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.
Interesting…since this is more of a “get off the sidelines, into the game…get off your butt and do something for God” message, and where I’ve been taken lately is “stop trying to do everything, just sit down and rest in God…it’s his game and he’s already won.” I’ve been praying to find the fine line in between that I think must be where we should walk.
I’m glad you commented, Kerry. Really great point. So much of the Christian life is balance and mystery (where two seemingly opposite things collide). It’s amazing, and I find that worshipful.
Remember that we do not work independently of the Lord or to please Him or in some way win His favor. Nor are we any longer servants (John 15:15). We are sons and daughters. God has called us friends. And out of love for God, we work for God. I could draw lots of parallels to the life of a child relating to his earthly parents (as you know), but I would get super long-winded. Maybe best to save that for another day. We also trust God for results, not ourselves. I’m advocating intentional planting and watering, but explicitly NOT taking on the responsibility that the tree will grow. Only God can do that.
I would also say, yes, we rest in the Lord. Yes, we cease striving and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). And God gives us all the strength with which we serve Him (back to John 15). We also wait on God, listening for His instruction on what to do, not just charging into ministry like it’s somehow our idea or that we have the power to affect the outcomes of our labor. But none of that “takes us out of the game”. We are not spectators in this world; we are travelers through it. We are in it as Jesus was, but not of it, as Jesus also modeled. He is our example. As the samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) did not pass by his brother in need, but served him in love, even though they were from different worlds, so we are to not pass by those who need us. We serve others as Jesus taught us. (John 13:5-17) And our primary service to a watching world is, as Jesus modeled, to “make Him known” (John 17:26).
God does not depend on or need us in any way, as if we had the power to make His plans work or somehow screw them up. Nor do we earn standing before Him when we work, for we are already His beloved children. But some (and I know this is not at all where your heart is at) “rest” or “let God work” to the point of apathy or indifference or inadvertently allow the Psalmist’s version of “resting” and “knowing” to become living for all the stuff we want and basically forgetting about God after we finish our quiet times. Again, I know that’s not you, but it has been me for a really long time. And I can’t permit that any longer. Because in this mode, we run the very real risk of being on the wrong side of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15-29. That’s a nightmare I don’t want to have.
One other thought… Please don’t think that I feel Brett Younker’s song is a bad one. I really love it. I have just been wrestling so much lately with the conviction that my world is full of meaningless distraction. And I hope sharing from those wrestlings is of value to you and others who would read this post.
Let’s keep talking about this. I have so much to learn and so value learning it together. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment, and for always holding up a sign that points to our Father.