What is revival and why do we want it?

Revival. I remember seeing church signs when I was a kid advertising upcoming revivals. I got the impression that revivals were just a grouping of special meetings with a special speaker that churches scheduled every once in a while. I attended a few. The gospel was preached. People got a bit more excited about faith. It was good.

Revival. I remember hearing stories as a child. The First and Second Great Awakenings. Cane Ridge. The Welsh Revival. Azusa Street, The Shantung Revival.

These historic revivals seemed more than a scheduled meeting with a guest speaker. They resulted in more than increased excitement. Those stories seemed more like a divine visitation than a scheduled meeting. Miracles. Spiritual gifts. Supernatural encounters. Miraculous transformations.

One common characteristic of these historic revivals involves what we might call “manifestations,” or what the famous Methodist circuit rider Peter Cartwright called “exercises.” These are the common ways people respond physically and/or emotionally to God’s touch.

In Cane Ridge hundreds fell down (sometimes unconscious for hours or even days) under the power of God. The Methodists (and others) would react to God’s supernatural presence with what came to be known as “the jerks.” A group that formed out of the Quaker community came to be known as “Shakers” because of their tendency to manifest in that way during worship gatherings. Perhaps most common are emotional responses like laughing or weeping.

Along with the physical and emotional expressions of God’s supernatural presence, it was common to see an increase in spiritual gifts like tongues or prophecy or healing. Different instances of revival would bring various expressions and no two revivals were just the same or had the exact same emphasis. But the physical and emotional manifestations of God’s touch along with an increase in the expression of spiritual gifting are very common characteristics of historic revival.

I spent my teenage years attending a Methodist church that had a revival experience like some of the ones I read about in books. They scheduled something called a “Lay Witness Mission” back in the 1970s and during that meeting God’s presence was manifest in great power. This initiated quite a number of years where experiencing God’s presence in dramatic ways, being “filled with the Spirit” and seeing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation were very common. In my early teenage years, I attended a meeting at that church where someone laid hands on me and began to pray out loud in tongues. I then had the very definite sensation of God’s touch. It felt like warm oil poured out all over me. It then became very difficult to remain vertical, so I fell over on my side and began to laugh uncontrollably as joy erupted from my innermost being in wave after wave of God’s love.

In 1994 at the Airport Vineyard Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Pastors John and Carol Arnott scheduled a series of meetings with guest speaker Randy Clark. As Randy invited people to respond to the message, people stood to move forward. As they did, the presence of God fell in the room with great power. People fell to the ground, began to shake, cry and laugh. This outpouring of God’s presence resulted in nightly meetings for more than twelve years, with millions of people visiting from around the world to experience the revival. That revival grew into what is now known as Catch the Fire and our church in Hurst is part of that family of churches and ministries. The most common fruit of the “Toronto Blessing,” as it came to be called, was an increased awareness of the Father’s love and an increased love for Jesus.

Today there is a stirring. Across our nation and around the world, there is a growing sense that we are on the brink of the next great wave of revival. Some have prophesied that previous moves could be thought of as “little” waves of revival, but there’s a big wave coming. Many in this season are sensing the pending arrival of that big wave.

What will it be like? A study of revival history offers clues. People will encounter God in supernatural ways. There will be an increase in conversions, in transformations, in miracles, signs and wonders. Faith centered in doctrines and practices will become anchored in divine encounter. Our following of the two Great Commandments (love God and love others) will increase. But what will be the emphasis? How will the church change? Who will embrace the new move of God? Who will reject it because it upsets the status quo, or challenges pet doctrines, or simply doesn’t look exactly like the revivals of our own past experiences?

Why do we want revival? The Westminster Catechism teaches us that the chief end of man is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” My understanding is that true revival is the work of God’s Spirit in a time and place to empower us to do exactly that. And, if that truly is our chief end, then we should long for revival because revival is God’s invitation and empowerment to truly be ourselves.


About the Author:

Alan Smith is the Senior Leader of Catch the Fire DFW, an incredible community in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that launched Spring 2014. Alan and Nancy married in 1994 and have three brilliant and beautiful children. Alan formerly served as Pastor of Freedom Ministry at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX. He enjoys the Dallas Cowboys, good books, writing, speaking, jazz, live music, traveling, coffee, and time with close friends. Not necessarily in that order.