Laying a Foundation for Revival - Part I

by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy

Parts and Contents

Part I is contained on this page. Click below to view:

Part I (this page):


What is Revival?

Do We Have to Wait for Revival?

Developing a Strategy to Prepare for Revival

Footnotes for Part I

Part II:

Goals and Evidences of Revival

A) Devotion to God as King

B) The Personal Knowledge of God

C) The State of the Soul of the Person in Fellowship with God

D) The Outward Manifestations of the Presence of God in the Life of the Believer

Footnotes for Part II

Part III:

Pulling It All Together

Footnotes for Part III


Copyright and reprint information.

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Laying a Foundation for Revival - Part I


The goal of this examination of the subject of revival is to develop an intelligent strategy for laying the groundwork for true revival. To do this, we will explore the meaning of the word "revival" as well as Scripture and sacred history that have an important bearing upon the subject of revival. Finally, we will pool insights together to derive a specific strategy for ministry.

What is "Revival?"

"Revival" is bringing life to something that once lived, but has died. We see this usage in I Kings 17:22, when in the ministry of Elijah a dead child is brought back to life. Of course, spiritual revival may be desirable when there isn't a death of spiritual life, but a waning or dimming of that life. In this case it may be more desirable to use the term "renewal." In this discussion we shall use these terms interchangeably.

Although we certainly expect evangelism will take place during times of revival, it is worth noting that revival proper involves those who once had spiritual life. If the Gospel is brought to a group of people who have never heard it before, it is more accurate to use the term "evangelism" or "missions" than "revival." This distinction is a fragile one that can easily be carried too far, since there is one Spirit of God in the world working toward one goal: the building up of the Body of Christ to the glory of God. But recognizing this distinction helps us to discern a proper approach to each, for it does make a difference whether we are talking to people who have had no foundation to understand the Gospel or to a group that already has some understanding of the Gospel.

In Ezra 9:9 the word "revival" is applied to the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, a city that had been destroyed but would now live again. Especially important here is the connection with the rebuilding of God's Temple, and that the return of God's Spirit to dwell in the city was inseparable from the city's return to life. The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of the entire nation of Israel are described in Ezekiel 37, which foretells the bringing of life to the "dead bones" of the nation of Israel. The prophecy begins with chapter 36, which together with the last part of chapter 37 describes the life that is to be brought to the nation. This life comes as a result of the presence of God's Spirit. Psalm 85 is well worth reading in this context.

In Isaiah 57:15, God speaks of reviving the spirits and hearts of His people. Encouragement is as much in view here as spiritual life, but there is also an emphasis upon the renewal of a close relationship with God. It is their relationship with God that is the basis for the encouragement that His people experience.

In the New Testament we discover that spiritual renewal comes by God's grace through the work of Jesus Christ (Titus 3:4-7).

From these and other passages of Scripture we notice that revival always comes from God. Only God can raise the dead, whether a dead city, a dead nation, or a dead person.

Further, we can define a state of revival as a state in which a person or people are, by God's mercy and grace through Jesus Christ, filled with the life of God through the presence of His Spirit.

Do We Have to Wait for Revival?

Because revival is dependent upon the presence of God, prayer is the logical and important first step in seeking it. "'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6). Jesus taught of the Holy Spirit, "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged" (John 16:8-11). These tasks are not ours -- they are the tasks of God's Spirit. We can act in concert with the Holy Spirit's work, but if we try to do these tasks by ourselves, we will fail.[Footnote 1] Nor is there any way except through prayer to attack the spiritual darkness that dims people's minds and prevents them from receiving and understanding the truth of the Word of God (II Corinthians 4:4, Matthew 13:19). Because we are involved in a spiritual work, we are involved in something that is beyond us. Without the presence and blessing of God, we shall always fail (John 15:4-6).

