Much has been said about what defines biblical revival. Here are 7 qualities of a true revival as evidenced from the Bible.
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15)
So I attended the Asbury Revival. I responded to criticisms of the Asbury Revival. Now I want to turn my attention to the qualities of a true revival.
Can true revival be broadly defined? Or does it have to follow a checklist to be authentic? Examining the qualities of a true revival is valuable for Christians. Not because we want to categorize revival, but because we may need particular times of spiritual encouragement and focus to move us further along in our walk with Christ. If we understand the qualities of a true revival, we may be able to guide our spiritual focus in those areas more consistently.
In other words, we can stave of the need for revival in our lives if we discover how to live out the qualities of a true revival on a consistent basis.
Every journey with Christ is an individual one. In addition, being part of the body of Christ means it is also a communal one. In my experience, I have seen revival described on both levels. And while this is only an impression, it seems that how one approaches their faith has an impact on which one they personally feel more comfortable with.
Perhaps we don’t need a community to experience revival, yet this has been the more popular use of the word revival.
The Many Meanings of Revival
As we talk about qualities of a true revival it is natural to want to lock down a word-for-word definition of what revival is.
We have seen the term applied to meetings of all shapes and sizes. It is used often during times of focused gospel preaching. Think of the old-time tent revivals. I say old-time, but the idea of the traveling evangelist is still very much alive, even if they don’t always meet in tents. Perhaps the most familiar of these to general audiences would be the Billy Graham Crusades.
We have also seen the word revival applied to more spontaneous events, such as what we recently saw with the Asbury Revival.
If we were to look at these two instances, we could be frustrated trying to call both a revival, because they look very different, from how they start to the end result. No wonder there has been so much criticism of the Asbury Revival – it does not fit the first definition we described at all.
Unfortunately for both sides, the Bible is not going to give a specific definition of what is a true revival.
That is why I think it’s more helpful to examine the qualities of revival. Understanding the qualities of true revival from an examination of scripture will still leave us without a rock-solid definition, but in the long run could help us better understand what true revival looks like from God’s perspective. And in so doing, we can come to understand that placing demands on what true revival looks like is legalistic, divisive, and unhelpful.
7 Qualities of a True Revival
Since we’re looking at qualities of a true revival and not a revival checklist, these are order independent. I have, for the sake of continuity, tried to put them in an order that builds on itself, but this is not an attempt to say, “first comes this, then this”.
The first quality of a true revival I see in the Bible is humility. This is because when God calls us to His presence, His desire is that we do so with humble hearts. The Bible tells us that God resists proud people, but provides grace to humble people (James 4:6).
One of the most famous verses on humility in the Bible tells us that when we do humble ourselves before God, He will not only restore us, but he will also bless us, individually and as a community (2 Chronicles 7:14).
A heart that is seeking true revival from God knows that the way to please God is to come to Him in repentance. The message of repentance was at the very heart of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matthew 4:17).
Why would revival require repentance? Our hearts may need reviving because we have once again sought after the enticements of this world, and God wants us to return Him to first prominence in our hearts (James 4:8).
What is beautiful about repentance is that it is an agreement both to turn from our sin and to move towards holiness. Through this, we are revived (Isaiah 1:27).
God brings us to conviction, but a revived heart is also a restored heart (Hosea 6:1-2).
And this makes sense, that restoration would be another quality of a true revival. If we are coming to God in humility and repentance, when we experience His love and forgiveness, our spirits will be refreshed and renewed (Psalm 51:10).
Think about a time in your walk of faith where you had really tripped up and failed Jesus Christ. Eventually you were convicted, and humbly repented to Him. As awful as the sin was that brought you to that point, the gratitude and peace that washed over you once you knew your sins were forgiven – well, that’s revival, my friend!
As the qualities of a true revival are exhibited in our hearts and through our actions, we will be drawn to a renewed commitment to God and to authentically living our faith.
We see several times in scripture where the community was put to a decision, usually calling us to decide whether we will serve the one true God, or if we will follow after other gods. Joshua, for example, calling the Israelites to decide, while he declares he has made his decision: “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).
Or when Elijah took on a contest with the priests of Baal, in front of the crowds, telling them not to vacillate between 2 opinions (1 Kings 18:21).
True revival requires us to cast aside anything that gets in the way of wholehearted devotion to God.
Hunger for God and His Word
Another quality of a true revival is a renewed hunger for God and for scripture. The Bible testifies itself that it is valuable for living in Christ (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Bible connects a love for God’s word and commands with revived spirits (Psalm 19:7).
Another quality of a true revival I see in the Bible is worship. Where the Bible reflects this quality, an elevated sense of worshipping God is present. We find that there is a sense that His people need to be revived so that they can worship God more fully (Psalm 80:14-18).
As worship is often expressed, communally, it makes sense that most of us see revival as a communal act.
In the Bible, where we do hear revival connected with worship, it is expressed that we need to be revived so that we can be enabled to worship God (Psalm 85:6). In this case, we could consider worship a lagging indicator that we have experienced true revival, rather than a leading one.
It might also confirm that charges of emotionalism in some revival settings are authentically biblical cautions. Many of us have experienced times of worship that felt intended to generate an emotional response through repetition and length. Worship does not generate revival. It is a response to revival. Worship that has been purified through revived hearts is a blessing.
And the 7th quality of a true revival I see described in scripture is reverence for God. When we have laid our hearts bare before God, showing He is our first love, He showers us with His mercy and grace.
The result is that we are in awe of Him, and all that He has done – in general, and for us specifically (Habakkuk 3:2).
While I see this evidenced in the Bible, I might not have listed this one as easily as I did some of the other qualities of revival. But I can say first hand, this was one of the more amazing things I witnessed when I attended the Asbury Revival. There was this general sense of protectiveness over what was happening. There was no showiness, no overt displays. Just a general sense of self-control, but in a group context.
Some Important Questions about Revival
Who is True Revival for?
One thing that should be evident from the 7 qualities of a true revival listed above is that revival is for those who have previously decided to put God first in their lives.
As we said earlier, revival is a label that has often been put on evangelical meetings. It’s an easily identifiable word and has now taken on that context in our culture. But hopefully we have demonstrated in this article that a true revival requires something that can be revived – namely, our faith.
How Can I Experience True Revival?
Even with these qualities of true revival explained, one may still be left asking how to experience true revival for themselves. Is it something that we can just make happen? Or does it require a move of the Holy Spirit?
Well, hopefully, through some of the verses we referenced above, we have demonstrated that revival starts with us. God is not in the business of forcing our choice to love Him and put Him first. But we do have plenty of promises in the Bible that if we make a move towards God in humility and repentance, He will always receive us.
Be reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Father in that story represents our Heavenly Father. When the father in the parable saw his son returning home, he didn’t even let the boy knock on the front door. He ran and greeted him, and joyfully celebrated his return.
How Can I Maintain the Spirit of True Revival?
That’s an important question. A time of spiritual renewal can be amazing and great, but wouldn’t it be better if we could maintain that devotion throughout our walk with Christ?
That’s what abiding with Christ is all about. When we devote ourselves consistently to the abiding disciplines, we will grow in intimacy with God, and be reminded continually to keep Him first in our lives.
Even if we’re doing that, there may be times where we experience God’s silences. However, we know if we’re abiding with Christ consistently, those can be times of preparation.
Either way – whether we are in need of true revival today or not – let us all seek to keep Jesus Christ first in our lives.
More Bible verses about the qualities of a true revival:
Ezra 9:8-9; Psalm 80:19; Lamentations 3:25-33; Isaiah 40:31; Jeremiah 30:17; Ephesians 5:14; 1 John 1:9