Papa Mc was “runnin’ the pews,” and this four-year-old was scared to death. Runnin’ the pews? Yep, that’s what I said. Papa Mc was caught up in the Holy Spirit at Cliff Springs Methodist Church revival. His big feet landed lightly only on the backs and seats of the pews as he raced from the back of the little church to the front and back again, lifting his arms and shouting all the way. I hovered horrified in the pew where he had left me.
My granddaddy Thomas I. McWaters was my best buddy in those post WWII days. He and Mama Mc kept me company while Mom and Dad taught school. I didn’t know it was child care. I thought they wanted to hang out with me. Those were halcyon days. Revival with Papa Mc. Lunch at Mama Mc’s kitchen table. On warm days, Papa Mc sat in a straight chair leaned back against the outside wall, supervising my creative corncob construction of houses and forts, winding highways, and city streets. (No Legos in my time.)
On the morning of the Cliff Springs revival, Papa Mc and I had walked a mile up the dusty road to attend morning revival services. I remember two things about that morning: his big hand holding mine as we walked and the performance he put on in the church. I don’t recall that we ever talked about it afterward. I wouldn’t have had the courage to ask him about it.
Papa Mc died about a year later. I’m grateful I got to spend a lot of time with him during my childhood. Through the years, I was witness to more revival services in which men and women were filled with the Spirit in extraordinary ways, people spoke in tongues, and God moved in great ways. For me, they validated Papa Mc’s reckless worship that had frightened me as a child. As I grew into adulthood, however, our little country churches grew more and more inclined toward restraint and “proper” decorum in worship.
I wonder if today’s church needs a little dose of Papa Mc’s Holy Spirit. Clearly, the church in our nation needs spiritual CPR. No follower of Christ can look about in our chaotic, confused, and morally challenged culture and not recognize our desperate need for revival. I use that word – revival – in its literal sense. I’m not talking about evangelism, local church outreach, missions, or personally sharing our faith with others – though all of those are needful for a vibrant body of Christ.
I’m talking about the church as a whole. The Western arm of the body of Christ needs to return to a walk with Jesus Christ that depends on Him, not our own devices and strategies. A walk that demonstrates humility, not pride. A walk that is others-centric, not self-centered. A walk that reveals godly love, not human lust. A walk that shows restraint, not selfish gratification. A walk that illustrates obedience to God, not obeisance to our own desires.
The Bible is well seasoned throughout with stories of dramatic revival, both on the personal plain of individuals and on the corporate plain of God’s people. We’re well familiar with the Old Testament cycle that recurs through the generations. God’s people draw close to Him. They thrive and grow and prosper. They rebel and turn away from God. Their spiritual life takes a nosedive. They repent and turn back to God. He restores. They thrive. They rebel. They fall away. They repent. He restores. Thrive. Rebel. Fall away. Repent. Restored.
I don’t think there’s any debate that Western culture is living in blatant and proud rebellion against God and godly principles. Unfortunately, the church too often reflects the culture rather than being a light to bring it back to God. Are we, too, living in rebellion against Him?
God’s warnings to the seven churches in Revelation should melt our hearts and rattle our conscience. He described the church at Sardis this way: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent” (Revelation 3:1-3, NASB).
A number of key words in that passage pinpoint elements that either lead to or are inherent in revival:
your deeds -- obedience to God’s commands
wake up -- conviction of sin
strengthen -- exercise of faith
remember – acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness
keep it -- faithfulness in daily life
repent -- turning from sin
No, it isn’t a packaged, perfect formula, but it does describe a path to revival for God’s people, one at a time and all together.
Papa Mc, my parents, and my generation all grew up with William P. Mackay’s 1863 hymn “Revive Us Again.” Haven’t heard that one in my church in decades. The chorus uses both praise and pleading: “Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Revive us again.”
Stephen Olford (1918-2004), pastor and Christian leader, once said, “It is my conviction that we are never going to have a revival until God has brought the church of Jesus Christ to the point of desperation.”
Are we desperate yet?