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What Does True Revival Look Like?

  • Amber Ginter iBelieve Contributing Writer
  • Published Aug 17, 2021
What Does True Revival Look Like?

Growing up, I remember hearing kids talk about their experiences of church camp. Like the glimmering musicals of One Week Away or High School Musical and Camp Rock, I wished that I too could participate in the business of Jesus, worship, fun, and fellowship.

It was not uncommon that as I matured, I was the only young adult left in what once would have been called a Youth Group. As a result of coming from a traditional Church, I grew jealous of my friends' activities while I was left stagnant and without growth. For this reason, I left my home church shortly after my 22nd birthday to experience the "revival" everyone coined as "life-changing."

Attending a new church and college full-time, I quickly realized that the revival I always heard my friends talk about during childhood was not a quick-fix prescription but a life-long commitment (John 15:13).

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Fatmir Bajrovic

Church Camp and Spiritual Highs

I recall my best friend beaming, going on about church camp in high school, where she met her first boyfriend. Her eyes sparkled like the sea when she talked about him, and my longing to meet new people matched that ambition.

By the time I reached college, I didn't understand that my lack of interactions with other youngsters would create a tough road of connection beyond my lack of church camp experiences. I no longer longed for the temporary revivals my friends had one day and forgot the next, but I wanted significant and lasting change. As I stumbled up to the altar of my college revival freshman year, I realized that true revival had to go much deeper than a worship high or fading spiritual moments.

Now into my mid-20’s, I am still growing, seeking, and changing as my relationship with the Lord continues to develop. My awakening with Him is not a one-stop-shop for change but something that has to be continually poured into, invested in, and molded as I go from day to day. Though He never changes, my connection with Him does (James 1:17). And my experiences with Him do not possess the quick highs of a worship service, mission trip, or church camp experience, but I have learned to withstand the tests of time, even when I can't feel Him speaking.

Revival in Nehemiah’s Story

In Nehemiah 12-13, Nehemiah is someone who I believe understood what it meant to be genuinely changed by revival. And unlike the one-time highs of regeneration, he learned and dived deep into what it means to create real, lasting, awakening change.

While the author of Nehemiah is unknown, it is suggested that Ezra wrote the book to tell how God used Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. As governor of Judah, Nehemiah had the Jews rebuild the city walls and help the people of Judah to stop living sinful lives. If we dig a little deeper, however, we will see that in Nehemiah's process of creating this change, he didn't merely reconstruct buildings, but sought to reconstruct souls.

After rebuilding the walls amid opposition and finding the Law, the Israelites quickly confessed their sins and proposed change. Much like those who face one-time highs, the fast-paced agreement of the people reflected just that; a temporary change that would soon backslide. When Nehemiah left the people in Jerusalem and went to King Artaxerxes of Babylon to fulfill his duties, he trusted that the commitment and new revival they made to God would last.

Upon his return, however, Nehemiah was distraught with what he saw. Not only were the people he once trusted committing all the sins he warned them of (the sins their forefathers committed and the Law read by Ezra explained), but Eliashib, the Priest, had made a storage room at Tobiah's disposal. The Levites had not been given their prescribed portions of food (so they were working in the fields), the people were working and selling on the Sabbath, and some men from Judah had married foreign women. It was clear that their initial revival did not stick. Even for those in the holiest of positions, their intentions were fallen.

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What Does Lasting Change Take?

As a result of their disobedience, God spoke through Nehemiah's reforms and set the people back to godly standards according to the Law. Rebuking their sins, Nehemiah worked hard to seek the Lord in favor of what he should do.

First, Nehemiah spoke with Eliashib about allowing Tobiah to rent a room in the temple of God. While this might sound a bit self-explanatory, it was clear that no one should be allowed to live in the temple of God created for God. To make matters worse, however, Tobiah was an Ammonite, an enemy of Nehemiah's during the rebuilding of the wall. Not only was he an Ammonite (someone the people were restricted from engaging with), but he despised the building of the temple. Thrown out of the temple, Nehemiah threw everything of Tobiah's out of the room and set the room back to proper use. Sometimes, for lasting change to occur, we have to be willing to throw out everything seeking to destroy us.

Second, Nehemiah saw that because the Levites who were serving were not given food, and they had returned to work to offset the finances, they could not serve in the temple. Rebuking the officials for neglecting God's house, restoring these distributions and positions was a priority. For lasting change to occur, we have to be willing to serve God first, but we also have to make sure we take care of ourselves; no one can pour from an empty cup.

After rebuking the first two sins through financial reforms, Nehemiah moved to align priorities. Noticing that the Sabbath was being ignored and people were buying and selling or doing work, Nehemiah reminded them that this was a day of rest and trusting God. In addition, he sternly told those in intermarriages with pagan nations to turn from their wickedness and seek the God they once claimed to be revived through cleansing, forgiveness, and restitution. Often, for lasting change to occur, we have to adjust our priorities, rest and trust and turn from our sin.

At the feet of God, Nehemiah threw himself down and asked God for help—to not only see the leadership he demonstrated, but to see that in his striving, the people went back to the sins of their forefathers. And on behalf of others or even ourselves, we often have to do the same.

Will Your Revival Last?

Today, I think that many people, including myself, are more like those Nehemiah had to rebuke than those he didn't. Because while they once had a great revival when their leader was present and encouraging them, they didn't last the test of time when he left.

For many of us, our relationship with God is like the relationship Nehemiah had with his people. He told them God's Law, they promised to obey, and they started well. As soon as he trusted them to continue following the Lord's ways on their own, however, they fell short and returned to their ways of disobedience.

For others, some of us feel like Nehemiah in his relationship with the Lord. You try to be a good leader for your students, kids, or family, but when you return to check on them, they have fallen away and, you think it’s all your fault. At the feet of Jesus, you've thrown yourself upon Him that He might remember you with favor (Nehemiah 13:31).

Wherever you are today, I want to leave you with a simple question: will your revival last?

The people with Nehemiah once claimed to be significantly transformed by the Word of the Law (Nehemiah 8-9). They confessed and turned from sin, acknowledged their need for a Savior, and diligently listened to the Law read to them. But if our revival is as passing as sunrise to sunset or the change of the waves that are here one moment and gone the next, I ask you, were they true real when you first felt awakened?

While we will continue to battle, struggle, and fight, genuine revival is characteristically marked by long-lasting, withstanding change. Every day is a process that begins all over again, but 2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us of this grace:

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, ESV)

Agape, Amber

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amber ginter headshotAmber Ginter is a teacher-turned-author who loves Jesus, her husband Ben, and granola. Growing up Amber looked for faith and mental health resources and found none. Today, she offers hope for young Christians struggling with mental illness that goes beyond simply reading your Bible and praying more. Because you can love Jesus and still suffer from anxiety. You can download her top faith and mental health resources for free to help navigate books, podcasts, videos, and influencers from a faith lens perspective. Visit her website at amberginter.com.

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