What makes “Great Awakenings”
extraordinary seasons of “Christ Awakenings”?

David Bryant

Death Valley is an expansive desert in California, known as the lowest, driest, and hottest location in all of North America. It is a barren, desolate place that holds the record for the highest recorded temperature in the Western Hemisphere—a mere 134 degrees Fahrenheit!

Death is obviously a fitting description. Not much survives in Death Valley, whether vegetation or any human life exposed to the elements. But that doesn’t necessarily mean life is not possible.

In 2005, a rare wet winter deposited six inches of rain into the cracks of the rock-hard valley floor. In the spring, this lifeless desert blossomed with abundant and gorgeous flowers that had not been seen in 11 years! Suddenly, dormant seeds, sitting underneath the soil for years and barely hanging on to life, were awakened when saturated with life-giving rain. The desert was alive, much like the promise of Isaiah 44:3-4:

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.

This is a picture of a Christ Awakening—when God’s Spirit so totally saturates God’s people with God’s Word about God’s Son that they become wholly alive to the whole vision of the whole glory of Christ.

Many today are sensing that such an extraordinary season is just ahead of us—even in what may be one of our nation’s darkest hours. Some Christian leaders have formed a coalition called the Great Awakening Project or GAP. In addition, millions of others have been praying for God’s exceptional work of revival and spiritual revolution for many years now—for a Great Awakening.

So, when it comes about, what can we expect? Is there more to a “Great Awakening” than meets the eye? Let’s see.

Looking back or looking forward?

Awakenings, interestingly enough, are experiences shared by saints in both the Old and New Testaments. There was a difference, however, in how the experiences played out in those two eras.

In the Old Testament, the reviving of Israel was usually characterized by A LOOK BACK, as the nation sought to return to previous high-water marks in Israel’s religious pilgrimage. Note how Elijah on Mount Carmel challenged Israel to return to days of spiritual faithfulness before Baal worship had taken over (1 Kings 18). Or recall how Hezekiah refurbished the timeworn temple and reinstituted the ancient Passover tradition, shaping the revival that emerged under his watch.

In the New Testament, however, Christ-focused renewal is characterized much more as A LOOK FORWARD. It is unleashed for fresh extensions of Christ’s reign among his people and into the world. Consider the prayer meeting of Acts 4—what they prayed, how God answered, and the aftermath in the succeeding stories of missionary advance. All of it was looking forward

In a Christ-dominated revival, the Holy Spirit increases vision for what’s ahead. He deepens our yearnings for greater approximations in our generation of the culmination of the Kingdom yet to be fulfilled.

In New Testament-style awakenings, Christians are aroused to a reality of Christ’s presence and power already theirs but currently overlooked and unengaged. They are summoned not only to recapture their first love for Christ (Revelation 2) but also to discover a passion for him that surpasses whatever they have known before (Ephesians 3). Reawakening us to greater dimensions of his glory, New Testament revival is ultimately about recovering and enlarging our hope in Christ.

That’s why, as Jonathan Edwards (pastor/scholar of the 1700s) observed, revival is arguably the most dramatic display of Jesus’ lordship in the present age. In no way depreciating God’s ordinary work with us on a daily basis, revival is an exceptional season of his extraordinary work among us.

In other words, God infuses his Church with fresh hope, passion, prayer, and mission by refocusing us on Christ for all he really is. In such a spiritual transformation, Christians are reintroduced to and re-captivated by the supremacy of Christ—all of this being the primary mandate of the Spirit of Christ in our lives. 

That’s why my favorite term for this phenomenon is a “Christ Awakening.”

A Christ Awakening is not some scheduled program on a church calendar. When God reenergizes a community of Jesus followers, he intends to unleash kingdom results that last many years. 

Scholars’ research verifies that following each of the four so-called “Great Awakenings” in American history (early 1700s, late 1700s, mid-1800s, early 1900s), decades of documented reformations took place both in churches and in society.

In other words, God gave his people “fresh winds” not simply to fire up enthusiasm for spiritual things but also to further extend the reign of his Son within communities and nations through his Church.

What happens when Christ’s reign
breaks in through “Great Awakenings”?

Here’s one story to demonstrate how revival can impact a whole nation for Christ’s kingdom.

At the close of the 20th century, a wonderful move of God came to the beleaguered nation of Uganda. Once known as the “jewel of Africa,” this beautiful land had become devastated physically and spiritually by multiple oppressive regimes headed by diabolical dictators. Economically, Africa’s breadbasket had become its worst “basket case.” Most distressing, tens of thousands of Christians were martyred for their faith, many by unspeakable tortures.

As a result, in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands in the churches began to cry out to God for a spiritual awakening in their land. The believers grappled with the need for soul-searching repentance inside the Church. They confessed all the ways they were actually complicit in God’s judgments on Uganda as a whole. Broken in spirit, they pled for his mercy.

Finally, God answered their cries. Joyous confidence about Christ’s kingdom reignited their churches. Passion for the Promise-Giver once again filled thousands of congregations large and small.

But this was just the beginning of revival. At the same time, ungodly strongmen were unexpectedly expelled. Corrupt structures of oppression were decisively dismantled. Political and religious prisoners were set free, and persecution of the Church came to an end. A devoutly righteous Christian leader became Uganda’s president. As his first official act, he publicly rededicated the entire nation to Jesus Christ as its Lord!

