Tag Archives: revival

A Missing Defining Event

This week is the sixteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I was a sophomore in high school in 2001 and while it will probably be the defining moment in my lifetime (I pray nothing worse takes its place) this is the first year that my oldest child really learned about the attacks (he’s in third grade). So Monday night my wife and I were telling our third grader a little about what we remember of that day.

My thoughts went from 9/11 to the other defining events in my life (so far). The first real world events I remember are Operation Desert Storm and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. I remember seeing video of explosions lighting up the night sky as the air portion of Desert Storm began. I also remember the sci-fi looking F-117 Nighthawk stealth bomber.

I thought about the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. I remember the way the building looked and the heartbreaking picture of the firefighter holding a lifeless baby pulled from the rubble.

Columbine was also a defining event. I was in junior high in 1999. I remember the news coverage and the images of SWAT teams escorting students from the building with their hands on top of the their heads.

Now that I sit here, I think about the first World Trade Center bombing, the bombing at the Atlanta olympics, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

And I wonder, are there any positive defining moments in my lifetime? Are there any events that stand out that cause me to say, “I’m proud that happened during my lifetime?”

Sure there are proud moments in response to these tragedies, as people come together to help one another, but I’m not sure there is a positive defining event.

At least not yet. But I am hopeful. Maybe it’s naive but I believe there is still time- I’m only 31 after all. I don’t believe that my lifetime has to be defined by bombings, shootings, terrorist attacks, and wars. My lifetime can be defined by something more; it can be defined by something positive; it can be defined by something God-inspired.

Jesus said in John 14:12-14 that followers of Jesus will be able to do even greater things (greater works) than Jesus because Jesus will have accomplished his mission and sent the Holy Spirit to live within us. Jesus was one man who taught twelve, who taught thousands, who taught millions, who taught billions. Estimates are that there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world.

With 2.2 billion Christians, how is there not a defining God-inspired event in my lifetime? God is moving in the world. There are stories of how God is moving in China and in the Middle East. There was the rise in the worship movements and Pentecostalism in South America. But there hasn’t been a “Pentecost” in my lifetime. There hasn’t been a “Great Awakening” in my lifetime. There hasn’t been a “Jesus Movement” in my lifetime.


Maybe we are the plants growing in the shallow rocky soil or growing up amidst the choking thorns of worry, riches, and pleasures of life. Maybe it’s because we Christians can’t seem to stop fighting among ourselves as we keep calling out “heretics” for their specks while ignoring our own logs. Maybe it’s because we are lazy. Maybe it’s because God desires us to be desperate but we are too content with our iPhones and Netflix. Maybe it’s because we keep looking for someone else to do something when God is calling each one of us.

I’ve been wary of the term revival, as it’s used now, because it’s been equated with a return to a religio-social-cultural-political ideal that never really existed. There can be no return to a reality that never was.

What we need are people and churches who are inspired to do God-inspired things. We don’t need to look into the past but gaze into the future and have God inspire us to do a greater work.

Maybe then in 30, 40, or 50 years the defining moment in my lifetime will be a God-movement or a God-event and not more of the same.


Can We Awake Awakening?

In last week’s post, I asked a question and made an observation about our preparedness to a spiritual awakening. I proposed that while I hear many people praying and asking God to bring an awakening, we are, in fact, unprepared to handle the effects if an awakening really were to happen. At the end of the post, I asked another question: how do we get ready for an awakening? If we are not prepared now, how do we become prepared? And it is to that question that we now turn.

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

How do we get ready, how do we prepare for an awakening? Two of history’s greatest revivalist theologians came to two different conclusions. Jonathan Edwards, a preacher during the First Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740s, concluded that there was not “any series of events [that] could guarantee an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” As a preacher, he knew that preaching the message of the gospel and prayer were vitally important but awakening, he said, was a “surprising work of God” and God alone.

