I remember those anxious days in the wake of September 11, 2001. It wasn’t just a fear of terrorism that gripped the U.S. It was, at least on the surface, a kind of fear of God. The 9/11 murderers didn’t just wreck planes and buildings and city blocks; they wrecked a nation’s sense of safety and security. They didn’t just kill people but a peoples’ sense of stability.
Hollywood wasn’t sure if it could make violent movies anymore. Comedians weren’t sure if they could be funny. Everybody hugged their kids more closely. Every plane that flew overhead made us uneasy. Every stranger was a potential enemy. And the churches were full.
Until they weren’t.
In the days following that unprecedented event, people were asking more spiritual questions and were more interested in religious answers to those questions. Theologians and ministry leaders wondered if we were on the verge of a new revival. And then everything went back to “normal.” Once the shock wore off, newfound religious interest waned. America went back to business as usual. If anything, we’ve become less interested in religion and more given to coarse entertainment.
Realizing the Need for God
Now we face a global pandemic unlike before. The COVID-19 outbreak has reached doorsteps unexpected. And we wonder, as always, might God be preparing the world for a fresh move of His Spirit? For instance, Pastor Greg Laurie wrote in a recent Christianity Today editorial on the prospect of revival, “I think we finally are beginning to realize we need God.” Others are coming to the same conclusion.
I hope and pray Laurie and the others are right. But the truth is, none of us can predict a move of the Spirit, much less the next Great Awakening. “The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). One of the surest ways to squelch revival, in fact, is to schedule it! The Holy Spirit does not work according to our timetables.
But if the Spirit’s strength is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), the U.S. is perhaps more ripe for revival than it’s ever been. If, that is, we aren’t rushing to get back to business as usual, as in the waning days of 2001.
Our Idols are Failing Us.
The emptiness of our false gods is being revealed. Even as we rely on technology more intensely than ever before to get us through these days of social distancing and stay at home orders, we suffer screen fatigue. What we once used for mindless distraction has become a dissatisfying focal point of our days.
Our idols are failing us. We cannot engage in most of them. Others are out of our hands. Money cannot be our security now, for instance. The same goes for our health.
For nearly all of us, God won’t become our only hope until God becomes our only hope. All crutches, all pretenders, all pale, puny substitutes have withered, died, scattered to dust. It is in the wreckage that Jesus comes with powerful grace, mighty to save.
Our neediness is coming to bear, and with it, the ultimate existential questions of life, of being. And the closer we get to knowing our need, the closer we may get to crying out to the only One who can give us peace, joy, and security. The ones in the Gospels most receptive to Jesus Christ, after all, were the ones who felt most keenly their own danger, their own lack, their own spiritual bankruptcy.
And the church is rising to the occasion. The gospel is going forth in unprecedented ways, broadcast near and far where everyone is now tuned; it is bearing fruit and growing all over the world.
The church isn’t just proclaiming but serving as well. Nearly every pastor I know is working more hours during the shutdown, not fewer, and their churches are filling the gaps to provide appropriate care for the elderly, meals for the underprivileged, and encouragement besides for many. Benevolence funds are being stretched. Every church is embracing some kind of innovation in order to make Jesus look very big.
I suppose, also, we are praying like never before. And no revival can come without fervent, earnest, unflagging prayer. In its essence, prayer is expressed helplessness. The reason we don’t usually pray more is because, even if only subconsciously, we believe “we’ve got this.” But that pretense is long gone for many of us now. It is out of our hands. So, we clasp them. And we beg God to move.
I don’t know if America is on the cusp of revival, much less if the world is primed for a global awakening through this pandemic crisis. But I know that if revival will come, it will be through the open surrender of God’s people burdened to repent, to proclaim Christ, and to pray their guts out. We are running out of things to lose. And we won’t get to keep them anyway.
Let’s bang on heaven’s door together, every day, and keep watch as to what the Lord’s Spirit might do.