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A Little Ocean Ambiance
WHAT IS A REVIVAL?
Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
"Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?"
There is an important discussion occurring today about the subject of
spiritual revival. The nature and causes of a revival are being analyzed
and explained from several points of view among evangelicals and
fundamentalists. To some, a revival of Biblical Christianity comes as a
surprise from Heaven, an unusual and unpredictable event sent as a
sovereign act of God. Others hold the more hopeful view that God revives
His people in response to their repentance and prayer. The Hebrew word
for "revive" appears in many Old Testament prayers and points to
something experienced by believers of all eras. This word helps us to
define revival, and the definition of the term is the key to
understanding the phenomenon.
The word for "revive" used in the prayer of Psalm 85:6 is a form of the
verb CHAYAH. The subject of the psalm is spiritual revival in Israel.
CHAYAH comes from a root that means "life," and means to restore life or
to make alive. Its use in scripture makes its exact meaning and its
application to the spiritual life clear.
The Revival of Jacob
CHAYAH is first used in Genesis 45.
"So he [Joseph] sent his brethren away, and they departed: and he said
unto them, See that ye fall not out by the way. And they went up out of
Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan unto Jacob their father, and told
him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of
Egypt. And Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not. And they told
him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw
the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their
father revived: and Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet
alive: I will go and see him before I die." (verses 24-28)
Of course a form of CHAYAH is used in verse 27: ". . . when he saw the
wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their
father revived . . ." The revival of Jacob was an emotional revival. The
patriarch's mental state had been one of self-imposed depression for over
twenty years based on his belief that Joseph (his favorite son) had been
killed (See Genesis 37:31-35 and also Genesis 42:36-38). When he got word
and saw evidence that Joseph was "yet alive," the Bible says that "the
spirit of Jacob . . . revived."
In this experience, Jacob's mental and emotional condition was restored
to a state of health and happiness. His "revival" was a return to
The Revival of Samson
CHAYAH is next used in the Hebrew Bible when the story of Samson is told.
In Judges 15, we read of Samson's physical exhaustion after his slaughter
of a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.
"And he was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast
given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall
I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But God
clave an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout;
and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore
he called the name thereof Enhakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day."
Of course CHAYAH is used where the Bible says that "when he had drunk
[the water] . . . he revived." The drink of water restored Samson to a
state of physical health and normality. His revival simply brought him
back to normal.
The Revival of the Widow's Son
I Kings 17 records a miracle performed through Elijah, and uses a form of
"And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the
LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come
into him again. And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of
the child came into him again, and he revived." (verses 21-22)
The "revival" of this child was his restoration to life. Being alive is
the normal state of a child, and so the reviving involved returning the
boy to normal.
Revival in English
Usually the word "revive" in English is used in this same way. It comes
from the Latin for "live again," and carries the idea of restoring to
normal. When we say that a person needs to be "revived" physically, we
mean that he is in a sub-normal state of health. Perhaps he is
unconscious or maybe not even breathing. Something must be done to
"revive" him. By this we mean simply that we must work to restore him to
a normal state of health and strength!
Reviving somebody does not mean giving him extraordinary physical powers.
It does not mean invigorating him beyond the normal. It just means
bringing him back to the way he should be. This is also what "revival"
means in the Scriptures when applied to the spiritual life of God's
The Revival Psalm
Psalm 85 is clearly speaking of the spiritual life of Israel. In verses 1
through 3, David thanks the Lord that He has "brought back" the nation
from sin and disobedience in the past, and restored them to the spiritual
and moral level where He could bless them.
"LORD, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back
the captivity of Jacob. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people,
thou hast covered all their sin. Selah. Thou hast taken away all thy
wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger."
In verses 4 through 7, David asks that God do it again. He wants the Lord
to "turn" Israel back to Himself that they might again know His
forgiveness, mercy, and blessing.
"Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to
cease. Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine
anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people
may rejoice in thee? Show us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy
In this context is the prayer that God "revive us again," which employs
the usual Hebrew term CHAYAH for quickening and restoration. It means,
"Bring us back to the spiritual state that should be normal for your
The Longest Psalm
Psalm 119 includes a number of prayers that God grant the writer a
spiritual revival. In this, the longest of the Psalms, the Authorized
English Version translates CHAYAH with the word "quicken." The prayers
for quickening are found in verses 25, 37, 40, 50, 88, 93, 107, 149, 154,
156, and 159. One of them reads as follows:
"Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of
thy mouth." (verse 88)
The psalmist wants God to restore him spiritually so that he will obey
His Word. Verse 93 indicates that the Word of God is the means by which
God's servants are revived as well as the standard to which they are
"I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me."
Revival by the Word is not only a moral restoration, but apparently a
restoration of spiritual strength.
"I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O LORD, according unto thy word."
(verse 107-see also verses 25 and 50).
The writer of Psalm 119 repeatedly calls upon God to bring him up to the
standard of Scripture. This request is not seeking something beyond what
the Lord calls upon His people to experience normally. The revival of
which CHAYAH speaks is nothing other than a physical, emotional, or
spiritual restoration to the normal.
