A shadow has set upon American society. The Christian faith is in decline. Spiritual indifference is everywhere. Addiction is up. Church attendance is down. Even with the population booming as much as 300 percent in some areas over the last ten years, the largest religious denomination is reporting a decline in membership.
On the rare occasion that spirituality is discussed, the Gospel is often under attack. The authority of the Bible is questioned. Universalism is suddenly in vogue. No one is a sinner. No one will be lost. Everyone will somehow be saved. There is no eternal punishment. The idea of judgment is archaic and barbaric.
This is not good news.
But this is not recent news. It sounds as though I’m describing the plight of modern-day America. Actually I’m portraying the spiritual landscape of eighteenth-century America.
Francis Asbury, a Methodist bishop, filed this gloomy report in 1794: “[In the American frontier] not one in a hundred came here to get religion, but rather to get plenty of good land.” Andrew Fulton, a visiting Presbyterian missionary from Scotland, reported that in “all the newly formed towns in this western colony, there are few religious people.”
The nation was suffering from a spiritual drought. But then something wonderful happened. The rainfall of revival began to fall.
The first drops fell in Kentucky. The Cane Ridge Church met in an unassuming building on the side of a large hill. The pastor, a Presbyterian by the name of Barton W. Stone, was one of dozens of church leaders who had been praying for revival. They met regularly for prayer and called churches to gather for extended times of Communion.
One of these Eucharist events was held at Cane Ridge. The simple meetinghouse could accommodate some five hundred people. Anticipating a significant crowd, the leaders constructed a large tent. It quickly proved inadequate.
People began arriving on August 6, 1801. It was estimated that between 10,000 and 25,000 worshipers gathered over the next three days. They poured out of the hills. They arrived by wagon, on foot, on horseback. They listened to sermons, engaged in worship, received Communion, and experienced personal renewal. There was no shortage of weeping, groaning, and crying.
The Cane Ridge Communion, stated one historian, was “arguably . . . the most important religious gathering in all of American history.” “It ignited the explosion of evangelical religion, which soon reached into nearly every corner of American life. For decades the prayer of camp meetings and revivals across the land was ‘Lord, make it like Cane Ridge.’”
Spiritual revival broke out. During the first half of the nineteenth century, church attendance increased. Societal reforms began. The awakening contributed directly to the abolition of slavery and defense of women’s rights. The Second Great Awakening was born.
Do you ever aspire for such a move of God in our time? I do too. Christianity is on the decline in our country. The number of believers has dropped 12 percent in the last decade. Our belief in God is down while our belief in ghosts is up.
Not only is belief in God down, but personal dissatisfaction is up.
Thirty per cent of millennials say they feel lonely. Of all the age groups surveyed, millennials feel most alone. Furthermore, 22 percent of millennials say they have zero friends. The chapter of life that should be marked by possibilities and optimism is characterized by isolation.
Major depression is on the rise. The increase is found in all age groups but is rising fastest among teens and young adults. Of all the statistics the increase in suicide is most alarming. According to federal data the U.S. suicide rate is the highest it has been since World War II, up 33 percent since 1999.
One friend told me that she has decided not to have children. She cannot bear the thought of the world her child would inherit. We understand her concern.
Yet we have this hope. Revival can come at any moment. At the right hour God will open the floodgate and release his Spirit like a flowing river into society. This was the promise of Jesus.
On the last and most important day of the feast Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. If anyone believes in me, rivers of living water will flow out from that person’s heart, as the Scripture says.” Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been raised to glory. But later, those who believed in Jesus would receive the Spirit. (John 7:37–39 ncv)
Jesus spoke these words on an October day in a crowded Jerusalem.
Each word of his promise is precious! “If anyone is thirsty.” Skin color does not matter. Income level is of no importance. Background checks will not be made. There is only one qualification.
“If anyone is thirsty.” Not “if anyone is worthy, qualified, trained, or mature.” All that is needed is an admission of thirst. Who fails to meet this criterion? The teenager is thirsty for friends. The senior citizen is thirsty for hope. The heartbroken man is thirsty for a second chance. The shame-filled woman is thirsty for acceptance. We are thirsty—thirsty to be happy, thirsty to have meaning, thirsty for answers and strength. Thirsty.
“If anyone is thirsty,” Jesus offers, “come to me and drink.” Could his direction be clearer? Yet for all its clarity we succeed at muddling it. Jesus was speaking in the midst of an extremely religious moment. Even so he invited, “Come to me!” A person might attend a thousand religious events and not find refreshment for the soul. Spiritual thirst is quenched only by Christ himself.
Christ himself is the only one who can usher in revival And as much as we would like to have the move of God happen in our time, we must remember revival starts on a personal level. Do you want to see society change? Ask God to make you thirsty. Pray for a revival.
Let’s request one. Let’s do so by imitating the prayer of the country preacher. He was so distraught by the conditions of the world that he went outside and drew a big circle in the dirt. He stood in the center of the circle and prayed, Lord, bring revival and begin with everyone in this circle.
Change begins when change begins with me.
Excerpt taken from “Help Is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Power of the Holy Spirit” by Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee ©️ 2022).