The Beginning of Revival

by Dr. John Yates

Background

Revival is an exciting topic – its stories of the supernatural overwhelm us and we long for the sorts of things we hear of from the Third World to happen here. I want to suggest in this article, forged in the very early hours of several mornings, that the conditions for revival are emerging amongst us.1)This is not to imply, as Charles Finney taught, that if we take certain steps e.g. pray earnestly, God must pour out his Spirit in revival.

Where Revival is Impossible – God is Like Me

If there is one thing the highest profile names in the Western church image it is self confidence.2)It is common in pastors’ circles to hear of “key/significant/top” leaders. This represents a mindset that blatantly contradicts the teaching of Jesus, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” [Mark 10:43-44]. We are possessed of endless “know how” in relation to spiritual life. This can range from wisdoms about “health- wealth”, “seeker –sensitive”, “purpose –driven”, “passionate worship” etc. that are certain to give us success. The idolatry of self3)They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man”[Rom 1:23] is the dominant characteristic of the age. In church growth circles, the charisma of the “senior pastor” is uniformly perceived as the key to a successful church.

Common to all these streams is a sense the God is like us, this sadly repeats humanity’s basic sin, that by our own wise acts we can “be like God” (Gen 3:5). What is happening inside the vast majority of our churches is an ascending hierarchy of admiration. In the contemporary church pyramid everyone below the senior pastor looks up to them and aspires to share their spirituality. The congregation measures their spiritual performance4)Performance orientation” is a term used in counselling to describe those whose sense of satisfaction is determined by external indicators of success, such as church size. Beneath this is always a drive to win the acceptance of a “father”. against the achievements of the pastor. In this way they are bound by their conscience to realising the vision of the leadership of the church.5)Instead of hearing God for oneself [John 10:3-4; 1 John 2:20, 27], God’s voice becomes identified with that of the preacher, without testing [1 Thess 5:19-21]. Most of this is unconscious.

The fear of offending leadership by attending meetings, visiting other churches etc. without pastoral “approval” is evidence of the above dynamic.6)Cases of pastors using anger, control, threats, bribes etc. to get their own way are common. (True spiritual unity is impossible in the church in Perth whilst we follow gifted men instead of Christ.) Even more seriously, the admiration syndrome is cross- generational. The desire for acceptance by a spiritual father/mother within a hierarchical and controlling system always leads to compromise of conscience. When younger people look up to older Christians in the manner described above the upcoming generation always repeats the old patterns. Since only the “pure in heart…see God” (Matt 5:8), a manifestation of the face of God7)Where most English translations have “presence”, Hebrew and Greek characteristically have “face” e.g. 1 Sam 26:20; Acts 3:20 is impossible under the present idolatrous climate in much of the church.

Where Revival Comes – God is not Like Me

When Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), he is not contradicting his basic principle of boasting only in the cross.8)But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”[Gal 6:14] He is not pointing to himself in self– confidence,9)Consider Rom 7:18 “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” etc. but is directing his hearers to the fruit of the cross in his life. He knows that from God’s perspective the work of the cross cannot be imitated, “let no one boast in men” (1 Cor 3:21), “what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. ….By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.” (Rom 3:27)

Without the work of the cross in our lives we will always find a mother/father figure in our lives to imitate, according to our perception of what “God- likeness” means. We are wired up to image a power greater than us,10)Consider totalitarian states – Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Kim Il Sung. because we were created to image God. Without grace we will keep seeking an admirable object to copy until we die.11)Even if some try to escape this dynamic of relating to a “father- figure” they are caught in reaction and never free to relate to God as the Father revealed in Christ. All this, as much of the contemporary church’s experience indicates, is graceless.

The revelation that always releases revival is that in ourselves we are not “like God”. As creatures we have no necessary existence. As spiritual and moral beings, the human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9); there is no point of connection with a holy God in human nature. The supreme revelation of this is the cross. When Jesus “became sin” (2 Cor 5:21) and cried out ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) he manifested the truth that we are not “like God” at all.

Between us and God lies an uncrossable abyss. It takes him who is utterly unlike us (2 Cor 8:9) to become one of us and embrace our evil12)By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,”[Rom 8:3] to connect us to our Father. Since God is true to himself (Rom 3:4; Heb 6:18) he cannot “show his face” where people believe they are like him but only to those who know they are not like him. This is why the Pharisees could not see God in Christ, but the tax –collectors, sinners and Gentiles in the Gospel stories did. Men and women are only ever open to the power of the gospel where they cannot delude themselves in pride that they are somehow in themselves like God already. A sense of ungodliness is an essential precondition for the outpouring of the Spirit.13)Like Peter after his betrayal and Saul after the Damascus road experience.

