Do You Hear the People Sing?
Recently our family moved from the Midwest into metropolitan New York City. (Quite an experience!) Since then my wife and I have attended a couple of Broadway stage productions. In fact in the midst of writing this book I took a break one afternoon to attend a matinee of Les Miserables, possibly the most popular musical of all time. It couldn’t have been better timed for me.
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables is the story of a struggle for hope, so common to every generation. The musical focuses especially on a group of students who become revolutionaries in the Paris of the 1830s, striving for a government that could bring hope and healing to the masses. The story line caught my attention immediately because hope is what this book is all about.
I was deeply intrigued by a chorus sung by the students as they formed a street barricade to do battle with oppressive authorities. Their desire was to establish a new day of justice and freedom for the urchin, the beggar, the peasant. Reprised as the grand finale, the song was transformed into a vision of utopian proportions.
But “Do You Hear the People sing?” is much more. It is a heartfelt cry I’ve often heard elsewhere—the yearnings of many to find a hope worth living and dying for. Sitting in the darkened theater that day, I could imagine them singing about a greater hope, the one God is pouring into his church right now—a hope, we we’ve just seen, that increasing numbers believe is at hand. See if you can catch the application:
Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of the people
Who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies;
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord;
They will walk behind the plowshares
They will put away the sword.
The chains will be broken
And all men will have their reward.
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes.1
I returned to my office to work on this book with even greater enthusiasm. For I do hear singing: I am aware of distant drums. I have met multitudes of Christians who are ready: ready to be strong; ready to stand before the Lord in prayer; ready to prepare to receive the future that god’s tomorrow is bringing.
This book is their book—it belongs to such a people of hope. Theirs is a hope worth longing for, worth crusading for, and first and foremost worth praying for. That hope is nothing less than a coming world revival. As we saw in chapter 1, many in the church are confidently marching toward that hope at this very hour. Now I want to explore with you what the hope of revival looks like.
How Big Is Your Hope?
First, let’s think a little more about hope itself. What are you waiting for? What does tomorrow look like for you? How big is your hope?
Thankfully, the Bible gives us the answer, because the Bible is preeminently a book about hope. Evangelical futurologist Tom Sine calls it a wile hope. It’s the affirmation that almighty God is at work within history—within my own history—to bring forth a future by which all things will be made new. In fact, Christ summons us to become “collaborators—literally, co-laborers with him—in birthing this new order in our lives, in our communities, and in the larger world.”2 Such a biblical hope provides the unshakable foundation from which we can face and engage the mounting challenges all around us, both inside and outside the Christian community.
Here’s how Scripture describes it: We have a hope that is “stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you” (Col. 1:5-6). Christians are not to be dissuaded from “the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you have heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (v. 23). Through this gospel, we have been “born again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3 nasb), and are therefore urged to “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you with Jesus Christ is revealed” (v. 13). In fact Hebrews 11:1 tells us that in daily discipleship, saving faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen: (nasb). Without hope, we can’t have faith. And without faith, we can’t go forward in the things of God (v.6). No wonder Paul prays: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Rom. 15:13 kjv), while telling Timothy that, bottom line, Christ Jesus…is our hope (1 Timothy 1:1 nasb). He is both Alpha and Omega, John learns—the god “who is, and who was, and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8).
Let’s return to Colossians. Consumed with Christ as the church’s everlasting future and wanting others to be the same, Paul summarizes his entire life mission in one verse—Colossians 1:27: “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Or as the J. B. Phillips translation puts it: “They are those to whom God has planned to give a vision of the full wonder and splendor of His secret plan for the nations. And the secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ is in you, bringing with Him the hope of all the glorious things to come.”
Actually this one verse, in the context of the verses on either side of it, may be the best one in all of Scripture to help us understand why a vigorous, “wild hope” is the bloodstream of the church. It tells us that:
- Hope is personal. Christ himself is the hope. There’s no hope outside of him. It’s as big as he is.
- Hope is immediate. The Christ who is our hope is “in us,” or better translated “in the midst of” us. He is among his people to be all the things Colossians describes as his character and his ways.
- Thus hope is primarily corporate. When Paul says Christ is in the midst of “you,” the Greek word is plural. He is this for all of God’s people, in all ages and at all times.
- This hope has a missionary dimension. It isn’t just for our sake alone. It is to be proclaimed and manifested through us for the sake of the nations.
