Transforming Revival, by George Otis, Jr.

by Mamdouh on May 5, 2012


Transforming Revival

Are We Realizing the Full Power of God’s Presence?

By George Otis, Jr.

(Producer of the “Transformations” Documentaries)


I honestly can’t remember when I first heard the word  revival, much less what I thought

about it. It was just one of those things, like Sunday School and Billy Graham, that made

up the religious landscape of my childhood. I didn’t know whether it was something that

you did, or something that happened to you. There was only a vague association with

spiritual intensity — of God drawing closer to his people.


As I moved into my preteen years, the Charismatic Renewal was in its heyday. Though I

was still too young to appreciate the theological nuances of the movement, it was clear

that something was afoot. A new hunger for God’s fullness gripped believers of every

denominational stripe and flavor, and my own Presbyterian family was no exception.

Every other week, it seemed, men like Dennis Bennett and Harald Bredesen were holding

meetings in our home that lasted late into the night. The atmosphere was electric… but

was this revival?


As the years passed, two developments brought my understanding on this matter into

sharper focus.The first of these took place in my early twenties when I encountered written

accounts of prior awakenings in New England, Wales, Upstate New York and the Scottish

Hebrides. As I studied these testimonies, a simple pattern began to emerge. Prayer was always

the starting point. Whether the participants were many or fewtheir united, desperate

cries were a game-changer. They didn’t just pray, they prayed until they were

heard— and heaven took over. As the awakenings progressed, supernatural phenomena

were widely reported, and an overwhelming sense of God’s awesome and holy presence resulted

in pervasive conviction of sin. Profound societal transformation soon followed.


A second encounter with revival, this one in the mid 1990s, led to a more comprehensive

scrutiny of religious awakenings. In a span of twelve months, I was approached by four

individuals, all of them new acquaintances, who provided me with detailed reports of

contemporary revivals — and then asked for an analysis of the underlying principles. More

specifically, they wanted to know if these blessed events were reproducible.


Many of these reports stirred my blood — drug cartels being overthrown as Colombian

believers gathered in stadiums to pray; Inuit natives burning fetishes on frozen sea ice as

they hear the roaring voice of God; coral reefs springing instantly to life as Fijian villagers

rededicated their lives and land to God. These were not the aging stories of revivals long

past — they were happening now! Here was an opportunity to get up and see what God

was doing for myself.


Discoveries on the Road to Revival


Over the past sixteen years, my quest to understand and document true revival has taken

me into thirty-one nations on six continents. At times, the scope and intensity of this

pursuit has reminded me of the Discovery Channel’s hit television series

Storm Chasers.

Lots of false alarms accompanied by moments of sheer exhilaration.

But following the moving cloud of God’s Presence has also yielded its share of surprises —

with none more impressive than the comprehensive nature of God’s reviving work. I was

fully prepared to encounter widespread conversions, social changes, and perhaps the

occasional miracle, but that was where my expectations ended. The notion that spiritual

awakenings were the  primaryimpetus for social reforms and economic renewal (a case

argued by Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel), or that the healing presence of

God could extend to the land itself, was new territory for me. (See Sidebar)


A second surprise related to the sheer volume of these Spirit-swept communities — and

more disturbingly, to the regions where this type of revival was

not happening.  Since my colleagues and I began studying transformed communities in the

mid 1990s, we have encountered nearly 800 examples. Astonishingly,as of late 2011, only

two of these could be found within the borders of the United States — with only one other

possible case in all of sub-Arctic North America. I know of no recent instances of

transforming revival in Europe, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Australia or New Zealand.


As a researcher, you’ve got to at least wonder about this ratioHow can it be that within

the entire range of Western society and culture we can identify only two

definitive cases of transforming revival?

This is not to say there are no other cases, only that I am not yet aware of them. One can argue

that Korea as a whole is still in the afterglow of earlier awakenings. Certainly that country’s

Biblical Worldview Movement and Holy City Movement are greatly encouraging, and the hope

remains that their influence combined with the country’s strong prayer initiatives will soon result

in localized evidence of transforming revival.

There are essentially three ways of responding to a question as serious as this


1. We can deny the charges are true

2. We can blame God for the situation

3. We can take a hard look at our own shortcomings


Imagination and Memories

Let’s start with the charges themselves. I am fully aware that there are those who will take

issue with my contention that there are only a handful of genuinely awakened communities

in the West. And I make no claims of infallibility. But even if my assessment is off by

tenfold, that still leaves less than two dozen cases in a region encompassing hundreds of

thousands of churches and 18 percent of the world’s population.


