I was welcomed into a Southern congregation not long ago by the strangest message on the little placard in front of their church. It read: “Ronnie McBrayer: One Night Revival.” When I saw this, I could not stop from laughing.
In the South a “revival” is at least two very different things. It is a spiritual awakening, a holy renewal of sorts where those who have wandered from the straight and narrow return to the fold. It is also a church event, a scheduled series of meetings; or in my case, a single meeting.
So a “revival” is something deeply meaningful and intangible that the people pray for, and it is also a traditional ceremony placed on the congregational calendar. And whether or not the two different meanings of this word cross paths is always up for debate.
What is not debatable are the images and old feelings (some nostalgic, some repulsive) that the word “revival” stirs in my own mind. For me, the word conjures up memories of hot August nights inside clapboard churches (and on an occasion or two, it was under a tent with sawdust under our feet) with hot air blowing through the windows and fiery preaching overflowing from the pulpit.
It was a week-long gathering when the farmers, mill workers, and house wives of my community crammed their families into the pews to sing rousing gospel songs, to hear the pleadings, exhortations, and condemnations of the best visiting evangelist the church could secure, and for all of us to have our annual time of repentance whether we needed it or not.
The “revival” was always followed by spirited reports of how many had rededicated their lives to the Lord’s service, how many had entered “full-time ministry,” and how many had been converted. As soon as possible these dear, newly saved souls were taken down to the river to be baptized and confirm their deliverance.
To see my name attached to the word “revival” brought all this flooding back and it was just too big of a giggle to pass up. See, I was not laughing at the church or the person who put those words on the sign. Their intentions were noble and good. I was laughing over the fact that it looked like I was the one who could singlehandedly inspire a “revival,” and that I could do so in a single night.
If anyone follows Christ, turns their life around, or chooses to enter the waters of baptism, God I hope it’s not because of anything I have done. The last thing I want to do is strong-arm or otherwise manipulate a spiritual decision out of someone. I saw and experienced enough of that in those scheduled meetings of my youth. “Revivals” they were not.
All I want to do is give people the space and opportunity to hear God speak to them, not me. Write a book, give a talk, preach a sermon, show up on time at a scheduled meeting: I can do these with varying degrees of success. But produce “revival?” This is beyond mine or any other human being’s ability. “Revival” is done in no man’s name, for it is God’s work and completed in his time.