Originally Posted at Missio Alliance in May 2017
When I read about the explosive narrative on Pentecost and the early church – the Holy Spirit coming to live within human beings in a very signs-and-wonders kind of way – I tremble. Call me a dreamer, but there are times that I do daydream of that sort of expression in the church of 2016. I am struck by the experienced reality of the Spirit – prophecy, lame men walking, transformation, radical hospitality and generosity, momentum, movement, growth. Immediately after the infilling of the Spirit, the disciples began to preach the word of God so boldly and so clearly that there were a multitude of conversions.
The Early Church Prayed for More
Even after Pentecost, we see the early church praying for more boldness, for more signs, and for more wonders! And then notice after praying this prayer, they were again “filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Read here:
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:29-31)
Did the Spirit leave the early church and then somehow re-enter them after this prayer? No, of course not. But is it instead possible that the Holy Spirit brought a fresh awakening? I’d like to think so. In fact, it is this passage that makes me a believer in revivals, awakenings, and fresh outpourings of the Spirit.
Hunger and Thirst
Throughout my years of study, I have taken 6 Church History courses, and I always find my imagination running wild when I read about revivals such as the Azusa Street Revivals, or the Olivet Revival, or the Asbury revival, or even the revivals led by John Wesley, George Whitefield, Amy Semple McPhereson, and Maria Woodsworth-Etter.
Again, in each of these historic moments, we learn about an experienced reality of the Spirit – prophecy, lame men walking, transformation, radical hospitality and generosity, momentum, movement, growth. And out of these revivals, preachers, teachers, evangelists, and church planters were born. People were coming to Christ at rapid rates. If one were to read through the history of revival, a common thread would emerge: prayer and hungering and thirsting for God.
I hunger and thirst for this sort of local expression; and at times I find myself frustrated when others don’t hunger and thirst for it, too.
Gordon Fee had some things to say about hungering and thirsting:
[bctt tweet=”A common thread in the history of revival is prayer and hungering and thirsting for God.”]
“But my own experience in the church is that there is a clear correlation between our own hunger after God, on the one hand, and our experience of God, on the other. This does not remove the experience of the Spirit from God’s own sovereignty, nor does it imply that the one hungering and thirsting does not already have the Spirit in full measure…
Moreover, our Lord pronounced his congratulatory blessing on those who ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness,’ promising that they ‘shall be filled.’
The concern for openness is where I would emphasize the divine sovereignty. It is a way of suggesting that we need less often to tell God what we want, as though we know what is best for us, and more often to have a stance of openness, so that we might continually be surprised by joy. Openness means seeking earnestly after the Spirit, with readiness for whatever the Spirit may want to do, not for the sake of our own individual walk alone, but for what it will mean for the sake of the body.” (Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, Gordon Fee, 190-191)
Revival: Simple (Yet Profound)
I have to wonder, then; what does it look like when a local community hungers and thirsts for revival? What does it look like when a community does hunger and thirst for more of an experienced reality of the Spirit? It might be as glorious and grand as what we read about in the book of Acts or in church history.
But it also may be as simple (yet profound) as a neighbor being invited over for a meal around a table with Christians who show the love of Jesus through hospitality. Or it might be as simple (yet profound) as a Christian praying with another Christian as he or she lies in a hospital bed. Or it might be as simple (yet profound) as a teenager showing up to the Sunday morning worship gathering early enough just to pray with great expectation that hearts and lives would be transformed. Or it might be as simple (yet profound) as folks who are without homes being fed a hot meal Sunday after Sunday in a park with loving, caring, and generous Christians. Or it might be as simple (yet profound) as one sinner seeing Jesus for the very first time in his or her life. Put all of these simple (yet profound) movements of the Spirit together, it sounds a lot like revival to me.
My Pastoral Longings for Revival
As I am just a few short days away from being installed as Senior Pastor at Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene, and as we have been praying over at Missio Alliance for #PrayMay15, revival is fresh on my mind. Like many pastors, my heart aches to be involved in an almost tangible, visible, unusual, and surprising expression of the Spirit. But here’s what I do know:
Revival doesn’t happen just because a new senior pastor is in town.
Revival often happens in the margins without others even noticing.
Revival sometimes happens right under our noses, and we miss it because we were looking for all the wrong things.
Revival goes beyond our own imaginations, but it’s always lined up with God’s missional imagination.
Revival can’t be forced.
Revival is often unexpected.
If revival happens, it will happen with or without me.
Revival is mysterious.
Revival can be simple (yet profound).
So I do pray for revival; I hunger and thirst for revival. But I hunger and thirst in a posture of openness – for God to do whatever God wants to do. I long for nothing more than to be doing whatever is the Spirit is doing, and going wherever the Spirit is going. Come, Holy Spirit, come.