- The hope God gives us is profound. It is a “mystery,” Paul says. Only now is the full scope of what we have in Christ being unveiled before our eyes and before heaven and earth. But there is still much more to come. Our hope is inexhaustible.
- Our hope in Christ deals with ultimate issues. It is the “hope of glory”—it is the hope of the full revelation of all the glorious things that God has prepared for us (both now and through all eternity) in the person of his dear Son.
- And that’s why, for Paul, hope has become his message and his ministry Col. 1:24, 28-29). He wants to bring this hope to every person, both by preaching the message of hope (“We proclaim him” nsab), by discipleship (“That we may present every man complete in Christ” nasb), and by prayer. The latter thrust is obvious in the opening of chapter 2, as he discusses his wrestling for those who have not yet even seen his face, that they may know the hope of this mystery in all of its fullness. We learn that this wrestling refers to prayer in chapter 4, when he talks about Epaphroditus wrestling for them in prayer to know the whole will of God (that is, all Christ is for us as our hope).
The Big Hope: A 1:27 Revival
Now how do these thoughts from Colossians 1:27 relate to the theme of this book? What are its implications for a coming world revival? The answer is simple, but compelling. The passage, in context, defines the heart of revival. The manifestation of such a hope has been the chief heart of revival. The manifestation of such a hope has been the chief characteristic of every historic revival. And so the reactivation of these truths in any generation must always result in that which could be called spiritual renewal, awakening, revival. In turn, we become a people of revival because we have become, once again, a people of hope.
Certainly J. I. Packer is right in observing that spiritual renewal, or revival, is not a way out. “It is not compensation for lack of something else. It is not escapism where we sing choruses and have lively worship. It is not a blind way of looking at the world so that we don’t see its suffering. It is not a prescription for instant maturity.”3 On the contrary, revival comes to the church when we are again thoroughly possessed with the hope held out to us in the gospel—the hope embodied in the one toward whom the gospel points. When we are once again saturated with Christ’s energizing presence—his presence with us and ahead of us—the church is propelled, in hope, to nothing less than advancing his global cause among the nations.
Well, there’s good news in the land. Once again God is raising up a multitude of believers who, like Paul, are willing to pay the price. By preaching, by discipling, by praying, they are prepared to help the church encounter the full panorama of who Christ is, of what he is doing, and of where he is headed. And to the degree that they succeed—to the degree God restores in us an “abounding hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13) and does so for the church worldwide—to that degree we will experience a true national and world revival.
This is especially good news for those who give spiritual leadership to our churches today. Research shows us that pastors and other Christian leaders are experiencing battles and discouragements unlike any previous generation. They are often disheartened, confused, and desperate for hope. (Maybe you are one of them.) And yet, no matter how badly beat-up they may feel, there is also a groundswell of joyful anticipation among many of them. For example, I recently attended a half-day prayer gathering of one thousand pastors in Los Angeles. We were praying for revival when one of the pastors spontaneously moved toward a floor mike to lead us all. His grey hair and his words suggested that he had been in ministry nearly fifty years. And, as he prayed, he began to weep. He asked God to forgive him for the years he had wasted competing with other pastors and he praised God for the new beginning he had found through the quarterly city-wide prayer gatherings. He prayed with brokenness, but he also prayed with a great big hope, for he truly sensed that revival is coming. Furthermore, he was now linked up with others who were asking God for the very same spiritual awakening. The prayer he was praying belonged to all of us—his brokenness was our brokenness, his hope was our hope. There was hardly a dry eye in the room.
Similar experiences have been shared by thousands of pastors across America through what is know as Pastors’ Prayer summits. Over the past few months, summits have been held in scores of cities here, as well as in fifteen foreign countries. These four-day prayer gatherings are interdenominational retreats, where leaders’ lives are transformed and rejuvenated. Why are they so popular? Executive direction Terry Dirks says quite simply it is because of a “desperation for God that exists among pastors today. Pastors have done the best that man can do and are hungry for a true, holy, heaven-sent revival.”4 Yes, there is good news in the land!
A Long-Term Hope…Personal and Growing
I believe—with unshakable conviction—that we are on the threshold of the greatest revival in the history of the church. This is what I hope. I have no doubts that it is coming. In fact I can “see” it as if it were already completed. I can’t explain this sense of things. I realize it sounds quite subjective—and to a degree it is. Some might call my hope a “prophetic insight,” while others would simple call it a hunch. I only know that I believe God is not only able and willing to once again give revival to his church worldwide, but I believe he is ready to do so at this very moment. As this book will document, I am not alone in my convictions.
