Marks of Revival Movements for Leaders

In 2014 current SBC President Ronnie Floyd issued a call entitled  Pleading with Southern Baptists  calling for a focus on revival prayer. Last fall Dr. Floyd asked me to address almost 100 SBC leaders about the need for and nature of revival. I shared with them five marks of awakenings gleaned from past movements. These do not represent an exhaustive list, but in my mind are critical for our times. The first two marks would surprise no one familiar with God’s work in past revival movements. The next two may surprise some, and the final mark surprised me, as it represents an aspect of awakening I missed in my years of study but saw clearly in seasons of real revival in my own experience and in that of friends.

1. Deep, burdened, desperate prayer. Matthew Henry said, “When God begins a work, He sets His people to praying.” John Knox prayer, “Give me Scotland, or I die.” As a boy, Jonathan Edwards made a booth in the woods and prayed five times a day. No wonder he wrote a treatise on prayer in the middle of the First Great Awakening.

Baptist pastors Stephen Gano and Isaac Backus sent a circular letter in 1795 to pastors of all denominations in New England calling for a concert of prayer, using Edwards’ treatise on prayer in their exhortation. Within a few years the Second Great Awakening came. A group of college guys prayed under a haystack in 1806; as a result the first movement of global missions on American soil was born out of this “Haystack Revival.” Jeremiah Lanphier experienced a prayer revival out of a prayer meeting in 1857 in New York City. On and on the examples go.

Leonard Ravenhill said when it comes to praying for revival, God does not answer prayer, He answers desperate prayer. For what are you praying in holy desperation?

2. A radical passion to win the world to Jesus. Movements of revival send believers into the culture to win people at all costs. John Wesley, a proper, Oxford trained Anglican, wrote in his journal that he doubted whether a person could be saved outside a church building. But when revival came he found himself reaching a whole population by preaching in the fields. Edwards noted that when rescuing people from a burning house, they had no time to fight one another. In the same way, when we focus on advancing the gospel, we build each other up instead of tearing each other down. In the Jesus Movement, a trio of pastors in their pressed suits came upon some Jesus freakish hippies sharing Jesus on the street.

“What are you doing?” A pastor asked a young man. “Sir, we are doing what you just talk about,” the young believer replied. Ouch. When is the last time you were so broken for a lost person you became less concerned about methods or being proper and more broken to show and share Christ?

3. Youth play a vital role. Jonathan Edwards said the Great Awakening was mostly a youth movement. I’ve read countless primary accounts of revival movements from history; youth figure prominently in around 90% I have read. Spurgeon preached to thousands in London in his early 20s. Whitefield preached across the colonies at 25. Brainerd and McCheyne died before they turned 30 yet we remember well their valiant ministries.

If you are middle aged or older, be aware: you and I are not likely to be the people who start a revival, but we certainly have the influence to kill one. What are you doing to involve young people and to allow them to lead?

4. Social justice: in awakenings, people are reach, churches are planted, and orphanages are established. Whitefield spread the Great Awakening across the colonies. He also founded an orphanage called Bethesda in Georgia. Spurgeon, Spener, and others had orphanages as well. Numerous other social enterprises had their genesis in revival movements.

Millennials love causes. If we want to impact a younger generation note this: before they will join in our causes we have to care about theirs. What are you doing about the brokenness in our land and in your community?

5. Here is the one I missed: in revival, leaders get right. Isaiah was the most godly man in the land, yet he was ruined by his own sin. Edwards wept in his church as Whitefield preached. Brainerd lay in the snow, coughing up blood from tuberculosis, begging God to save the Indians.
Leaders can so easily isolate themselves from accountability and thus from confronting their own sin.

Who is in your life that can call you out? Note: you can be in the middle of the activity of God and miss Him. I know I am experiencing revival personally when I stop confessing the sins of others and look in my own heart. When is the last time you were broken personally and sought God to revive your heart? God is stirring the hearts of many. Let’s join together, seek the Lord, and be available for His Spirit to use us.