On the other hand, Charles Finney, a preacher during the Second GreatAwakening in the 1790s to 1840s, believed that there were things Christians

Charles Finney

Charles Finney

could do to bring about awakening. It was Finney who turned awakening and revival from a renewing and a refreshing of those already Christians to a purposeful and orchestrated event to attract new converts. When a church plans a “revival meeting” for the purpose of evangelizing, they are recalling the message of Charles Finney.

So who is right?

Perhaps both are correct at different times. Which means we need to decide what time are we in.  If you have been following my blog, then you know that I believe that the church stands at a dramatic crossroads and that I believe the church is in need of a reformation. At the same time, many of our churches have lost the vision of the mission of the church and the fact that the gospel needs to be preached to those who have not heard it. We also see through history that God rarely acts in the same way twice.

So maybe we need both and more. Maybe we need to be surprised by God. Maybe we need to reach those who need the gospel in a new way. Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge say it this way in their book A God-Sized Vision: “Revival is neither a well-organized evangelistic campaign nor a finely crafted apologetic treatise, though the church may profitably employ such methods. Revival transcends all ordinary ways we comprehend and communicate the grace of Jesus Christ. For reasons known only to him, God occasionally condescends to answer his people’s faithful prayers with a special sense of his power and presence…When all hope seemed lost, God [has] moved.”

Perhaps, we just need to be more hopeless.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013


Quotes from: A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir by Collin Hanse and John Woodbridge. Zondervan, 2010.

Are We Ready for a Flood?

I live in a desert and living in a desert means that we do not get rain very often. And when we do get rain we aren’t prepared to handle it. Our streets flood, our power flickers and our drivers seem to loose their minds. The funny thing is- these things happen every time we get any substantial rain. We pray for rain, we want rain but when it comes we discover that we aren’t prepared for the effects of the rain.

I wonder if the same is true for us spiritually. In the last year or two, I have heard so many prayers asking God pour out his spirit on our church, our community and our country, but I wonder if we would be prepared if God answered our prayers. If God brought an awakening to our churches, to our communities and to our country, would we be unprepared for the effects?

Before we answer that question, we need to know what the effects of a spiritual awakening would be. I think we see a number of effects in Scripture.

  1. A rejection of idols (2 Kings 23:4). We may not worship images of wood or stone but we have idols that we worship: money, possessions, status- anything we set above God to give us what only God can give us.
  2. A reformation within the clergy (2 King 23:7-14, 20). Within the context of 2 Kings, Josiah has the priests of Baal and the other gods killed. I’m not suggesting that we need to kill clergy but there are some attitudes, traditions and expectations within the clergy that need to be killed.
  3. A rediscovery of heritage. (2 Kings 21-23/ Nehemiah 8:13-18). As Christians we have a vast and diverse heritage. There are the Desert Fathers, Mystics, Eastern Christianity, Western Christianity, Anabaptists and many, many others- we need to learn from them and embrace the things they have taught us about God.
  4. A renewed spirit of worship (Nehemiah 8:6). In the text, the people heard the words of God and it resulted in worship. Through the Word, the people came face to face with God and rediscovered the greatness of God and they worshiped. Notice that this worship was not an individual act but an act of the community. While awakening occurs first within the individual, unless it spreads to the community a revival cannot take place.
  5. Confession of sin (Nehemiah 9:1-3). When God pours out his spirit, people start pouring out their junk.
  6. Growth (Acts 2:41, 47). 3,000 new members in one day? How many churches would love that? How many churches could logistically or spiritually handle those kinds of number?

There are certainly more effects than just these six but they are a start, at least. Now that we have seen some of the effects of spiritual awakening, we can return to the question we asked earlier, are we prepared for the effects? Are we ready to reject our idols? Are the clergy ready for a reformation? Are we willing to rediscover our heritage and renew our worship? Could our churches accept and disciple thousands of people coming to Christ? Most importantly, are we ready to pour out the sin and the junk within our lives?

I’m not sure we are ready for that. How do we get ready? That is a topic for another post.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013