Why Revival is Coming – the critical mass of those unlike God

There are certain pre- conditions for the coming of revival. Whenever there are conditions in society that leave a mass of people feeling hopeless, despairing and with a self – image unlike any picture of God they would esteem, people are prepared for a divine visitation.14)Like the emerging discontent with the traditional gods of Greece and Rome in the first century, the coal miners in the time of Whitefield and Wesley, or the alcoholics and impoverished in William Booth’s day, or the present Dalits [“untouchables”] of India. The Lord always “gives grace to the humble” (Prov 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5), and there is nothing more humble than knowing that you are morally and spiritually ungodly. Embedded in the masses of relationally dysfunctional persons, addicts, gays, prostitutes, goths, punks and indigenous Australians lacking hope are those who have been sovereignly prepared to hear the good news for what it is.15)These people know that what they need is not a formula for social and economic success but a new creation.

This mass of people cannot enter the normal church structures because they will experience judgement by those who adopt the spiritual/moral higher ground. Most in the church think the societal outcastes should be more like them.16)This is the worst sort of idolatry, but it is rampant today! This is to expect new Christians to enter into the hierarchy of admiration – God will not allow this. Alongside this, there is a growing crowd of disaffected true believers who have spiritually abandoned the institutional structures of the church without losing faith in Jesus. Since they have been freed, through painful church experiences, from admiring gifted Christian leaders,17)Including their own achievements. they too are ready to receive the absolutely radical message of“grace alone”. They will be in a place to shepherd those who come to Christ off the streets.

What to look for – the Face of Jesus will be Seen

The Holy Spirit is going to paint a portrait of the face of Jesus over the city of Perth. Not primarily in church buildings but in offices, bars, factories, schools, hotels and homes. When the spiritual works of man are exposed as a trickle the flood of the river of the water of life will pour out bringing life everywhere (Ezek 47:9; John 7:37-39; Rev 22:1). This will mean a powerful transformation in the meaning of Christianity – from a religious institution to a relationship with the most wonderful person who has ever lived.

An Australian society that is increasingly open to “spirituality” will be confronted as it never has been with the spirituality of Jesus (which is his relationship with the Father). Many shall truly come to know God as their Father; when this happens reformation will sweep the land and the old wineskins of admiring men will be discarded. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:21)

References   [ + ]

1. This is not to imply, as Charles Finney taught, that if we take certain steps e.g. pray earnestly, God must pour out his Spirit in revival.
2. It is common in pastors’ circles to hear of “key/significant/top” leaders. This represents a mindset that blatantly contradicts the teaching of Jesus, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” [Mark 10:43-44].
3. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man”[Rom 1:23]
4. Performance orientation” is a term used in counselling to describe those whose sense of satisfaction is determined by external indicators of success, such as church size. Beneath this is always a drive to win the acceptance of a “father”.
5. Instead of hearing God for oneself [John 10:3-4; 1 John 2:20, 27], God’s voice becomes identified with that of the preacher, without testing [1 Thess 5:19-21]. Most of this is unconscious.
6. Cases of pastors using anger, control, threats, bribes etc. to get their own way are common.
7. Where most English translations have “presence”, Hebrew and Greek characteristically have “face” e.g. 1 Sam 26:20; Acts 3:20
8. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”[Gal 6:14]
9. Consider Rom 7:18 “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” etc.
10. Consider totalitarian states – Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Kim Il Sung.
11. Even if some try to escape this dynamic of relating to a “father- figure” they are caught in reaction and never free to relate to God as the Father revealed in Christ.
12. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,”[Rom 8:3]
13. Like Peter after his betrayal and Saul after the Damascus road experience.
14. Like the emerging discontent with the traditional gods of Greece and Rome in the first century, the coal miners in the time of Whitefield and Wesley, or the alcoholics and impoverished in William Booth’s day, or the present Dalits [“untouchables”] of India.
15. These people know that what they need is not a formula for social and economic success but a new creation.
16. This is the worst sort of idolatry, but it is rampant today!
17. Including their own achievements.

John Yates

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