Old Testament Revival
When one speaks of spiritual revival as a return to spiritual normality,
he is using his terms in relation to the definition of the word "norm,"
which means "a standard, model, or pattern." When people are revived they
are brought by God to a level of living that fits the Scriptural
For the Israelite in Old Testament days, the "norm" was to be obedient to
God's Law as given to His people through Moses. Obeying the Law brought
the promise of definite blessings. Remember that God told Joshua,
"Be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do
according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not
from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper
whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of
thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou
mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then
thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good
success." (Joshua 1:7-8)
The many blessings promised to Israel in the "normal" state of obedience
are listed primarily in Deuteronomy 28 and Joshua1. They could expect
victory in battle, financial prosperity, good health, growing families,
and nearness to God as long as they would "hearken diligently unto the
voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments"
(Deuteronomy 28:1). These blessings would disappear "if thou wilt not
hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 28:15), and
certain curses would come. The prayer of Psalm 85:6 was that the Lord
would restore Israel to the condition of obedience so that they would be
back in the place of blessing. This is what Old Testament revivals really
were: a return to the normal with the return of the blessings. It was
something Israel repeatedly experienced, and it was the goal for which
their prophets labored throughout the Old Testament age!
New Testament Revival
Although the word "revive" is not used in any of the New Testament books
to mean what the Old Testament writers meant by it, the concept is
definitely there. Jesus Christ set a definite norm for the life of the
New Testament believer, and it is described repeatedly.
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his
cross, and follow me." (16:24)
"Preach the gospel to every creature." (16:15)
". . . endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)
"He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit:
for without me ye can do nothing." (15:5)
". . . present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,
which is your reasonable service." (12:1)
In the Corinthian epistles,
". . . that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves,
but unto him which died for them, and rose again." (II Corinthians 5:15)
"Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh."
". . . be filled with the Spirit." (5:18)
". . . press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in
Christ Jesus." (3:14)
"Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." (3:2)
The surrendered, Spirit-filled life is the normal life of the Christian,
according to the New Testament! And Jesus taught in John 13 through 17
that this state of submission and faith should be expected to bring five
definite experiences to our lives:
Remarkable answers to prayer (John 14:12-14, 15:16, 16:23-24).
Obvious help from the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-26, 15:26-27, 16:7-15).
Love, joy, and peace in the heart (John 14:27, 15:9-11, 16:32-33).
Much fruit (15:1-8).
Persecution (15:18-25, 16:1-4).
Each of these was experienced by the Spirit-filled believers in the Acts
of the Apostles! The committed, empowered living of the early Christians
was normal for New Testament believers, and the blessings Jesus promised
and gave should be considered normal for us, too. To have a revival in
this Age of the Spirit and of the Church is to have God bring us back
from carnality to spirituality, from disobedience to surrender, from love
of the world to love of the Father, from malaise to health, from
sub-normal to normal. When we are not seeing the results of the
Spirit-filled life that Jesus told us to expect, we must assume that we
need a revival. And we must seek it earnestly.
Several New Testament scriptures call for revival among worldly, carnal,
and disobedient Christians. Notice Romans 13:10-14.
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling
of the law. And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake
out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The
night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the
works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk
honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in
chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the
Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the
Find similar calls in Galatians 5 and in Revelation 2 and 3. The fourth
chapter of James has an especially strong call for revival.
"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye
sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and
mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to
heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift
you up." (verses 8-10)
The Apostle James charges the recipients of his epistle with worldliness,
prayerlessness, and selfishness at the beginning of this chapter. Then he
calls upon them to "draw nigh to God" with the promise that when they do,
"he will draw night to you." James tells them to confess their sins, to
purify their hearts, and to humble themselves with tears. In response to
repentance and submission, God will "lift you up." This is revival. God
will restore His people to normal if they will earnestly and believingly
turn to Him.
When we say that the churches need revival, we are not speaking of some
exceptional blessing that the Lord might or might not wish to grant.
Physical healing, material wealth, or some strong personal wish may not
be in God's plan for us. We may pray for such things, but we have no
assurance from the Bible that He will necessarily give them. However,
blessings that the Bible reveals are according to God's will, and
especially those blessings that the Lord has promised, are a different
"This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing
according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us,
whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of
him." (I John 5:14-15)
If revival is understood as an extraordinary and exceptional blessing not
supported by Biblical promises, then we will think of it as a sovereign
act of God which cannot be sought with any real expectation. If, however,
revival is understood simply as restoring Christians to normal, and if we
find it promised in the Bible to contrite-hearted seekers, then revival
can be expected when we meet the conditions (See Isaiah 57:15). If the
spiritual level of our churches is normal according to scriptural
standards, then they do not need a revival by its Biblical definition.
If, however, the powerlessness and carnality prevalent in most
evangelical congregations are less than New Testament normality (which of
course they are), then clearly we need and must have revival!
Now is not the time for Christians to give up on revival. The Bible shows
us that God is the Great Reviver of His people! When they turn from their
idols and their sin, and turn to Him in contrite and humble faith, He
will always revive them. Not finding the power within ourselves to bring
our lives up to the place of blessing, we must call upon the Lord to do
it for us. Every sin must be forsaken and every promise believed, but
when we do, we can look expectantly for God to draw nigh to us again!
Friday, February 21, 2003
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church|
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data
Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)
- Articles published in the;
- Sword of the Lord
- Baptist Preacher,
- Christian View of the News,
- Pulpit Helps,
- Maranatha Watchman
- Church Bus News,
- and other national periodicals.
His Majesty's Service
In His Service,
Teaching the Word
To Glorify Our Lord
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