I truly believe that we are on the verge of another Great Awakening in America! And I pray that it starts here in Clarksville, Tennessee! The reason I say this is that there appears to be a gathering of mature Christians who know their assignments, their spiritual gifts, given by God for the expressed purpose of the evangelistic mandate. Truly, it is an exciting time in Clarksville witnessing what God is doing. Christians are repenting, unifying, praying and fasting. The congregation is thirsting for God’s presence! And there is an expectation that God is about to pour out His Spirit in revival among the congregation followed by a spiritual awakening in our area!
Which the terms revival and spiritual awakening are often used synonymously. Although many will not agree with me, I believe that they should be viewed as separate terms. While they are similar in nature, due to the subject of revival and spiritual awakenings being the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, the nature of revivals in Scripture are that of occurring among the people of God. While it is not within the scope of this article to explore the various narratives that speak of revivals, what we can acknowledge that this is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Historically we can also acknowledge faithful preaching, fasting, and prayer as components associated with both revivals and spiritual awakenings. With the constants known the objects of the Holy Spirits work can be distinguished as: 1) the people of God who are revived from a lethargic spiritual condition, and 2) “natural person[s]” who are spiritual awakened to the things of God leading to godly repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (1 Cor 2:14).
When it comes to revivals today there is a common thought that they are an extended service occurring among an existing congregation. Generally, a revival service can last anywhere from three to five days. Again, the emphasis for a revival is that occurring among the people of God. And when revivals are promoted in the community a revival service can, and normally does attract, a larger-than-normal gathering of Christians who come to hear the evangelist, or guest preacher. Certain markers like the sanctuary filled with people, decisions for Christ being made – either for salvation or renewal – will bring leaders to indicate that a revival has occurred among God’s people. But is that what really happened? The reason for the question is because by next Sunday the spiritual revival that just occurred seems to have faded as if there was no real movement of the Holy Spirit among His people. Biblically and historically we know that when God shows up people are changed, lives are impacted. But in our era of self-promotion and pressure to produce we continue to wear a veil to hide the fact that when God’s presence didn’t descend while still proclaiming a spiritual revival had taken place.
Biblically, when God’s holy presence descends upon His people the results are a smaller-than-normal assembly. What occurred on Pentecost (Acts 2) can be viewed as a revival; however, this was a unique day in God’s salvific plan. Pentecost could also be considered a spiritual awakening through the democratization of the Holy Spirit upon those present that indicated God’s salvific plan with the birth of the Church. Pentecost was truly a unique day in redemptive history. Caution is needed when viewing Pentecost as a continued pattern for today (recommend Iain H. Murray’s book Pentecost – Today? regarding this subject). Two episodes that stand out in my opinion reflecting this understanding of a smaller-than-normal assembly can be seen in the Old and New Testaments. From the Book of Exodus we read that all of Israel was gathered at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:11) where they saw the power of God upon Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:17) that terrified them (Ex 20:18-21). The people of God drew back and wanted Moses to go forward for them (Ex 20:19). And with the Mosaic Covenant confirmed only a select few were allowed to gather closer (Ex 24), but only Moses went before His presence. When Moses was with the LORD God the people compelled Aaron to make two golden idols for them to worship (Ex 32) reflecting how quickly the assembly turned from following the LORD God. What followed was a reduction in numbers among the people of God as the sons of Levi followed the command of Moses and killed three thousand men (Ex 32:25-29). The holiness of God was and is not to be mocked by His people. God takes His holiness seriously. And throughout the Old Testament we are reminded that God has preserved for Himself a remnant (Is 10:20-23; Jer 23:3; Mi 2:12; 7:18; Zec 8:11-15) that was later reiterated by the Apostle Paul in Romans (Rom 9:27; 11:5).
In the New Testament the Lord Jesus Christ had a large gathering of followers at the beginning of His earthly ministry. But when His preaching became too difficult, many of those who followed Him left (Jn 6:25-66) leaving only the twelve (Jn 6:67). In the Epistles there are accounts of those among the Churches who are turning away from Christ (Gal 1:6), bringing in false teachings (Gal 3:1; Phil 3:2; 2 Tim 3:6; 2 Pt 2:1-3; 1 Jn 2:26), and departing from the faith to follow after other teachings (1 Tm 4:1). The Apostle John taught that not everyone among the churches are followers of Jesus Christ (1 Jn 2:19), which echoes the Lord’s parable of the weeds (Mt 13:24-30, 36-43). While these examples do not speak of revival or spiritual awakenings, they do indicate that there are those currently among the congregations that are not saved. And when the holy presence of God descends upon His people there will either be repentance and conversion or a departure from His presence (Jn 3:20).
