book is given over to distinguishing the difference between true God given revival and man’s foolish attempts to manufacture an outpouring of the Spirit- a pursuit he labels as revivalism. To the historically minded, terms like revival sometimes evoke negative associations like Charles Finney’s anxious bench (a forerunner of the more modern altar call), and to the broader culture it often takes on a garish tent-huckster ethos, but we should never let other people’s errors define our practice. None of these abuses are the fault of authentic revival. And so quite aware of the dangers of a false and manufactured show of dramatic piety, even solidly Reformed men do say, “Lord, if it pleases you, send revival in our midst!”
But what about when you pray for revival and it comes…but to someone else? What are we to think of extraordinary measures of grace that God seems to pour out on others, while He seems pleased to withhold it from us? What am I to think of my neighbor’s revival?
To that question I offer three responses.
1. Avoid the temptation to adopt an elitist “narrow way” cynicism.
The present reality is that the Kingdom of God on earth is fractured into a multitude of church denominations, sects, movements, and coalitions. At this stage in church history, no matter what segment of evangelical Christianity you call home, there are always more people outside your circle than inside of it. No one group has the majority. What that means is that God is always doing more outside your narrow context than inside of it.