The Perils of Planned Revivals

You’ve probably seen it before: you’re driving down the road, and to your right you see that the local Baptist church is scheduling a revival on so-and-so dates. To most people, this doesn’t make them think twice. It’s ordinary. It’s normal.

But here’s the big issue: Holy Spirit-led revival isn’t ordinary. It is not normal. And it’s not planned, either. It is supernatural.

“What’s the big deal with planning revivals?” you might ask. It’s a fair question. But let me give you a fair answer.

It’s quite possible for us to quench the Holy Spirit when we attempt to plan revivals.

Allow me to explain.

The Wind Blows Where it Wishes

In John 3:8, we see the Holy Spirit likened to the wind. It “blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” And so goes the Holy Spirit. The Spirit regenerates whom He wishes, and we do not know when He will do so!

With this verse in mind, why do we still plan revivals? Consider these words from R.C. Sproul:

How can anybody possibly schedule a revival? True revivals are provoked by the sovereign work of God through the stirring of His Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. They happen when the Holy Spirit comes into the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37) and exerts His power to bring new life, a revivification of the spiritual life of the people of God.

Like the late Sproul said, the Spirit works within the sovereign will of God. God does not operate on a human schedule, but on His sovereign plan. Likewise, the Spirit does not wait for so-and-so dates in order to bring revival. He does it when He pleases.

Improper Terminology

We hear that these events are called revivals, but they are probably more akin to standard Christian conferences. It is simply improper terminology.

There is nothing biblically wrong with conferences, of course. Conferences are a good thing and people benefit from going to them, as it gives the opportunity to build each other up (Rom. 14:19) among other things.

However, they don’t call them conferences. They call them revivals. And I think there’s a big difference between the two. Forgive me for even asking the question, but is revival actually taking place?

What Happens When we Plan Revivals

Let me say upfront that even during planned revivals, the Holy Spirit can move on people’s hearts. No doubt. But, I contest, it is in spite of the planned revival. The Spirit was going to move whether a revival was planned or not. Again, the Spirit doesn’t wait for your planned revival.

With that point aside, let me focus in on what can happen at planned revivals. We can become so focused on seeing people saved—which, of course, is a great thing—that we, dare I say, manipulate and rely too heavily on man’s own wooing power. This is when we can quench the Spirit. Revival is something that is a gift from God, not to be achieved by man.

Concerning the revivals during the times of Jonathon Edwards and George Whitefield, Bobby Jamieson at 9Marks penned this:

These revivals [of Edwards and Whitefield] were neither planned by men nor achieved by men. They did not involve any unusual or novel evangelistic techniques. They were understood, therefore, to be gifts of God (brackets added).

Revivals are a gift from God, not an achievement by man.

To give the benefit of the doubt, I am sure that no faithful pastor or church is attempting to achieve revival by themselves. I am not attempting to convey that idea. Rather, my whole point is that we have become so accustomed to planning these “revivals” that we do in fact rely not on the Spirit but on our own ability to lead people to Christ. We resort to giving prizes away and other sorts of entertainment. We should not be doing that.

At worst, planned revivals involve wretched manipulation akin to Charles Finney’s tactics. At best, the Holy Spirit will move at a planned revival, in spite of the date the church decided to have it.

Even in biblical churches who decide to have revival meetings, you have to be careful not to rely on emotion-driven music, coercive altar calls, and everything in between. We become so focused on seeing people respond that we don’t ask ourselves, “Was this a genuine revival?”

Genuine Revivals

Before we can have a genuine, Holy-Spirit produced revival, we must first understand that two things need to be present: prayer and preaching.

We cannot except revival if we are not praying for it. Do you pray for revival? I must confess, I rarely do. But if we want to see revival, we must seek God and ask Him to bring it! It is imperative that our knees begin to hurt from how much we are praying for revival.

With that being said, we can earnestly pray for revival all we want, but it will not come without gospel-centered preaching. How can people be saved if they aren’t hearing gospel-centered preaching (Rom. 10:14)?

There is no need for coercive music; there is no need for altar calls. If the biblical gospel is preached, people will hear and they will get saved.

My Plea: Stop Planning Revivals

I don’t believe we should plan revival meetings. Goodness, for the sake of the discussion, just call it a conference—that’s what it really is. We can’t truly plan revivals, as we have seen and (should) already know.

The Holy Spirit will save people when He sees fit. He doesn’t operate on our schedule; He operates according the His own plan.

Soli Deo Gloria

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