Recent events at Asbury University have raised questions: At what point do we label something revival? Is it simply that large numbers of people gather because of reports that God is touching lives? Or are other things necessary?
Social Media causes reports to go viral as soon as crowds descend on a place for more than a few days, testifying that God is at work. The buzz triggers road trips. Hotels max out. The excitement multiplies. The key phrases and hash tags read “Revival.” Not to dismiss God’s work in individuals, but isn’t this just labeling the attraction of attraction “revival”?
Let’s expand on the parable of the soils by inserting some of the phenomena common in early-stage outpourings. Jesus likened the seed to the word of God. He didn’t mean our Bible—it wasn’t complete until later. Certainly it would include the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament), but God communicates in other ways too. He speaks directly to hearts and minds; His people deliver His prophetic word; manifestations of His love and power contain a tangible message about Him. If they are consistent with Scripture, they can be called God’s word. When such communications flow abundantly, it is akin to a generous scattering of seed. We could call that “revival,” but we would have to be clear that the meaning is limited. For a more significant move of God, we would surely expect lasting fruit, like in the parable.
The point of Jesus’ parable is that seed does not automatically produce mature heads. The harvest depends on what the heart soil does with the seed. Hard hearts tend to waste the seed because it is gobbled up. The boulders and thickets of life stuff prevent seeds from extending their roots and reaching for the sun. We should ask, how individuals will respond to God’s communication of love, power, and truth over the long run. Should we not be watching for seed and good soil appearing together before we call something revival? The coordination of the two seems a more significant indication that God is at work in a fruitful way. Perhaps we should wait even longer—for the harvest and the counting of the grains in the heads.
Using another metaphor, when it comes to wine making, no one calls it a good vintage just because there is a super abundance of grapes. Wine must be made, fermented, aged, and scrutinized for flavor before anyone labels it such. Weather conditions during the growing season give important clues about the likely quality of that year’s wine, but the proof of a good vintage is in the aged bottle.
The wisest label to apply to a burst of God’s activity on groups of people is a question: could this be a beginning that leads to revival? The answer depends on people’s long-term responses to God through life’s processing.