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What is Revival?

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘What is Revival?’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 8/3/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

What is Revival?

The body of Christ has been crying out for revival. Charismatic churches in particular have been chasing after it for years. But what exactly is revival? When we talk about pursuing revival, what exactly do we mean?

Different people – and churches – define revival differently. The Collins dictionary defines revival as “an instance of returning to life or consciousness.”[1] Timothy Keller, the founding Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, defines revival as the “ intensification of the ordinary operation of the work of the Holy Spirit.”[2] He stresses that revival occurs mainly through the ordinary ‘instituted means of grace’ – by preaching, pastoring, worship, prayer. He recalls times of revival in his church as defined by an unusually large number of people coming to Christ.

Bill Johnson, the Lead Pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, California, would probably define revival differently. Bethel Church’s mission is “the personal, regional and global expansion of God’s Kingdom through His manifest presence.”[3] Bethel is a church that pursues signs, miracles and wonders by maintaining an atmosphere full of God’s presence. Revival can look completely different in one church as compared to another.

My definition of revival is this: the Holy Spirit working through believers consistently to accomplish something we cannot accomplish on our own. The end goal of revival is aggressive Kingdom expansion. Revival can be concentrated in one region for a specific period of time. Revival is marked by signs, miracles and wonders: the Holy Spirit working through us to bring the things of heaven to this earth. Revival is also marked by massive harvest: believers giving their lives to Christ in record numbers. After all, a soul coming to Christ is just as miraculous as any other sign, miracle or wonder!

Our job as a church is first to define revival. If we don’t identify our destination, we’ll never know when we get there!

What’s So Special About Revival?

So why should we want and need revival? What’s so special about it?

Remember that revival is defined as “returning to life or consciousness.” The implication is that, before revival, we’re dead! As the church universal, we have become spiritually dead. We’ve settled into a residence called nominal Christianity, and have stopped pursuing the things God wants us to pursue. We have become content without seeking to see amazing, supernatural things happen in our lives. We have become dead. And revival can only start when we recognize we need to be brought back to life!

Andrew Murray was the Lead Pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. He was diagnosed with an incurable condition called preacher’s throat which would leave him unable to preach (an obvious problem for a pastor). The most promising doctors in London couldn’t help him. But God did! On a trip to the Bethshan Healing Rooms, Murray was completely cured of his condition! Prayer had restored everything he thought he had lost.

After returning to South Africa, Murray published a book on divine healing. It circulated throughout the entire country, and people in Murray’s denomination started asking their pastors to pray for them. But the local pastors didn’t have the faith to pray for their people as they ought. Instead of asking for a greater measure of faith to pray for healing, they asked Murray to take the book out of circulation. And guess what? He did. The whole country accepted spiritual deadness because the local pastors couldn’t face their responsibility to pursue a greater anointing from God.

But this story is not unique to South Africa. All over the world, especially in the United States, Christians have settled for a muzzled brand of Christianity that has a form of godliness but denies His power (2 Tim 3:5). We have drifted into a state of spiritual deadness that the writers of the New Testament could have never imagined.

If you scour the entire New Testament for the word “revival,” you won’t find it.[4] Why? Because the New Testament authors could have never imagined we – the church – could ever become so dead that we would need to be brought back to life. For them, the concept of revival was completely off the grid, because they could never have imagined we would lose our life. They were seeing signs, miracles and wonders every day! How could the church ever lose that reality?

The only time the NKJV translation uses the word “revival” is in the Book of Ezra:

Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day.  And now for a little while grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage. For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. – Ezra 9:7-9

Israel was in captivity, and Ezra was asking God to give them revival. They had been bound and exiled because of the hardness of their hearts and their unwillingness to submit to God and embrace His will for their lives. Are we really that different as a church today?

God’s guarantee is that even if we are bound, He will extend mercy to us. He will revive us. We were never meant to lose the ability to live a life guided by His Holy Spirit! We were supposed to uphold the lifestyle and tradition of supernatural life on a daily basis as founded by Jesus and continued by His disciples!

Revival is more than a future hope: something we will experience in heaven that we can and should look forward to. Revival is something we should experience here, on this earth, in the present. The Holy Spirit wants to work in and through you now. So why wait? The life you want to lead can only be lived through the power of the Holy Spirit. But He requires partnership with you.

Revival Starts With You

In the modern church, we think of revival as someone else – a guest speaker or minister – coming in to our church and filling us up. We think of revival as having extended meetings every night for several weeks. But revival is simpler than that.

Revival starts with you. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to get you charged up – to make sure you’re allowing God to move in your life. It’s yours! I love having guest speakers at our church. But the truth is this: God can do what He wants through whomever He deems to be a worthy vessel.

Take responsibility – here and now – for revival. Accepting responsibility is the mark of a true leader. God is looking for leaders in the church who are fed up with spiritual deadness. He’s looking for partners who will pursue revival – new life – in His body! It all starts with you!

If you’re overcome with doubt as to whether or not God could ever actually use you to help accomplish His goals, consider this:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:11

There is only One Holy Spirit. God has not changed. The same Spirit who worked through Jesus Christ to accomplish everything miraculous in the New Testament is the Holy Spirit who still works through us today!

The Bible says that we passed through death with Jesus Christ so that we could experience the same resurrection life He enjoys (1 Jn 3:14). God wants to give us new life. He wants to revive us. All we have to do is ask.

– by Pastor Mike White

© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




[4] Searched for in the New King James Version.

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