Calling others to live a life of anticipation is not a new mission for me, however. It has been a basic platform both in my writing and preaching for many years. To be sure, I feel it more strongly and see it more clearly than ever before. In recent years anticipation has been intensifying for me into an abiding expectation.
For example, in my 1979 book In the Gap: What It Means to Be a World Christian, I expressed my growing conviction that the end of time and the ends of the earth were working together. In the Gap called Christians to a new sense of urgency, to work at closing the gap that remains between the church and the unevangelized peoples of the world, with special concentration on those who are currently beyond the reach of the gospel (what I called the widest end of the gap).
That’s why I devoted a whole chapter to the thesis that for Christians to fully participate in Christ’s global cause, there would need to be a worldwide spiritual awakening in the church. I wrote, “Many missions strategists today believe we are on the crest of another great awakening, called by some the “sunrise of missions.” I noted the convictions of a few mission statesmen of the day, like J. Christy Wilson who said, “I believe we’ve entered the fourth great awakening—it has already started—and it may be the last one. Because in this awakening God can complete his plan for the nations.”5 (Many others today agree with that perspective, as chapter 1 began to highlight.)
In 1984 I published my next book, With Concerts of Prayer: Christians Join for Spiritual Awakening and World evangelization.6 Once again I returned to the theme of standing in the gap (based on Ezek. 22). but now I emphasized the phrase in verse 30 that literally tells us we are to stand there “before (God’s) face,” a biblical phrase referring to the ministry of prayer and intercession. I surveyed how the missionary movement historically, especially over the last three hundred years, has been propelled by movements of united prayer, often called concerts of prayer (the word concert meaning they were united, together, of one heart and mind). I projected that the primary step we as word Christians must take if we were to see world revival of a depth that ensures wide-scale harvest in world evangelization was to band together in ongoing movements of united prayer—in our churches, within our cities, and throughout nations.
With Concerts of Prayer was published the same year that the International Prayer assembly for World evangelization (for which I worked on the program committee) was convened. It was an historic first. Two thousand delegates from over seventy nations gathered together for the express purpose of seeking God for a global prayer movement for world revival and designing strategies for citywide and nationwide prayer mobilization. Since then there has been an unprecedented groundswell in movements of prayer across the globe—with an accompanying spirit of both urgency and anticipation. What we see today goes far beyond anything I projected in 1984.
In fact I believe we are in the midst of a prayer movement that is in many senses the first phase of the coming world revival. As we began to explore in chapter 1, God is sustaining prayer initiatives on all levels and on all sides, through a plethora of prayer ministries across the body of Christ. Today many leaders (not just prayer leaders) are calling for and supporting concerted prayer.
Furthermore this movement of prayer, developing for so many years, is now being transformed into a movement by prayer. The actual movement itself is becoming more comprehensive in its drive toward unity, revival, and evangelism. United prayer has assumed a role as both fountainhead and leading edge of the broader thrust.
This prayer initiative, like a bicycle, is upright and moving. What it needs is to be properly directed and kept on course. The questions before us all are: What is the vision and hope toward which all of us are praying? What is God getting ready to actually do in answer to our prayers? What is our hope?
Toward a Coming World Revival
Which brings me to the writing of this third book. If the operative word for In the Gap is in, and for With Concerts of Prayer is with, then the operative word for The Hope at Hand should be toward. We’re standing in the gap with concerted prayer as we (along with many church leaders) look toward the hope of national and world revival for the twenty-first century.
And what is this coming world revival all about? Let me use this chapter to explore a basic understanding of this exciting subject. Much of the rest of the book expands on the fresh perspectives I give you here.
First, by revival I mean far more than you might assume. Despite many (often legitimate) misconceptions, revival is in fact a strong biblical concept. Psalm 85:6 says, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” True, some contemporary uses of it may seem to smack of superficial emotionalism or conjure up images of programmatic manipulations of Christian zeal. That’s unfortunate but true. To counter these prejudices I’ve added two qualifiers that I always link with the term: coming and world. You see, I’m talking about a “coming world revival” with personal, national, and global ramifications.
