WHEN REVIVAL COMES
This lesson reveals the signs and evidences of genuine revival from the human perspective.
When God’s preacher gives God’s ultimatum to the Assyrians, every creature from the king to the cattle gets covered in sackcloth. Repentance and revival come to Nineveh!
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
The People of Nineveh Repent
6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” – Jonah 3:5-9 ESV
Like the two sides of a coin or the two wings of a bird, every revival has two aspects which balance themselves in the plan of God. In response to prayer, God appoints a preacher, a message, a place, a time, and gives power for revival. And in response to God, man hears, believes, repents, prays, and experiences personal revival. In the last lesson we looked at revival from God’s perspective; in this lesson we will look at revival from man’s perspective.
A true revival is something that moves out into a culture away from the center—which is often one or more believers who are preaching and praying for revival. In the Old Testament sense of the word, this describes what happened in Nineveh. It wasn’t just a few people here and there believing in God; the whole city believed in God. The Scripture says everyone was affected by the moving of the Spirit of God through the city.
In the New Testament the word revival means to live again. It means to come back again to what we once knew. Revelation 20:5 says,
“But the rest of the dead did not live again.… ”
That is the word for revival that we use. To live again. It is found also in Romans 14:9,
“For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again.… ”
Luke 15:24 records,
“For this my son was dead and is alive again.”
Revival, then, in the New Testament sense of the word, means to live again, to be refreshed. It is to come back to the life we once knew. It does not mean getting saved again; it is just renewing our once fervent relationship with the Lord.
Now Jonah came and preached in Nineveh, and we read in chapter three, verse 5 that the result of his preaching was that the Ninevites believed. In fact, many Bible teachers say that the greatest miracle in this book is not what God did with the fish, but what happened in Nineveh. A message consisting of five Hebrew words was used to bring repentance and revival to the most wicked people on earth.
What took place them, and what has to take place in our hearts and lives now if there is to be a revival among or within us?
There Is Hearing
The Book of Romans tells us,
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” – Romans 10:17
There are two things that are absolutely and unconditionally necessary for anyone to become a Christian. They must have both the Word of God and the Spirit of God. And in the Old Testament revival, the primary catalyst God used was the preaching of the Word of God. The New Testament says that it was from the preaching of Jonah that the city repented (Luke 11:32).
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, – Luke 11:32 ESV
The New Testament calls preaching “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21), because it is foolishness to think that the words of a man could convert the heart of a single sinner, much less an entire metropolitan city. But we know that preaching the Word of God is not just a man reasoning with other men. It is the declaration of a living truth, a truth so powerful that it convicts the heart. Apart from the preaching of the Word of God there will not be conversion or revival or repentance.
How did you first “hear” the Word of God?
Were there times or events in your life where people tried to change you without the Word of God?
Listen to the Prophet Jeremiah’s analysis of the power of the Word of God;
“Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” – Jeremiah 23:29
Isaiah the Prophet put it this way:
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth. It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” – Isaiah 55:11
Isaiah says that whenever God’s word goes out, there is an effect. Some of us have probably learned that God doesn’t always sow and harvest on the same day, but there is a result somewhere, sometime. Hebrews chapter 4 says,
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
The Apostle Paul said in Romans,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” – Romans 1:16
All over evangelicalism today preachers are leaving the Word of God for other messages. There is no power in user-friendly messages. There is no power in psychology messages. There is no power in “you can do it” messages. The power is in the Word of God.
The worst preached message from the Word of God will accomplish more than the most eloquent man-made message.
There Is Believing
There is one result expected when men and women hear the truth of God—that they should believe. And that is exactly what the people of Nineveh did. One can believe in the sense of mentally accepting something as true. But to believe in God in a biblical sense demands faith and trust in all that God says, and a complete commitment to His plan and purposes. Is it not evident that the Ninevites genuinely believed? How long do you think a prophet like Jonah would have lasted in the most wicked city on earth if they had not truly believed? They would have killed Jonah in a heartbeat! The only way you can explain what happened is that Jonah preached and a faith took over in the hearts of the people so that they believed in God. It was an inward transformation.
You say, “Where did that faith come from?” It came in the Old Testament from the same source that the New Testament says it comes from—as a gift from God. Paul clearly tells us that,
“… by grace you have been saved through faith, and that [your faith] not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.… ” – Ephesians 2:8
In the mystery of man’s working out his salvation, even his faith is ultimately a gift from God. The motivation for the King of Assyria to rise from his throne and issue a proclamation of repentance ultimately is found in God’s gift of faith.
There Is Repenting
As James says in his epistle, faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Therefore, when the word of God is heard and believed by those needing revival or renewal, it follows that there will be repentance. And nowhere in Nineveh was repentance more evident than in the life of the king of Assyria. We have said that repentance means a turning around, a heading in the opposite direction, which is what the king did. He got up off the throne, took off his royal robe, and put on a gunny sack. He went out in the middle of the street and sat in a pile of ashes and he repented of his sin. Can you imagine the impact that had on the people who heard it? Word spread like wildfire. “Did you know what the king did? He took off his royal robes. We’ve never seen him without his royal robes! He put on a gunny sack. He sat in a pile of ashes and repented. And then made a declaration that the whole city should do the same thing.” From the least to the greatest, Nineveh repented.
What would an observer conclude about your beliefs based on your behavior?
Describe the most serious time of repentance you have ever been through.
What caused you to feel a need to repent?
How did you repent? What steps did you go through?