Note: I’ve written a bit on this topic.  See Firefall 2.0 and Revival Revived.

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Spiritual Disciplines as Means of Grace

This past Sunday, I began teaching a class at First Baptist Church of Durham on the topic “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.” The class is loosely adapted from Donald Whitney’s well-known book by the same title, which has recently been republished in a second edition. In the first class meeting, I introduced the topic by discussing some key definitions, explaining the nature and purpose of spiritual disciplines, and expounding some key biblical texts. I also addressed the idea that the spiritual disciplines are means of grace in the Christian life. Let me explain what I mean.

Many people, both believers and non-believers, are tempted to practice the spiritual disciplines in a legalistic way. They are either trying to earn God’s favor or keep God’s favor. This is unfortunate, but perhaps understandable: the language of spiritual disciplines sounds similar to the religious self-help lingo that is so pervasive in American culture. For this reason, Kyle Strobel suggests that “spiritual disciplines” is a well-meaning term put in an unfortunate way in his excellent book Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (IVP 2013, p. 70).

In part as a reaction to this legalism, other believers do not practice spiritual disciplines in any sort of deliberate manner. Because they live under grace, they consider almost any discussion of the spiritual disciplines to be legalistic. (Though, interestingly, most of them still say we should read the Bible and pray regularly.) As the late Dallas Willard reminded us as often as he could, grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning. Spiritual maturity is hard work!

We need to remember that we never pursue the spiritual disciplines as ends unto themselves. Instead, we pursue a closer relationship with God through the practice of the spiritual disciplines in the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, one of the ways we live out the gospel is to practice the spiritual disciplines. When we think about spiritual disciplines in this way, we see they are what past generations of Christians called “means of grace” that the Holy Spirit uses to conform us more and more to the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). Please don’t misunderstand me. By “means of grace,” I do not mean that the spiritual disciplines contribute to our spiritual standing before God; we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone! Rather, I mean the spiritual disciplines are God-ordained practices that God uses to grow us in godliness.

Near my home is a great city park with a couple of miles of trails. Many of the trails wind through acres of woods. When the city bought the land for the park from a local farmer several years ago, they carved out these trails to help walkers, joggers, and bikers avoid getting lost in the wilderness. The trails are not ends unto themselves; rather, they are the means to help us make progress in our journey of exercise and guide us to the right destination. In the same way, spiritual disciplines are “trails” that God has ordained to help keep us on the right path and make progress in our journey of sanctification.

I want to urge you to practice biblical spiritual disciplines such as Scripture meditation and memorization, prayer, fasting, silence and solitude, service, worship (personal and corporate), and mission. If you want to learn more about the spiritual disciplines, check out Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (NavPress, 2014).

In Case You Missed It

Each Friday at Between the Times we point you to some of this week’s blogposts we think worth your time. Some are written by Southeastern faculty, alumni, or students. Some are from others outside Southeastern who have something to say. Either way, we want to keep you updated in case you missed it.

1) The guys at Baptist 21 share a video (from SBC 2014) featuring helpful discussion on the future of the IMB. The panel includes SEBTS Provost Bruce Ashford and alum Jonathan Akin. 

2) The Gospel Coalition posted the new issue of Themelios, much of which addresses the theology of Jonathan Edwards. If you were unaware, Themelios is an excellent resource for keeping up to date on the goings on in theology.

3) This month at SEBTS, the CGCS encourages everyone to take part in 30 days of going. Read the post from director Scott Hildreth.

4) SEBTS held its opening convocation this week. Dr. Akin spoke on the life of missionary Berth Smith in light of Galatians 2:20. Watch here.

5) Ed Stetzer interviews the family of Nancy Writebol, missionary who contracted Ebola while in West Africa. She was released from the hospital yesterday.

6) John Piper discusses the issues of power and policing in light of another police shooting death in St. Louis.