Like an alarming panoramic bulletin, the news has blasted across our flat-screen TVs. Around the world, people are facing economic collapse, the coronavirus, famine, poverty, terrorism, wars, religious oppression, persecution, human trafficking, gender equality, moral decline, climate change, health care concerns and a host of other worries. For the average person, these in-your-face world dilemmas are not only disturbing, but downright frightful.
The temperature of the world seems hot with troubles, and even Christians seem to be caught up in the apparent doom and gloom, as if somehow all of this should be taking us by surprise. Is all of this really because of a world gone wild? Should we be crouching in the corner somewhere, biting our nails while praying for Jesus' return to spare us these catastrophes?
Anything and everything God has allowed to happen in this world is for one reason and one reason only: to bring the person, power and redemptive message of His Son, Jesus, to the forefront. In other words, revival!
Awakening Hearts in History
Throughout history, God has always breathed the breath of revival to awaken the sleeping, self-centered heart of man.
In Exodus, God used Moses and Aaron, while under great duress and hardship, to stir the hearts of the children of Israel through mighty signs and wonders so they might believe God's Word. He was going to deliver them from the oppression of Pharaoh and lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey. And that's exactly what happened.
During the times of the judges, Israel, more often than not, went through often self-induced difficult times.
"Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. They worshipped the Baals, the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Syria, Sidon, Moab, the Ammonites, and the Philistines. They abandoned the Lord and did not serve Him" (Judg. 10:6).
And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served Him, there was a consequence.
"Then the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, "We have sinned against You, for we have abandoned our God and worshipped the Baals" (Judg. 10:10).
When they cried out, God brought them revival. They made this same confession five times, and each time God breathed revival on them. Over the span of 350 years, mighty awakenings happened under these judges: Othniel, God's lion (Judg. 3:10); Ehud, the fat left-handed man (Judg. 3:15); Deborah and Barak, she a wise prophetess and he a military commander (Judg. 4); Gideon, a cautious and skeptical man (Judg. 6-7) and finally Jephthah, a mighty warrior (Judg. 10:6-11). God breathed periodic revivals on Israel while they were up and down with serving the Lord.
And then there were numerous other times throughout both the Old and New Testaments where great revivals stirred the hearts of people, in particular through Jesus, John the Baptist and the apostles.
Then, closer to home, there were the four Great Awakening revivals in the United States. The first, between the 1730s and the 1770s, the second between 1790 and 1850, the third between 1857 and 1920 and the fourth between 1968 and 1986.
Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Lyman Beecher, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, William J. Seymour, Aimee Semple McPherson, Oral Roberts and, of course, Billy Graham were anointed servants of God. From America's inception, God used these leaders to constantly bring us back to our spiritual and moral center.
The most recent Great Awakening in the U.S. was the 1968-1986 charismatic/Jesus People movement revival. The decade of the 1960s was one of the most tumultuous and divisive decades in world history. In the U.S., it was marked by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and anti-war protests, political assassinations and the emerging of the generation gap, not to mention social unrest, a greatly divided political atmosphere, racial tension, urban riots, economic stress, civil disobedience and a flow of illegal drug use. Catch the image here: America was being ripped apart!
Before there is any real visitation of God on His people—revival—it is often preceded by moral decline, political unrest, possibly a calamity, economic hardship and spiritual apathy. Sound familiar? Revival is also preceded by an intense burden for souls that leads to fervent prayer—and a lot of it!
Seeking a Fresh Visitation
Hard times are not uncommon, and neither is the moral decline of civilization throughout history, specifically to Western civilization. God will either bring about or allow catastrophes to happen in societies to draw the hearts of men back to Himself.
Jesus Himself spoke of the days we're witnessing.
"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled. For all these things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines, epidemics, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:6-8,).