The truly phenomenal part of the Nineveh revival was that the king’s decree even included the animals. All the animals in Nineveh were covered with sackcloth. Every living creature repented at the sound of Jonah’s message. This turning to God had such a pervasive impact that everything about the city was changed, from the king to the least person to the animals. Hearing led to believing which led to repenting.
There Is Praying
As part of Nineveh’s repentance and revival, an entire city was on its knees praying desperately that God would stay His judgment. The king ordered the entire city to “… cry mightily to God …” (Jonah 3:8). These people who had prayed so often to false gods began to cry out to the God of Jonah the Prophet who had come to warn them of impending judgment. And then the king ordered the people to fast as well as pray. This is totally unexplainable apart from the work of God. They didn’t do the human thing. Empowered by God, they did the superhuman thing. There was a desperation in the hearts of these people who dared to believe that God would do exactly what His word had said He would do. The Bible does not say they believed Jonah. The Bible says they believed God and their actions showed that they did. It is amazing what works they manifested after hearing a total of five of the Words of God. With our bookshelves full of Bibles, how much more accountable for the works of God are we going to be?
Describe your prayer life.
Describe what you would like your prayer life to be like.
What is keeping you from having the kind of prayer life you desire?
There Is Personal Revival
Finally, the king’s edict required that every person in Nineveh “… turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands” (Jonah 3:8). The only way any revival becomes community-wide is when individual citizens experience personal revival.
Was there a time or season when you were desperate to hear and see God move?
What was the evidence of the need for a revival?
A. W. Tozer outlined eight steps to experiencing personal revival in an article entitled “How to Have a Personal Revival.” These steps seem more likely to have been familiar to the Assyrians than to the modern church:
1. Get Thoroughly Dissatisfied with Yourself
Does that sound strange today when we are hearing so much about self-esteem and how we are supposed to build ourselves up and feel good about ourselves? One of the great tests of a genuine faith is that you have within your heart a hunger to know more of God. Even the Apostle Paul said he had not laid hold of all there was to know of God (Philippians 3:12). Complacency is the antidote to revival.
2. Undertake a Sweeping Transformation of Your Life
Set your face like a flint toward attaining a life that is totally transformed by the Word and Spirit of God. Make this your number one priority. Ask yourself, do you really want change?
3. Put Yourself in the Path of Blessing
It is a mistake to expect God’s help to come as a windfall apart from conditions known and met. There are lots of marked paths in the Bible. Figure them out. Get yourself in the way of God’s blessing if you want to have a personal revival. He won’t make you do it alone. Team up with a close battle-buddy and push in.
4. Do a Thorough Job of Repenting
At Nineveh, the Assyrians named their specific sin: the violence in their hands (Jonah 3:8) Was this the right thing for the most cruel nation on earth to repent of? James clearly tells us,
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. – James 5:16
It is not only Paul that reminds us of confession, but John also,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:9-10
Yes. Our question is, What are the specific things we need to repent of? Revival comes when we stop being general about the things that are wrong in our life and repent of specific sins.
Are there specific things you want to confess right now? Are there some things that need to change? What are the things you keep doing over and over again expecting a different result?
5. Make Restitution Wherever Needed
If you owe a debt, pay it. If you owe an apology, make it. If you’ve not been honest, correct it. The wrong road never turns into the right road. We must go back, make restitution, and then get on the right road.
6. Line Your Life Up with the Scriptures
This sounds elementary, but it is absent from so many Christians’ lives. Settle the issue—line your life up in every respect with the teaching of the Word of God. This is part of repentance.
7. Be Serious-Minded
Believers should be (as Scripture says in Titus 2:6) sober-minded. The comedies of the world will not characterize the revival-seeking saint. The road to revival is paved with the joy of the Spirit, not the jokes of the unspiritual.
8. Deliberately Narrow Your Interests
Too many projects use up time and energy without bringing us nearer to God. “Jesus only” becomes a way into a world of wider and richer blessing when the believer narrows his interest and says, “I’m doing too many other things. I want to focus on just one thing: to be God’s person in this world.”
Out of the eight steps to personal repentance above, which three need the most attention in your life?
Revival doesn’t start in a church. It doesn’t start in a city. It doesn’t start in a nation. It starts in the heart of an individual. Perhaps you sense as we conclude this lesson that you need personal revival yourself. You need to come back to where you once were. You need to live again. You need to return to your first love. Perhaps there was a time when you were on fire for the Lord, and you were excited about spiritual things. Maybe life has just gotten too complicated. It is clear that the cares of life can begin to work us over. It takes an awful lot of energy just to continue going in the right direction these days.
As we come back to this human desire in our heart to walk with God, He is willing to hear us and He is willing to restore in us the joy of our salvation. But we have to hear. We have to believe. We have to repent. And we have to pray. God is just as anxious to do a work of renewal in your heart as He was to renew the city of Nineveh. And He will do it if you will ask Him.
DID YOU KNOW?
Though no archaeological records have produced proof of Nineveh’s city-wide repentance, some scholars believe the event may be connected to the religious reforms of Adad-nirari III, king of Assyria from 810–783 B.C. At the very least, Jonah’s name remains associated with the ancient site of Nineveh. The ruins, in modern-day Iraq, are marked by two large mounds, one of which is called Nebi Yunus—“the prophet Jonah.”
Jeremiah, D. (1998). The runaway prophet: jonah (Study guide) (pp. 93–104). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.