What actually is 'revival' and would we recognise it if we saw it?

For a few years now I’ve had a secret thought, theory, suspicion perhaps, that revival won’t be what we might expect.

I’m not sure it'll look like stadiums full of crowds all focused on a stage and being led from the front. I’m not sure it'll be loud voices and polished messages and christian celebrities. I’m not sure revival will come in the shape of the summer conferences we celebrate as highlights and tastes of heaven or full church buildings for Sunday gatherings. I'm not sure revival will be a mystical cloud of disembodied power falling upon people from the sky. I've wondered this for years, but I guess these thoughts feel timely with the amount of prayer for revival that's been happening through #azusanow... which is awesome by the way.

For centuries the Jewish people had been praying for and waiting on a Saviour, their ‘Messiah’, that is, the ‘anointed one’ to come and save God’s people from all the injustice and tyranny and suffering they had been under. God’s people were waiting for everything to be put right, and for them that meant a Saviour who would overthrow the government of the Roman Empire, fight fire with fire, an eye for an eye, enter the city with a sword and go to war to win on behalf of Israel. 

Instead they get Jesus. The son of a teenaged girl with a hint of scandal around her pregnancy, and a carpenter, from a town nobody’s heard anything good about. Instead of a sword, they get the sword of the Spirit in a teacher who carries both gentleness and power and completely turns upside down people’s theology, their lifestyles, their comfort and their expectations of who God is and what it means to be saved by Him.

Instead of the Roman Empire falling to its knees before the power of a Messiah King who overthrows the seats of power, we see a suffering servant who heals a Roman guard’s ear, gets arrested without a struggle and accepts a rigged trial without an attempt to defend himself before the authorities.

Instead of the people of God seeing everything turn around for them, instead of victory meaning all of the power and riches and authority finally gets given into the hands of the people of Israel, they get Jesus, who has dinner with the tax man and the prostitutes, who invests the majority of his time in twelve unlikely lads, who doesn’t play to the crowds and often takes himself away from being put on the platform. Their Messiah dies, publicly, shamefully, horrifically and it looks like humiliating defeat

And yet the death and then resurrection of Jesus exploded a grass-roots, subversive, global movement of people becoming truly and fully alive and carrying this world-changing life to others. And this awakening of humanity, this saving story, this Messiah-triggered revolution is the one we are part of, the one that is still spreading and saving today. 

If the first revival, the awakening and restoration of life, came utterly unexpected, in the ordinary and the rejected, on the beaches of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem and the footpaths of Samaria, then I’ve been wondering if we shouldn’t expect revival to look less shiny and big and loud and glamorous, and be a bit more subversive, grass-roots, messy and embedded and embodied in every-day spaces and people?

What if revival is actually praying with your mates on night club dance floors and speaking truth and life over kitchen table cuppas? What if revival is actually social media engagement built around integrity, honour and encouraging others? What if revival is actually explosions of creativity, the transformation of desolate spaces, living in community, sharing bank accounts and cars, our struggles and our victories? What if revival is a radical move of holiness because we all got sick of consumerism and the poison of greed, dehumanisation and selfishness? What if revival is actually bubbling and infiltrating Canary Wharf and Media City, Pine Wood Studios and the Stadium of Light, Tang Hall estate and the villages of Surrey, Hull University and the Houses of Parliament? 

And so my question to us all, in light of this thought is, how might we live and walk and speak and adjust our lives today in order to embody the answer to our prayer for 'revival'? To embody this revival, just as God embodied humanity to revive us, in sending Jesus? What if we, in our every-day humanity, are actually made to live the revival?

I having a sneaking suspicion that's how our campuses might end up hotspots for the Kingdom.

Miriam Swanson

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church for student mission internationally. She's based in the USA and hungry to see young adults follow Jesus with all of who they are. 

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