We sang our hearts out in prayer for revival this Sunday, and I haven’t been able to put “Come to the Water” down since then. It’s Tuesday, and I’ve probably listened to it 10 times since Sunday. Absolutely love this song. You should have seen the way we all bellowed out the bridge with our hands raised all over the auditorium in church, “Let revival come. Let the people sing the glory of Your Name!” Over and over. And as I sit on the Metra with those words blasting in my earbuds, I’m no less moved.
But this morning I opened my iPhone Bible, and YouVersion‘s featured verse was from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17. Jesus said, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26 ESV)
On second thought, I want that to be my new song. The truth is that I have not made known to them God’s Name. When “they” remember me, it won’t be because “that guy really knew Jesus”. That has to change. If I were really honest, I’d have to admit that I’m sitting on a couple decades as a Christian living a life that’s far more full of my getting my way than of Jesus getting His. As I meditate on Jesus’ words, I realize that there’s a clear connection to our worship on Sunday … and an important lesson for all of us.
I believe God would teach His church that revival doesn’t just come. Great to sing. Great to worship the Lord. Great to honestly pray for revival. But terribly un-great to develop an apathy (or worse, a patently false sense of self-righteousness or self-accomplishment) around our role in the work of the Spirit in this world.
Revival doesn’t come because God surprised us all while we huddled in our basement with our small group being decisively and expertly Christian (whatever that would mean). And if we think it does (or just fail to think about it much at all), we can get lazy, distracted, apathetic, self-involved, and decidedly unlike Jesus. Unintentional and unarticulated, but no less wrong and dangerous.
Yes, sometimes God sends revival (or other blessings) like a downpour out of nowhere after a prolonged season of dryness. But if that happens at all, it’s typically personal, not corporate, and certainly not for us to expect of Him. He of course might do something in my town or your college or your workplace or Aunt Betty’s beauty salon that is totally unpredictable and totally uncorrelated to to anything we think, say or do. That’s true. And it happens. Sometimes God just does, and we’re shocked when it hits us like a wave out of nowhere. But we don’t rely on that. We don’t wait around for that to happen. We don’t pray without action. There is a real sense in which revival is God’s responsibility, but just as real a sense in which it’s OUR responsibility too. And to believe otherwise is to introduce the risk of extremely bad habits. It’s more likely that God will do something amazing in one of those places because YOU were His witness (see Matthew 28:16-20), and He used you to bring to a watching world whatever He’s decided to bring. God almost always uses people.
And not “other random people”… He uses his Church. He uses you and me. It’s not someone else’s job to make known His Name.
It’s far too easy for “Let revival come…” to effectively (again, unintentionally) translate to “Yea, go ahead take care of that God, while I’m busy over here doing stuff I find more interesting or important or urgent.” And to be blunt, the older I get, the more frequently I’m waking up in a cold sweat from the nightmare that someday soon I’ll stand before God and have to answer for that exact flavor of negligent, sinful self-worship. And I fear that we … that I … might be living a life that unwittingly communicates the answer, “We sang our prayer for you to send revival, and even had our hands up and everything. So, we’re good, right?! Well, no, we didn’t actually DO anything. But we sang well.” That would be … unfortunate. Because remember, we will answer God’s questions at the gate to heaven with our choices (already made) and our hearts (which cannot hide), not with our words.
And I think that’s exactly the opposite of what Jesus modeled for us in John 17.
Instead of viewing revival (or more broadly, the movement of God’s Spirit in this world) as a great rain that comes from above without our participation, I think Scripture would have us think more of how a great oak tree grows…
- God calls and equips us to plant, so we plant.
- God calls and equips us to water, so we water.
- And (only) God makes the tree grow.
Sometimes, God sends the rains of revival … let’s say as “step 2B”. And we’re shocked at how fast the tree grows this year when it hasn’t grown much for the last several. But we did a lot of planting and watering and fertilizing and investing and praying and discipling in the process. I don’t know why the growth happened in year 5 instead of year 1, or in the 4th generation of your local church’s history instead of the 1st, or in Aunt Betty’s life instead of Uncle Herbert’s. Only God knows. But what I do know is that God would have each of us be a gardener. He wants each of us to sow. It’s not something just to sing about.
So, let revival come. Let the people sing the glory of your name. And let it begin with me, because God stirred in me, and I made known to them Your Name (plant). And I sacrificed things I could have had for myself to create time, money, energy, whatever was necessary to lean into other peoples’ lives and continue to make it known (water). And THEN… God came in power upon them in a mighty rushing wind (grow).
And suddenly, where there was once a desolate tundra and a whole lot of investment yielding seemingly-limited return, there is now a mighty forest of great oaks.
That’s revival. Only God can do that, but God only uses us to do it. Whether you understand or believe or relate to it or not, you’re not on the sidelines of this game, you’re right in the middle of it. We need to position ourselves to be used by God, which (topic for another day) will cost us everything else but be worth it more than we can possibly know.
Yeah, I seriously need a new song.