By world I mean two things. The revival at hand is for the body of Christ worldwide, not simply for one person or one region or one Christian tradition alone, not simply for a momentary period of congregational refreshment and renewal. Nothing less than a wholesale, spiritual awakening for the global body of Christ will do—for any of us anywhere—at this critical moment in history, as I will document in later chapters. In addition, the revival God wants to give his church is not for our sake alone but for the sake of many, many others—even for the blessing of all the people of the earth. God’s promises of revival always have Christ’s global cause in view.
By coming I mean it’s on its way! Revival is at hand. Part 2 of this book documents the reasons to have confidence about the timing. But I mean more. Revival is coming from outside our resources, our ingenuity, and out control. It is something God must do for us, something God is bring to us out of grace, an extraordinary work of the Spirit that invades the church to reenergize us with God’s eternal purposes in Christ Jesus.
Insight from Orr and Packer
Now back to the word revival itself. Who can define in such a short space one of the major themes of church history? One man tried to do so. As mentioned in chapter 1, historian J. Edwin Orr spent sixty years of his life studying the great epochs of evangelical awakenings over the past 350 years. Orr observed that the dominant marks of every evangelical awakening are the same phenomena found throughout Acts. He distilled his decades of research into the following definition:
An Evangelical Awakening is a movement of the Holy Spirit bringing about a revival of New Testament Christianity in the church of Christ and in its related community. Such an awakening may change in a significant way an individual; or it may affect a larger group of believers; or it may move a congregation or the churches in a city or district, or the whole body of believers throughout the world. The out-pouring of the Spirit affects the reviving of the church, the awakening of the masses, and the movement of uninstructed peoples toward the Christian faith; the revived church, by many or by few, is moved to engage in evangelism, in teaching, and in social action.7
With this perspective, theologian J. I. Packer concurs. In A Quest for Godliness Packer studies the history of the Puritan movement, defining it precisely as a model revival movement for over two centuries. Attempting to distill the Puritan understanding of revival, Packer betrays his own convictions. He writes:
Revival, I define, as a work of God by his Spirit through his Word bringing the spiritually dead to living faith in Christ and renewing the inner life of Christians who have grown slack and sleepy. In revival God makes old things new, giving new power to law and gospel and new spiritual awareness to those whose hearts and consciousness have been blind, hard and cold. Revival thus animates or reanimates churches and Christian groups to make a spiritual and moral impact on communities. It comprises an initial reviving, followed by a maintained state of revivedness for as long as the visitation lasts. 8
Taking the early chapters of Acts as a paradigm (just as Orr did) and folding into that the rest of New Testament teaching (which Packer suggests is all a product of revival conditions), he lists some of the great marks of revival:
- An awesome sense of the presence of God
- A profound awareness of sin, leading to both repentance and the full embrace of the glorified Christ
- A release of the church to witness to the power and glory of Christ, in the same freedom that the Spirit has brought to the church through revival
- An overflowing joy in the Lord, a love for all Christians, and a fear of doing anything to violate either
But revival must also be seen from God’s side. Packer suggests that from that vantage point the marks of revival include the following:
- An intensifying and speeding up of the work of grace throughout a community and throughout nations
- Multitudes brought under conviction by the gospel and transformed by the Spirit in short order
- Many converted and folded into the life of the church9
Packer goes on to conclude (and throughout the rest of his book amasses supporting evidence from the history of the Puritan movement alone):
It is true, of course, that there can be personal revival without any community movement, and that there can be no community movement save as individuals are revived. None the less, if we follow Acts as our paradigm we shall define revival as an essentially corporate phenomenon in which God sovereignly shows his hand, visits his people, extends his Kingdom, and glorifies his name.10
An Approximation of the Consummation
Let me attempt to bring all of this down to one basic definition of revival. A Puritan that Packer highlights can help us. Maybe the most perception of all writers on the topic of revival, Jonathan Edwards was a New England pastor and scholar of the early to mid 1700s. In Packer’s chapter “Jonathan Edwards and Revival,” he observes that for Edwards, revivals held a central place in the revealed purposes of God, since the objective of God had in creation itself was to prepare a kingdom for his Son, which Christ would inherit for all ages to come. Edwards saw all of God’s providential activity, from Calvary forward, flowing out of Christ’s ascension, and moving without hesitation to the final consummation of all things. God’s sovereign initiative is to fulfill everything for which Christ suffered. From that theological non-negotiable, Edwards’s perspective (and that of many others like Orr and Packer) held revival to be the most strategic activity of God between the ascension and the end, when Christ will dominate the whole universe. In fact, revival is God’s way of shepherding history toward that great climax. Packer quotes Edwards:
A universal dominion is pledged to Christ, and in the interim before the final consummation, the Father implements this pledge in part by successive outpourings of the Spirit, which prove the reality of Christ’s Kingdom to a skeptical world and serve to extend its bounds among Christ’s erst-while enemies.11
Sharing the same perspective, I have coined a definition for revival that has been quite helpful to many in understanding this distinctive activity of God’s Spirit: Any revival, in its comprehensive sense, is an approximation of the consummation. That’s why nothing can be more hope-filled than a vision for revival.