Acts 4:23-33 gives us an example of how the earliest Christians, not long after Pentecost, sought God for spiritual renewal. Meeting together in prayer, they sought God for the presence of His Spirit. God granted their request, and the disciples were able to minister boldly and successfully. If we are looking for revival, this is exactly what we want to happen! Therefore this and other similar incidents are often used as "models," and based upon these models some people draw the conclusion that the only thing that can be done to prepare for revival is to wait upon God in prayer and He will revive in His good time. But these models, while they demonstrate the importance of prayer, are insufficient to help us understand the true nature of revival, ignoring other history and other Scripture that can give us a fuller understanding.

In II Timothy 4:1-2, Paul instructs Timothy, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction." What does Paul mean by the word "season?" We can quickly surmise that Paul could be referring to times when people seem to be receptive versus times when they seem not to be, or to special times when God pours out His Spirit versus times when He seems to be less active, or both. In any case Paul counsels Timothy that there is to be no difference concerning his work. He is not instructed to stop, go on retreat, and stay there, fasting and praying, until God answers with revival. He is told, "whatever the season, work just as hard and diligently as ever." And this is important enough that Paul makes this charge before God Himself in a solemn and formal manner, reminding Timothy of the future judgment that is coming upon the world.

The risen Christ did charge His disciples to tarry in prayer, but that was before Pentecost, when they were to wait for the full presence of God's Spirit to come into the world to build His Church. Pentecost has come. The Spirit has come in His fullness. The church has been inaugurated. The world has changed. Might it be that Paul's charge to Timothy was because of these facts?

There are some severe problems if we look at things otherwise. Are we to understand that God wants people to wait before coming to Christ? Are we to understand that God wants people to wait before they are revived? Wait for what? "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (I Timothy 1:15). "Behold, now is 'the acceptable time,' behold, now is "the day of salvation'" (II Corinthians 6:2). The Ethiopian eunuch asked, "What prevents me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36). Nothing, of course. He was baptized immediately.

If God is the source of revival, then certainly prayers consisting of worship, confession, supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving are of primary importance. But while prayer as a first priority, and a recognition of dependence upon God for evangelism and renewal is fully appropriate, "tarrying until God acts" is not. God has already acted. Now it is time for the church to get on with being the church. And if we do so we have every reason to believe that the Holy Spirit will be pleased that we are doing so and will bless. If the Spirit already says, "Come," why should the bride not do the same (Revelation 17:22)?

Developing a Strategy to Prepare for Revival

When we have approached God in prayer, it is important to make an accurate assessment of the situation immediately before us. Here the distinction between evangelism and revivalism becomes important. True evangelism requires the laying of a foundation for understanding the message of the Gospel. For revival to take place, a part of that understanding must already exist. Once again, this distinction can easily be carried too far -- we don't want to act as if there are two concerns of God -- or that God has one set of goals for some and another set for others. But true evangelism involves more foundational work than revival.

Evangelistic activity to a group that needs revival does no harm, because it reminds the people of basic spiritual truths. But an attempt to bring revival to a group that needs evangelism leads to frustration and partial success at best. Americans as a nation have, in the past, often been receptive to revival because there was a general understanding of certain spiritual truths. Today, large groups of Americans do not understand the basic spiritual truths of Scripture and subscribe to totally different basic assumptions about themselves, life in general, and their world. The task before the church to minister to this group is far more extensive than that required to bring revival.

In fact, even if a group to be evangelized responds to the Gospel more quickly than the church responds to a call to revival, there is still more to do in this group than in the church. The work of correcting basic misconceptions must be done patiently, intelligently, methodically, and completely, or the harvest may be lost as the sheep wander off due to their misunderstandings of what life is really about and who God really is (Matthew 13:18-23). This can happen because, when we think we are saying one thing to them, they are understanding our words in a completely different way. Learning new concepts can take time.

