Revival in rural Alabama?

Straight Talk

The Question:

I have been a Southern Baptist all my life. In the past few years, through bible studies, I have discovered that there is “more” out there than I have ever thought. After an experience last summer, my personal prayer closet became VERY real. For the first time in my adult life I let go of all the bottled up fears, emotions and past hurts. Sometimes there were not words, just weeping and Jesus name. My private prayer time has continued to be very emotional, which is okay. My problem is the small church I attend now seems so dry and lifeless. We’re in a small community in rural Alabama. How do I get “fed” and still be a part of my community?

– Nancy from Alabama

The Answer
Part 1: What is revival?
Part 2: Does the church want to be revived?
Part 3: Can I find water in a dry church?
Part 4: Finding the well in a dry and dusty church
Part 5: Keeping Revival going

What is revival? (Part 1)

First I would like to define what has happened to you; put a label on it if you will. I would say that you are experiencing a classic case of “revival” and that is cause for great rejoicing. It’s a word that is bantered around quite a bit by the Christian church. It seems that all the preachers say we should be praying for revival and that we desperately need one in America. Yes, we do. But what is revival?

A good picture of it is given in Ezekiel 37 which is the chapter about the valley of dry bones. The Lord shows Ezekiel a great array of dry bones and tells him to prophecy over them to come back to life. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:5-6)

This prophecy was directed to Israel, God’s chosen people – not to the world at large. This is an important distinction because revival is about the church coming back to life. After the church is revived, she can then reach out and transform society. Martin Luther is a good example. He experienced a personal revival first which so changed and impassioned him that he went forth in God’s power and grace and transformed society. Today we call this the Protestant Reformation.

Revival is experienced person by person. It means that what you have believed in your head comes alive in your heart. A new fire starts to burn. Spiritual things are no longer duties or obligations; they are the very center of life itself. The Holy Spirit comes along and fans those small embers encouraging them into a great roaring fire that can warm the hungry and draw in the lost.

Next: Why does the church usually reject revival?

Does the church want to be revived? (Part 2)

Several years ago I learned a painful but important lesson. I was in a church that was praying fervently for revival. God heard those prayers and we began to see answers. But when revival started to break out in the people it was quickly rejected and shut down. I was so shocked I could hardly believe it. Wasn’t this the thing we were all praying for? With deep grief I left that church though later I saw how God worked much good for me personally through the whole sad event.

One of the things I learned is that revival is often rejected by the established church authorities because it doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion of “acceptable” religious activity. Over time the burning embers of many churches have grown cold and most of the time they don’t notice it as it happens.

Burning fires can be a bit of a problem if you want to maintain the status quo. They crackle and sizzle and pop out on the hearth and they can get out of control. If the leaders of a church see fire in their congregation that they themselves do not have, they may be jealous, pride may get in the way or they may be afraid they will lose control.

This is exactly what happened to Jesus in his day. Through him people experienced a genuine relationship with God; they were coming alive, receiving healing and deliverance and they were being radically changed. Instead of rules and regulations they were experiencing revival. How did the prevailing leadership of the Jewish people react to that? They hated him and wanted to get rid of him. This same pattern has been repeated often over the 2000 years since the Lord returned to heaven.

Next: Can I find water in a dry church?

Is there any water to find in a dry church? (Part 3)

I am finally getting around to the real question you asked: “how do I get fed and still be a part of my community?” Behind this question I can feel some other issues at play. It sounds like your church options are limited. In a bigger city you could try another congregation but in a small rural community you may feel you have nowhere else to go. Additionally, your social life may revolve around church and you do not want to give that up.

Before we explore working within your church let’s consider something. Would you have a willingness to leave your denomination if you could find a church that is not so “dry and lifeless?” If the answer is yes, I would suggest visiting other church services which do not interfere with your own at first. Many churches have Sunday night or Wednesday night services. Don’t make the mistake of going by church labels. I have found lately that denominational labels don’t tell you as much as they used to. There are hopping Presbyterian churches and dead Pentecostal ones so you have to show up and see for yourself.

If you cannot consider switching churches for whatever reason there is still hope. The very first thing is to lay your problem before the Lord. He is not unaware of what a dilemma you are in and he wants you to continue your personal revival more than you want it for yourself. He may have an unexpected or surprising solution but you have to be open to it. I have had times in my life when God answered my prayer but I didn’t see it at the time because he did it in such an unusual way.

Are you willing to trust him and obey him no matter what he says to do? We always think we are until he asks us to do something that we don’t like or that challenges our own preconceived notions about how God works. So my first suggestion is surrender. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Next: What comes next?

Find the well (Part 4)

Yesterday I suggested you surrender to God and be willing to obey his answer. Today let’s deal with the practicalities of week by week living out life in your current dry bones church. Has it yet occurred to you that perhaps God has planted you there in answer to someone else’s prayer? There may be saints in your area that have sincerely been praying for revival to come and you are the first fruits of their efforts. Priming the pump is always the toughest part. Somebody has to break up that hard ground first.

I would be willing to bet that there are other like minded people around you but you just don’t know it or how to find them. Start keeping your eyes open and ask God to connect you to someone who feels just like you do. It will be such a joy to find even one. You will have someone to share your feeling with and someone to pray with. That will make all the difference in the world. Two fires sitting side by side can merge into a bonfire.

A small home bible study can be a place to fan flames and discover other hungry souls. This is a place where you can share the deep personal experiences you have had with God and then notice those with a wistful look in their eye. If some people seem uninterested or turned off, quietly withdraw your comments but begin to pray that God would stir hearts in your small rural community.

Don’t neglect the new place of prayer that you have found. Continue to till in that garden because you will find that there is still even MORE than you have found so far. There is no limit to how deep you can go in the Holy Spirit. Continue to read those things that stir up a passion for God in your heart. There are all kinds of wonderful books filled with the personal stories of people who have been exactly where you are now.

You will have to judge if this is a good idea or not but you might want to make an appointment with your pastor just to test the winds. It is possible your pastor will be more receptive than you imagine but in any case, at least you will have tried and he will know your heart.

Next: How to keep the spirit of revival flowing

How to keep the fire of revival flowing (Part 5)

Fires that are fed keep going. If you don’t feed your fire for God it will eventually abate. This is not what the Lord wants. He wants us to be in one revival after another. You know he says in Revelation 3:15-16; “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” That is not a pretty picture is it?

You can continue to be fed (even if in a dry lifeless church) by finding others to feed. You mentioned that you have been a Christian all your life so you have MUCH to give. Start giving it out because as you give out what you have it will make more room inside you. God will pour new things into you and it will start over again. The more you give the more you have to give. Giving primes the pump.

This may seem like a lonely time as you struggle with your isolated situation but the Lord is very near to you. You may look back later and say; “what a sweet and wonderful time that was.” Savor the Lord’s presence. Savor the ability you now have to pour out all of your emotions. Savor the hunger you have for more of him. In fact, the best prayer I know of is a simple one which sums it all up: “MORE LORD!”