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Three phases of revival

By Gordon L. Anderson

What is a revival? What does one look like? For many, the word revival creates an image of long, emotional, powerful church services where people worship with enthusiasm, pray with passion, reach out in faith and see the power of God demonstrated in new and unique ways. This might be generally true, but I believe that revival is much more than that.

Editor's journey: How kind are you?

Conversation with John Kilpatrick of Brownsville A/G

I define revival as a period of time when people awaken to the reality of a God who is always present and always willing to work on behalf of His kingdom through His people. When people awaken to God and begin to conduct themselves as though God is truly present, things begin to happen. Schedules and priorities change, sinners are converted, saints are sanctified, people are called into ministry, church services come alive and the power of God is revealed in new and thrilling ways.

It is the narrow view of revival that focuses on the long and emotional church services characterized by long and loud singing, preaching and praying. Often this picture includes running, dancing, falling or other physical responses to the presence of God that have been clearly documented as common in the history of revival. But revival is much more than that.

One issue complicates the problem. The language of revival is made up of many metaphors. Metaphors describe something about which we know very little in terms of things about which we know a great deal more. We know so little about spiritual matters, and we have no vocabulary adequate to explain them, so we use metaphors. Since metaphors are imprecise, revival must be described with great care.

Revival is composed of three phases, preceded by a condition that requires the power of God. The precondition is spiritual death or slumber, followed by the phases of reaching up to God, receiving from God, and reaching out for God. Most descriptions of revival emphasize phase two, receiving from God, but that is not all there is.

The precondition: death or sleep
Spiritual death requires revival. Theologically, death is a metaphor that refers to the fact that sinners are separated from God. Paul has this in mind in Ephesians 2 when he says that we were dead in our sins, without hope and without God. If this condition is never corrected, then the sinner suffers eternal death, that is, eternal separation from God.

This metaphor works well to describe the condition of the sinner but is not entirely accurate when describing the Christian who needs revival. By definition, Christians are alive in Christ, so what needs reviving? Often the problem is that they have fallen into a worthless condition much like death. Sleep describes this condition well. Technically, these believers are alive, but they are rather deathlike in their passion, godliness and fruitfulness in the Kingdom. They need to be awakened; they need to be revived.

Basically, the precondition for revival is that the sinner needs to be made alive – or "vived" in the first place; the apostate Christian who has lost his or her salvation needs to be revived (brought back to life); and the worthless saint needs to be awakened.

Phase one: reaching up to God
It is often said that revival is preceded by a significant period of prayer – two years often being the period cited. But I believe that prayer is the first indication that a revival is actually under way. I say this because sleeping saints seldom pray; and when they begin to pray, it means that spiritual life has already begun to stir. This is not as exciting as phase two, when people receive from God, but it is vital spiritual activity nevertheless.

Why does phase one seem to take so long to produce fruit? It is because the sleeping condition is a powerful form of spiritual bondage that does not yield easily to the will and power of God. Sleeping saints are very religious saints, and religious saints are nearly impossible to arouse.

In Revelation 2 and 3, the church at Ephesus had lots of works but had lost its love for God. Sardis had a reputation for life but was dead. And Laodicea thought it was in fine shape and did not know it was wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. You would think they would have a clue. But sleeping saints are clueless.

When they do face the prospects of spiritual renewal, they fight violently to protect the status quo. John 11 and 12 show how this works. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. There was no question about this. The Jewish leaders determined they should kill Jesus. If He kept this up, they would lose their people and their place. Revival means change – and religion hates change, especially if it means losing power, position and influence. Rather than cooperate with God, they decide to kill Him. That is always religion’s answer. In chapter 12 they decide to kill Lazarus too. Kill the Messiah and the miracle.

The instincts that drive this response are powerful, and they do not yield easily. That is why revival is "preceded" by a period of prayer. Only prayer can reveal the depths of religious pride and slumber, and only prayer can dissolve the bonds that hold the spiritual sleeper. Religion is a powerful sleeping agent – a powerful anesthetic to the pain of a useless and essentially godless existence. It is an insidious form of idolatry because it looks so much like the real thing and resists change so arduously.

Second Chronicles 16:9 tells us that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro across the earth looking for a people on whose behalf He can demonstrate His strength. We invite Him to land in our lives, only to find the runway so cluttered with the trash of our religiosity that there is no space for Him. Idolatry is simply putting something in God’s place. We sing that we surrender all to Jesus, then fight like mad if He tries to rearrange something in our lives so He can move in. Removing "space-takers" is profound spiritual work, and it takes time.

