I have experienced real revival and reformation. I have experienced fake revival and reformation. I, like most other Christians, live longing to experience revival and reformation in my life. Both kinds of Revival and Reformation generate intense emotional responses, but one is primarily inwardly focused and the other is primarily outward focused. One is constructive. The other is destructive.
It was Tuesday night in a little village in the hills outside of Ciudad Mante, Mexico. Our mission trip team had worked hard all day on the foundation of a new church. It was not my favorite kind of building project because, at the end of the week, there would be little visible evidence of the work we had done. If you looked closely you would see that the gravel and sand piles were smaller and you would see a scraggly forest of rebar sprouting from freshly cured concrete. We knew that we were laying the foundation for the next mission group. They would build the walls and transform a flat slab and foundation into a real building. Each evening, after finishing our work, we would bathe, eat, help with an evangelistic effort and then close out the day with a mission team worship. After worship, I would gather the staff for our daily debrief. This Tuesday was no different—until the end of staff worship. I walked out of the one existing Sabbath School room to check on the little tent city the mission team occupied, to make sure the teens were all on the way to bed. That night they had not done what they were supposed to do and I was astonished and delighted.
To my right was a group of twenty teens holding hands in a big circle singing and praying. To my left were another ten students sitting on a big gravel pile with flashlights in one hand and Bibles in the other. There were other, smaller gatherings of teens in deep, intense prayer or spiritual conversation. This was a spontaneous Holy Spirit moment. I had no idea this would happen. I had no idea why it happened. It continued for hours until, finally, around 1:00 am I was forced to tell them to quit praying, studying their Bibles and singing praises to God, and go to bed so they would be ready to work in the morning. This was more than a one night phenomena; it continued through the rest of the trip. It carried them home and through the subsequent few weeks, but it didn’t last. At the time, I wasn’t smart enough to know how to extend it. but it would have been possible to extend it long enough to imprint it for a lifetime.
So, what can we learn from this experience? Why did it happen? It is possible to repeat it? I believe the answer is yes, but it is not about manipulating God, rather it is about about making the priorities of Jesus the priorities of our lives. Here is how it came together that week:
1. No distractions. During that ten day trip there was no television, no internet, no personal music or video players. There was a single focus: doing God’s work by building a church, telling that village about Jesus and worshiping together.
2. Prayer and study for the right purpose. In Adventism we implore members to read their Bibles and pray more, with the goal being to. . .read their Bibles even more and pray even more. At some point, though often not consciously, the question becomes: What’s the point of reading more and praying more? It makes no sense and does not have good Scriptural foundation. Because there is no point, people quit reading and praying. We have better Scriptural models for praying than studying, but we know Jesus and the Apostles had a deep understanding of Scripture. We also know they spent considerable time in prayer, but the reason for engaging in these disciplines was not so much to purify the soul or manipulate God into doing something but rather as a way of recharging the batteries which would fuel them as they did God’s work.
3. Making a difference. The teens and adults on this trip paid a lot of money and gave up precious vacation time because they knew it would make a difference in the lives of strangers. They knew that, at the end of the project, this little town would have a new church that would not exist if we had not helped to build it. The people in that village heard stories about Jesus they would not otherwise have heard. They made friends in those few days and, because of those friendships, the mission of Jesus was lived out. There is no doubt that being the hands and feet of Jesus has the power to transform the lives of those doing the serving as well as those who are served.
The monumental problem North American Adventism faces is that we are spending so much time and energy time fighting about things we have no control over. We spend our time and energy getting ready to get ready, reading so that we can read some more, praying so we can pray some more. In Matthew 25 Jesus says that thee primary criteria, or perhaps more strongly, the only criteria for salvation is having a compassionate heart for the least of these. This is not a high priority in Adventism. In most churches it is not a priority at all. I dream of a compassionate, life-changing church that will take seriously the priorities of Jesus, allowing the Holy Spirit to truly work revival and reformation in us.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3149