In trying to understand this issue, a superficial reading of the Scriptures can be very misleading. We tend to think of the early converts to Christianity as having responded very quickly. But a closer look shows that many of the first converts were either Jews or God-fearers. The "God-fearers" were a group of people who did not become Jews by initiation into the Jewish community and did not live in complete obedience to the Law of the Old Testament, but who, nevertheless, worshipped with the Jews, honored their God, and generally followed Jewish ways. Therefore, the lives of God-fearers were guided to a large degree by the teachings of the Old Testament. There were many such individuals throughout the Roman empire at the time of Christ. They had come to know about Judaism because of the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jewish population to cities and towns surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Cornelius was such a person, as was the Ethiopian eunuch. Beyond the instruction given by the Jews of the Diaspora, the great revival under John the Baptist prepared people on a wide scale to receive the ministry of Jesus Christ. The ministry of John the Baptist was very well known in his time.

Likewise, the ministry of the prophets of the Old Testament to Israel was based upon the Law of Moses. Revival could take place in Israel because a basic set of teachings about God and the world had already been communicated to the Israelites. The great revival under Josiah resulted from a re-discovery of the Law (II Kings 22-23, II Chronicles 34-35) as did the resurgence of spirituality under Ezra (Nehemiah 8:1-9:3). Again and again, the prophets of the Old Testament called children of Abraham to re-learn what they had once known, or to draw deeper conclusions from lessons they already knew. When we read Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) after reading some of the Old Testament prophets, we can see that His instruction is along similar lines.[Footnote 2] The purpose of Christ in this sermon is to help His listeners to see the importance of the Scriptures as a foundation for their lives and to see that only the sincere application of the intent of the Scriptures is profitable. A superficial interpretation, or one that attempts to justify meeting minimal requirements, is almost worse than not living by Scripture at all.

In the words of Christ, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18). Jesus went on to say that God's view of individuals was determined, at least in part, by how they handled the Scriptures. As Christians, we often think so highly of God's grace that we tend to be critical of the Law of the Old Testament. The Law was not given as a means of salvation, as the author of Hebrews, and Paul in Galatians and Romans, clearly explain. While it is true that the Law can never be a substitute for the grace of God through Jesus Christ, it is also true that the Law, as a guide, can help us to learn righteousness. There are not two Gods, one of the Old Testament, and another of the New, there is one God working toward one goal throughout history. Those things that God spoke and did to help the people of Old Testament times learn about Him are still valid ways to learn about the nature of God and true righteousness (I Corinthians 10:11). Paul said, "But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully" (I Timothy 1:8, Psalm 119:97-105). There are some spiritual truths, such as clear prohibitions against taking part in occult practices and the Ten Commandments, that are stated clearly only in the Law of Moses. When we realize this, we can see how God used the Prophets, and later Christ, to call others to personal righteousness by asking them to look at the Scriptures as a way to understand how to please God. In turn, when the people obeyed, they prepared their hearts for the work of God.

But what do you do when the people do not know the Law or the Prophets, or the words of Christ? There is no basis upon which to call the people to repentance and faith. From recognizing God's work in preparing the ancient world for the ministry of Christ, and the work of the Law in forming a basis for the ministry of the prophets, we understand that a foundation for understanding the faith must be built. If laying a foundation were not so important, the New Testament could have, and should have, preceeded the first! But the lessons about God and what He expects of His people that are revealed in the Old Testament form an essential "cradle" for the message of the Gospel to incubate and grow. One of the frustrations of the modern church has resulted from the failure to recognize that evangelism, not revivalism, is the proper strategy to reach people who do not have a good grasp of basic spiritual truths.

A good strategy for revival often proceeds with an attempt to correct the imperfect understanding of the people of certain spiritual truths. Here, a careful analysis of the exact need of the people is helpful. It may be that it is not lack of understanding at all, but complacency or laziness that is the cause of the problem. Or it may be, as with the people the author of Hebrews wrote to, that the people are walking well, but need to persevere in faith (Hebrews 10:35-39, 12:12-13). If so, the remedy must be to approach those issues by example and exhortation. But most often, especially in today's society, a lack of full understanding will be at least part of the problem. Whereas in evangelism an entire foundation must often be built, in revivalism we primarily need to address those specific issues that represent the unique needs of that group.

