One person in the bible that surely needed revival was Eli. A judge and priest for many years in the Temple, Eli had grown old, not just in age, but in spiritual age, too. Rather than being constantly renewed and refreshed by the Spirit through prayer, study, diligent service, and seeking God, Eli had simply grown lazy.
Worse, Eli's son's were ruffians of the worst sort- spiritual ruffians who were supposed to be priests but who were idolaters. They took the best temple offerings for themselves. They lay with women who served at the tabernacle. They blasphemed God. Eli knew all this and did nothing. (1 Sam 2:22, 2:29, 1 Samuel 3:13.)
We all know that sinning isn't good and will result in correction by God. Worse, though, sinning will close our ears to hearing him. I don't mean audibly, I mean feeling the prick of conscience, the warmth of prayer, the closeness of the Spirit. Soon enough, we don't care that we are sinning.
However it comes as a surprise to many that even if we are not sinning ourselves, if gross sin exists in our family or our church, and we fail to acknowledge it and take the biblical steps to correcting it, God corrects us too. Eli's sons were punished. They died. Eli was punished too, even though his sons were the immoral blasphemers. It is not just an Old Testament thing, either. Revelation 2:20 shows us that those who tolerate sin will be punished.
Anyway, when we tolerate sin our own ears become closed. Eli was unperceptive when the LORD was calling Samuel, his disciple, at the temple. (1 Samuel 3:8). Eli was in need of revival, long before the promised judgment came.
What happens when revival comes to a church or a nation? Let's look at Acts 2:37 and the reaction of the people who heard Peter's famous sermon at Pentecost-
"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”"
The phrase 'cut to the heart' means, pierce all the way down, i.e. deeply (thoroughly) pained; "emotionally pierced through"; psychologically pricked, emotionally stunned.
Let's look at the Gentiles at Nineveh. After Jonah preached to them at God's command, this was their reaction-
"The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes." (Johan 3:5-6).
Sitting in ashes, or flinging ashes over your head, was considered to be both mourning for the dead and a sign of national calamity. It was an outward expression of deep repentance and a sign to the LORD that they sought Him in humility. Fasting, wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes were outward signs that you wanted to be the lowest of the low before the Highest of the High.
How about a revival in non-biblical history? The famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" delivered at Enfield CT in 1741 brought about an awakening. The awakening was going on all over New England, but in that one church in Enfield the congregation sat unaffected. The pastor of that church invited Edwards to come preach. Edwards delivered the now-famous sermon in his typical style- which is read in a near monotone. Edwards believed that showmanship had no place in the pulpit and simply read or spoke his sermons plainly. The church went wild.
Eyewitness Stephen Williams, wrote in his diary, "We went over to Enfield where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton who preached a most awakening sermon from these words, Deuteronomy 32:35, and before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went out through ye whole House…. ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth. So yet ye minister was obliged to desist, ye shrieks and cry were piercing and amazing."
In all three cases I described for you, Nineveh, Pentecost, and Enfield CT, revival broke out. Notice that the people who were revived were first pierced, cut to the quick, and cried out.
Revival always begins with tears.
Revival begins with lamentation.
Revival begins with grief.
THAT is revival.
Unless you, your nation, your church, whatever, has sat low and cried out in agony over the sins you've performed against the Lord, you are not in revival. The congregation at Enfield CT were flinging themselves down the aisle, leaping out of the pews in fearful agony of the spirit, crying out from where they lay.
The effects of revival are joy, works, buoyancy. Williams describes what happened after church in Enfield CT on the day Johnathan Edwards preached 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' ,
"After some time of waiting the Congregation were still, so yet a prayer was made by Mr. W. and after that we descended from the pulpit and discoursed with the people, some in one place and some in another, and amazing and astonishing ye power of God was seen, and several souls were hopefully wrought upon that night, and oh ye cheerfulness and pleasantness of their countenances."
"It is estimated that 10 percent of New England was converted during this time. Imagine today 28 million converted in 2 years. Picture every church in your town doubling or tripling in the next 2 years, and you have some grasp of the enormity of what happened" (Source)
Charles Spurgeon wrote of revival:
"When revival comes to a people who are in the state thus briefly described, it simply brings them to the condition in which they ought always to have been; it quickens them, gives them new life, stirs the coals of the expiring fire, and puts heavenly breath into the languid lungs."
Spurgeon issued a caution, however: "If revival is confined to living men we may further notice that it must result from the proclamation and the receiving of living truth. ... Intense excitement may produce a revival of the animal, but how can it operate upon the spiritual, for the spiritual demands other food than that which stews in the fleshpots of mere carnal enthusiasm."
He is saying do not mistake enthusiasm for revival. You might think, how can we tell them apart? Easy. If there were no tears, there is no revival. The tears and lamentation mean that the person truly glimpsed their sin in the face of a Holy God, and their resulting spiritual suffering could not be contained inwardly.
Acts 3:19 gives us the progression of revival: "Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;"
1. Repent of your sins
2. Return to the Lord's ways
3. You will be forgiven
4. Revival will come... and then
5. Joy in His presence
In today's Christianity, when the reverse of that progression happens people say it is revival. People toss around the word revival whenever a group of people get outwardly excited but inwardly they are unchanged. I've written of Angus Buchan in South Africa and the throngs who dance and jump and praise the Lord at his Charismatic signs and wonders healing 'revivals.' That's not revival.
I've written about the Passion 2013 conference where thousands of young people jump and dance and praise the Lord as a result of the emotionally manipulative entertainment and non-proclamation of the living truth by Charismatic speakers. That's not revival, either.
If you want to see what revival is, look to the bible. Nineveh and Pentecost are two examples. Look at Job:
"I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6).
Only hearing the word but not letting it into your heart let Job continue on in his pride. When he truly spiritually saw the LORD, he hated himself. THAT'S revival.
After the grief, comes the joy. Spurgeon ends this way:
When Christians are revived they live more consistently, they make their homes more holy and more happy, and this leads the ungodly to envy them, and to enquire after their secret. Sinners by God's grace long to be like such cheerful happy saints; their mouths water to feast with them upon their hidden manna, and this is another blessing, for it leads men to seek the Savior. If an ungodly man steps into a congregation where all the saints are revived he does not go to sleep under the sermon. The minister will not let him do that, for the hearer perceives that the preacher feels what he is preaching, and has a right to be heard. This is a clear gain, for now the man listens with deep emotion; and above all, the Holy Spirit's power, which the preacher has received in answer to prayer comes upon the hearer's mind; he is convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come, and Christians who are on the watch around him hasten to tell him of the Savior, and point him to the redeeming blood, so that though the revival, strictly speaking, is with the people of God, yet the result of it no man can limit.
Amen to that.