Is There Hope for Spiritual Renewal in Our Times?

In our era, the news can be dark and shocking. Consider: the intentional shooting of policemen viewed by some as a new means of protest! As recently as two decades ago, who would have thought such lawless conduct would be part of the evening news?

And a recent headline reports that street drugs and prescription opioids used illicitly kill more people than the sum of those killed by auto accidents, gun violence, unexpected falls.  As well, at the interpersonal level, simple differences of opinion appear to easily elicit contempt and even biting hatred.

Lifelong friendships can be dissolved in a moment, and family relationships made to suffer. And then there is our “abortion Holocaust.” Sometimes it seems that our society groans with all of this misery.

The answer to it all? Nothing less than a genuine movement of God’s Holy Spirit to trigger spiritual renewal. Without question, in other times of similar great need, such moral renewals have been sent by God.

And it is our privilege and task as Christians to hope and pray that God will work today as he has in the past. I’m thinking of the Methodist Revival in England led by John and Charles Wesley in the Eighteenth Century.

Some historians say that at that time, England was near the point of moral collapse. There was widespread drunkenness, and depravity of every sort.  Conditions were ripe for massive social upheaval.

English society had fallen so deeply that it needed more than a bit of tidying up.  Politics was corrupt, the drunkenness just mentioned was hugely destructive, and public behavior had sunk into vulgarity and depravity.

Back then, response of the law was both harsh and futile: Children of both sexes could be hanged for 160 different violations of the law. Pick a pocket, snare a rabbit on a gentleman’s estate, shoplift, or steal a sheep – and even a child could go to the gallows.

Charles Wesley, brother to John, records that in one jail he preached to 52 felons waiting to be hanged — among them a ten year-old child. Public hangings were attended much like carnivals. And in cities and on highways corpses were often left rotting in chains from the gallows where they had been hanged.

Instead of societal collapse and even revolution, a divinely-appointed revival of the Christian faith swept the British Isles. God’s chosen leader for that unexpected movement was an English clergyman named John Wesley. A slight man who stood only 5 feet 3 inches tall, he ministered as a clergyman and had also taught logic at Oxford University.

From his initial ministry, nobody would have seen this coming: After more than a decade of earnest but ineffective ministry as a clergyman Wesley was ushered into an experience of God that energized and commissioned him and a corps of associates to guide this powerful revival. England came back from the precipice!

Where, in our disturbed times, is the reservoir of talent and spiritual will to first experience the cleansing and renewal of God’s Holy Spirit and then say “Here am I, send me”?

I think of the human resources for revival gathered in a great spread of Christian colleges, universities and seminaries across this continent in both Canada and the United States.

If a significant number of people in training were to equip themselves with serious intent and were moved by God’s sovereign Spirit to be anointed with power and righteousness, who can guess how God might use them as he did the Wesley brothers and their associates?

In one of Zechariah’s, divine revelations the angel said to him: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). It’s not  just a cliché. It’s a key to spiritual renewal in any age and it is the word God would speak to us today.

Photo credit: Phil Smith (via flickr.com)

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