I haven’t been a Christian long. By Christian I do not mean the stat sheet stuffer who enables the 80% Christian country narrative simply because he doesn’t worship in a mosque or a temple but lives for himself and not God. What I mean by Christian is a follower of Jesus who by the grace of God makes daily (not once a week) conscious effort to submit to every (not some) teaching of the Bible. I’ve been that for only eight years now.
My attendance of church has been longer though and for much longer than I can remember I’ve heard time and again claims that Africa, specifically Kenya, is shaping up to be a point of thrust for revival. Never mind that the church in Tanzania, or Uganda, or South Africa, or Nigeria, or Egypt might be host to similar promises too.
Some prophecies have even narrowed down to cities and specific local churches. I remember one that claimed Kisumu, the lakeside town I grew up in, and more specifically the local church I attended growing up, had been divinely earmarked for the special assignment of starting a revival that would sweep through the rest of the world.
As their claim to truth, these prophetic pronouncements will usually rely on dreams and visions, and in many other cases geographical positioning of the supposed centers of revival. Believers within the ‘chosen’ localities can’t help but feel privileged. What a noble thing it must be to be picked for the specific assignment of starting a revival.
What Revival Exactly?
But we must ask ourselves “What revival?” The term is too widely applied in Christian circles it can mean just about anything these days. The problem however is not so much with the definition applied to the word. Though some who pray for and prophesy revival may have in mind something different, majority usually envision a renewed commitment to the things of God that pervades every aspect of society. That is revival.
What I find troubling is the means many churches and Christians go about seeking this reawakening. They think mostly of a transformed society as one with many worshippers, caring little that the worshippers are true. There is a higher premium placed on numbers than on heartfelt devotion, and that sets churches on activities.
Though revival is appreciated as a dramatic turnaround only the Holy Spirit can bring about, sights are often set on a dramatic filling of local churches than on a dramatic shift in living. If the latter were what the believers who rend the skies with pleas for revival had in mind, they would do more than pray at conferences and vigils.
They would understand that the harvest is never won by half-hearted laborers who pray but never set foot on the harvest field (Matthew 9:36-38). They wouldn’t be satisfied with converts, but would take great pains to teach them to obey everything we’ve been commanded (Matthew 28:20). They wouldn’t pray for righteousness in the society with their lamps hidden under baskets (Matthew 5:14-16). They would be at the office, and at school, and at the banking hall what they are at the prayer vigil, and at the revival conference, and at the outreach, and at church on Sunday.
Are we a Source or a Target of Revival?
It could actually be that all the prophecies that Kenya will be the launchpad for revival are true. While many will rejoice at that, I believe it should sadden us in a sense. To this day the city of Nineveh remains a hallmark of revival. The Welsh Revival, the East African Revival, and many others were great, but none saw a complete turnaround of hearts toward God like Nineveh did.
What is often missed by revival enthusiasts is that Jonah was not sent to a beloved people of God, but to a city of whom God said “their evil has come up before me” – Jonah 1:2. It was a city that stood under the wrath of God, much like Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed by fire. Their revival was great only because their evil before it was great!
If indeed the church of Kenya is where revival will begin, then we should wonder just how great our evil as God’s people is. We should not with excitement suppose that we have something special that will be a blessing to the rest of the world. We should be saddened that we are so deprived of holiness that unless God acts in mercy, unless he revives us, we stand under his wrath as a spectacle to the world.
It is unbelievable that we speak of being a center of revival with the pride we do. It is as if we take great pride in being more evil than other churches across the world. If we stood right with God, we wouldn’t be the springboard of revival to the rest of the world. We would instead be the springboard of missions to the world.
Rather than revel in prophecies promising that we will be revived, we would be prophets sparking revival among once vibrant churches across the world whose hearts have grown cold towards God, and taking the Gospel to those who’ve never heard it. But we are in fact that once vibrant church. Or it could be we’ve never been a vibrant church.
Unlike the apostolic New Testament church that loved Jesus passionately enough to endure all manner of persecution (even death) for the spread of his Name among all nations, we love our lives so much we would never carry our crosses (Luke 9:23-24) and follow Jesus to hunger, or insecurity, or minimal comfort for the sake of the poor and the lost.
We rarely, if ever, join with our father Abraham in following God “to the land (the unknown, and often times uncomfortable) that I will show you” – Gen 12:1. More often we invite God to the plans we will show him. The measure of faith to us is how boldly we can pray for great wants, not how humbly and faithfully we can trust God towards callings that painfully assault the flesh.
We’ve made league with the world, seeking first all other things and maybe later the Kingdom – Matthew 6:33. The ranks of preachers are filled with false teachers, a perfect fit for congregants who daily attempt in futility to balance God and mammon – Matthew 6:24. As Jesus warned, the one they’ve loved and the other (the immensely more precious other) they’ve hated, serving him only with their lips – Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8.
God finds that detestable, and either his mercy will bring us to revival/repentance, or his wrath will overtake us should we persist in sin.
I believe what most people who speak with exuberance about revival usually mean, unbeknownst to them, is missions. That too is often wrongly pursued. Programs and one-time activities that require little commitment are usually preferred to the grueling and costly work of disciple making among all nations.
But while many pack halls praying for this ‘revival’, and others pulpits declaring it, there are a few faithful ones who are forsaking everything and taking the hope of the Gospel to the unattractive places and people in the world. Their material poverty, very much like the Lord’s who was poorer than foxes and birds (Luke 9:58) yields spiritual riches among those who otherwise would never have heard, believed, called out, and are being saved (Romans 10:14-15).
They are those of whom the world is not worthy (Hebrews 11:38), but also sadly about whom we the church seldom care much. They depend on God’s inspired, infallible Word; not on dreams and visions of so called prophets, much less on the significance of geographical positioning. They are the true springboard, spreading holiness by obedience as most other Christians pray for and await a miraculous invasion while living for self.