Many people are declaring something along the lines of, "The greatest revival the world has ever seen is just ahead. The greatest miracles, the most wonderful wonder-working Church the world has ever seen is near." This is a wonderfully encouraging word.
The value of such a word, however, is determined not by how happy it makes us feel, but by the fruit it brings in the lives of those who hear it.
First, I need to clarify: I am neither denying or affirming that such a revival is coming. What I am doing is questioning the nature and the timing, and the results of these kinds of proclamations of it.
It is clear that the church has a consistent history of taking our strong wishes, presuming their truth, and building wonderful theologies of wishful thinking upon them. The above statement, and many more like it, was made more than half a century ago, and that might suggest that, at a minimum, his ideas of "just ahead" may not be the same as we normally mean by "just ahead.” The statement, while hopeful, has missed its mark.
It seems that every generation since the original Pentecost has believed that they were the final generation. So far, every single one of them has been proved wrong. Hope is a wonderful error, but it remains an error: hope built on an assumption is not hope built on God. Hope built on wishful thinking is a false hope, and false hope is my concern.
And this false hope has very serious consequences: the assumption that that we’re on the brink of a sovereign revival, then the human species tends to back off, to slow down in our part of the labor. It was a problem in the first century church (read 2 Thessalonians 3), and it remains to this day.
This complacency leads to (at least) two results:
1) Since the return of Christ is predicated on our success at certain tasks (Matthew 24.14), this false hope in fact delays the return of Christ. If we're not getting our part done, then we are delaying his part, his return. and
2) Because, many hopeful Christians have, over the centuries, complacently sat back and rested because of such a false hope, the result has apparently been that millions of individuals did not hear the gospel from their testimony, and presumably many of them are now suffering in hell, simply because some of those who were called to preach the gospel to them were waiting for the sovereign revival we’ve been declaring for so many generations.
I am suggesting that this is a problem: our focus on a sovereign revival is delaying the triumphant return of the Messiah, and is condemning people to hell. I repeat: I am not challenging the belief that such a revival is coming. I am challenging our response.
Nor am I suggesting that we deny hope to people. A hopeless church is an inactive church. Yet historically, a church motivated by false hope has also been a less active church. So what can we do?
Perhaps the answer is in avoiding either extreme position. Perhaps the answer is better found in honestly acknowledging, “Yes, God is going to do something dramatic. No, we don’t know when." Perhaps instead of focusing on what He is going to do, we can focus on what He has instructed us to do.
Jesus commanded that we pray, and gave us a model that includes praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth.” He’s commanded that we go “to
Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the Earth.” He’s commanded that we preach the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (which is not the same as “the gospel of salvation”). He’s commanded that we make disciples “of all nations” (not “in” all nations). And he’s commanded us to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” And he’s commanded that we do this with Himself, “Lo: I am with you always, even to the end of the Age.” There is a lot for us to do!