Pandemics stop people in their proverbial tracks and make us all consider the greater matters of life—at least for a moment. Some come to the awakening realisation that all they cared so much about isn’t really that important and renew their devotion to the more important matters of life they had neglected before. Others take stock of their lives in a superficial way at least, but return to the normal rat-race of life as soon as they possibly can. Others who have always been more spiritually inclined long and pray that perhaps this pandemic will return the hears of people to the Lord. The more outspoken even claim insight into the future, inciting expectations of great spiritual revival.
But common suffering has never yet resulted in true spiritual revival. Just because many are asking the right questions, does not mean they are finding the right answers. Suffering seems to produce more anti-God sentiment than true repentance. The one ingredient during suffering that is often missing, or even resisted, is the Word of God. No wonder that suffering is not the highway to revival and reformation! Without Truth, all the important questions being asked in the hearts of the sufferers are left hanging, grasping for any opinion that offers some hope or clarity. Consequently, many might testify to some personal good that has come from the suffering, but very few testify to eternal good that has come from the suffering. For COVID-19 to spark a spiritual revival is going to require much more than common suffering and motivational speeches. For COVID-19 to spark a spiritual revival is going to require the Word of God to be revealed to thousands, and, very importantly, for the Word of God to be understood by thousands.
Nehemiah 8 contains perhaps the most detailed record of a true revival. It records a situation in which a big preaching event was organised after seventy years of shared suffering in exile. The situation, though optimistically hopeful, was not good. The city was sparsely populated, the priesthood was not complete and some potential candidates had been disqualified, and most had very little exposure to God’s Word. You could say that the situation was ripe for a revival. But none of these things brought about a revival.
There were some other things that happened that sparked one of the great revivals in Biblical times. First, the people realised they needed God’s Word—not big church events, not popular verses, not memes, not prayer vigils. “Bring us a preacher and a Bible” was the first indication that a revival would come.
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.Nehemiah 8:1 (ESV)
The second thing that flamed that initial spark into a real potential for revival was the emphasis on understanding God’s Word. There was no crowd-gathering hype, no famous preacher billboards, no catchy hashtag phrases. Instead, the preacher (Ezra) defined the invitation to the preaching event in terms of “all who could understand what they heard” (Neh 8:2). Then the preacher read large portions of the Word of God “in the presence of … those who could understand” (Neh 8:3). Because of the size of the event, a number of assistants were brought in. They were all Levite-qualified men able to “help the people to understand” (Neh 8:7). In summary, the key points of that preaching event were 1) a clear reading of the Word of God, 2) a clear explanation of the meaning of the Word of God, and 3) personal understanding of the Word of God.
It is that insistence of understanding the whole Word of God that produced mass weeping among the people (Neh 8:9). Interestingly, this weeping was not primarily over their sin (at least not yet). Instead it was a weeping of great rejoicing because God had something to say to mankind, had recorded it in His Word, and they had understood that Word of God that was read and explained to them (Neh 8:12).
The next day was a more intensive version of the first day. But not in the popular sense of sensational solidarity and emotional hype. It was a day of study (Neh 8:13). Key leaders among the people all came together to Ezra to study more carefully the Word that was read and explained in rather large quantities the day before. It is in their deeper study of the Word of God that they realised how to please the Lord and promptly did all they had learned (Neh 8:14-18). Chapter 9 continues with evidences that this was a true revival for it’s fruit remained after the ‘big event’. There was fasting and confession (Neh 9:1-2), long times of reading God’s Word and of worshipping God (Neh 9:3), a high view of God (Neh 9:6), a Divine view of history (Neh 9:7-31), a true recognition of their state before God (Neh 9:32-33), and a voluntary (and personally signed!) covenant to God that they would change the ways they had lived up to then (Neh 10).
Revival does not require a pandemic. COVID-19 can spark a revival but only if the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:25) is read and explained so that people understand what God has revealed to mankind. If you want to be used by God amidst COVID-19 to bring a revival to your friends and family, read the Bible to them. Explain it as you read it. Make sure they understand it before you move on.
Perhaps it might be helpful to say we need to quote Scripture less to ourselves and others and read it more to ourselves and others. We need to browse social media less and study God’s Word more. We need to know not only some verses in God’s Word, but paragraphs, chapters, yes whole books in God’s Word. We need to know God’s Word, not because we relate to some parts of it, but because God has given it to us to know. And then we need to worry less about the infamous sins of society, and covenant with God to stop our own godless ways of daily living.
COVID-19 can spark a revival; let us do it right.