Why I’m Praying for Revival at Westgate
Depending on your background, the word “revival” can conjure up images of everything from massive tents with powerful speakers, to weekly church meetings or special healing services. The common link in most of the these understandings is that the Spirit of God shows up in a powerful way to do something special—though the precise nature of that ‘something special’ can be widely debated.
I’m not interested in (or qualified for) discussing the biblical and historical nuances of revival (there are good books available for that). But as I and my colleagues at Westgate Church have been reading through Tim Keller’s Center Church, I’ve been struck by the necessity and beauty of revival, or as he phrases it, “gospel renewal” in the life of the church.
We often limit the scope of revival to nonbelievers coming to faith. That’s certainly a significant fruit, and part of what I’m praying for, even in our church. But as Keller notes, “Gospel renewal does not simply seek to convert nominal church members; it also insists that all Christians–even committed ones–need the Spirit to bring the gospel home to their hearts for deepened experiences of Christ’s love and power” (Center Church, 60). Elsewhere he says, “all revivals are seasons in which the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit are intensified many-fold. In revival, the ordinary means of grace [e.g. the preaching of the Word, prayer, the sacraments, the fellowship of the community] produce a great wave of newly awakened inquirers, soundly converted sinners, and spiritually renewed believers” (Center Church, 55).
In other words, revival begins when the Spirit of God moves a people to freshly discover and depend upon the gospel of Jesus. When that happens, Keller says, the result is that sleepy Christians wake up, nominal Christians are converted, and non-believing outsiders come to faith, being attracted by the “newly beautified Christian congregation” (74).
He explains further:
“Often, the first visible sign of renewal is when nominal church members become converted. Nominal Christians begin to realize they had never understood the gospel, experienced the new birth, or entered a living relationship with Christ by grace. . .
“Soon, ‘sleepy’ Christians also begin to receive a new assurance of and appreciation for grace. They wake up to the reasons they have been living in anxiety, envy, anger, and boredom. They gain a sense of God’s reality in their heart as well as higher, immediate assurances of his love. Along with a new and deeper conviction of sin and repentance . . . they have a far more powerful assurance of the nearness and love of God. The deeper their sense of sin debt, the more intense their sense of wonder at Christ’s payment of it. As a result, they become simultaneously humbler and bolder.
“Of course, the church also begins to see non-Christian outsiders converted as people are attracted to the newly beautified church and its authentic worship, its service in the community, and the surprising absence of condemning, tribal attitudes. Christians become more radiant and attractive witnesses—more willing and confident to talk to others about their faith, more winsome and less judgmental when they do so, and more confident in their own church and thus more willing to invite people to visit it” (79-80).
It’s a beautiful picture. It’s also the heart of the church’s mission to make disciples. And God is the one who has to do it. So we pray.
We also work hard in gospel ministry, laying our lives down and holding forth the Word of life. (Keller has a whole chapter on “The Work of Gospel Renewal.”) But we cannot afford to stop praying for gospel renewal in our churches—a lesson that in my arrogance and self-dependence I continually have to relearn.
We pray that the Spirit of God would open our eyes to see more clearly the beauty of his holiness, the ugliness of our sin, and the sweet sufficiency of the grace we have in Christ. We pray that the gospel would become the center of our affections and relationships, that we might be drawn deeper into communion with God and one another, and propelled on mission for the glory of his name. In other words, we pray for revival.