Metaphors Of Revival

One of the many delights of writing a book on revival has been enjoying the diversity of metaphors that people have used to describe revival. I love metaphors, because they are unconfrontational and can reliably stimulate our imagination. Jesus’s parables are full of them. Here are a few thoughts around the metaphors used to describe revival.

Revival refers to a coming back to life of something dormant or dead. Ezekiel’s vision of the dead bones in the valley, seen in Ezekiel 37, gives a good picture of this. However you cannot revive something or someone who was never alive beforehand. Those bones had had some life previously. A true revival points towards a miraculous return to life of the church, which cannot adequately be explained in human terms. In contrast, the unsaved world never was alive, so God’s breakthrough to them needs another word.

The expression about revival meaning ‘a religious awakening’ was first used at the beginning of the eighteenth century, so it is relatively new. This great God-centred word needs to be distinguished from lesser human-based versions that have found their way into Christian usage since then (e.g. “Let’s have some revival meetings over there”).

Interestingly, the main repetition in scripture of revival prayers is a request to ‘revive me’. The Hebrew ‘life’ verb, which could be translated by another one like ‘enliven’, is used no less than 9 times in Psalm 119. The NASB translates those prayers as ‘Revive me’ each time. In other words, it’s not ‘them’ out there that need reviving first, it’s our own responsibility to seek it.

An awakening from sleep
One great thing about this metaphor is that some action is needed by the one who is woken. If someone is revived, all they need to do is to lie there alive. The person who is woken up by someone else coming along to them is woken for a purpose, and the idea is that the woken person then gets up and gets going! An awakening is a good expression to describe the revival of an unsaved community.

A Pentecost
The Day of Pentecost described in Acts 2 is an archetypal revival. The Holy Spirit landed on the believers gathered together, and enlivened them, and their speaking in tongues which was clear outward evidence that something big had happened. The enlivened group of believers immediately attracted the attention of others who did not know the Lord.

A mighty wind

The mighty wind on that Day of Pentecost was actually no metaphor. There was a real and unfamiliar, loud sound as the Holy Spirit came. Those present had never heard it before and had to reach for other words to describe what it sounded like. They described it as ‘like the roaring of a mighty windstorm’ (Acts 2:2, NLT). What a sound that must have been. Although we may not witness that sound in this life, we can pray for a revival arriving like that.

Movements of the Earth
The earth shook at the end of that prayer meeting in Acts 4:31. The revival in Wales of 1904-1905 was later described by a Prime Minister who had lived through it as an earthquake. The revival shook Wales to the core, the rest of the UK after that and many other countries too.
Something infectious

This is not a biblical metaphor for revival as far as I can see, but revival can be infectious. That same Welsh Revival (they had another one before that, in 1859) was especially catchable. It was so infectious that some people were converted just by reading a secular news article about it.
We know all about infection being passed on. Revival nowadays could be like that too.

Nigel Paterson