History tells us that revivals do not happen because the schedule calls for one. Revivals happen because people are in a frame of mind and spirit to receive the power, the Spirit, and the love of God. And things change as a result.
Historians tell us that there have been three or four national revivals in the history of Americarevivals in the 1700s, revivals in the 1800s. In addition to national revivals, there are revivals in local churches.
We've all heard about some church where, without any warning, an explosive breakout of God's Spirit happened. People began to confess their sins. Lives changed. Marriages were reconciled. Families were brought together. Life patterns changed and people experienced deliverance from addictions and other bandages. If you're like me, you've longed to see an experience like that.
There are people who have had personal revivals. You know a revival is going on in your life when suddenly you see things differently. You feel differently. You make new commitments and vows. God is more real to you than he has ever been before.
"Revival" is a big word. The Bible is full of stories about revival. You can go into the Old or New Testament and see some incredible stories about how revival hit a generation.
Leaders lay the groundwork for revival.
The Scripture reading this morning told the story of one such revival that began in the reign of Hezekiah. He was one of four or five great kings in several centuries of Israel's history. There were kings Solomon and David. There was King Saul. Along toward the end of the nation of Israel's history there were two other kingsUzziah and Hezekiah.
In between were a lot of bit players who served as kings for a few years at a time, and often fell deeply into wickedness and virtually destroyed the kingdom.
Hezekiah was an exception, an unusual man who dearly loved God. He's introduced to us in 2 Chronicles 29:2 with this statement:
"Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done." David wasn't his literal father. The biblical writers wanted to associate Hezekiah with David rather than his real father, who'd been such a disaster. So they talked about the great mark of Hezekiah's leadership in the simple phrase, "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord."
When you have a king who does right in the eyes of the Lord, you have laid the groundwork for the potential of revival. The leader determines in his policies, in his perspectives that he's going to obey God. Hezekiah began by addressing the spiritual life of Israel, which was physically, geographically the temple.
The temple had been, for all practical purposes, in a state of disuse for two centuries. Hezekiah said, "This must change." So, he recruited what priests he could find, and they set out to clean up the temple physically and spiritually. Programs were revamped. Some of the sacrifices that had fallen into disuse were renewed. Life started coming back into the temple. There was an initial revival of the temple leadership.
Now the word began to spread, and it was infectious. The Passover, that great annual event in which people remember their spiritual origins, was celebrated again in its fullness. Passover celebrates the moment when God delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt from their slavery. Passover is a picture of salvation. When the people of Israel celebrated Passover, they were remembering the conversion of their people centuries ago as they were brought out of bondage into a new way of life.
For years, people had forgotten the deliverance of God. They forgot what it was like to live a life in slavery. They were no longer thankful. Now it reemerges.
It's like what happens to those who had a conversion experience to Christ thirty or forty years ago. As life goes on, we forget what that moment was like.
To use another metaphor, I've never been to a joyless wedding. There's such optimism and celebration at a wedding. Everybody's excited. The bride is always lovely; the groom is always handsome. They seem luminescent in their love for each other.
Then you look at that same marriage about twelve years later and sometimes you look at two people who don't like each other any more. What happened?
That's what had happened in the temple, but now they were going back to, as it were, their wedding day and recovering the joy. As they began to recover the joy, as Passover was celebrated, more and more people started coming in, and that's where the revival started. Hezekiah had spoken encouragingly to the temple's leaders, the Levites. For seven days they celebrated and the Passover was gaining momentum. In verse 23 we read, "Then the whole assembly agreed to celebrate the festival for seven more days." Let me offer you three marks in the anatomy of revival.
Celebration marks true revival.
This was a celebration that took on a life of its own. Everybody was so caught up with the excitement of remembering and celebrating the Passover that they didn't want to leave.
People probably clapped when they sang. Some people even lifted their hands above their heads and said, "Glory." I mean, it just slipped out! People got physical and emotional with their celebration.
It was kind of like when Bledsoe throws a pass in overtime, and everybody loses it. All these football players go crashing down the end zone, and they climb on top of each other. They pat each other on the fannies and they do head butts. If men did that on a street corner, you'd be shocked; but on a football field, it's okay, because everybody is celebrating.
