We had gathered for leadership training, 100 InterVarsity staff ready to be equipped for ministry. One of our colleagues, a gifted evangelist and strategist, was preaching and talking about the personal highs and lows of her leadership and ministry to international students. She was near the end of her talk when it happened. “So let me ask you a question,” she asked. “Do you major more in strategy or in prayer?” An unsettling quiet fell over the room. “In your leadership, do you major more in strategy or prayer?” Suddenly, things had gotten personal. But she was only getting started. “Let’s have a show of hands.” Uh oh. “How many of you major in prayer?” I looked around the room. A few hands went up. Of course, I said to myself, seeing those who responded, “the usual suspects,” our colleagues that we all recognized do actually major in prayer. “And how many of you major in strategy in your leadership?” The majority of the hands in the room went up. The quiet got deeper and thicker. The hands went down. And the unmistakable presence of God’s Spirit settled upon us. God had our attention, the Spirit was convicting us that we believed more in the wisdom of our strategic thinking to advance the kingdom than the power of God. Our speaker told us that day it didn’t have to be that way. She exhorted us:
No matter how brilliant, how charismatic, how hard working we are, there are limitations to our strategy. We long for big waves of the movement of God, not just ripples. We want to see God’s Kingdom breakthrough and break open here. A set of big ocean waves of groups of people turning to God, people streaming, not trickling to God. Strategy alone is not going to be able to fulfill that vision. Strategy can cause ripples, even big ones, but it can’t make waves like the ocean. What would happen if we become more in tune with God’s work, and have prayer & hearing from God lead us, walking in rhythm with the Spirit at every step along the way? What if we gave lots of room for God to form and shape to our plans, with the Spirit giving birth to and inspiring our strategy, and bringing that tidal wave of God’s glory, presence and power across our campuses?
Do You Major in Strategy or Prayer?
What about you? What is the relationship of prayer and strategy in your campus leadership? Do you major more in strategy or prayer? On your campus leadership team, what is the ratio of your strategizing to your seeking the Lord? Strategy is a gift of God to be stewarded. But so often we know this to be true: the more gifted, educated, resourceful, reliant on technology and technique that we are, the more tempted we are to rely on ourselves… and the strategies we devise. When that happens, strategy begins to creep. It grows in proportion and importance in our leadership. And before one knows it, strategy supersedes seeking. And after that, at its worst, we lock Jesus outside the door of our fellowships and our ministry. We become like the church at Laodicea.
You may be more spiritually formed than my InterVarsity staff colleagues and I were; you really do major in seeking the Lord. But in case some of you are in the second group, like the majority were in the training day above, let me ask you, “What if?” What if you were to imagine a new normal of living and leading in tune with God’s Spirit? What if you began to seek the Lord with a fresh urgency for students and faculty to turn to God? What if God inspired you to long not for ripples but waves of God’s glory to break through on our campuses resulting in justice for the marginalized, repentance from sin, reconciliation among ethnic groups on campus and new life for student after student who places their confidence and trust in Jesus?
Well, then we would find ourselves seeking God for revival.
Seeking God for Revival and Psalm 85
In their book Revival Leadership, James Choung and Ryan Pfeiffer define revival as a season of breakthroughs in word, deed and power that ushers in a new normal of kingdom experience and fruitfulness.
There are many definitions for revival. I like how this one combines and captures elements found in many others.
Season – a space of time that is prolonged, sustained and persistent, but not indefinite
Breakthrough – a penetrating force that moves through a barrier or obstacle
Word, Deed, and Power
Word – The truth of Scripture bringing conviction and repentance
Deeds – Acts of justice and peace that witness to God’s mercy and compassion
Power – Healing, miracles, and words of prophecy and wisdom that witness to God’s love and
the power of his present kingdom.
New normal – This is where the baseline for faith, the kind of expectancy one carries about God, gets
The OT has preserved a prayer that gives voice to this same imagination and expectancy for a breakthrough of God into the realm of men and women. In Psalm 85, the Hebrew people imagine a new normal in their life with God that likely arose out of the context of their return from Babylonian exile. It was a low point in Israel’s history resulting from its rejection of Yahweh. The Psalmist gives voice to a fresh hope and a vision for a renewed life with God.
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. (v. 6-7)
Back in Jerusalem—chastened, humbled, and broken—they yearn for God to revive them and for his glory to make its home in their land. “Will you not turn, and give us life, O Lord?”
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. (v. 8-9)
The Psalmist longs to hear the voice of God above all other voices. He expresses his conviction that Israel will experience God’s peace and shalom. He describes the fervent expectancy in their hearts for God’s glory, the fullness of his very character, to fill their land. The Psalmist imagines a new normal in which God makes himself at home in their midst, a liminal space where the intimacy with God known at the creation is restored.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. (v. 10-11)
The Psalmist concludes praying forth a vision for God’s shalom on earth when lives confident in God sprout up from the land and all that is right and good, pure and true overshadows creation. It is as if heaven is touching earth.
I don’t pray like this! Do you? I read the Psalmist’s words inspired by his imagination, convicted by his confidence, challenged by his expectancy, and compelled by a life lived close to God. Let’s be challenged and encouraged by this revival psalm to seek the Lord afresh for a breakthrough of word, deed, and power in our own lives and leadership and across our campuses.
Seek God Personally Before You Seek God Missionally
It was a challenge like this from Psalm 85 that our InterVarsity leadership team received a year after experiencing the unexpected conviction of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our staff training day.
After the God moment on that leadership training day, our InterVarsity staff sought to heed the Lord’s conviction over the year ahead. We began to seek the Lord for what only he could do on our campuses. We committed to praying for 25% of each staff leadership meeting for revival on campus. We began fasting and crying out to God for conversions on campus. We saw courageous witness and conversions as students began making calls to faith in small group Bible studies and in large group meetings. But God wasn’t done with us. There was more that he wanted to shape in us as missional leaders.
A group of InterVarsity area directors gathered for a leadership meeting and to seek the Lord for our mission on campus. We set our four tables in a square with a big opening in the middle, so we could sit at the tables and see one another. As we prayed, I noticed one of our leaders on her knees. But she wasn’t praying, she was crawling. Slowly she crawled under the table and into the center of the four tables. She laid down on her stomach and began to weep. Soon others began to cry, some sitting, some kneeling, others on the floor.
And the prayers were no longer prayers for revival out there, but prayers for revival “in here,” in our hearts. Prayers of repentance for unbelief, for unrelenting self reliance, for fear and anxiety and lack of holiness, judgment, pride… The Lord had caught us up short. We had faithfully begun to put strategy in submission to seeking, crying out for revival on campus before applying our strategies. But the Lord had another word for us: “Seek me personally before you seek me missionally.”
God was calling us in our leadership to seek the Lord first for revival “in here,” our hearts, before we sought the Lord for revival out there, on the campus.
Gypsy Smith was a 19th century British evangelist. He was often quoted saying if you want to see revival, then “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk, draw a circle around yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that very circle.”
If we are going to seek God for revival on the campus we need to begin by seeking God for revival in our hearts.
As leaders, God invites us to seek him for revival, but first and foremost in our own lives. In that place of honesty and holy transparency, he wants to revive us and invite us to come close to the Source. From there, we will be prepared to walk in step with the Spirit, have the Spirit inspire and empower our strategies and then lead expectantly for waves, not ripples, of God’s mercy to flow across our campuses.