What is genuine revival and spiritual awakening? How do we truly know when God has poured His Spirit out on a people and granted them repentance? How do we know what it looks like when an entire community is transformed by the gospel?
The book of Jonah illustrates for us how God can transform and save an entire city in one day that is entrenched in wickedness, violence, and depravity. Jonah, the prophet of God, is called to go preach against the great city Nineveh, and instead of fulfilling his mandate, he flees to Tarshish aboard a ship. God poignantly gets Jonah’s attention through a massive hurricane and Jonah is thrown overboard, but yet is saved by grace through the most unusual “submarine”—a great fish. Jonah learns that “Salvation is of the Lord” and then is vomited up on dry land and is commissioned to preach a second time to this wicked city Nineveh.
In Jonah Chapter 3, we see five distinguishing marks of true repentance, revival, and spiritual awakening that serve to encourage us as we share the gospel in Northeastern Colorado and desire to see God pour out revival in our community.
The first thing we see is that God is most pleased to use the powerful preaching of His Word to confront sinners with their guilt and to lay them bare before His holiness. Jonah’s message was very simple, “Yet forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” In other words, God would utterly annihilate them if they did not flee the wrath to come by repenting of their sins. Hebrews 4:12-13 reads, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” In every great revival in the history of the world, the preaching of God’s Word has been central. Notice how these wicked, violent Ninevites responded in Jonah 3:5: “And the people of Nineveh believed God.” They trusted wholeheartedly in the Lord for salvation because the preached Word had done its amazing effect in their lives.
Secondly, when genuine revival comes upon a people, it is wide-spread and comprehensive. We see in 3:5 :“They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” The entire city (120,000 people) from the greatest to the least responded in repentance and faith toward the living God. When God pours out revival, it doesn’t just affect as small few, but impacts an entire community.
Thirdly, when God pours out revival, genuine repentance is evidenced by a heart transformation that is most demonstrated through mourning of sin and prayer. When this message “touched” the heart of the king, he traded in his royal throne and stripped himself of all pride, autonomy, and position, and mourned in an ash heap. He grieved his personal sin and humbled himself before the Lord. In times of revival, sinners mourn their sin and cry out mightily to God in prayer. The king issues this command in verse 8: “and let them call out mightily to God.” The Hebrew word for “mightily” means with violent earnestness! When God grants revival, genuine repentance manifests itself in a wide spread prayer movement where people cry out earnestly and zealously to God and desire more of Him.
Fourthly, genuine repentance always bears fruit in that sinners turn from concrete sinful behavior. Notice that the king also says this in verse 8: “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” Repentance means more than just feeling sorry for our sins and grieving over possibly getting caught. Instead, true repentance means that there is a genuine, wholesale turning from personal sin and trusting in Christ alone for salvation. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
Lastly, in times of true revival, sinners come to the full awareness that they are totally dependent on the sovereign grace of God for salvation and cannot demand from Him anything. The king humbly and in brokenness declares in verse 9: “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” He doesn’t appeal to his rights as king, or to his merit or goodness or position or sovereignty, but totally understands the sovereign right of the living God to show mercy and compassion to whom He wants to show mercy and compassion. All sinners can do is to cast themselves on the mercy of Jesus alone for salvation.
I pray that God would so pour out His Spirit of revival upon our community where the Word of God is preached in power every Sunday in our area churches. I pray that God would impact this entire area with spiritual transformation that is widespread. I pray that all of us would mourn our sin and cry out mightily to God in prayer and that a powerful prayer movement would sweep across this dry land like a prairie fire! I pray that sinners would turn from concrete, specific sins and trust in the living God and that there would be true behavior changes. I pray that the sovereign King would pour out His mercy upon sinners in salvation through Jesus and that every single person in Northeastern Colorado would love and worship Christ the Lord.