Many pastors and church leaders are ALL ABOUT telling us "we need revival," and that "we have to pray for it."
They'll quote something from the Bible to drive that home, and burden us with something like "You have not because you ask not," as though that's all there is to it. And then they'll seek to stir up emotion and fervor in their services and conferences – to get people praying harder, "worshiping" more... You notice that? It's always the same with dead religion. Everything harder, everything more. "Pray" more. "Worship" more... Everything more.
But for all the clamor of our formulaic prayers, and for all the noise of our displays of great faith, the prophet Amos reminds us of God's perspective on the issue:
Amos isn't the only prophet to say this sort of thing. Micah tells us that all God is looking for is a people who accomplish justice, love practicing compassion, and walk with humble simplicity. Then there's Isaiah, who says God isn't impressed by our big lofty prayers, and that, instead of showy acts of devotion and deprivation, we should seek to loose the chains of oppression and meet injustice head on.
Isaiah makes a good point. The passionate devotion of this sort of religious culture doesn't necessarily mean any of us wants actual revival. A lot of us just love the culture of "revival" itself. We love the service, the way it sizzles. It's like a drug. We get addicted to it, and we need more and more to give us the high we expect. We need bigger shows and more epic experiences. We need more altars to make vows and commitments at. We'd push Jesus aside to rebuild the temple itself if we could. Because that's the sort of religion we prefer – being pitiful and addicted to recovery, and groveling before a distant, withholding God.
"We need revival!"
"We have not because we ask not!"
"We need to pray!"
That's what they say. Over and over and over again. But somehow, it's never enough. It all goes nowhere, or just disappears into the ether – dissipates without ever being of significant enough substance to move God... Did you catch that? We tried hard. We knelt and we cried out and we gave up a flurry of magic words, pleading for revival... But God was unmoved. I guess we didn't hit the quota of prayers? Is there a specific quantity of them and the precise number was kept secret just to keep us struggling? Or is there a certain amount of dramatic, outward intensity we need to show as we pray, so that everyone can see how devoted we are? Maybe it's both. There simply weren't enough prayers, and/or someone in the room wasn't "all in for God" and ruined everything for the rest of us. Either way, God was unmotivated. And that means no revival. It was all for nothing. Maybe God was busy, or in the bathroom or something. Maybe we need to just shout louder. Maybe God is sleeping, or just doesn't like us very much. Maybe God really isn't anything like Jesus, for that matter. Maybe God is some aloof and angry old bastard on a cloud, unmoved by our pathetic attempts to see revival in our time.
So let's schedule another one and try it again. But be more serious about it this time. Pray harder, pray more.
Because surely "We need revival."
I've been hearing that whole line of thinking since I can remember, and I just disagree with it. At the very core of my being, I recoil against such a God and such a system of contrivance. When I hear Christians and the way many of them speak of "revival," it brings me right back to the paralyzing, hopeless shame of religiosity which I've encountered so much of in life. (The very sort I used to aspire to before I met Jesus.)
Here's the part we aren't hearing in church:
We do not have revival because we refuse to live it. We refuse to practice peacemaking, nonviolence and enemy love. We do not have revival because we refuse to welcome the stranger, the alien, the foreigner. We do not have revival because we horde our mammon and exploit others, and the cry which arises because of our many abuses is great.
We don't have revival because we don't much like what it entails. We don't live as though the kingdom was with us – we live as though the kingdom was some later thing we hope to escape to some day. We don't have revival because we try to worship a distant God without loving those near to us. We don't have revival because we think we can follow Jesus and still avoid getting "political" when it comes to the causes of justice... So we posture that we want to follow Jesus, only without going into the very places he goes to bring healing and wholeness. We want to follow Jesus while still entrusting ourselves to the principalities and powers of this world, rather than speaking the truth to them and refusing to let them own us.
We say we want revival, but we are often fundamentally at odds with joining God in restoring things and putting the world to rights. We think that stuff is only for later. This world is done for. Poisonous "prophecy" culture and biblically-illiterate eschatology undermined Jesus and told us so. And we believed it. After all, it makes for good TV.
People have been pleading with the ceiling for revival for decades. For as long as we've had this American culture of Christianity, they've been attempting to stoke the "revival fire" and make something happen. Something lasting and real. They've sung and prayed and wept for it. Hundreds and thousands and millions of them – at altars and in tents and stadiums, in conferences and crusades and every other kind of service imaginable, they've been crying out for revival. And it has never been enough. It has left scores of us deeply hurt and disillusioned, and given us spiritual and psychological baggage that can last a lifetime, but it has never been enough to motivate what we claim we'd like to see. Still, they keep telling us to try again, try harder, pray more. And maybe this time our withholding God will answer. Maybe. (Judging by the past, though, probably not.)
Do we need revival? I think we really do.
But asking for it is not what we lack.
Revival is not some external thing that randomly visits us from time to time like a long lost relative. Revival is us. We get to follow Jesus, or not. We're not praying for some sort of magic to transpire outside of our own responsibility.
Revival means we walk with Jesus in self-giving love, compassion and justice. It means we challenge the Powers as we refuse their lie of false security. We do what Jesus did in the desert, refusing to think of the world's prosperity as though it was God's "blessing." It means we refuse to see people as "other," and then we go about – contrary to all fear and entropy – recklessly loving our enemies and offering inclusion to those on the margins. We do not cling to the old, but we manifest "all things are new" every day.
Revival is us.
The heavens are not shut, and they aren't needing us to convince them to open.
If we had never encountered Jesus, we might ask for revival as though we were waiting for it.