Longing for Revival, James Choung and Ryan Pfeifer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.
Summary: A practical work on revival that begins with defining what it is and why we ought hope for it; second, what it means to experience revival; and third, what it means to lead in a time of revival.
The word “revival” conjures up all sorts of associations from “revival meetings” to the “sawdust trail” of frontier revivals, to the experience and writing of Jonathan Edwards in New England. For me, it recalled the Jesus Movement, of which I was a part during my high school years. Spontaneously, throughout the U.S., there was a movement of God that resulted in a great turning to Christ of many in the youth culture of the day. Many of us are still following Christ fifty years later, and particularly, in this time of turmoil, and in this time of declining numbers in many churches and the exodus of many youth, we long to see something like this again. But dare we believe for such things?
The two authors of this book, a current and a former campus staff minister with InterVarsity/USA (the organization in which I am also employed, in the interests of full disclosure), write about their own journeys of moving from a holy discontent with the status quo to a breakthrough faith that believes God and begins to experience revival, both personally, and by the power of God, in ministry. They begin with a definition of revival that has been accepted within InterVarsity circles as our working definition of what we mean by revival:
A season of breakthroughs
in word, deed, and power
that ushers in a new normal
of kingdom experience and fruitfulness
They then unpack this definition, noting the importance of “season,” the significance of having word, deed, and power with love at the center, of new normals, for example, where it is the expected reality to see people regularly come to faith, and where the nearness of the kingdom, the presence and rule of Jesus is apparent. This is followed by several chapters tracing the breakthrough U curve: beginning with holy discontent, there is an initial descent to untested faith, then a descent into crucified hope, where our own dreams and expectations die, a crisis of faith where we hit bottom, the revival of hope, not in our own dreams but in God and his capacity to lead us into a new season, followed by breakthrough faith enabling one to minister in word, deed, and power in the confidence of who we know God to be.
The writers then lay out four steps in the experience of revival, exploring how we live in faithful expectancy, yet look for a work only God can do. They walk us through consecration, the setting of ourselves apart to God, to long for more of his presence in our lives; calling, using the example of Peter stepping out of the boat, hearing the Lord’s invitation, obeying in faith, and experiencing the Lord lifting up, as we pursue something new and audacious; contending in prayer and fasting, not to earn something through our spiritual efforts but learning to persist and not give up until we see God act in power; and finally, character, particularly the humility that guards us by reminding us that it is not about us but about Christ, keeping us from being derailed personally, and in leadership.
Choung and Pfeiffer assume that many of those reading this will be leaders. They emphasize the importance that leaders don’t keep the work of leading revival to themselves but have an “all play” mentality. Choung talks about an experience of speaking at a retreat where he desperately wanted to give a call to faith, but agreed to let student leaders do this in small groups, resulting in twenty-seven non-Christians out of thirty-one coming to faith and students who had never invited a student to believe seeing their friends respond. We often oppose planning and the mysterious powerful work of God. These writers explore how the two may walk hand in hand and enhance each other. They offer five questions to guide groups in communal discernment, crucial to groups moving together united in head, heart, and action:
- Is it biblical?
- What did you hear in prayer?
- What if fear wasn’t involved?
- Does it produce the fruit of the Spirit?
- What does the Christian community say about it?
Finally the authors cast a vision for a revival that is about kingdom building, not empire building. It is not about our organization or church, or national power. It is about the advance of the rule in Jesus moving out from ourselves to our community, our region, our nation, to the world.
Pardon some autobiography. After my experiences of the Jesus movement and my college years, I began working with InterVarsity. As I moved into leadership and to a new city in the early 1980’s I became involved in the Concert of Prayer movement, an effort to seek God’s reviving work. For a time it appeared to gain momentum until I saw many Christians (and perhaps myself) swept up in the Reagan revolution and the hopes of Christian influence in politics. Later, I found myself in a place of disillusion, both that God hadn’t brought the revival for which I hoped and that instead, I witnessed a church increasingly captive to partisan politics rather than the kingdom of Jesus. For most of the time since, I think I opted for the “faithfulness” which settles for the subnormal rather than the new normal of revival. I invested in students and faculty, saw some come to faith, and built and led teams that planted new ministries. But I stopped believing in revival, even though I longed for it, all the more as I’ve witnessed the unraveling of the social and political fabric of our country, and the ravages not only on body but on spirit of this pandemic.
In early January, the national staff of InterVarsity gathered in Orlando, the title of this book serving as our theme (we all were given copies of it). During a day of prayer and fasting, I became aware of how I had surrendered to despairing of revival and made a decision to dare to believe again, to be a “watchman” in prayer waiting for the dawn. I felt God breaking the hard cynicism that had encrusted my heart over thirty-some years.
This book showed me that what happened back in the 1980’s was the death of my own hopes. It gives me hope that God wants to do something new. It also challenges me to the expectant work of consecration, calling, contending, and character. I believe that the only hope for our campuses and our country and our world is not a vaccine, it is not electing or re-electing a president, but the revival of which these authors speak. If you share that conviction, I believe this book will both engender hope and offer practical direction to turn your holy discontent into breakthrough faith.