If you keep up with goings-on in the church world, you have probably heard a handful of prophecies from credible, global Church leaders about a third (and final) “Great Awakening.” Those words sound to me like they have the fabric of Heaven woven into them. Of course—yes, of course—God wants to cascade His light and hope throughout the earth, welcoming as many prodigals home as supernaturally possible.
Personally, I believe that there will be another divine, possibly wild, outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the Church at large, which will see an unprecedented evangelism movement—and then Jesus will return. Perhaps some of you reading this may gasp at that statement, but why shouldn’t I think that way, hope that way, and live that way? Why shouldn’t you? Here’s what we know to be true: the return of Christ is imminent, and the Scriptures instruct us to live with a special urgency anyway (Romans 8:19-25, James 5:8, Revelation 1:3, and Revelation 22:10).
So let’s talk about this end-times revival.
If I asked ten different people what revival is, I would get ten different answers. Believe it or not, I actually sort of love the definition Wikipedia offers: “Revivalism is increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation, with a local, national, or global effect.” Revival can look like a new, personal emphasis on holiness and right living. Or, revival can look like an increased hunger for the Word. Or, revival can look like extended, passionate times of corporate worship in music and song. Honestly, revival can look however the Holy Spirit deems beneficial for the context, people, and era of history He is working in.
Let’s take a look at the very first New Testament revival, the birth of Jesus’ Church and draw a few conclusions.
1. Revival can come in unexpected demonstrations.
“On the day Pentecost was being fulfilled, all the disciples were gathered in one place. Suddenly they heard the sound of a violent blast of wind rushing into the house from out of the heavenly realm. The roar of the wind was so overpowering it was all anyone could bear! Then all at once, a pillar of fire appeared before their eyes. It separated into tongues of fire that engulfed [or, rested over] each one of them. They were all filled and equipped with the Holy Spirit and were inspired to speak in tongues—empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak in languages they had never learned” (Acts 2:1-4)!
When the Holy Spirit manifested, He came in a way He had never before come. The sound of a torrential hurricane, but no actual wind? A vision of little flickers of fire consuming each person gathered? All 120 worshipers speaking at the same time, in languages they had not previously learned?
There was no grid for this!
I wonder if later a Pharisee tried debating Peter about this experience. Can’t you see it? “Peter, that sort of experience is not in the Torah or the Prophets! Therefore, it couldn’t have been God. It sounds more like the devil to me!” My, what a sinfully haughty perspective to have, to think that we can limit God to operating only in ways He’s operated before.
In reality, Jesus teaches us that we must actually discard our old wineskins because they can’t handle new wine (Luke 5:37-38). Our old expectations, methods, limitations, and traditions were probably greatly suited for the move of God at the time in which they were created, but they can no longer handle what God is about to do. Friends, if we say we want revival, then we must be ready to receive it in the demonstration God wants to give it. Let’s welcome the Holy Spirit when He comes, because He knows how best to come, even if it’s wrapped in an unexpected package.
2. Revival can be misunderstood and even mocked.
“Now, at that time there were Jewish worshipers who had emigrated from many different lands to live in Jerusalem. When the people of the city heard the roaring sound, crowds came running to where it was coming from., stunned over what was happening, because each one could hear the disciples speaking in his or her own language. Bewildered, they said to one another, ‘Aren’t these all Galileans? So how is it that we hear them speaking in our own languages?’ …They all stood there, dumbfounded and astonished, saying to one another, ‘What is this phenomenon?’ But others poked fun at them and said, ‘They’re just drunk on new wine’ ” (Acts 2:5-8, 12-13).
As with nearly anything new, it comes with critics. My sincere prayer is that we never hamper the move of God so as to avoid criticism. What a terrible, terrible mistake that would be. Instead, if we want authentic revival, we must also make peace with the fact that some may place certain labels on us, put sour comments on our social media outlets, or question our motives. Which is a bigger priority for us, the fear of God or the fear of man?
3. Revival can warrant both amazement and confusion.
Notice in the passage I quoted above that the observers of this unprecedented Holy Spirit baptism were “dumbfounded and astonished.” Other translations say that they were “amazed and perplexed” or “excited and confused.” Don’t let that little phrase slip by—I think we may have much to learn about their reaction.
When the Holy Spirit inspires real revival, most are delighted to step into the ‘amazement’ of it all. We love when worship is exciting, and we love the thrill that comes with genuine fellowship. It’s so immensely joyful to see a loved one come to Christ after many long prayers. When we sense the Holy Spirit working in a church service, it’s such a beautiful feeling. But real revival can also leave some perplexing questions, if we’re being honest! Notice the observers of this initial Pentecost experience scratched their heads and wondered, “What the heck is going on?”
Have you ever been in a situation at church where you were a little confused by the way someone was worshiping? Or did an unusual experience leave you dumbfounded? Some of us can be quick to cite 1 Corinthians 14:33 (“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace”) or 1 Corinthians 14:40 (“Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”) as reasons that nothing can happen in a worship service unless it feels logical to us. Now, as a pastor of worship myself, I treasure two verses very seriously, as the context of 1 Corinthians 14 definitely applies to the scope of my responsibilities on a Sunday morning.
But let’s first ask, who decides what is orderly and disorderly?
Does your church tradition?
Or, can God pour out His Spirit in a way that completely makes sense to Him, even if it leaves onlookers dumbfounded, like in Acts 2?
