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A God-Sized VisionRevival stories that stretch and stir
By Collin Hansen John Woodbridge
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS AND THEOLOGY OF REVIVAL
Scottish doctor William Mackay felt drawn to a biblical text that had stirred Christians before him to pray for revival. Like many other favored revival passages, it came from the Old Testament. Reflecting on God's mighty works in redemptive history, the prophet Habakkuk grew emboldened to pray for revival, though judgment and exile loomed for disobedient Judah.
Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:2
Mackay wrote the hymn "Revive Us Again" in 1863 and revised it in 1867 shortly before he pursued a call to pastoral ministry. Ira Sankey, the famed musician who accompanied D. L. Moody's evangelistic meetings, included Mackay's tune in his compilation Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs, published in 1875. "Revive Us Again" echoed the heart cry of Christians such as Moody who fondly remembered the great transatlantic awakenings between 1857 and 1859.
We praise Thee, O God, for the Son of Thy love, For Jesus who died and is now gone above.
We praise Thee, O God, for Thy Spirit of light, Who has shown us our Savior and scattered our night.
All glory and praise to the Lamb that was slain, Who has borne all our sins and has cleansed every stain. Revive us again; fill each heart with Thy love; May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.
Hallelujah, Thine the glory! Hallelujah, amen! Hallelujah, Thine the glory! Revive us again.
Like many prayers that prevail, Mackay's hymn quotes Scripture back to its divine author. The word for "revive," translated by the New International Version as "renew" in Habakkuk 3:2, comes from the Hebrew word chaya, meaning "to bring back to life." The concept of revival, however, extends far beyond occurrences of this word in the Old Testament. Indeed, biblical history includes several occasions when God revived his people by giving them new spiritual life. Before we turn to stories of revival that stretch and stir, we should look to Scripture for which to understand better precedents, patterns, and principles of revival. Jonathan Edwards reminds us that God's Word provides us with the distinguishing marks of an authentic work of the Holy Spirit.
Up from the Depths of Depravity
The Israelites had already suffered several tragic periods of spiritual decline, but the book of Judges ends with an especially devastating thud. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (Judg. 21:25). The problem would not be solved by hereditary monarchy, a point so tragically illustrated by Israel's first king, Saul. The Israelites needed to recognize and acknowledge Yahweh, their one true king. Instead, they persisted in sin. Israel lost the ark of the covenant in battle with the Philistines (1 Sam. 4). Yet no matter what Israel had done, God would not allow this travesty to continue. He demonstrated his exclusive divinity by embarrassing the false Philistine god, Dagon (1 Sam. 5). The Philistines couldn't wait to return the ark to Israel. Still, the ark languished for twenty years before King David finally brought it to Zion (2 Sam. 6).
When the ark returned, Israel experienced the fruit of revival. The entire nation joined their king singing songs of praise to their God. David "danced before the Lord with all his might" (2 Sam. 6:14). During revival, God's people may break out in emotional demonstrations of thanksgiving. They do not intend to attract attention. But they might prompt skepticism from those who do not share their delight in God. When David led the parade into Jerusalem, his wife, Michal, one of Saul's daughters, watched him from a window above. "And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart" (2 Sam. 6:16). Revival doesn't sweep up everyone, and those standing on the sidelines can become the most outspoken critics. Responding to Michal, David challenged her by displaying his passion for the Lord (2 Sam. 6:21). Revivals may unfortunately spawn extrabiblical experiences that divert attention from God. But spontaneous excitement for the things of God ought not discredit revival.
What was bad under the judges turned worse under the rule of Judah's King Ahaz. He closed the temple (2 Chron. 28:24) and went so far as to burn his own sons as an offering (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chron. 28:3). The northern tribes of Israel had even teamed up with Syria to besiege Judah's capital, Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:5). To fight them off, Ahaz plundered the temple to buy Assyria's military assistance. As if it weren't bad enough that Israel and Judah warred against one other, Ahaz's strategy was fatally shortsighted. Assyria would seek to divide and conquer them both. But Ahaz would not listen to the warnings delivered by the Lord through Isaiah and other prophets.