A failure to proceed in this Biblical manner of ministering to the specific needs of specific people has caused us to try the escapism of wishing a revival into existence. In the magical view of revival, revival will come if only we pray long enough, or make the supreme sacrifice, gain the magical insight, or learn the magic steps or words. Such a concept of revival is basically pagan. Worse, if something happens that seems to meet our concept of such a revival, we stop doing anything else and wish even harder for the next "revival time" to come around!

Nor is the entertainment model of worship sufficient to bring true revival. Entertainment in and of itself is not wrong. Nor is it wrong to use some forms of entertainment, say music or drama, to communicate spiritual truths. However, entertainment, by its very nature, lacks the challenge of true discipleship. Entertainment oriented strategy fails to do the job because it makes the parishioner a consumer who is, by the very nature of the approach, encouraged to leave if better entertainment can be found elsewhere. It encourages the parishioner to be a passive recipient of good times rather than an active participant in the challenge of serving God in a fallen world. In true Christianity, God has paid a huge price on behalf of each one of us -- therefore we serve Him (I Peter 1:13-19, I Corinthians 6:20, II Corinthians 5:14-15, I John 4:9-10, 19). In the entertainment approach, people pay to have God do things for them.

This is all the more important a distinction because humility is one of the requirements for God to bless His people with His presence. "For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, 'I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite'" (Isaiah 57:15). Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:3-4) He told of two men who prayed, one humbly, and one with pride, and pointed out that it was the humble man's prayer that was heard (Matthew 18:9-14). James wrote, "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you" (James 4:10).

The magical approach seems to be humble, but in reality it is arrogant, because it is an attempt to manipulate God into action. The entertainment approach is also arrogant because it assumes that the only purpose of human life is for God to serve us. It is true, of course, that God is our servant, and it is true, of course, that God wants to bless us for eternity. But it is also true that Christ's service to us was meant to be an example and a motivation for us to serve Him and others (John 13:12-17). The intent of God's presence and blessings is not to turn us into vegetables whose task in life is to simply sit and soak up the sun and the rain (Matthew 28:28)! When the apostle Paul said that he had become a "bondslave of Christ" we know that he was talking about loving God by serving Him, as common a theme in the Scriptures as the themes of blessing and grace.

A large part of Paul's service was providing an example to those he taught (Philippians 3:17, I Corinthians 4:14-17). In this, Paul followed the example of Christ. Jesus spent the majority of His time in personal ministries in which He could communicate His faith and teachings directly.[Footnote 3] The apostle Paul stayed in key cities for a period of time to get to know the people and to give them a chance to get to know him and his message. In contrast, we tend to be oriented toward mass communication in a manner that precludes addressing the specific needs of individuals. This is not to belittle the need to use publishing and mass communication to aid in Christian ministry. But these cannot substitute for personal work. Personal ministry is one of the greatest needs of the church today. The family is a uniquely appropriate place for personal ministry, where parents have a unique opportunity to communicate their faith and values to their children directly. If those in the church do not undertake this work, those outside our churches, perhaps less well disciplined and trained, perhaps members of cults, will, with unhappy results.

[1] This is not to say that the Holy Spirit cannot and does not use God's people as part of His work to accomplish these goals. Certainly the preaching of God's Word, the example of holy living by God's people, the testimony of their experience of God and their devotion to him, all of these can be used by the Holy Spirit. However, there is also a spiritual side to the work of God's Spirit in the hearts of unbelievers that the church itself cannot produce. The success of the church's witness is fully dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit, not upon human devices or ingenuity.

[2] There is, of course, an important difference as well. The prophets spoke in the authority of "the Holy One of Israel," speaking in His authority rather than their own. Jesus spoke in His own authority because of His identity as God ("but I say to you . . ."). Nevertheless, Jesus, as well as the earlier prophets, clearly spoke in the context of the application of existing Scripture to the lives of His hearers.

[3] See books by Dr. Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism and The Master Plan of Discipleship.

"Laying a Foundation for Revival" is Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Permission is granted to reprint "Laying a Foundation for Revival" or any portion as long as all copyrights are included, this statement is included, the text is not altered in any way, and the text or reprint is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 23, 1999.