What Revival Really Looks Like

I recently ran across this TikTok video, and wanted to share it and discuss some ideas that it raises.

@youknowthatonegirlrachel sharing some old favs. 🧡 #fyp #exvangelical #recoveringevangelical #churchtrauma #christiantiktok #pettyismyspiritualgift #revival ♬ original sound – Rachel

Rachel says “Hi. This message is for the older generations of the evangelical church who always told us when we were growing up, that you were praying for our generation to rise up and to bring about revival. That’s what this is. This is revival. We are trying to bring the body of Christ away from harmful things like Christian Nationalism, racism misogyny, and bigotry, and bring it back to being about Jesus, His death, resurrection, and His teachings. This IS the revival that you were praying for. And you’re calling it heresy.”

Wow. Strong words.

I think that my generation, as with many generations in the last century or so, inherited an understanding that “revival” was either a Billy Graham big tent meeting where thousands of people made sudden and dramatic professions of faith, or an Azusa Street situation where an entire town was dramatically overtaken “for Jesus,” or even something smaller where a church (usually Baptist) annually held an planned week-long series of nightly events to stir up people to repent.

Those are certainly a form of revival. And Azusa Street did initiate a shift of spiritual awareness across America within certain segments of the church. But they probably also preconditioned us to narrow our definition of “revival” a bit too much.

For a moment, consider some calls to revival in the Bible:

4 Restore us, God of our salvation,
And cause Your indignation toward us to cease.
5 Will You be angry with us forever?
Will You prolong Your anger to all generations?
6 Will You not revive us again,
So that Your people may rejoice in You?
7 Show us Your mercy, Lord,
And grant us Your salvation.

— Psalm 85:4-7

14 God of armies, do turn back;
Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine,
15 The shoot which Your right hand has planted,
And of the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.
16 It is burned with fire, it is cut down;
They perish from the rebuke of Your face.
17 Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.
18 Then we will not turn back from You;
Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.
19 Lord God of armies, restore us;
Make Your face shine upon us, and we will be saved.

— Psalm 80:14-19

For this is what the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, says:
“I dwell in 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

Also, consider these definitions of revival from various websites.

The word “revival” is from the Hebrew word chayah and means “to bring back to life,” to “restore to consciousness,” or to “restore to a previous condition.” We might say, “The drowning victim was miraculously revived.” As used in the Bible, it means a restoration, rejuvenation, or renewal of interest after spiritual neglect, oblivion, or obscurity.

In the history of the church, the term revival in its most biblical sense has meant a sovereign work of God in which the whole region of many churches, many Christians has been lifted out of spiritual indifference and worldliness into conviction of sin, earnest desires for more of Christ and his word, boldness in witness, purity of life, lots of conversions, joyful worship, renewed commitment to missions. You feel God has moved here. And basically revival, then, is God doing among many Christians at the same time or in the same region, usually, what he is doing all the time in individual Christian’s lives as people get saved and individually renewed around the world.

(This is interesting because it claims a “Biblical sense” for something that isn’t in the Bible. Okay.)

https://harvest.org/resources/gregs-blog/post/what-is-revival/ says
“revival is nothing more or less than a new beginning of obedience to God. It’s a church word, revival. It is not for the nonbeliever. Revival starts with the church and then affects the world. The world does not need revival; the church does. The world needs evangelism. Evangelism does not bring revival, but revival always brings evangelism.”

(This makes a good point: revival always starts “at home,” in the church.)

Revival refers to a spiritual reawakening from a state of dormancy or stagnation in the life of a believer. It encompasses the resurfacing of a love for God, an appreciation of God’s holiness, a passion for His Word and His church, a convicting awareness of personal and corporate sin, a spirit of humility, and a desire for repentance and growth in righteousness. Revival invigorates and sometimes deepens a believer’s faith, opening his or her eyes to the truth in a fresh, new way. It generally involves the connotation of a fresh start with a clean slate, marking a new beginning of a life lived in obedience to God. Revival breaks the charm and power of the world, which blinds the eyes of men, and generates both the will and power to live in the world but not of the world.


The evidence of revival, a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon believers, is changed lives. Great movements toward righteousness, evangelism, and social justice occur. Believers are once again spending time in prayer and reading and obeying God’s Word. Believers begin to powerfully use their spiritual gifts. There is confession of sin and repentance.

(Again, the point appears that revival is something for the believer, not the world outside the Body of Christ.)

Consider that the response of the Acts church to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection didn’t look much at all like what we think of as “revival” regarding Billy Graham crusades or Azusa Street or Smalltown First Baptist Church’s scheduled annual revival meetings. But I think that Acts certainly represents the truest form of revival ever seen, and a few of those definitions capture the same flavor.

Here’s the thing: to the religious leaders of that day, what happened in Jerusalem as described in Acts was the worst thing that could have happened, as many congregants unthinkably walked away from absolutely core aspects of their religious observances, such as circumcision, the need for temple sacrifices, the utter sanctity of the Holy of Holies, the need for priests as go-betweens with God, and much more.

