I was chatting with a friend last week, and she said something that has stuck with me. She said, “Revival doesn’t look like they thought it would.”
My friend was talking about a particular category of church people, those mostly of an older generation (though not all) who often talk about praying for revival. For the most part, when these church people pray for revival, they have a very particular picture in their heads. If God were to answer their prayer, in their minds, America would look a lot like it did in the 1950s. For them, revival has a lot to do with people going to church on Sundays and adhering to traditional Christian values.
I’ve always figured the things I hope and pray for are bound to look different than I imagine. After all, Jesus showed up and looked nothing like the Messiah was expected to look. He did not act like those praying for deliverance expected a deliverer to act. He was God but nothing he did or said looked like the God of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus tried to revive and reform Jewish teaching and practice, but the leadership wasn’t having it.
I’m married to a United Methodist pastor. Here in Mississippi, we have watched a handful of churches walk away from our denomination and we are awaiting decisions from our General Conference that will change the face of the Methodist church. To many, this is scary. To me, this is scary. However, this week, I have felt challenged to look at what is happening through another lens.
Regardless of which side of the human sexuality debate we fall on, the future seems unsteady. Things are going to change. And those praying for revival are missing it. Here it is… a revival that does not look or act as those praying for it expect.
Why are these questions and issues rising to the surface in our church? They are surfacing and making waves because of people who love Jesus and want to ensure we are following Jesus truly. Across the country, people from many generations are asking hard questions of their leadership, their tradition, their scripture, and their God. We are asking tough questions and begging others to engage in these conversations with us.
Revival has never looked like a quiet return to the way things used to be. Revival means a new day, a new life, a resurrection. In the case of the modern church, what looks like falling apart may actually be waking up.
Some animals shed their skins as they grow. Some animals shed their shells and look for bigger homes. Many times throughout history the body of Christ has had to shed her skin and her shell.
If you want to know what revival looks like, look at Jesus.
Revival will look nothing like tradition or status quo. Revival will look like uncomfortable changes, breaking bread with those the church has previously ostracized, stepping away from positions of power and nationalism. Revival will look like Jesus and Jesus looks like change. Jesus looks like love.
Scripture speaks of not putting new wine in old wineskins, and it seems like revival could mean letting go of the old wineskin of the UMC and embracing a new wineskin. That doesn’t mean the Methodist Church dies. That means she lives.
She lives revived, brand new, changed into a closer likeness of the Christ.
It’s still scary. The unknown will never cease to elicit fear, but it doesn’t have to paralyze us. It doesn’t have to tear us apart.
Revival doesn’t look like comfortable.
Revival looks like Jesus.