The same year Isaiah was called by God to serve as his mouthpiece, Ahaz's wife, Abijah, gave birth to a son, Hezekiah. He survived his murderous father and ascended to the throne of Judah when he was twenty-five years old. Scripture tells us the turnaround was immediate. Hezekiah's devotion to Yahweh inspired a national revival with drastic spiritual and political consequences. The first thing Hezekiah did was throw open the temple doors his father had closed (2 Chron. 29:3). He lit a charge in the priests and Levites, commanding them to consecrate themselves and clean up the temple. They offered sacrifices to Yahweh and orchestrated a grand temple reopening that would have made David proud. Accompanied by instruments from David's time, they sang psalms he wrote (2 Chron. 29:26, 30). Like his forefather David, Hezekiah pursued God with passion. "Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses" (2 Kings 18:5-6). Still, Hezekiah and the rest of Judah rightly recognized who deserved all the credit. No one but God could have changed their situation so drastically, so quickly (2 Chron. 29:36).
Assyria, though, wasn't impressed with the new spiritual vitality. As they had plundered Israel, they planned to plunder Judah. In Hezekiah's fourteenth year as king, the Assyrians took all of Judah's fortified cities except Jerusalem. Like his father, Hezekiah first tried to buy off the Assyrian king, even plundering the temple once more for silver and gold. But this confrontation wasn't about Hezekiah. The Assyrians taunted Yahweh himself. Standing where Judah's army could hear him, and speaking in their native tongue, an Assyrian official warned, "Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, 'The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria'" (2 Kings 18:30).
Hezekiah was scared. Isolated and outnumbered, Judah could not defend Jerusalem against Assyria. The king sought help from the prophet Isaiah. The great prophet assured him that Yahweh would vindicate himself by confusing Assyria's king and striking him down. Hezekiah pleaded with God to do this thing and save his people. "Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God" (2 Kings 19:19). Indeed, an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrians, and the king's own sons killed their father while he worshiped his god back home in Nineveh (2 Kings 19:35-37). Surely this act of divine deliverance illustrated even more clearly the promise of redemption that Judah had celebrated so joyously in the Passover when Hezekiah took the throne (2 Chron. 30).
Spiritual decline and threatening enemies have often spurred believers to pray for God to send revival. He responds favorably not to exalt earthly leaders but to defend and display the glory of his name. In a moment he brings hope to the most hopeless circumstances. But as quickly as revival comes, it can depart. A generation may rise that does not remember what the Lord has done. Hezekiah's son Manasseh reversed his father's reforms and outdid the surrounding nations in evil (2 Chron. 33:9). Even the revived may ultimately forsake the way of blessing. Secure in his wealth, Hezekiah had opened the national treasury to impress envoys from Babylon. They were impressed, all right. Isaiah prophesied to Hezekiah that the Babylonians would someday return and take all this wealth, and even some of his sons. Yet Hezekiah cared only that there would be peace in his time (2 Kings 20:12-21). Revival fires leave behind smoldering embers.
But at least those embers smolder with life. Josiah, when he was just sixteen years old, followed the example of his great-grandfather Hezekiah and repaired the temple. Perhaps Josiah recalled the promise Yahweh delivered to Solomon when he finished building the temple and palace. Throughout the centuries, believers seeking revival have seized on God's promise that "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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). During Josiah's faithful act of repairing the temple, a priest named Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law (2 Chron. 34:15). Reading God's Word, Josiah came under conviction as he realized how his predecessors had disobeyed (2 Chron. 34:21). He then led the people of Judah in renewing their vows to keep God's covenant (2 Chron. 34:31-32). Their Passover celebration (2 Chron. 35:18) exceeded even the festival enjoyed by Judah under Hezekiah. Following the characteristic pattern of revivals, recovering Scripture brought conviction, followed by repentance, resulting in rejoicing, because the redeemer God doesn't abandon those who seek his face.
Excerpted from A God-Sized Vision by Collin Hansen John Woodbridge Copyright © 2010 by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge. Excerpted by permission.
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