One of the topics we hear most today about the condition of the churches is revitalization. We see churches move from struggle and decline to health and missional effectiveness, fulfilling the Great Commission. With 80-90 percent of our churches declining in North Carolina and across the nation, the need for revitalization is more than obvious.
As I was discussing church revitalization with one of our congregations in Charlotte recently, one of the deacons said, “You’re talking about revival, right?” In a significant way, yes. When we identify what we need to see in the life of a church that is struggling, it is a Holy Spirit sent revival, a renewing of a family of believers by God Himself. We cannot do what needs to be done to turn a church around on our own, but God can.
While we have ideas that are valid and strategies that work, if we are doing what we are doing to help churches revitalize without emphasizing the ability of God to do a reviving work among His people, we are missing the point of it all. We do what we do to bring God glory and to obey Him in life and ministry. When we yield to Him and follow His Word, we allow Him to have His way with us. This is the essence of revitalization and of revival.
This does not mean that we plan a week of worship services called a revival and try to work up an emotional solution for a serious spiritual need. True revival is not a series of meetings, but is a supernatural work of God, and God alone. It is, as Richard Owen Roberts defines it, “an extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit producing extraordinary results.”
Revitalization is the effort to bring purpose, passion, purity and right priorities back to the life and ministry of the local congregation. As Josh Hunt puts it, “Revitalization originates with people who cooperate with God in applying biblical principles to church life, ministry and growth.”
So, combining these two ideas, revitalization is the work a church can do as they refocus on who they are supposed to be where God has placed them. Revival is God working as only He can to bring new life and spiritual energy to the church. Maybe the better word in this context for revival is resurrection: God alone can cause life to come where death has been.
But what does it take to see this revitalizing and reviving work happen in a church? While we can do much to help in the process, God must be the sender of this new life. So, the road to revitalization and revival leads directly through the place of prayer. Prayer must be our starting place when we seek to lead a church from decline toward strength.
But what kind of prayer? Some of us have said for years that we have been praying for revival, why has God not sent it?
A.W. Tozer put it this way:
I have heard the saying, “Revivals are born after midnight.” This is one of those proverbs which, while not quite literally true, points to something very true. If we understand the saying to mean that God does not hear our prayer for revival made in the daytime, it is of course not true. If we take it to mean that prayer offered when we are tired and worn-out has greater power than prayer made when we are rested and fresh, again it is not true…
Yet there is considerable truth in the idea that revivals are born after midnight, for revivals (or any other spiritual gifts and graces) come only to those who want them badly enough…
Our Lord placed this beyond dispute when He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Hunger and thirst are physical sensations which, in their acute stages, may become real pain. It has been the experience of countless seekers after God that when their desires became a pain they were suddenly and wonderfully filled. The problem is not to persuade God to fill us, but to want God sufficiently to permit Him to do so. The average Christian is so cold and so contented with his wretched condition that there is no vacuum of desire into which the blessed Spirit can rush in satisfying fullness…
No, there is no merit in late hour prayers, but it requires a serious mind and a determined heart to pray past the ordinary into the unusual. Most Christians never do. And it is more than possible that the rare soul who presses on into the unusual experience reaches there after midnight (Born After Midnight, 1969).
How desperate are we to see God do a revitalizing and reviving work in our churches? Do we honestly hunger and thirst for it?
The road to revitalization and revival leads directly through the place of prayer. May we see the need and respond with the kind of prayerful dependence and obedience required to “seek the Lord until He comes and showers righteousness on us” (Hosea 10:12).
Editor’s Note: Bob Lowman serves as the executive director of the Metrolina Baptist Association. This year’s Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Annual Meeting on Nov. 6-7 will include a special prayer gathering titled, “Broken Before the Throne: A Prayer Gathering.” Learn more about praying for revival and spiritual awakening and a special prayer emphasis in October at prayfor30days.org.
by Bob Lowman / Executive-Director / Metrolina Baptist Association
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