Now! Let me make a quick aside before we get too far along here. If you are a church leader, especially in senior leadership or functioning as a minister of worship, then you actually do have a weighty, serious responsibility in this area. I believe God fills people with special discernment based on their position, for the purpose of leading His people well. I’ve been in some church contexts where even I was surprised by what I’ve felt the Holy Spirit prompting. I’ve also been in the really difficult position to bring gentle correction to someone who was in fact acting outside of the arena God was working within. To walk in this discernment requires long hours of vulnerability in the secret place with the Holy Spirit, and years of cultivating a sensitive, Spirit-led heart, to be able to represent God’s heart accurately. And, if you are not a church leader, then I would advise you to trust God by submitting to whomever He has placed over you.
Let me share with you a verse that might feel irrelevant at first, but one that I think fits beautifully in the context of revival (especially regarding this amazement-and-perplexity theme). Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” If there aren’t any oxen in your stable, then your stable can be as clean, organized, fresh-smelling, manageable, and controlled as you desire; however, the stable won’t actually be serving its purpose. It will be empty and void of life. Once you fill it with oxen, you inherit some messiness and some measures of unpredictability—and you may need to install a thorough “clean-up” plan—but you also inherit the vitality of life. You inherit strength. You inherit the beautiful, pulsing buzz of growth. You inherit ‘abundant crops,’ an overwhelming harvest.
You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. True, Holy Spirit-breathed revival demands that we surrender the illusion of control and lean into perplexity and messiness—but with the cost of revival comes the vibrant, fresh activity of the Spirit, revitalization of souls, and a supernatural harvest of disciples for the Kingdom, which I will get into shortly.
4. Revival can springboard effective, Spirit-filled ministry.
“Peter stood up with the eleven apostles and shouted to the crowd, ‘Listen carefully, my fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem. You need to clearly understand what’s happening here.’ …When they heard this, they were crushed and realized what they had done to Jesus. Deeply moved, they said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘What do we need to do, brothers’ ” (Acts 2:14, 37)?
The breathtaking revival we find in Acts 2 resulted in an incredibly rich sermon on Jewish history and salvation and repentance, presented spontaneously by Peter in what theologians consider one of the finest sermons ever recorded. If you haven’t read it recently, do yourself a favor and work through it slowly and thoughtfully. It’s powerful.
As one studies through history’s great Christian revivals, he would unequivocally find each one marked by beautifully written and anointed sermons, and that organic evangelism movements emerged, as did generation-defining worship songs. One of my projects in Bible college (way, way back in Bible college, oof!) was to study those songs which were written during or as a result of various revivals. I’ll save you the extensive read of that study; just know that hundreds of powerful songs flow out of revival.
This should come as no surprise to us, though. Jesus said to His disciples in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Power. When the Holy Spirit sweeps through, He bestows power. Power for what? Power for ministry.
5. Revival can result in unprecedented numbers of salvation and authentic discipleship.
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and return to God, and each one of you must be baptized in the Name of Jesus, the Anointed One, to have your sins removed. Then you may take hold of the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ …Peter preached to them and warned them with these words: ‘Be rescued from the wayward and perverse culture of this world!’ Those who believed the word that day numbered three thousand. They were all baptized and added to the Church.” (Acts 2:38, 40-41).
The passage continues beyond the conversion experience of the thousands: “Every believer was faithfully devoted to following the teachings of the apostles. Their hearts were mutually linked to one another, sharing communion and coming together regularly for prayer. A deep sense of holy awe swept over everyone, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. All the believers were in fellowship as one body, and they shared with one another whatever they had. Out of generosity they even sold their assets to distribute the proceeds to those who were in need among them. Daily they met together in the temple courts and in one another’s homes to celebrate communion. They shared meals together with joyful hearts and tender humility. They were continually filled with praises to God, enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord kept adding to their number daily those who were coming to life” (Acts 2:42-47).
That is stunning!
Who would have thought that a bizarre experience that caused jeering and confusion would inspire powerful ministry and then this? Look! Thousands upon thousands of people committed their lives to follow Jesus! Each person rearranged his schedule to make room for daily communion with his Christian neighbors, and everyone was challenged to be insanely generous. They were a constantly singing bunch of folks! And daily, they evangelized and won more and more people to the Way. Wow!
So then, what’s the result of revival, arguably even the purpose for revival? Based on the very first New Testament revival, I suppose we can conclude salvation and discipleship, can’t we? I’m sure you can see the correlation between my preceding point and this one: revival springboards effective ministry, and then that effective ministry results in Kingdom expansion! When revival strikes, sure, we can feel emotional and passionate during church services—and I hope we do—but that passion necessarily should spill over into conversations we have with coworkers. We should FaceTime that one certain family member right away and share the Gospel. Revival naturally burns within us an undeniable zeal to win the world for Christ!
Now let me challenge you.
If a Third Great Awakening is indeed coming, and I believe it is, are we ready? Are there any preconceived notions we must release? Are there any limitations we need to throw out the window? Are we riddled with the fear of man, the worry of man’s criticisms? Are we creating space for a bit of “mess”?
Because if we lean into what the Holy Spirit is doing, it is only inevitable—a humongous end-time harvest is coming. How exciting! I want to be a part of what God is up to.
Far be it from me, Jesus, to hinder, reason away, feel embarrassed by, or discredit Your ministry.
May we enthusiastically echo the words of Revelation 22:20: “The One who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”