This is a room of celebration. This is not a funeral hall. This is a celebration place. There's a sense don't take this too seriouslywhere you're supposed to let yourself go and be thankful and joyful and love each other. That's what characterizes revivals. People start losing themselves in joy.
Some years ago Gail and I were at the Greater Urbana Missions Convention. On New Years Eve, there were 18,000 people in a basketball arena at the University of Illinois. The last event is always the Communion service.
After everybody had eaten the bread and drunk of the cup, around five minutes after midnight on New Years Eve, the benediction was pronounced and everybody left the hall. There were hundreds of chartered buses outside ready to take people back home all across North America.
Suddenly, from some part of the arena, some group started singing, "Sing alleluia to the Lord," and people began to pick it up. It spread like a brush fire. Everybody stopped and sang. They sang it again. They sang it a third time and a fourth time. Nobody wanted to go home. Everybody just wanted to celebrate. Our daughter Kristi said, "Daddy, I think this is what heaven is going to be like."
Celebration. When was the last time you did it?
Cleansing marks true revival.
These people could not leave the celebration point without doing business with the wickedness of life. They destroyed the places where pagan, wicked activity had been carried on in the communities over the last decades.
It's a lay movement. No one organizes this. It is a spontaneous combustion of cleansing. Men and women like you say, "Here's an area of life that has to change. This is something that has to stop. This has to be rubbed out." There was a hunger that came out of the celebration, a hunger for a new way of living that could be marked with the word "righteousness." People chose to change. They hated sin. That will always be seen in a genuine revival.
Generous giving marks true revival.
Beginning in verse 3 we read, "He contributed from his own possessions for the morning an evening burnt offerings. He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give a portion due the priests and the Levites so they could devote themselves to the law of the Lord."
In other words, Hezekiah is reorganizing the center point of people's worship and spiritual vitality. There are some things that need to be put into place. There are folks who need to be maintained there. There areI hate the wordprograms that have to be set into place if the routines of celebration are to be continued.
"As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave." The third mark of revival in this case is generosity. Notice what happens. Hezekiah said, "This is the right and biblical thing to do," and the people responded generously.
1.Enthusiastic giving. Note the exuberance, the enthusiasm with which people gave. Think of what the verse would look like if it said, "The people grudgingly gave." If I read the thrust of the verse correctly, everybody said, "The celebration has been so great, the cleansing has been so powerful, and I want to be a giver. I will give generously, joyfully, cheerfully, enthusiastically." That's the thrust of the versegenerous giving.
The gospel of Jesus Christ turns men and women from takers into givers. And the generosity cuts across the whole sweep of their life. In this case, the generosity speaks specifically to their offering.
2.Priority giving. Notice the second thing. They generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, the new wine, the oil and honey. This was not an economy that used currency as we use today. The offerings came in the firstfruits, the very best of each commodity, not the stale honey, not the poisoned grain, not the weak and sickly animals but the very best of these things.
Gail and I have been in a worship service in West Africa where everybody lined up and put their offerings on the table. They laid down yams, chickens that were bound (thankfully), and bags of grain. Here we do it with money.
3.Percentage giving. There's a word used here three times that makes some of us squirm. You'll see it in verse 5: "A tithe of everything." Verse 6: "A tithe of herds and flocks. A tithe of the holy things dedicated to the Lord piled in heaps."
The Bible has a definition for generositya tithe, a tenth of everything, the firstfruits. When men and women say, "I believe the Bible to be authority. I believe the Bible to be binding upon my life," they have to deal with this. You can't reject this, because it's not just found in a couple of proof texts or a couple of obscure verses of Scripture. This principle is all the way through the Bible. Every time people are spiritually renewed, one of the evidences is that their renewal touches their personal treasure. That's why this story is here.
I was taught to tithe as a child. My mother gave me ten cents allowance when I was four years of age and insisted that I reserve a penny of it for the offering in Sunday school each week. I was like the little boy whose mother gave him two nickels and said, "One's for you and one's for God." The boy was on his way to church when one of the nickels fell out of a hole in his pocket and went down the sewer. The kid said, "Well, Lord, there goes your nickel."
One of the decisions you make toward your wedding day is who's going to take care of the family books, and because I'm such a disaster with numbersthe church council knows thatwe decided that Gail would be the Chief Financial Officer of our marriage.
As we were going over our financial policies before we got married, Gail said, "Now, of course, we will take the tithe and write that check first." I gulped.