He went on to say that "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold" (Matt. 24:12, NIV). If you've never seen a clear picture of this, you can see it now. There's a feel in the air, an anticipation of something about to happen, a soon-coming heavenly antidote to a sick world that, like the children of Israel, would rather serve the lusts of its own appetite than know the sweetness and love of Yahweh. It's a love that will breathe yet again the breath of revival on a self-indulging generation. There is no human degradation that has ever escaped God's wrath, and no limit to His love in rescuing the heart of man while going through it.
God is all about drawing His children back to Himself. He longs that they would serve and love Him as He so passionately and unconditionally loves them. Listen to the plea of Habakkuk the prophet as he realizes God is going to use the Babylonian empire to execute judgment on Judah for their sins.
"O Lord, I have heard the report of You, and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of these years make them known; in wrath remember mercy" (Hab. 3:2, MEV).
This is what should be getting us excited today! "We've heard, read and seen Your fame and awesome deeds. We've experienced Your revival power in the past, Lord! Now please repeat it today. Let everyone notice it. In everything You will use and do to bring this about in the world, please remember mercy." This is our prayer, Lord!
Something is settling in the air like a faint mist in the atmosphere. There's a celestial heavenly texture that's beginning to form over our nation and the world, and it feels like a fresh visitation from God is about to happen.
God will use any means, through anyone, by any measure, in any way, to bring people to a saving knowledge of the redemptive message of His Son, Jesus. The very definition of the word "revive" means to restore to life and consciousness, to be able to give new strength and vitality to an otherwise lifeless body. Our nation and world are desperate for a renewed awareness of God, the giver of new life and spiritual vitality.
Believing God for Restoration
In Ezekiel 37, the Holy Spirit led Ezekiel to a valley filled with dry, dusty bones—a vivid picture of death. I can clearly imagine the conversation the prophet must have had with God. First, God said to Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?" (v. 3b). If I were in Ezekiel's position, I'd be saying, "Lord, ain't no way. We're talking a boneyard of desolation here!"
But Ezekiel said, "Well Lord, you alone know," which translated means, "If You say so" (see v. 3c).
I'm taking a little liberty here when I imagine God saying, "Have some faith, Ezekiel, and prophesy that My breath in these bones will cause them to live again." But Ezekiel saw nothing but dry, dusty bones. So God asked him one more time, "I'm asking you again. Can these bones live?" This time, Ezekiel was in the Spirit and spoke the word of faith over those useless bones. Because of his faithful obedience to God's voice, the Scripture says God's breath entered them, and "they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army" (Ezek. 37:10a, NIV).
So what does this mean for us today? God wants us to believe that He can revive a spiritually desolate, morally sick, selfish, self-indulgent, bone-dry society to a place of God-filled restoration. He wants us to have the faith to prophesy to the dead, spiritually anemic valley of bones we all live in and trust God to breathe life into them. To cry out by faith for God's anticipated move in raising up an army of new believers around the world for the extension of His kingdom. In other words, we must believe God for nothing short of revival!
The psalmist David said in Psalm 22:4-5 (MEV): "Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You did deliver them. They cried to You and were delivered; they trusted in You and were not put to shame."
Trust is an important ingredient that a person must have to maintain a secure and genuine relationship with someone. "Our fathers trusted in You" (v. 4a) shows a dependence, a hope, a reliance on God that was crucial for an intimate relationship. To trust is to have faith; to have faith is to believe that it can happen.
Here's the way I believe it's going to happen. Acts 16:26 (NIV) says, "Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone's chains came loose."
The Scripture says it happened suddenly! As in other times in history, God is about to suddenly shake the foundations of the prisons once again. Why? So millions of people who are enslaved in their own self-indulgences will experience the doors of their hearts flying open, their chains falling off and the glory of God's redemptive message of Jesus setting them free. An army of once dry, dusty bones will jump and leap and praise God!
Can you imagine it? Can you sense it? Can you smell in the distance the aroma of revival rain coming our way?
Dr. Fred Antonelli is a former senior pastor of 23 years, a licensed mental health therapist, author and president of Elim Bible Institute and College in Lima, New York.
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