Following that, to the amazement of all, significant economic recovery began. Far more importantly, a nationwide commitment to sexual abstinence turned back the plague of AIDS in this nation, once known for the largest epidemic in Africa. It rendered Uganda the country with the least threat of AIDS—all in just one decade! 

Furthermore, some of the largest churches in Africa can now be found there, with one in Kampala growing from a few hundred members to nearly 15,000 in five years. Fasting and prayer are a way of life for Ugandan Christians as they seek even deeper manifestations of Christ’s reign in their generation.

Not just survival. More than revival.
Rather, it is a matter of ARRIVAL!

My good friend, Steve Hawthorne, founder of Waymakers, suggests revival ought to be renamed ARRIVAL. What does he mean? In a Christ Awakening, it is as if Christ “shows up” in his Church afresh—in power—to begin to recapture us and reconquer us.

Isaiah 60 suggests that God’s glory was already breaking over Israel like a sunrise, exposing many dimensions of his kingdom’s purposes to them. What they needed to do was “rise and shine” and seize the day.

That’s why biblical texts frequently use the motif of encounter to describe spiritual renewal. We find this in Isaiah’s picture of a future when God will rend the heavens like a garment, visibly descending like a fire upon saints and nations alike (Isaiah 64).

The Puritans coined a great phrase to define the “arrival” experience. They called such seasons “the manifest presence of Christ.” Here is how they reasoned: 

First, they said, there is Christ’s essential presence. That is, Christ is present everywhere all the time. He is unavoidable. He’s there even when we ignore him or marginalize him in our daily lives. “Look, I am with you always until the end of this age” (Matthew 28).

Second, they also talked about Christ’s cultivated presence. Christians can choose to enrich their sense of fellowship with him as they abide in him day by day, faithfully obeying him. We can cultivate a deeper knowledge of the Lord through Bible study and prayer, for example. As we do, Christ shows himself to be much more present in our lives than we had realized. John 15 promises this where Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you abide in me, I will abide in you.”

However, the manifest presence of Christ is something else altogether. This was the Puritans’ term for those “exceptional seasons of God’s extraordinary work” when the Father reveals the spectacular supremacy and saving reign of his Son to a new generation of his people. Furthermore, he does so in such dramatic fashion that it almost seems as if Christ has been hiding from us until that moment—as if he had gone away on a journey. Then suddenly, he reinserts himself among us. He arrives, in other words.

That’s why I’ve renamed revival as a “Christ awakening movement.” Such an intervention among God’s people feels sort of like we have fallen asleep on Jesus and are suddenly waking up to all we have missed. Like greeting the sunrise, we come alive to God’s Son for ALL he is, doing so not only individually but also corporately, not only in a single moment but for a season. Ultimately, such a Christ-focused quickening becomes a movement with a wide-reaching impact on society as well as among the nations.

A Christ Awakening is like a coronation

One could almost say that revival is like a coronation. In other words, it leads believers to reaffirm their wholehearted devotion to the Lamb who sits on the throne (Rev. 5). It reconnects them to his marching orders as their King. It serves as a powerful sign of the sovereignty of Christ over all things—over each of us. 

Basically, the renewing reality of a Christ Awakening could be defined as a “Royal Revelation.” In other words, Jesus reveals himself so fully to his people as King of kings and Lord of lords that it makes us want to commit daily to what many Christians sing on a Sunday: 

Crown him with many crowns,

the Lamb upon his throne.

Hark! How the heavenly anthem

drowns all music but its own.

AWAKE, MY SOUL! And sing

of him who died for thee.

And HAIL HIM as thy matchless King

through all eternity.

The fact is that one cannot think rightly about revival at all if one does not think rightly about the ascended glory of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He is the criterion by which we measure both revival’s legitimacy and its impact. The “Final Revival”—the Consummation—will culminate from fresh inbreakings of Christ’s sovereign dominion before every creature in heaven and earth.

But until that grand climax of the ages, our Redeemer intends to continue invading his Church, extending his lordship among us, regaining the praise he rightfully deserves, and enlarging his mission and saving reign through us among all earth’s peoples.

Jonathan Edwards was on target. He defined “revival” as the most exciting expression of Christ’s supremacy any Christian can experience until Jesus comes again. Such a “great awakening” is prior and primary. It is the prelude to all other manifestations of Christ’s reign for, in, and through his people in any generation.

The time has come!

Many—like the leaders who make up GAP (Great Awakening Project)—believe a gracious, mighty “Christ Awakening” is bearing down on top of us even now in answer to today’s unprecedented global prayer movement. May it be so!

Would you like to know more about why there’s such a rising expectation for many? Read my blog post “The Hope at Hand: The Answer to All Our Prayers Is Drawing Near.” You can find it HERE.

Or you might try the latest CHRIST TODAY Podcast series titled “Unshakable Hope in God’s Son—for America and for YOU!” In the series, I introduce you to seven “confidence builders” that will reinforce your trust in God’s promises—for individual believers as well as for a whole nation. Download it for free HERE.

About the Author

Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.

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