It seems to me that what we’re seeing today – and I’ll call it “neo-revival” here – looks a lot more like Acts than like Billy Graham or Asuza Street or Smalltown First Baptist.

It seems to me that the core similarity between Acts and today is that the people are discovering that they don’t need a priest standing between themselves and God. The temple or the church institutions and buildings and all the religious practices were created to REPRESENT something, not to BE something. They were meant to represent the dwelling of God with man. Eventually, God’s design was to fully inhabit His people, such that His people was His dwelling place. Israel and its temple pointed a way to Jesus, which pointed a way to the corporate Christ comprised of every tribe, tongue, and language.

But the temple and the church both became impediments to the thing they were only supposed to represent – impediments in the sense that the institutions became the thing that the people effectively worshiped. They, by their institutional nature, prevented people from truly becoming the personal living temple, the dwelling of God IN man.

And similarly, all those new post-Temple religious practices became impediments, and even objects of worship themselves.

And I suspect these things are precisely what many the “deconstructing” people today are rebelling against.

Long before Jesus, God made it clear that the temple was His dwelling. But in Christ, He relocated into a people. In 70 AD, the Lord allowed the Romans to recapture Jerusalem and destroy the Second Temple. This forced the new Christian faith to scatter to the ends of the world, effectively driving them to do what Jesus, in His last recorded earthly words after His resurrection had commanded of His followers in Mark 16:15: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation.” Matthew 28:19 likewise says “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.”

As an aside, it’s interesting that the word translated “go” (poreuthentes, Strongs’ #4198) is actually an “plural nominative aorist passive participle” – basically, a past tense of “you (plural) having departed or gone.” So a more pure translation might be “Having gone into all the world, proclaim the gospel to all creation.” How strange for a command to be given describing a future event in the past tense! It takes the emphasis off the “go” verb, and puts it on the “make disciples” verb. Having gone, make disciples!

To me, this almost seems to predict the idea that they were going to be displaced and scattered, and their role was then to proclaim the Gospel. One way to look at this is that after 70 years of inaction, the Lord kicked them out of the nest, and expected them to remember, having now found themselves dispersed, that they were supposed to make disciples.

So here we are, a couple thousand years later. Christians certainly have gone out into all the world – often scattered against their will – and have proclaimed the gospel to those they encountered.

But strangely, what we see is this same tendency to again “hole up” in our social clubs we now call “churches,” where with few exceptions, the majority of the life of the Kingdom is carried out. It may be distributed among many thousands of individual buildings scattered across the globe, but the vast majority of the energy devoted to Christianity for the vast majority of Christians happens behind the doors of those buildings. We feel like the lost ought to come to us, if we’re just attractive enough.

I cannot speak about other nations, but at least in America, it’s pretty clear that most of what passes for outreach evangelism today is done by the few who are effectively paid to do so by their congregations. Be it in some third-world country, or the local marketplace or homeless encampment, most of that activity is done by a select few as their full-time job.

Frontier Harvest Ministries notes that on average, across America, only 1.5% of Christian income is given to Christian causes, and of this, only 6% of that 1.5% goes to missions, and only 1.7% of THAT 6% of that 1.5% goes to reaching the unreached.

0.00135% of American Christian income goes to reaching the unreached. For a family making $100,000 per year, that’s $1.35. A few candy bars.

As Claude Hickman observed, “Americans have recently spent more money buying Halloween costumes for their pets than the amount given to reach the unreached.

Only 1 of every 209,086 Christians goes as a missionary to the unreached. You have a better chance of being in a plane crash.


So as Skye Jethani asked in the title of his recent book, “What if Jesus was serious?

Well, I hear and see a lot of former church attendees asking exactly that question with their feet, not because they don’t worship Jesus, but precisely because they do. They – and I – can no longer reconcile what we read in Scripture with what we see the American church doing.

It seems to me that the season we’re in right now, with this rather sudden and dramatic upheaval in church attendance and a flood of personal and media stories about “deconstruction,” looks a lot like what happened in 70 AD. Except that this time, it’s not the Romans tearing down the temple, it’s the Holy Spirit, in a wide variety of ways, leading a remnant to abandon the “replacement temple” of institutional church and find themselves “having gone into all the world.”

No doubt there will be many who “stay in Jerusalem,” mourning the burnt and crumbled stones of the Temple, vowing to rebuild it to its former glory. But it seems to me that Lord may be trying to make it clear to His people that those buildings are not His dwelling place any longer, and that it’s time to remember His calling to us in Mark 16.

One caution I see raised again and again is that this “deconstruction” is unknown, and there are extremes, and there are people backsliding. Well, consider the words of the well-known Colonial-era preacher Jonathan Edwards, in his 1741 paper “Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God,” discussing and defending the revival sweeping across New England in that day. He discusses how things that appear to be black marks against revival may not be:

  1. Just because it is “new and different” doesn’t mean it is wrong. “It is no argument that a work on the minds of people is not the work of the Spirit of God, in that it causes a great stir about religion.”
  2. We can’t assume the work was not from God if some people go to extremes. “It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, in that many who seem to be the subjects of it are guilty of great imprudence and irregularities in their conduct. … Nor are many errors in judgment and some delusions of Satan that have intermixed with the work any argument that the work in general is not of the Spirit of God.”
  3. We can’t assume the work was not from God if some people “backslide.” “If some … fall away into gross errors or scandalous practices, then it is no argument that the work in general is not the work of the Spirit of God.”

