By Rev Loh Soon Choy
"SEND revival, O Lord!" You may have heard this cry at many a prayer meeting, both before and after the 13th general election.
Before, GE 13 was hailed by many as the harbinger of change for Malaysia. Among some Christians, the election was also inadvertently equated to bringing spiritual "revival" to the nation. This may not have been the literal meaning or intention of those who expressed it, but such are the limitations of language - words and their assigned meanings can at times trap us into understanding things in a limited way.
GE 13 was also in the 50th Year of the merger of Sarawak and Sabah with the then Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia. This excited many churches to claim for Malaysia 2013 as the biblical, Old Testament Year of Jubilee when debts and slaves would be set free and ancestral lands returned to the original owners' families (Leviticus 25.1-55).
Although not legally applicable today - since Jesus has announced Himself as the spiritual fulfilment of that OT Jubilee in Luke 4: 18-19 - the same moral principles of ultimate social justice and God's concern for the poor (forgiveness of debts, redistribution of land, sharing of wealth) in the Jubilee still apply. This spiritual application was made clear by many church leaders when using the Jubilee Year as a powerful symbol to mobilise and direct prayer and intercession for the nation in light of GE-13.
But after the GE, instead of submitting to God's sovereignty when the elections results were out - granted the various disputes about their fairness - there were reports of deep disappointment among churches and Christians that the political opposition had failed to form the majority government.
A fellow-Christian even lamented that the Jubilee Year for Malaysia would literally end on 12 September 2013 without his prayers for a Pakatan Rakyat victory being answered! These incidents are anecdotal, and hopefully, they are isolated.
In the months post-GE 13, we have heard of a number of believers calling for a spiritual revival for the churches. Perhaps, this is to deal with the disappointment over the results. Seeking revival has become the new priority to replace the earlier fervent prayers for a national Jubilee transformation.
Now, desiring revival for the Church is right and good. But it is superficial to seek revival on the grounds of our supposedly "failed" Jubilee prayers, or as an alternative to the on-going work needed for national transformation!
There are various notions of revival but true spiritual revivals in the Old Testament and in history were always so profound and powerful that they unfailingly also transformed communities and nations.
The New Testament and the Early Church (till the 3rd Century AD) did not speak of revivals because New Testament Christianity (largely practised also by the Early Church) was already "Revival Christianity" and Spirituality. The New Testament Church was living out a spiritual revival.
Hence, the apostles and believers were charged for "turning the world upside down" (Acts 17: 6, NRSV). By the 4th Century, they had even managed to transform and "Christianise" the mighty Roman Empire despite 300 years of sporadic but fierce persecutions.
We do well to consider a challenge from James Burns, a student of revivals, if indeed we would pay the price for a true Revival:
"To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her ministers and people. It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority. It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to condemn ministers and people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation, to an evangelical poverty and to a deep and daily consecration. That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church. Because it says nothing to them of power such as they have learned to love, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world and to follow Christ." (Burns, Revival, Their Laws and Leaders, 1909, out of print).
Thankfully, many who have experienced true revivals also believe God can still grant the Church true Revival in His sovereign grace and mercy as the Church seeks it fervently, even if imperfectly. And that may not just be for the sake of the Church alone but for the sake of the communities and the nation He also loves and wants to transform!
A look at Christian revivals throughout history starting with the Early Church in Acts should make us reconsider our understanding of revival and transformation: Are we living out revival or merely waiting for it? Are we, so to speak, "turning the world upside down" as did the apostles in Acts? In other words, post-elections or not, may we as a positive community of Hope, courageously work for a new politics for Malaysia, one that is founded on moral values as an integral part of our total responsibility to a holistic Gospel.