I said, "Maybe we should wait a few years to do that until we really get established." Because we were in graduate school. You know what that's like.
It was Gail who reminded me that the Word of God left no room on this one. The Word of God does not say, "Tithe after you get out of graduate school. Tithe after you've paid off your boat and your cabin. The Word of God says, "Tithe." I followed what I knew to be the truth as she stated it, and from that day forward we've always tithed.
One of the habits Gail follows, as the CFO in our family, is virtually every Sunday she writes the check out, and places it in the offering envelope. You will see her hand me the envelope about the time worship begins, and I get to put it in the plate.
I don't tell you that to boast. I just want you to know that what I'm talking about this morning I believe, and I've come to believe it more strongly than ever. Generosity is a key to spiritual life, and generosity is defined when a man or a woman says, "I will obey God by giving a percentage of my income, regardless of what it is, in faithfulness to him." He owns it in the first place, and he asked for this percentage back.
Some of you would say, "A tithe would break me." I can only suggest that you begin to promise God a percent, whatever it is, and build up to a tithe over a period of time. And I would suggest you do what Gail and I've had to do. We've had to discipline our lifestyle out of obedience to God so that we could tithe.
I'd love to drive a nicer car. There are things we would love, but we choose not to have those things because we believe that the tithe, and then some, ought to come first. So we don't get into debt. We want to make sure we're obedient to this part. It's one of the ways we assure continuous revival in our lives.
These people gave generously and measurably. Look at what happened. The offering began to pile in heaps. I love that word. "They piled them in heaps," Verse 6: "They began doing this and finished in the seventh month. And when Hezekiah and his officials came and saw the heaps, they praised the Lord and blessed the people."
There was another revival earlier in the life of Israel when people became so generous that Moses finally had to tell them to turn off the giving machine. I can't imagine doing that, but it would be a nice experiment.
Continuous giving sustains revival.
The first founding generations of Grace Chapel years ago were not wealthy people. They were simple folks trying to earn a living, and most of them were trying to establish a career. Times were no better for them than they are for us. But they so believed God wanted to use them in the establishment of the church that they bought into this tithing thing. They followed it rigorously; and they gave. The stories of their generosity are amazing to hear.
This church has a history of doing things that very few churches in New England have ever wanted or tried to do. It was built on the generosity of people. Many of you are here because people in the earlier generations were generous. It worries me to hear too many people saying, "We are the first generation who can be an exception to this."
A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to the congregation because we're a bit behind in our giving here. People need to know that if giving stays the same as it's been in the last few months, there are going to be some disappointing and painful cutbacks.
Someone wrote me an unsigned letter. This was a respectful letter, not a mean letter. The person just simply said, "I read your letter to the congregation. My suggestion is that you have to do what we all have to do. You have to cut back."
Cut back. I thought about that for a few days, and I must be blunt with you. If everybody in our church was obeying God's Word and we weren't meeting our needs, I'd cut back. But I just happen to know that more than sixty percent of the people who attend Grace Chapel are not giving at all. A small percentage of the people are carrying most of the weight.
For those of you who are carrying the weight, because you are tithing and giving proportionately, there's a sense in which this sermon is not for youalthough, it ought to reaffirm what you believe in doing. But for the many people who are receiving and are being blessed and whose lives are being touched in one way or the other and you're not being obedient to the biblical plan of giving, you've got some thinking to do, folks. God will never bless your life until you've straightened out the generosity principle. Your purse, your checkbook, your giving plan is at the center of your faith. That's a lot better than being victims of fund raising.
All kinds of good and institutions are pinching you and me every day, and they're begging and pleading for our money. God bless the person who doesn't need to be pled with and doesn't need to begged and manipulated, but who says, "I give out of the generosity of my heart to the center point of my spiritual communitythe place where I worship, where I raise my children, and where I grieve and give joy and learn and grow in my faith."
We would never have to cut back if everybody would do their part. That's what revival looks like.
See revival with people celebrating. See revival in the cleansingpeople cleaning up their lives and making new vows. See revival in the heaps where people joyfully and generously bring their tithes and they give.
Celebration. Cleansing. Generosity. It's the road to revival.
Gordon MacDonald is pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts. His many books include Ordering Your Private World and Restoring Your Spiritual Passion.