“We welcome another challenge from Clair Davis, who is a scholar on revivals but is also very concerned about his own personal revival.” Steve Smallman
I want to write a book on revival, especially how we could encourage one right now. Who would benefit from that book, who would be the ‘audience’? That’s not an easy question for me to answer since it becomes very personal.
I want to write a book on revival, especially how we could encourage one right now. Who would benefit from that book, who would be the ‘audience’? That’s not an easy question for me to answer since it becomes very personal. Revival was once George Whitefield preaching to thousands at 5 am by torchlight. It was Charles Finney convinced that he had found the sure-fire plan of getting people to ‘come forward’ so he could push them to decision. Harry Reeder’s From Embers to Flame shows how to turn around a church by apologizing to people who have left. Today’s Millennial generation has grown up in a culture of diversity and doubts that anything can be really true, so what could be the message for them?
Where is the place to begin? I know it always starts with the person who brings the message, how does he want to change himself? Revival for others never happens. It’s always about, where do I myself need a heart-change, where do I need to repent? That’s what I want to talk to you about now, to tell you how the gospel of Jesus Christ is making a difference in my life.
I’ve heard Jay Adams talk about sermons that only describe the gospel, and not really preach it. Too often that’s what I myself must have done. People took away my laughable one-liners. Is that what I wanted them to have? Not really, but it seemed easier to do that than to lead them in serious work on the main thing, do you love Jesus?
That’s how Jesus defined what it’s all about, when he said the first commandment is ‘love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.’ That’s where I personally need to rethink and rework where I am. It’s a lot more than accurate describing, isn’t it? Is it ‘emotional’? Does it have amazement in it? Have I had a career of passing out theological tidbits, or do I move others with my love for Jesus Christ?
Part of my problem is that I’ve thought too much about what had happened in the American church. Why did Christian beliefs vanish so quickly in the 1920’s, on the virgin birth of Christ for example? I know, it was because it was hard to see how that made a difference in life, so people ignored it and then dumped it. But I and the people I worked with have been sure it was in the Bible so we kept it—but we didn’t always work to find out why. I’ve said this in class much too often: liberals don’t believe in truth but in relevance, so we do the opposite. We told each other that’s who we were, people who believe God’s truth even when we hadn’t a clue why. We could do lectures and call them sermons, and who needed a real ‘application’ anyway. (I have to stop mulling that over and face up to how I’ve lived and not just pass the buck to others around me).
I worked with Jack Miller and New Life Church, where our faith and our Jesus were real. We saw our indifference and asked the Lord to change our hard hearts and he did, and to open our hearts to Jesus and he did. What a blessed joy! But why did we get so much flak? We did sing from overheads and not hymnals, we did meet with our daughter churches and talked about things that presbytery never got to—but why was that so bad? Especially people thought that we believed in too much grace, as if we never really dealt with our sin, how could that happen? We didn’t believe in grace anyway, it was more Jesus that our hearts desired. But there was conflict—and I’m a conflict-avoider, a polite word for coward. As all those wonderful things were happening, I didn’t go to many of our prayer-meetings—why was that? Was it to stay safe?
I’m saying that I didn’t much ask the Lord to see Jesus more and more, I just fed on what was happening around me and was content, much too content. Are you still with me? I’m still thinking about revival, and that I’m the one where it has to start. Maybe I’m talking about myself too much? (Calvin said self-knowledge and God-knowledge go together, didn’t he?).
That was then anyway. I know where I marginalized Jesus and I repent of that every day. I know a lot better now how to put him first, and that’s what I really want to share with people, and when that catches, maybe call it revival. That’s why, that’s the audience, it’s the ‘evangelical’ people like myself who believe it all but too easily forget why.
What am I learning? It goes like this, gleaned from Philippians. (Can you imagine what it’s like to have had amazing students who teach me more now than I ever taught them? Dennis Johnson and Moises Silva, plus colleague Gerry Hawthorne, all first class Philippians people). Here it is in Philippians 3: 7-21 ESV,
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
So I’m a stranger here, my true citizenship is there with Jesus. (When I was a student in Edinburgh I had to register at the office for Aliens, Firearms and Dangerous Drugs. That made it clear that I didn’t belong). There’s a wakeup call, is that the way I live? ‘Straining forward, pressing toward the goal’—my life and your life is a long hard race, steep uphill with obstacles, that’s what to expect. Keep remembering that, at least hourly. ‘To gain Christ,’ that’s what it’s about; ‘to know him’ all the time. ‘Await a Savior,’ there’s the finish line. The buzzword for all that is, you and I are called to live intentionally, constantly, with eyes always on the goal.
That can be vague. With me, almost anything can be vague. Can we put feet on that, all of us together? I got used to praying like this: Lord, here are three hard things on my plate today, help me get them done. Why didn’t I pray: Lord, you know my hard heart, remind me all through the day about Jesus, keep him in my eyes up ahead and behind me too. Why didn’t I read the Word with heart: look at what Jesus just said and to whom he said it, why was that, show me Holy Spirit, I have Jesus’ promise that you will, remember? I know how basic that sounds, but I’ll be honest, that’s where I am. I know the Lord’s kind heart to me as I call to him, as he underlines again for me that it’s Jesus that I need, in his intentional calling, to show me the Hope he gives, to work that Hope out in my heart as I keep asking him, to keep me from that old silly distancing myself from him. Yes, I know him already, better yet, he knows me—but what is my life, but going on to know him better?
There’s my audience, just me—and anyone else like me. We ask the Lord to do his work in us, so that we live on Jesus, toward Jesus as the whole point of our hearts and lives, not to leave behind what we know of him, but to grow and grow from that, to love our Jesus and our Father and our Holy Spirit more and more, throughout our hard races, with clear heads about where we belong?