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Why I'm no longer 'seeking revival'

Over the past few months I have found myself sitting in services, particularly during the sung worship sets, thinking to myself ‘what on earth is going on here?’. We are told time and time again (mostly within evangelical/charismatic circles) that this is where we experience the fullness of God, and as we seek revival in these spaces, then the more we will see this reality break through.


I’ve been doing youth work for eight years as of now, and I have worked with a complex and broad spectrum of young people. And as I sit in these services, I think to myself “is this really what the goal of my work is, to get young people to feel comfortable in these contexts?” - I head home pondering, and reflecting on revival and what it means for those I work with.


How I define revival, as I have come to understand it, is the outpouring of God’s Spirit on His people, specifically with a focus on the spiritual gifts & this bringing a response from us His people, that will have an impact on the world and our workplaces. This sounds great, however there is an undertone that I find unsettling. Mainly, that the culture we create to seek this is void of true surrender, transformation and unity, while promoting unhealthy power dynamics, performance driven self’s and only positive spiritual experiences.


Before we go any further, I must make clear that I am not against gifts of the Spirit, I am not against God moving. I just want to reflect on why we have an obsession, and ask whether there is a more faithful way.


A community of magnificent self’s


To borrow language from Andrew Root, the pursuit of revival demands that the self remains ‘magnificent’. To acquire spiritual gifts, to have an influence in your place of work and to experience Gods presence through an emotionally intense environment, it untimely keeps the self in a performing state, which leads to unhealthy power dynamics.


What I mean by this, is that if we receive the gifts and have the capacity and competency to have influence at work, and also are able to have a spiritual experience, we get a sense that we are doing well. That our self is indeed magnificent. This means we tend to favour leaders who can help us continue to experience and receive in this way. This is where we get into problems of abuse, to not name any names - but I think we all are aware of leaders who have been exposed for their leadership within churches not being healthy due to how we as a community have put them in a position of power, due to their influence and spiritual prowess.


The other problem this creates, is a separation. It becomes those who have, and those who don’t. Those who have the gifts, and those who don’t. Those who have the stability to be open to a spiritual experience, and those who don’t. Ultimately, it also becomes about those who are happy and those who aren’t, and also those who have resource and those who don’t.

My friend shared a moment the other day, where he was in a prayer meeting and someone prayed for those living in deprivation that ‘they would experience joy and come to know fullness of life in Jesus’. This both highlights the separation, ‘they’ highlights an ‘us vs them’ dynamic. But it also suggests that the person praying sees himself as magnificent, and those he is praying for are not magnificent, and need to get to a place of becoming magnificent. There is a power dynamic at play here.


I inevitably find myself reflecting on the words of Jesus with the rich young ruler. If we continue to focus on what we are receiving, we won’t hear the call to give everything away and follow. Which leads to my next point: The poor aren’t blessed when we seek revival, as the prayer from the man above suggests. The poor confront us with negativity, with suffering and with pain. The poor confront us with unmagnificnence, which we struggle to welcome when we are seeking revival. Root asserts that this ignoring of the unmagnificnence becomes a kind of violence.


Root, when reflecting on the implication of the pursuit of magnificence on the church, has this to say:

Yet, as we've seen of late, these congregations that glorify the smooth, avoiding all negativity, form people who demand only safe and secure positivity, even smooth perfection, from their congregations. They eventually turn from the church and the Christian message because their congregation gave them the assumption that the church is not a body of persons in messy confession and surrender to a God who is other. Instead, they imagined the church to be a place to smoothly and perfectly support the performance of their self. What is obvious is that this only creates congregations obsessed with the surface. It creates congregations that lack inner depth, with little yearning for transcendence, having no place for confession and storytelling of surrender.


A better alternative to seek after?


I am constantly drawn to the statement of ‘blessed are the poor’. What makes the poor so blessed? It appears they are blessed because of their unmagnificnence, they call something out in us that we have to admit to ourselves daily. We are not magnificent. No amount of performance, or seeking revival and having spiritual gifts, will make us it either. To be unmagnificnence is to say that I am in need of help, it puts me in the position to need a saviour. Someone who, by faith, will work through me. It is the negative, the suffering and the messiness where God is revealed.


Jurgen Moltmann says this:

At the moments of God's profoundest revelation there is always suffering: the cry of the captives in Egypt; Jesus' death cry on the cross; the sighing of the whole enslaved creation for liberty. If a person once feels the infinite passion of God's love which finds expression here, then he understands the mystery of the triune God. God suffers with us - God suffers from us - God suffers for us: it is this experience of God that reveals the triune God.


So what should we seek? We should seek God as a community where He is revealed. In remembering the breaking of Jesus’ body. The road to Emmaus narrative tells us it was only when the bread was broken that Jesus was revealed. Once we recognise the significance of His sacrifice, it informs our way of life in community. John Swinton puts it well: “[the early church] rather sought to create communities within which the impact of evil and suffering could be absorbed, resisted, and transformed as the people of God waited for Christ’s return to earth.”


The implications of this are to daily confess our unmagnificnence, to join in the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to look to the cross as the place of God’s greatest revelation of His Kingdom. It is not something that we need to pursue in revival. It is here, at hand already. All we need to do is deny our self, listen to the Spirit who comes along-side us, and love our neighbour, helping them absorb and transform their pain as they help us absorb and transform ours.


If we were to be pro-active, in seeking what I believe Jesus would call His Kingdom, instead of being passive in loving our neighbour, then I genuinely think we would see the Spirit work in a way that the world is desperate for.


This is what I would feel more comfortable bringing the young people I work with into, it’s what their lives are crying out for.

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