It was easy in the beginning for Israel to follow the LORD God when He led them out of captivity. But when He began to speak it caused many to pull away. And when Jesus, God incarnate, came many felt comfortable around His willingness to heal and feed them. But when He began to speak hard truths about following God many could no longer bear His words. Why? Because His words pierce our body and soul. He knows everything about us. Nothing is hidden from His ever piercing and ever watching eyes. And sin-hardened hearts do not want to be exposed to truth (Jn 3:3). A true revival among God’s people will have the markers of genuine repentance and/or conversion among the existing congregation while the other marker of decline will be noted as some scurry to find shade. And with the modern era church capitulating worship for successful business models, a decline in attendance is not something many congregations or leaders desire. It is not good for business so-to-speak as attendance numbers are down. But when you think about it is that really a bad thing? True revivals strengthen the Church spiritually and brings unity within the body. Sin is exposed or removed as God prepares His people for joining Him in Gospel focused work among the community. Genuine revivals disrupt the status quo of church business and brings the people of God back in-line with what He is doing…reconciling the world back to Himself (2 Cor 5:18-21)!
A spiritual awakening is different because, well…it is an awakening to the things of God by those who are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1), separated from God according to their sins (Is 59:2). And when God pours out His Spirit upon a community, a city, or a region where the word of God is faithfully preached there is a great awakening. In the Old Testament one can’t help but to think of the Book of Jonah and in the New Testament we read about the beginnings of the Church at Pentecost. And throughout history we read of spiritual awakenings that have occurred in Africa, Europe, and here in the United States of America. The Holy Spirit of God descended powerfully that the hearts and minds of the lost were opened to His word faithfully preached that produced godly sorrow and repentance leading to salvation. Lives were changed. Lives were redeemed.
God’s movement among revivals and spiritual awakenings were not planned calendar events or products of man’s ingenuity. Revivals and spiritual awakening are a supernatural work of God according to His timing and His plan in redemptive history. Pentecost was not planned by the Lord’s disciples. He told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:7-8). And when God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are properly understood there is nothing wrong in scheduling a revival because it reflects the heart of God’s people desiring His presence. As Christians we long to experience a powerful movement of God among us and in our communities. Planning a revival is our way of making this known. We pray that His Spirit would revive our lethargic spiritual bones and give life to the spiritually dead in our communities. We need a revival among our congregations. We need a spiritual awakening among the nations.
That is why I am excited about what is occurring in Clarksville, Tennessee. We are taking time to devote ourselves in getting right before God. Preparing ourselves in anticipation of God doing amazing work among us and through us in our community. And our leaders present a wonderful balance of truth in God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Hundreds of members coming together during February for devotion, prayer meetings, prayer walking, and congregational fasting. Pastors, men of God, faithfully preaching sound doctrine depending on the work of the Holy Spirit rather than developed practices that appeal on emotional excitements. May God hear our pleas for revival and may He pour our His Spirit in a powerful way!
Let me end this article as it began by stating again that I truly believe God is at work in Clarksville, Tennessee! Come Lord Jesus! Send Your Holy Spirit for we thirst for You!
Beougher, Timothy K. “Revivals, Revivalism.” In Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. Edited by A. Scott Moreau, Harold Netland, and Charles van Engen. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000. Logos.
Murray, Iain H. Pentecost – Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival. Bath, England: Bath Press, 1998.
______. Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858. East Peoria, IL: Versa Press, 2009.
 Timothy K. Beougher, “Revivals, Revivalism,” in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. Moreau, A. Scott, Harold Netland, and Charles van Engen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), Logos. Timothy Beougher does use the term revival as a synonym for spiritual awakening. He also uses the term revivalism as synonymous with evangelism which is the result of a revived, or spiritually awakened congregation. Beougher clearly defined his terms; however, my hesitation is the potential confusion revival and revivalism can create. Iain H. Murray, in Revival and Revivalism, addresses the term revivalism as the approach, measures, or techniques used to produce revivals. I lean towards Murray’s definition of revivalism because the term would indicate the philosophy, or practice associated with revivals.