Here’s what I mean. The Bible teaches that at the end of history the whole universe will experience the consummation, when Christ returns to sum up everything under himself, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9-10). Christ will be manifested as Lord and take his rightful place as the center focus of the whole cosmos. That epoch, described in hundreds of verses throughout the Scriptures, might properly be called the Final Revival.
That being so, it follows that every other revival must take its cue from this final revival. If (based on biblical, historical analyses) it can be shown that every previous revival is about God giving so much more of Christ to his church than had been experienced in that generation; and if it can be shown that revival is about God’s divine intervention on behalf of a people who are hopeless without it; and if Christ himself sums up all of the hopes that revival holds out to the church and to the nations in any generation (as we saw in Col. 1:27), then to that degree revival can be properly termed an approximation of the consummation. Revival—at the end or now—is about God wonderfully unveiling his Son before the world—either in consummation or in approximations of the consummation. The central themes of the final revival (or consummation) are activated in principle through Christ in every other revival. This becomes quite apparent when you study the definition of revival spelled out by such scholars as Edwards, Orr, and Packer.
Nothing Else Matters
Recently in Washington, D.C., working with the National Prayer Committee to sponsor events surrounding our National Day of Prayer, six of us met with the President to pray with him and for him. The focus of our praying was biblically grounded and Christ-centered, and consisted of prayer not only for the President himself, but also for spiritual and moral awakening throughout America. It was a deeply moving time for all of us.
Later in the day, as we returned to our National Prayer Committee meetings, one of the members (reflecting on all that had just happened) made this statement: “If revival does not come, nothing else matters. If revival does come, nothing else matters!” What seemed to be a contradiction in terms became immediately apparent to us. In a real sense, revival is the only hope for our nation and for this whole generation. If it doesn’t come, then most of our other strivings will ultimately be in vain. If the church is envelope4d in revival, however, then we will be receiving from the Holy Spirit virtually everything that matters to see Christ sufficiently exalted in our land and among many peoples. How could we allow ourselves to talk this way? The answer is simple: It’s because we understood the comprehensive nature of a God-given revival and all that God ordains for it to accomplish. From that perspective, truly little else matters. We knew it the day we prayed in the White House. We know it every time we gather to pray in our churches.
By the phrase “an approximation of the consummation” I mean that in revival we experience 1. the first fruits of the consummation as we are more fully consumed with the very same Christ whose glory will one day cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (in chapter 5, I will describe this in terms of the seven phases of revival), 2. a corporate encounter with Christ through intermediate expressions of the final revival (in later chapters I will use the words focus, fullness, fulfillment to analyze these expressions); and 3, preliminary but substantial demonstrations of what God will do among the nations at the end of all things, both in terms of justice and redemption.
What we’re saying is the qualitatively, if not quantitatively, every revival is very similar to the final revival. It is a microcosm of what will one day be accomplished universally, a dress rehearsal of that climactic epoch. It is not only to be regarded as a dramatic foreshadowing of Christ’s final manifestation to his people and to all creation (and it is that), but also as a sovereign work of God that is preparatory for it.
Bottom line, what this means is every revival—including the coming national and world revival for the twenty-first century—is best understood by a forward look more than a backward one. In our prayers we anticipate what is ultimately to happen rather than simply longing to return to something that once was. Since God’s kingdom drama for ages to come defines, in principle, what God is willing to do now, it should also define the scope of our expectations for revival now. For example, every aspect of John’s description of the heavenly city (Rev. 21-22) is capable of an approximate realization within history. That’s why Jesus borrows from these images as he calls the seven churches of Asia to pursue him for corporate revival right where they live (Rev. 1-3). For Jesus, each revival entails an increased and intensified out-breaking of a life that will one day be definitive for the new heaven, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem.
