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Whose turn is it in the “chess game” of spiritual life—ours or God’s? Or, as some have proposed, is God making the moves on both sides of the board, whether or not we recognize His hand
in doing so?

This question is, of course, quite loaded, especially as it relates to revival. To answer that revival is dependent on us—that it’s our turn to seek the Lord and repent so that He can take His turn in sending revival—raises questions for some over the apparent diminishing of God’s sovereignty. Could God really be waiting for His people to make the right choice? Could His desire to send a fresh wind among His people be contingent on their willingness to pray and repent?

However, to say that revival is solely up to God causes others to shrug their shoulders and do nothing. After all, if God is going to do what He wants no matter what we do, then why get involved?

Are We Complicating Things?

Perhaps we should step back from rigid presuppositions and take a fresh look at what the Bible says about how and why God moves. To that end, I submit the following “key texts” pertaining to revival:

Revival Text: 2 Chronicles 7:14

The temple had been dedicated, the fire of God had fallen, and the glory of God was present. But God knew that the day would come when His people would turn away, when “Ichabod” would describe His beloved nation. So He gave Solomon four specific actions they would need to take toward restoration, healing, and revival:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Many question whether or not this promise was limited to the covenant relationship God had with Old Testament Israel. If so, it would not be valid to appeal to it today. However, Jeremiah 18:7-8 enlarges our understanding of how covenant principles related to national judgment and revival should be understood:

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.

Any nation that has walked away from God and is experiencing the negative consequences of sin is invited to call on God with humility, prayer, and repentance. And when they do, God says to expect a fresh wind of His grace and power. This is what happened to the pagan city of Nineveh (Jonah 3).

Revival Text: James 4:8-10

Someone has called this text “the 2 Chronicles 7:14 of the New Testament” because the same principles of humility, prayer, and repentance are repeated, with the promise of restoration of God’s presence:

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

This text again brings a conditional promise to the forefront— when we “come near” to God in humility, repentance, and surrender, He promises to draw near to us with healing and grace.

Revival Text: Psalm 85:6-7

In the prayer that inspired the hymn “Revive Us Again,” the Sons of Korah ask, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.”

This prayer for revival springs from hearts desperate for the presence and glory of God. In the preceding verses, the agony is felt: “Will you be angry with us forever?” And to set the stage for their request, they even remind God of how He once before sent revival and restoration to the people. “Do it again, Lord!” is their heart’s desire.

Note that whatever revival and restoration involve here, the power of God is clearly required. God is seen as the reviver—the people are helpless to revive themselves. But such a prayer would not pour forth from the heart of anyone who felt that their prayer would fall on unaffected ears. God’s assumed willingness to listen and respond to their cry is the motivation to seek His face.

Revival Text: Revelation 2–3

Jesus called His churches to revival with a forceful emphasis on what He wanted them to do: To the loveless Ephesians—Return! To the sleepy church of Sardis—Wake up! To the lukewarm Laodiceans—Open the door!

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. . . .

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. . . .

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Jesus didn’t ask these believers to wait or wonder how revival would come. Instead, He commanded that they respond in obedience. Yes, Christ empowers our repentance. Yes, He motivates our hearts to change. But His commands are still explicit: Revival requires action!