by Johnathan Arnold
Unlike the apostles who shared the things they had seen and heard, my knowledge of revival is merely as a student of history who seeks to be taught and as a candidate for revival who needs to be humbled. While reading Leonard Ravenhill’s book Why Revival Tarries, I came across six points that are worthy to be shared and brought up-to-date with examples that will show their relevance. In our lethargic, lukewarm church age, when revival is so desperately needed, we are right to wonder why it tarries. Why has it been so long since we have seen a mighty move of God’s Spirit like those in the days of Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield, and Finney?
First, “because evangelism is so highly commercialized” (58). I’m surprised by how often the young disciples at my church run into the teaching of faith healers, false prophets, or televangelists who use the gospel as little more than a money racket. The church is defamed with alarming frequency by popular pastors tainted with financial scandal. Even in fundamentalist circles, where we pride ourselves in simplicity and where our ministers are usually underpaid, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that bigger buildings and financial stability are synonymous with success.
Ravenhill warns about those who “bleed the audience financially in the name of the One who had to borrow a penny to illustrate His sermon” (59). Jesus, the perfect example of evangelism, usually ministered to those who could offer Him nothing in return, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). If we hope for heaven-sent revival, we must be in contact with the kind of people who cost the church more than they can give.
Second, “because of the cheapening of the Gospel” (59). Unlike the seeker-friendly church, Jesus was remarkably bad at selling the gospel. Jesus was unmistakably clear that the invitation to follow Him and receive the free gift of eternal life is also a call to forsake all and lose one’s life in this world. Instead of anointed preaching that causes people to tremble at God’s Word, many pulpits are filled with preachers who mince words to accommodate easy believism and casual Christianity—as if there was such a thing. The atmosphere in many churches is driven towards an emotional uplift, building men’s self-esteem instead of calling them to self-denial. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Ravenhill writes, “the altar is a place to die on. Let those who will not pay the price leave it alone!” (60).
Many churches focus on building men’s self-esteem instead of calling them to self-denial.
Third, “because of carelessness” (60). In context, Ravenhill meant that those who show interest in doing spiritual business are not given proper guidance and attention by mature Christians. Our nation is “strewn with spiritual derelicts, confused and confounded” because nobody took the time to guide them into a deeper life with God or help them to grow into spiritual maturity. We are called to make disciples, teaching them to obey Jesus’ every command (Matthew 28:19-20). Revival will not come apart from faithful Great Commission living. We must come alongside those with spiritual interest and help them to cultivate true spirituality. To raise up an army on its knees—humble candidates for revival—the local church must prioritize discipleship.
Fourth, “because of fear” (60). The apostles preached Christ crucified with unwavering courage. When they were persecuted, they called a prayer meeting and pleaded to God for boldness in the Holy Spirit. Acts 4:12 says, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Even if we are branded as bigots, we must be a people of uncompromising conviction when it comes to essential matters like the gospel. Ravenhill writes, “We are not Protestants any more—just ‘non-Catholics’! Of what and of whom do we protest? Were we half as hot as we think we are, and a tenth as powerful as we say we are, our Christians would be baptized in blood, as well as in water and in fire” (60). He adds, “in the light of the Bible and Church History, where can we have revival without riots?” (61).
Fifth, “because we lack urgency in prayer” (61). Ravenhill is adamant that “The biggest single factor contributing to delayed Holy Ghost revival is this omission of soul travail” (61). He goes on, “We have not yet resisted unto blood in prayer; nay, we ‘do not even get a sweat on our souls,’ as Luther put it. We pray with a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ attitude; we pray chance prayers; we offer that which costs us nothing! We have not even ‘strong desire.’ We rather are fitful, moody, and spasmodic” (61).
We cannot afford to replace the prayer meeting.
May the Lord help us—starting with me—to be people of prayer. We cannot afford to replace the prayer meeting. As Francis Chan says, the problem is not with the prayer meeting but with our hearts. We live in an age of moral, political, and social outrage. But outrage that does not translate into burdened prayer is certain to poison our attitudes and divide our nation. Ravenhill insists, “the pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying” (25). We should pray for so long in our church services that those who are not serious about prayer get bored.
Finally, “because we steal the glory that belongs to God” (62). Men are thieves by nature—glory thieves. Even the apostle Paul needed a thorn in the flesh to prevent him from being puffed up. Heart purity does not exempt us from the possibility of self-reliance. Our human longing for love and acceptance may incline us to soak up honor and praise which only God properly deserves. We must remember that all of our labors are by grace alone, and “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Ravenhill warns, “Away with all fleshly backslapping and platform flattery!” and laments, “We have failed. We are filthy. We love men’s praise. We ‘seek our own.’ ‘O God, lift us out of this rut and this rot! Bless us with breakings! Judgment must begin with us preachers!” (62).
Chan, Francis. Letters to the Church.
Ravenhill, Leonard. Why Revival Tarries (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1987).
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