For you see, revival does not simply shape the future. To be sure it does help to do that as it unleashes the church to press Christ’s global cause on all fronts. But there’s more to it than that. Revival is also a receiving of the future, of that which is the end—the omega—of all things. In revival, Christ comes fresh to his church, to conquer us in new ways that are truly precursors of the day when he will bring all things—the church, the nations, history itself—under his feet.
The Outpoured Spirit: The Presence of the Future
The key to this approximation, of course, is the Holy Spirit. Why is the Holy Spirit and his ministry always identified as the central explanation in historic accounts of revivals? Why, as Iain Murray observes in Revival and Revivalism, did the leaders of the First and Second Great Awakenings speak of revival preeminently as the “outpouring of the Holy Spirit”? A clear answer emerges from several New Testament passages. One of his chief ministries is to give us approximations of the consummation. The Spirit actually makes the ascended, universal Lord present in our midst as he represents Christ to us. In this way the Spirit forever keeps the consummation within our reach. He makes it christologically near to us. Scripture tells us the Spirit is God’s deposit, guaranteeing for us all that is to come (Eph. 1:13-14). His ministry is to take the things of Christ and reveal them to us, as he shows us what is to come (John 16:13). It is the Spirit who stirs the church to always pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). In seasons of revival, God intensifies and accelerates the Spirit’s primary mission.
Take, for example, Peter’s perspective on the Spirit’s outpouring at Pentecost (Acts 2). He saw it as a cataclysmic event, the inauguration of God’s victory procession among the nations. And that’s what he preached. Peter’s interpretation was based, in part, on the prophecy of Joel. Joel foresaw the launching of the consummation in a way that would shake the powers of heaven because the Spirit would rain down on the saints to inhabit all of them. For the early church the revival at Pentecost was viewed as an invasion of Christ by the Holy Spirit in such a powerful manifestation of his all-consuming presence that the church was permanently wedded to the future. In Philip Yancey’s image, the Holy Spirit was not given to believers to be a lantern to help them pick their way over treacherous terrain at midnight. Rather, he was welcomed as the glow of a dawn that was about to break, shining on believers’ faces even now.
Whatever eschatological schemes each of us may hold to (and there are a number of legitimate possibilities), we can all agree about this: The biblical promises and prophecies have been consummated in principle in who Christ himself is. Even now, he is freely exercising by his Spirit his rightful prerogatives as king, in continuity with what he will be and do at the end. By what he accomplished on the cross, by his resurrection victory over death and the demonic, and by his ascending with all authority to the Father’s right hand, the future, for all practical purposes, has already been decided. The final revival has been confirmed in who he is at this very hour.
In other words Christ is himself what the future of the human race is all about. He is (in the words of George Eldon Ladd) the “presence of the future.”12 In power, the Spirit brings this home to the church in our daily life together (Eph. 3:14-21). Remember? “Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all the glorious things to come.” (Col. 1:27 Phillips).
Where Jesus is and wherever he is actively manifesting his grace and glory, that’s where all of our hope is to be found. Right there. He is the summation of the consummation. Right now. Whatever he will ultimately be Lord of, he is, in truth, Lord of even now. In Christ we no longer need to look for the future through prophetic telescopes—we can actually see it directly in him, up close and personal.
He not only makes possible the final triumphs of God’s lavish grace and firm justice; he also makes them a fact. We can touch and feel the future now. And this becomes doubly dynamic for us, in powerfully fresh ways, in those epochal moments when Christ manifests himself among us in revival.
An Apocalyptic Feel
Think of it this way: Expect every revival and every promise of revival to have an apocalyptic feel about it. What do I mean? Well, from the Greek we know that apocalypse literally refers to an unveiling that takes place in rather dramatic terms. This can refer not only to the day of judgment but to any time God intensifies the manifestation of his Son to the world. And that’s what revival is all about! It is a more comprehensive unveiling of King Jesus to his church, with dramatic repercussions. Shaken from our apathy and fears, we are launched afresh into kingdom work on all fronts. That’s why we call it a spiritual awakening. We’re waking up to all Christ wants to be fore his church. It’s like the beginning of a brand new day.
As renewal scholar Donald Mostrom writes in Christians Facing the Future:
All of us need to be aware of how Christ is moving in the midst of his Church toward the end of all things, and equally aware of our deep and immediate intimacy with him. The one who dwells in the midst of his Church is bringing closure to our present age. We cannot help but have a strong sense of living at the edge of the final consummation…and we cannot live close to him without a strong sense of what is surely coming and how near it is. We breathe the very air of the impending Kingdom!13
Such a vision has dominated every previous spiritual awakening to Christ. No wonder the last paragraph of the Bible offers an overarching prayer for the whole church, in every place and in every age—the distillation of all the prayers for revival that have ever been prayed: Come! Come, Lord Jesus. Such a vision must also be the drumbeat of national and world revival in our generation.
