I grew up in a church that had what we called revival services two or three times a year. This is where the church would meet every night of the week to hear a special musical guest (usually a husband and wife that looked eerily like brother and sister along with their 12 kids) and a guest preacher. Some of these preachers were good men that loved Jesus and some seemed more like characters. For some reason, I remember the characters more.
There was the guy that dressed like he was an extra in Urban Cowboy. This made us think he was edgy since he wore cowboy boots and jeans instead of those dress boots with zippers on the side that were popular among evangelical men in the 70s and 80s. This guy finished out his sermon by asking us to bow our heads and close our eyes.
“Every head bowed. Every eye closed.”
“No one looking around.”
“If you have sin in your life, would you please raise your hand?”
“Yes, I see you. And you. And you three over there. Hands all over the house are up saying that they need to finally make Jesus their personal Lord and Savior.”
Wait! I’m already a Christian. Right? What did I just do?
By the end of the service I felt like I just bought a gently used 1981 Datsun for 75 easy monthly payments of $235.
Then there was the well-polished revival speaker who dressed like he was running for mayor of the Love Boat. This guy told some of the most remarkable stories I’d ever heard in my life.
“Just last week I was on a plane and the man next to me said, ‘Ronnie (name changed for protective purposes), I need to get my life together.'”
“And right there on that plane, 30,000 feet above the ground that man gave his life to Christ.”
“Two minutes later that man’s heart exploded and he died.”
“That man was also the pilot of the airplane I was flying on.”
“I landed the plane.”
And there were other stories like the one about the kid walking out of a church service, scoffing at what he had heard only to get killed in a car accident minutes later. I remember as he was telling one of these stories, seeing two or three teenage girls break out in loud sobs and running out of the building. It was intense.
But for all of those revival services I sat through I don’t think I really saw revival very many times. Tears? Yes. Insane stories? Yes. Lives and churches changed by the gospel? Not too often.
One of the recurring themes in the book of Ephesians is Paul’s prayer for the church. In Ephesians 1:17-23, he prays that these believers would have their heart’s eyes opened to the hope they have been called to, to the riches of God’s “glorious inheritance in the saints” and to “the immeasurable greatness” of God’s power.
This, more than a special week of church services, is a good picture of what a revival or spiritual awakening might look like. How much different would the church be if we really saw the hope that is ours in Christ? Certainly, this would mean victory over our fears and worries and doubts. What if the church began to see our true identity in Christ? This would, no doubt, help us to see the futility of searching for our identity anywhere else. And what if our eyes were opened to the infinite power of God, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead? I’m sure this would change the way we put our own sin to death and love the sinners around us.
I’ve learned a lot in my short time as a pastor. One thing is that revival shouldn’t be something I put on my calendar. Instead, It should be something I pray for. I pray with Paul that God would open my eyes, along with those of my church, to the gospel. I also pray for those whose eyes have never been opened in the first place because Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
We begin to understand revival better when we see it as hearts and minds that are opened to the gospel rather than hands that are raised before a character.