Jared Wilson was recently asked, what would it take “to bring graciousness to our evangelical subcultures.” He didn’t know the answer but said, “it might need to be revival.”
After hearing of this brief exchange, I started reflecting on how we cannot ourselves transform sinful hearts. We cannot strategize our way to spiritual transformation. Strategy is not enough. We can build institutions and proclaim the truth, but we cannot expect everyone to be persuaded.
What we need is revival.
We Plant, God Grows
Wilson describes such revival as “The Holy Spirit interrupting us and reordering us with his surprising power.” I think he is right.
We do the hard work of building, pastoring, and creating a theological culture in which God plays a central role in our lives.
Then God gives the growth.
In Paul’s words, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). I think the ordering here is important. Paul planted. Apollos watered. The human responsibility to work and to act in obedience to God in this world does not disappear because “God gave the growth.” They work side-by-side.
God’s Fellow Workers
Praying for revival does not mean we stop working for the kingdom’s sake. We should plan out our ministry and create a culture in which we rely on God’s word and trust in the Gospel alone. Then God gives the growth.
Such effort rightly relativizes our work and magnifies God’s work: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:8). Rather than eliminating any dignity to our work, however, this leads to a new sort of dignity: “we are God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9).
We are not “anything” of ourselves but instead coworkers (sunergoi) with God. What a privilege! And one ordered around the specific activities of each coworker. We plant and water; God grows.
Wilson explains, “We seem to be incapable of deep repentance, self-reflection, and humility. We are too busy attacking and suspecting each other to consider our witness. But what’s impossible with man is possible with God.”
In the end, strategy cannot save us. We need revival, and so we need to pray for revival.
The word “incapable” is key. We can plant and water. But we cannot grow unless the Lord does it. We cannot cause revival or manipulate people into it. It comes not by our might or power but by the freedom and goodness of the Holy Spirit (cf. Zech 4:6).
While we feel discouraged at times, hope still shines out of the darkness. Even so, darkness worries us. Sound theology fades. Hearts grow cold. Venom and mockery spit from the mouth of believers.
To overcome these problems, pastoral teams can strategize. Yet in the end, strategy cannot save us. We need revival, and so we need to pray for revival.