Gargantuan vs. Grassroots Revival

Perhaps you’ve noticed. It is hard to miss. These days it seems that numerous initiatives are hitting the newswire to rally huge numbers of Christians in national gatherings of prayer.

Let me quickly affirm that most efforts to get Christians praying together can be fruitful and very inspiring. Only God knows the ultimate value of the motivation and methodology of these massive events. At least they are giving visibility to our need to pray in passionate intercession for our lives, our homes, our churches, and our nation. On the other hand, I have a check in my spirit about the excitement and expectations that surround these gargantuan gatherings and believe it is helpful to at least ponder the philosophy behind these extraordinary efforts, and the fruit that results from them.

I do not want to be critical, because I know God can choose to use anyone, anywhere, at any time for His purposes – whether it is scores of thousands coalescing in some public square or an anonymous saint kneeling quietly in a living room. But let me offer some thoughts that might spark additional discernment and reframe our hopes for a true revival in our nation. I fear that some of the “spectacular” might really become superficial in advancing a true grassroots, transformational revival among the church of Jesus Christ.

Para-church Overreach

One common thread in the colossal calls to prayer is that they are driven by para-church leaders who have apparently received some kind of vision. They feel called to levy that plan on local church pastors across the country. I know that pastors grow weary of freelancing leaders declaring and then imposing a national or global vision on them. What pastors often hear is something like: “We love you and have a wonderful plan for your life – so please come help us make our event successful and be sure to bring your people and your money with you.” That may not be the intention, but often becomes the interpretation.

The Attraction of Celebrity

Most of these events heavily promote celebrity Christians as a crucial attraction for a substantive crowd. A.W. Tozer has been credited with saying that we should not expect a big crowd when God is the only attraction. I am concerned that the mega-crowd, mega-star, mega-tron initiatives can tend to fuel the entertainment and event orientation that can be counterproductive to the real essence of revival.

Exporting vs. Exemplifying

I have always been a big proponent of Christians (especially pastors) in a given region praying together, cross-denominationally. Yet, one day early in my ministry I was haunted by a quote from a Christian writer who said, “If it does not work at home, don’t export it.” I found that my pastoral colleagues and I were trying to create a “prayer movement” at a regional level yet failing to faithfully lead our own congregations to become praying churches. As we pursue broader engagements in prayer I hope we are, first of all, leading our churches to become a house of prayer. Yes, it is “both/and.” But I do fear that we can easily get the “cart” of events ahead of the “horse” of faithful, praying congregations. I pray that the ones leading the big prayer events are also consistently attending prayer meetings in their own local churches to keep a balanced perspective.

A Question of Stewardship

If you have ever been a part of planning a large-scale event, you understand the massive budgets necessary for these endeavors. By the time you rent a facility (or public space), secure a stage, lights, high-powered projectors, cameras, and screens – you are into the whole affair for multiplied thousands of dollars. Add to this the expenses of extensive promotion, travel and honorariums for speakers, and the cost for staff to make it all happen. Then you must consider the dollars spent by participants on flights, rental cars, meals, and hotels. In some cases, the whole thing is well into the millions. I just have to wonder about the stewardship of this whole approach.

Danger of Shared Glory

A few days ago, I read a quote by Charles Spurgeon, who said, “You will never glory in God till first of all God has killed your glorying in yourself.” I need to hear and apply this, and I suspect we all do. I have found it notable that Psalm 115:1 states the need to repeatedly crucify man’s glory when it says, “Not to us, not to us, but to Your name be the glory.” We certainly desire to give glory to God, but often secretly long for our ministry to also get some credit in the headlines. Social media multiplies the temptation.

Colossal “revival” events carry an inherent danger of the organizers, platform personalities, and even the promotional machinery getting glory for the outcome. My understanding of revival, both historically and biblically, is that it begins in self-sacrificing, undistinguished, passionate saints who simply want to pursue God’s glory among His people. In Isaiah 42:8, the Holy One declared, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” Psalm 85:6 cries out, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” I would add…YOU alone!

A Diluted Declaration of Revival

Too many times we mislabel big events as “revival.” Again, I would suggest that a study of biblical and historical revival would remind us that the beginnings of these movements were much more organic, embryonic, repentance-filled, and self-effacing. I fear that we are mistaking the “quiver in our liver,” prompted by celebrity-driven gatherings, with the priority of a broken heart in nondescript supplications among local church saints.

Elections vs. the Elect

In these days there is a great call to pray for our nation, largely centered on the looming national elections. This is valuable. Yet, we must remember that the real need is to pray for the elect. While we all must vote and be active in the political process, we cannot forget that the hope of America is not in the White House but in the house of God – the church – revived, passionate for Christ, and bold with the Gospel.

The Attraction vs. Retraction of the Holy Spirit

My friend Jim Cymbala often shares the reminder that the Holy Spirit’s function is to glorify Jesus – not a church, not a denomination, not a high-visibility leader, not an event, and not even a “movement.” Cymbala asserts that when our singular passion is to glorify Jesus, the Holy Spirit gladly affirms, anoints, and advances that work. When we seek to glory in anyone or anything but Jesus, the Spirit withdraws and leaves us to our own efforts and outcomes. He states, “It’s impossible to seek to be clever and make Jesus beautiful at the same time.”

May God help us, in any gathering, be it large or small, to aim to make Jesus beautiful and not ourselves clever; To make Him supreme and not ourselves famous; To see Him increasingly glorious and ourselves decreasingly recognized in the light of His Gospel and fame.

Grassroots Possibilities

As I write this devotional, I have just finished lunch with an amazing pastor, after preaching in the weekend services at his church. He serves in an average-sized church in a commonplace community. He is passionate for Christ, loves his people, and is fully dedicated to seeing his church become a house of prayer for all nations. He has selflessly led his flock for almost 25 years. I have a feeling that men like this, humbly hungry for the glory of God in and through the church, are probably the prime candidates as the real catalysts of revival. I am praying that thousands like him will just keep committing themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word,” away from the limelight but walking in the true light of renewal. May the Lord ignite these simple fires from across the nation into a magnificent, inexplicable flame of revival that no one can really tout or trace. And may it result in the glory of Christ alone – in and through His people, for the sake of the Gospel in this very troubled nation.

Copyright © 2016 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.