Phase two: receiving from God
This part of a revival usually gets most of the attention. "They run, jump, shout, holler, hoot, shiver, shake, quake, fall down, jump up and run around. They sing for two hours, preach for two hours, pray for two hours, and come back the next night to do it again. They are having a revival." Yup, probably.

When people pray through the religious idolatry that has separated them from an awareness of the presence of God, they are amazed to find how powerful the presence of God is and how unusual their responses to it are. God’s presence is lethal. God warned Moses that seeing Him would be fatal. The Old Testament high priest risked death every time he entered the Holy of Holies. In the new covenant believers are allowed to be the sanctuary of God. The Holy Spirit dwells within them. When a sleeping saint arouses, he or she is amazed at the spiritual world to which he or she has been oblivious.

Electrical wires are covered with insulation that makes it possible to hold the wire without being shocked, even though hundreds of volts might be surging through it. Religion is like that insulation. A very thin layer of it insulates people from the power of God. Out of touch with spiritual reality, they call their non-response to God "dignity." It is not. It is stinking, prideful, religious slumber. They claim they are conservative by nature. They are not. Poke their finger into a light socket and they will find out just how conservative they are.

Revival awakens people to the reality of God’s presence. This affects their minds, emotions, will and bodies. That is what is meant by loving God with all our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37). When religious insulation is stripped away and the power of God touches the whole person, it is not surprising that unusual human responses to this power occur. One cannot read the Bible or the history of revival without recognizing that powerful human responses regularly characterize periods of renewal. They are legitimate, they should be affirmed, but they are not the purpose of revival, nor its end.

Phase three: reaching out for God
Revival is not complete until it has passed through this phase. The mood and tone, the terrain and landscape of this phase are different. Phase three is ministry for God.

Let me contrast phases two and three to make the point:

• Phase two is "to me, for me." And this is good. Phase three is "through me, for them."

• In phase two, walking people fall down (the apostle Paul, and people at the altar in revival meetings). In phase three, lame people are made to walk.

• In phase two, speaking people are made silent (Zacharias) and seeing people are made blind (Paul). In phase three, the blind see and the dumb speak.

• In phase two, people experience or encounter the power of God. In phase three, they are endued with this power.

• In phase two, they are touched by the Spirit. In phase three, they are baptized in the Spirit.

Some revival testimonies indicate that when people come to the altar, are prayed for and fall down (and/or quiver, shake, quake, weep, shout, etc.), that they have received a fresh anointing and are manifesting the presence of God. This is a serious mistake. In the Old Testament a king or priest was made ready for his ministry through the anointing. Oil was poured over his head to signify his ministry. In the New Testament this imagery is used of the Holy Spirit. Luke 4:18 indicates that the Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus, that He was anointed for miraculous ministry. This anointing was not to make Him dance, run, jump, shout or fall down. It was to do miracles. Acts 10:38 says God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and He went about doing miracles. I affirm the validity of the encounters people have in phase two, but it is a mistake to equate an experience with the Spirit with an anointing of the Spirit.

The biblical word manifestation has a precise meaning. In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Paul outlines the manifestations of the Spirit. These manifestations are all miraculous ministries. Human responses to the Spirit, such as running, falling, etc., are not manifestations of the Spirit. Human responses are a manifestation of humanity – the way humanity responds to an encounter with the power of God. Human responses to God’s power should not be confused with the manifestations Paul is discussing.

Strong words of caution are in order here. It is easy to stagnate in phase two, turn the revival into a blessing cult, exchange the anointing and spiritual manifestations for human responses, and abort the plan of God for revival. I affirm and plead for people to pray (phase one), receive and respond (phase two), but to continue into phase three.

True Pentecostal revival embraces both phases one and two, but it always focuses on phase three. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is a phase three doctrine. We will receive power to be witnesses and do the work of the ministry. We work hard in phase one, we celebrate joyfully in phase two, but we anticipate the power of phase three so we can reach this world for Christ.


Gordon L. Anderson, Ph.D., is president of North Central University in Minneapolis, Minn., and a general presbyter of the Assemblies of God.

The three revival articles in this issue are reprinted with permission from Revival Sermons: How You Can Be a Part of Today’s Spiritual Awakening, compiled and edited by Ken Horn (Springfield, Mo.: Onward Books, 2000). Available through Gospel Publishing House. Call 1-800-641-4310 and ask for item #03-6542.

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