“Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your indignation toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not Yourself revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your lovingkindness, O Lord, And grant us Your salvation.”(Psalm 85:4–7, NASB95)
What is true biblical revival? Where does revival come from and what needs to precede true revival in order for heartfelt change to occur in each person? And what about the broader culture? How does a revival in the Church spread to a revival in society? All of these questions are answered in these verses, leading us to seek the only true source of life–God Himself!
Although verse 4 is a cry for restoration, restoration was not enough for Israel. They knew that their disobedience betrayed an ugly truth about their spiritual state. They were spiritually dead. They needed to be brought back to life; they needed revival.
When the Bible refers to “revival” we need to know that it is not simply whipping up some experience in the church. It’s not a tent meeting. It isn’t where the Holy Spirit shows up with a special outpouring in a new and fresh way like being slain in the Spirit, or some other ecstatic experience. These aren’t even biblical practices. So, what is a revival?
Walter Chantry helps us to understand it a little better when he writes,
“There have been outstanding periods in the history of the church when the intensified activity of the Holy Spirit has amazed her. Such times are known as revivals. True revivals do not result from some special work of the Spirit of God different from his normal gracious influences! Rather they are the effect of an increased measure of precisely the same power and grace which operate at every time and in every place that the church has been found since Pentecost. In revival times the Spirit’s work remains what it has ever been since Pentecost, namely, the work of inwardly convincing the unconverted by the Word, inwardly regenerating sinners by the Word, inwardly teaching and sanctifying saints by the Word, and inwardly prompting worship of Father and Son by the Word.”[i]
What I want you to see in Chantry’s definition and as seen in Psalm 85:4-7 is that revival, as biblically defined, is a mighty work of God, and not of man. Just like forgiveness, which must come from God’s mercy, so too revival is a result of the mercy of God, or else we would never have it.
Secondly, I want you to see that revival is an inward work of God that results in soul-work—reviving of a person who is dead in their trespasses and sins, bringing them to new life. They are vivified, they are born again. So, when a church wants to see revival, it must recognize that it is speaking of two related but different matters—either it recognizes that it is spiritually dead and filled with many unbelievers who think that they are believers and need new life, or it is speaking of evangelism outside of the church. Often true revival of the church will have the effect of spreading out to the community around it when those newborn Christians begin to live and speak for the glory of God.
With these things in mind, let us turn tour attention to Psalm 85:6-7. Again, “revive” refers to being made alive, to recover life. This verb in Hebrew is in the piel form, which means that God must put into action what the psalmist is asking. To say it differently, just like normal human life finds its origins in God, so too God must bring revival. If God does not bring it about, it will not happen.
There is an amazing picture of revival found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. I’ll leave you to read the passage for yourself. But in it the prophet Ezekiel is shown an old battlefield where there are probably hundreds of human skeletons lying about on the ground. These bones have been here for a long time because they no longer have flesh on them and are bleached out from being exposed to the sun. The Lord asks Ezekiel if these bones can once again become alive. The prophet wisely says that it depends upon God, who alone knows. After all, unless God raises dead bones, they will remain dead.
Then God tells the prophet to speak to the bones….
Notice a few things about this biblical illustration:
- The question of whether the bones could be made alive again was not dependent upon the response of the bones, but God-v. 3.
- Although it was ridiculous, the means that God chose to “activate” these dry bones was the Word of God as spoken by his servant Ezekiel-vv. 4-10.
- Also notice in those words of prophecy that the power for life comes not from the bones, nor from the prophet, but from God alone who can cause these dry bones to live-v. 5.
- Finally note that this whole scenario was set by God to show Ezekiel that God alone revives the spiritually dead.
Every time that God saves a person, he revives their dead souls. But that isn’t what we mean by revival—a soul saved here and there. That happens all the time. Revival is the accelerated work of God, whereby a small stream of people saved join together to become a torrent of saved souls. When this happens, the work of God is the same, but He acts in a wider and broader way with more people.
But with an increasing work of God in revival, there is more than just increased activity of the Spirit bringing about saving faith—there is a sudden influx of new Christians whose changed hearts are producing changed lives and then changing society around them.
We need to keep ever before us that when the gospel message changes a heart, it will change a life, and that means changed actions. This makes sense because our allegiances and loyalties are radically altered from darkness to light and from the evil one to Christ. When God changes a heart, he changes a whole life.
In the New Testament, as the gospel swept through the world, people were changed. These changes weren’t a fad, or even popular among unbelievers. These new Christians were despised and rejected of men, like their Savior. They had to survive wave after wave of persecution from the unbelieving world around them.
But they did it.
And as Psalm 85:6 says, if God will bring about revival, it will bring about the result that his people will rejoice in him. You see, rejoicing will not come until revival in the heart has occurred. Revival will not happen until God does his cleansing and saving work in us.
[i] Chantry, Walter, Signs of the Apostles: Observations on Pentacostalism Old and New. Banner of Truth, 1976, 129-30. Italics in the original.