Sunday, July 9, 2006

The Theology of Revival's Fire

About two I preached in a house well filled with plain, loving people. I then took a walk to the cathedral, one of the most beautiful I have seen. The western tower is exceedingly grand, and the nave of an amazing height. Hence we went through a fruitful and pleasant country, though surrounded with fens, to Sutton. Here many people had lately been stirred up: they had prepared a large barn. At six o'clock it was well filled, and it seemed as if God sent a message to every soul.(John Wesley, Journal, November 23, 1774)
Yesterday I stated the dependence the church has on the Holy Spirit for revival. Today I will attempt to prove it from the Scriptures. To do this, let's take a trip back over 2,500 years ago.

Because King Solomon, son of David, fell away from the worship of Yahweh alone, the Lord declared through Ahijah that the kingdom of Israel would split into two kingdoms (1 Kings 11.30-36), the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. This occured shortly after Rehoboam, son of Solomon, assumed the throne (1 Kings 12).

All of Israel's kings were bad and the kingdom was destroyed in 721 BC. Judah was somewhat better but defection from the pure worship of God led to its downfall, too. Judah's enemies picked the kingdom apart a piece at a time. Judah already had suffered under two previous waves of forced deportation. The third and last deportation occured when the Babylonian Empire finally demolished Judah with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC.

Jeremiah the prophet announced that Judah would be in exile for 70 years (Jer 25.11). At the right time God moved the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to allow Jews to return home and begin rebuilding their destroyed temple:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel--he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1.1-4 ESV)
Notice carefully what Ezra says, "the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that..." (1.1b ESV). This is significant! Cyrus makes his decree for the return of the Jews to their homeland and the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem because God first acted on his heart. If God had not proacted then Cyrus would not have reacted. In other words, God did a work in Cyrus' heart, thus the king responded favorably.

Let's look further at Scripture:
Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1.5 ESV)
Do you see it again? People went home to Judah, "everyone whose spirit God had stirred..." (Ezra 1.5b ESV). Again, because the Lord first acted then people reacted.

Well, it started well but they stopped their work, leaving the temple unfinished for years. It sounds like the Jews needed to be roused from their sleep again, right? That's what happened:
And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. (Hag 1.14-15 ESV)
This is the best description I can give for the nature of revival. God rouses us from our spiritual slumber and, filled with his Spirit, we awake in awe of the power of the Almighty! Further, this is why I believe revival can be prayed for and prepared for but it only comes when the Holy Spirit revives souls. Why? Because we can't react until God acts.

Now, to be sure, the people of God won't begin praying for revival, a new Great Awakening, until the Lord first rouses us in the first place. They won't see their spiritual apathy until God moves. They won't believe such a wonderful thing, such a Great Awakening is possible, until the Lord places such hope in their hearts. Therefore, when people begin to pray sincerely and seriously for a powerful revival of holiness and love it is because the Trinity already has acted in their hearts to pray!

It works out like this:

1. God rouses us from spiritual sleep to pray for revival.
2. Because he rouses us from spiritual sleep, we begin praying for revival.
3. Because we begin praying for revival, God comes in revival when and how he chooses.

Is revival automatic? No, I don't believe that it is. First, we can't order God to bring revival when we want it. Second, we can choose (sadly) to fall back asleep and never see revival.

God told Solomon,
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2Ch 7.14 ESV)
How often life comes down to "if".