You need only attend a handful of prayer meetings before you hear someone pray for revival. Alongside the salvation of loved ones and the healing of the sick, asking God to bring corporate and societal revival is a universal Christian prayer. Yet it appears this prayer has fallen on deaf ears. In my context, I haven’t seen the kinds of large-scale societal revivals we see in church history. Have you?
Even as we acknowledge that revival is the work of God’s Spirit, there may be ways we as church leaders are failing to pursue the means the Spirit often uses to revive his people. Second Kings 22–23 (cf. 2 Chron. 34–35) documents one of the most spectacular revivals in the Old Testament. In the passage we see four ways that King Josiah pursued personal renewal and how God worked through his leadership to bring revival to the nation.
Make Scripture Central
Even a cursory reading of this passage shows Scripture is central to the spiritual renewal that took place under King Josiah. The priests find the Book of the Law (22:8—most likely the book of Deuteronomy) and then read it to the king. Scripture was both the catalyst for revival and the road map for what spiritual renewal looks like. As Kings records, Josiah was eager to “establish the words of the law that were written in the book” (23:24). Under Josiah, Scripture was not only read privately (22:8, 10) but also publicly (23:1–2).
Alongside the salvation of loved ones and the healing of the sick, asking God to bring revival is a universal Christian prayer.
Consider the average public gathering of God’s people today. What percentage of time is spent reading Scripture? Compare that to the time spent, for example, singing. Perhaps Scripture isn’t as central to our Christian lives as we might claim. Is it possible our lack of corporate revival is related to our neglect of the Word?
Josiah’s response to hearing the Book of the Law read is remarkable (22:11). As the prophetess Huldah later makes clear (22:19), he responds by humbling himself, tearing his robes and weeping in God’s presence. Josiah knew God’s people had not been faithful to the Word (22:13), and as their leader, he repented. A mere outburst of emotion is not sufficient to evidence repentance, however. For repentance to be genuine there must be action. Second Kings 22–23 make clear that Josiah followed through by pulling down idols and restoring proper worship.
This too is a challenge to us. We may ask God’s forgiveness, but do we take action and change in light of the forgiveness he gives? Is it possible that a lack of corporate revival in our society is related to a lack of repentance on behalf of leaders and by God’s people individually?
Connected to Josiah’s genuine repentance is active obedience, which may reflect Josiah’s natural disposition given his initiative to repair the temple (22:2–7). Obedience is formalized in Josiah’s covenant with God (23:3), an example that the people follow. There’s a public expression of commitment to God and his ways. Josiah covenanted just as Jonathan Edwards later resolved—both experienced revival. Will we also commit to actively obey?
Josiah’s obedience is detailed in 23:4–20. Reading these verses leaves the impression that no stone was left unturned. It’s clear Josiah sought to eradicate all idols from Judah. While it’s unlikely any of us will need to remove physical idols from our church buildings, more insidious sins require our attention: consumerism, comfort, status, and sex. These all stand tall in our hearts and minds. Is it possible our lack of corporate revival is related to our failure to address these idols?
Remember Your Salvation
A final aspect of the spiritual renewal under Josiah was the observance of a Passover feast like no other (23:21–23). It’s easy to read the phrase “For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges” as communicating that the Passover had not been observed at all for hundreds of years, but this is not supported by other passages. It’s the faithfulness of the observance that’s remarked upon here.
Nevertheless, it’s somewhat astonishing that this great memorial feast celebrating the paradigmatic salvation experienced in the exodus had been insufficiently celebrated throughout the days of the judges and kings of Israel. Neither David nor Solomon observed a Passover like Josiah’s.
God’s people will not be in awe of God’s grace if God’s salvation is not regularly remembered. Today we do this most potently by celebrating communion, the meal Christ instituted to regularly remind us of his salvation. Without this regular remembrance, guided by Scripture, we’re unlikely to engage in genuine repentance and active obedience.
God’s people will not be in awe of God’s grace if God’s salvation is not regularly remembered.
Is it possible that our lack of corporate revival is related to our propensity to forget our salvation?
Spiritual renewal—revival—is all of God. But we’re not mere spectators. We are partakers. The onus is on us to learn from those who have experienced it before. If corporate, spiritual revival is our earnest desire, 2 Kings 22–23 teaches us that we must keep Scripture central, genuinely repent, actively obey, and remember our salvation. As we pursue these means of grace, we may find God stirs our hearts with fresh spiritual zeal and also awakens the hearts around us.