Have you ever wondered what causes revivals to occur? Is revival simply a random act that happens periodically when God gets in a revival mood or is there something we can do as Christians to bring revivals to pass? I’m starting this article with the premise that God always wants revival because it doesn’t seem consistent with His nature that He would ever start and end one. I believe God wants “Stay-Vival.” Yes, He wants revival and He wants it to stay.
Historically, however it seems that big revivals happen every so often and culture begins to change, but then things go back to normal. Why? That was the question I asked last summer as I began a study revival. I was shocked at some of what I found out.
As I began to study revival, I didn’t initially find a central theme that caused them to begin, but I found a lot of powerful information on what caused them to end. All major revivals have ended for one main reason: strife. Once I realized strife was the common theme that kills revivals, God was able to reveal to me the key to the beginning and maintaining of all great revivals: unity.
I want to illustrate the power of strife and unity by examining two major moves of God in history: The Azusa Street Revival and the Revival at Ephesus.
The Azuza Street revival lasted from 1906 to 1915 and is considered one of the greatest revivals of all time. In this revival, there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and tens of thousands of people were saved, healed, and delivered. This revival gave birth to multiple pentecostal and charismatic denominations. It accelerated the increase of women in ministry. The impact of the Azusa Street Revival was immense and its effects are still felt over a century later. But why did it end?
1. Different groups within the movement disagreed over whether men should wear ties. Yep, I’m not making that up. Thousands were being saved from a devil’s hell and people thought it necessary to fight over dress-code. How dumb can you get and still breathe?
2. Doctrinal wars over the the finished work of the cross and sanctification. This one is touchy because its important to get doctrine right. I grew up in churches that taught bad doctrine for years and that really hindered my spiritual growth. I’m a teacher at heart and I want people to get doctrine right. Correct doctrine is very important for people’s spiritual growth, but here’s the catch; we worship a person and not a doctrine. And that person, Jesus, came to reconcile people to himself and then gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, our job isn’t to divide, it’s to bring people into agreement – even coming into agreement with those who have bad doctrine (as much as possible).
A great example of this is in the book of Acts with the Revival at Ephesus. In Acts 18, Apollos began to preach John’s Baptism at Ephesus. John’s Baptism was what John the Baptist taught – it was a message about the savior who was to come. So get this, Apollos is preaching about the Messiah who was to come over 20 years after Jesus resurrected. You can’t get much worse doctrinally than Apollos was, but the leadership in Ephesus didn’t excommunicate or disfellowship him. The leadership (Priscilla and Aquila) went to him privately and explained the gospel to him more thoroughly. Then Apollos changed his message and God began to use him even more powerfully.
What makes this even more interesting is that in Acts 19, Paul came to Ephesus and met some disciples of Apollos. He asked them about baptism and they told him they had been baptized into John’s Baptism. Paul then shared with them that Jesus had already come and they believed and were baptized in the name of Jesus. Paul then laid his hands on them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, began to speak in tongues, and prophecy. This event led to the great revival at Ephesus discussed in Acts 19.
It’s amazing how God used Paul, but it’s important to realize that God also used Apollos who had an incomplete message to initially reach these disciples. Apollos laid the groundwork for Paul. If Apollos hadn’t done his part, these men might not have been there for Paul to lead them to salvation and the baptism of the spirit later. The point is revival takes teamwork. And it takes teams that unify in the spirit of Christ and not around doctrine (the unity of doctrine is ultimately an illusion anyway because no two people agree on everything).
3. The secretary of the Apostolic Faith Mission got mad and left the Azusa Street revival with the mailing list. Without a mailing list, the mission could no longer circulate its newspaper which published the testimonies that were happening at Azusa. Since people stopped getting the newspaper, they thought the revival had ended and the large crowds quit going to the services. This ended the Azusa Street Revival.
Revivals don’t end because of God. They end because of people. God lives in a constant state of being vived and He wants His people to do the same. Satan knows this and fights against the move of God with strife. He sows lies into people’s hearts getting them to self promote, take offense, attack others, and walk out of love.
The key to initiating the next great move of God is for people to come together in unity. And not unity around doctrine, ministry position, revival strategy, or 100 other unimportant ancillary issues; unity around Jesus. Loving Jesus and loving people who Jesus sacrificially came to save and reconcile himself to. Ephesians 4:3 says to endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Endeavor means with great effort. It takes work to stay in unity. It’s not natural and its not easy, but its worth it.
I want to encourage you to take these things I’ve written and study them out for yourselves. Pray over them and allow the Holy Spirit to help you learn how to walk in unity with other believers. And pray with me for people to yield to the Holy Spirit for so the next great move of God can begin. Revival isn’t random, it happens when people intentionally cooperate with God and begin to agree with Him and each other about the most important theme of the Bible; unconditional love! And if we will consistently maintain an atmosphere of unconditional love, we can sustain a move of God unlike anything this world has ever seen!
I taught a message on unity in revival over the summer. I went into more detail than I can in this short article. If you would like to learn more, click here.