What I see today is a widespread tendency among Christians to characterize almost any

spiritually positive event or activity as evidence of God‘s favor and reviving work. Some

believers (I’ll call them “experience pilgrims”) maintain an almost constant state of spiritual

ecstasy by riding a circuit of healing camp-meetings, outpourings, and prophetic prayer

gatherings. For these folks, the river of God is flowing deep and wide.


Other Christians (I’ll call them “community fixers”) point to a host of fruitful city

transformation initiatives as evidence that spiritual revival is alive and well in Western

society. In their minds, the church is finally making a difference, and anyone who thinks

otherwise simply hasn’t been traveling in the right circles.


Without denying or denigrating these experiences, I think it is both fair and necessary for

us to examine whether they approach the standards of a genuine spiritual awakening. We

often talk about revival as though it were an old friend, but how many of us have actually

set foot in a community where its fearful splendor was on full display?


Several years ago I journeyed to the Outer Hebrides, an Island archipelago off the West

Cost of Scotland that has experienced numerous powerful revivals. The purpose of my

visit was to interview a group of elderly individuals that had experienced the great move of

God that swept through the area in the early 1950s.


Most of these interviews were group sessions conducted in farmhouses, churches, and

weaving barns. Inside, the subjects would gather around on chairs and pews, always

close enough to hear clearly. Unfailingly polite and sober-minded, their eyes never left me,

even when my questions unfolded over the course of hours.


There was one notable exception to this pattern. Whenever these saints began to describe

occasions when God’s presence had drawn near, words seemed to fail them. They would

stammer, turn their gaze toward their neighbors, and weep. This happened four or five

times before I finally understood that the memories were so intense, they could only be

fully appreciated by someone who had been there. The exchanged glances were based on

shared memories of something that was exceedingly difficult to describe.

If we have no personal memories of transforming revival, our only recourse is to fire up

our imagination. But since the reality of God’s presence is so much greater than human

imaginations (which are based on our limited experience), this all but guarantees that we

will conjure faulty and diminished images.


Mysterious Moon Pizzas


Blame shifting is another way many of us deal with the absence of true awakening. We

reason that if the matter were up to us, transforming revival would already have gripped

our community. Unfortunately, it is not our call.

As my good friend, Peter Horrobin, once put it, “Revivals might as well be pizza pies

cooked up on the surface of the moon.” Every once and a while, God, for reasons known

only to him, flings one to earth where it intersects with some unsuspecting community.

There people are, walking down the street and minding their own business, when all of a

sudden this revival pizza lands on their left shoulder — without any warning whatsoever!

Where it came from, and why it landed on their shoulder, remains a complete mystery.

But if revival really were the product of arbitrary dictate rather than a

response to obedient  action (see 2 Chr. 7:14, Isa. 62:7, Ho. 6:3), faith would

not even enter the equation! We could only hopethat God might, one day, include our

community on his revival itinerary. There would be no principles to apply, no guidelines to follow, no promises to expect,

and no certainty of success. Not very good news really.


Why the Son No Longer Sets in the West

By acknowledging that revival is indeed scarce in Western society, and that God has not

willed or engineered this deficit, we are left to consider our own shortcomings.

There is pain here, but also potential for change.

Not long ago I was asked to contribute story material for a Christian magazine whose

cover title asked: “Can Prayer Save America?” It’s an intriguing question, to be sure, but

I’m not sure it’s the  rightquestion. A more appropriate inquiry might be: Do Americans,

and American Christians in particular, think they need to be saved?


I know there are polls suggesting that people are worried about the economy and other

social uncertainties. I’m aware that politicians are facing a lot of voter anger, and that

some cities are even experiencing loud street protests. But I’ve also been to enough

sporting events, shopping malls, and Evangelical churches to know that our concern isn’t

that  pronounced. Most of us are bothered just enough to gripe to our neighbors and

hairdressers — and maybe cast an anti-incumbent vote.


Whether we live in America or somewhere else, our  need for transforming

revival will always be determined by our true condition. However, the

question of whether we will actually experience  transformation depends on

how we perceive our condition.

In the words of Norman Grubb, “Until there is a conviction of need, there can never be a desire

for change.”


Although desperation is one of the most prominent features that I have

observed in  transformed communities, it is a concept that many Westerners

find  unappealing. Having been schooled in the virtues of confidence and self-

sufficiency, we find it difficult to accept any suggestion that our condition is