As the church focuses its prayers today on the coming revival, we pray not simply with a spirit of hopefulness. We pray with a living hope, and that hope is Christ himself. We pray with our eyes toward that final revival when there will be a simultaneous realization of Christ’s prayers for every other revival, of all that his grace has longed to do, and of all the blessings that prior spiritual awakenings have actually set in motion. What will happen in the final revival is simply this: God will culminate, execute, and then supremely extend whatever any previous generation may have approximated in both personal and corporate revival.
And so I too pray, day by day, with growing intensity and expectation, for the whole counsel of God to be fulfilled (would you join me?). Come, Lord Jesus! To your seeking church, come. In fresh manifestations of your glory, come. With hope for our times, come. In genuine world revival, come. For the said of my own nation, come. Among all the nations, come. And finally—hallelujah!—in the consummation itself, come. Come. Come.
It’s at Hand
Actually our preoccupation with such a wild hope should breathe the same air of impendingness that Jesus propagated at the opening of his ministry (which was a ministry of revival if there ever was one!). We ready in Mark 1:15 four urgent declarations that are laws for revival in any age.
- The time is fulfilled. In this phrase Jesus gathers up all the promises of Scripture regarding everything God wants to do through his Messiah to fully revive, restore, and redeploy his people to fulfill his purposes. He calls us to a new hope.
- The kingdom is at hand. Next Jesus announces that God alone can activate these promises for his people. His sovereign reign in our lives and among the nations is the only hope for us and for the whole earth.
- Repent. Here Jesus sums up the response required of everyone who senses the impendingness of an extraordinary new work of God—most immediately, the work of revival. We must renounce our best efforts to do God’s work in our own strength. In addition we are to turn from all sin that would hinder our full involvement in what God is getting ready to do. We must embrace what is coming, or rather, who is coming. We must turn toward the God of the future and the future that God is bringing.
- Believe this good news. Coupled with the call to repentance is the proactive response of believing and seizing this great hope for ourselves, of staking our whole lives on it, and of pursuing its implications with all of our hearts. And certainly prayer is chief among the responses God anticipates.
These four declarations can transform any people into a people of hope, a people of revival.
But note especially his use of the phrase at hand. Scholars suggest this defines awesome expectation of the consummation—a sense that a brand new work of God is on top of his people, like rain clouds hovering overhead just waiting to release a drenching downpour. In this phrase Christ proclaims there is so much more God is ready to do for us than we have yet experienced and that he is ready to do it soon, even now. God is poised to intervene in sovereign kingly power to do for our generation what we can never do for ourselves.
Paul put it so graphically: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14), echoing the words of Isaiah: “Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (Isa. 60:1). What a hope this is!
You and I must hold to these same convictions as we look toward national and world revival for the twenty-first century. Revival is bearing down on us with the feel of something akin to the consummation. This is the hope at hand—a hope, as we’ve seen, that is rising irresistibly right now throughout the body of Christ.
Our Lives Depend on It
Two days before I began writing this book Robyne and I were on our way to a regular weekly prayer gathering for revival. As we drove along talking about nothing important, a sentence formed in my mind that had never been there before. I had the strongest sense that the Spirit of God had given it shape. It seemed to breathe into me marching orders for my work on this project. But I consider it more than that. I’ve come to understand it as marching orders for my own ministry for the rest of my life. The sentence “Write as if your life depended on it—because it does!”
I knew instantly how to interpret that. For I’m convinced there is nothing more important to which I must give my life, for the rest of my life, than to understand more thoroughly the hope of world revival and to help infuse the church with this message, particularly within some of the great movements of united prayer that God is raising up at this hour.
And so, I also write as if your life depends on it. The hope of which I speak must become a passion for our churches and for a whole generation. We must become a people filled with such a hope—a people who live for revival. In no other hour of church history has this been so crucial (as we are about to see). God help us to gain a new appreciation for what biblical revival is and a renewed enthusiasm for what the future holds for us in it. And God help us to be so filled with confidence in who he is and what he is up to at this moment that we will pray and prepare with confidence, too. Confidence is what the next eight chapters are all about.