As much as I vehemently disagree with the characterization of God in his famous hellfire sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” I think Edwards is very much on point in his analysis of revival. And he presents these positive signs of revival:

  1. Jesus is honored. “So that if the spirit that is at work among a people to convince them of Christ and lead them to Him — to confirm their minds in the belief of the history of Christ as He appeared in the flesh — and that He is the Son of God and was sent by God to save sinners; that He is the only Savior and that they stand in great need of Him; and if He seems to create in them higher and more honorable thoughts of Him than they used to have and to incline their affections more to Him; then it is a sure sign that it is the true and right Spirit.” What I see happening today is exactly this: these “neo-revivalists” are specifically calling attention to how Jesus’ commands and character are not being honored by aspects of the current institutional church culture.
  2. Satan’s kingdom is opposed. “When the spirit that is at work operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom — which lies in encouraging and establishing sin and cherishing men’s worldly lusts — this is a sure sign that it is a true and not a false spirit.” And these “neo-revivalists” are often explicitly pursuing God’s Kingdom, and calling attention to how the kosmos, the domain of Satan the kosmokrator, has infiltrated the church.
  3. God’s word is highly regarded. “The spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard for the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and religion, is certainly the Spirit of God.” I see constant calls among these “neo-revivalists” to focus on the actual Scripture, going back to the Word unfiltered and raw and original, and finding out how it has been corrupted by well-meaning but erroneous interpretations and false doctrines.
  4. God’s truth is revealed. “If by observing the manner of the operation of the spirit that is at work among a people, we see that it operates as a spirit of truth, leading people to truth, convincing them of those things that are true, we may safely determine that it is a right and true spirit.” As above, the call for clarity and proper interpretation rings true on the lips of many, many of these “neo-revivalists,” faithful Christians who are deconstructing from church falsehoods that masquerade as truth.
  5. God and others are loved. “If the spirit that is at work among a people operates as a spirit of love to God and man, it is a sure sign that it is the Spirit of God.” Perhaps this is the strongest of signs: that these neo-revivalists are deeper in love with God than ever, and their hearts have been turned after the heart of God for the lost, the marginalized, the oppressed, the victims, the prisoner, the undercaste.

You may disagree about some of these signs – are they focusing on real Scripture or not? Are they honoring the right interpretations or not? Is it the real Jesus that is being honored and represented or not? That is for God to judge, perhaps, but this season is teaching me that what I used to see as simple answers to those questions were ultimately founded on a lot of inherited assumptions that I had never personally owned, or “studied to show myself approved.” So I’m a lot less willing to call things “error” than I used to be, and I’m finding myself much more patient with others’ conclusions that make me uncomfortable. My response, now, is to immediately ask the Lord what He thinks about them, instead of going into a mode of “defend the honor and the Word of the Lord from error.” He is capable of defending His own honor and Word without me, and when I’m too quick to do it for Him, I usually miss something true and beautiful that He is doing, simply because it looks like nothing I’ve seen before.

So as Rachel says, “you were praying for our generation to rise up and to bring about revival. That’s what this is. This is revival.

Given what I’m seeing, I certainly won’t call it heresy. I’ll call it revival with Rachel.

As I was wrapping up my thinking on this, I started to reflect again on the Great Commission. And finding myself recently no longer in my comfortable church nest for the first time in 50 years, even though I’m sitting in my own home office writing this, I’m actually now one of the “having gone.” I’m out in the world, in some sense. And I realize that Jesus’ command to spread the gospel and make disciples applies to me right here, right now.

I’m really thinking about those unreached right in my own backyard – the 30% of “nones” in America today that identify as “no particular religion” – agnostic or atheist – or the 20-30% of GenX and GenY and GenZ who identify as non-binary. These are exactly the ones that the church is uncomfortable reaching, and wouldn’t be particularly happy to have sitting in their pews next to them on Sunday morning. The feeling seems to be mutual, too; those nones and non-binary really don’t want to be in church either, because they’ve seen how they’re treated by Christians. But they need Christ! And they’re in my community. I don’t need to travel to Haiti or Africa to find them.

So maybe this season of revival, either driving or calling so many out of the church, is a modern fulfillment of Mark 16:15. We’re out there. Now it’s time to spread the gospel. But not the gospel of the church: the gospel of the Kingdom instead, here and now, rising up in the earth among a remnant. The new revival is beginning.

So I invite you, join me. If you deconstructed and are feeling aimless, go back and read Matthew 28 and Mark 16 with fresh vision. Then ask the Lord who around you needs the Gospel. You’ve been sent – right where you are, right now. And Jesus promised “behold, I am with you always.”

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