When I became a Christian, following Jesus seemed like the most revolutionary thing I could do. The teachings of Jesus are radical. The way the early church lived out the gospel inspires me to go deeper, give more of myself, and nurture a grander vision for what human community could be like.
The more I read the New Testament, I more I find myself pushed towards a lifestyle that challenges our present society to its foundations. In contrast to the radical individualism of consumer capitalism or the enforced conformity of most religious communities, the way of Jesus demands both radical openness and profound submission to the guidance of the Spirit.
This revolutionary new reality plays out in love for enemies. We find it when we choose relationship and trust rather than money and self-interest. It comes alive in the healing power of forgiveness and the daily practice of justice.
The freedom of the gospel looks like insanity to middle-class, safety-conscious America. For those of us who are a wrapped up in the world’s priorities, the simple act of forgiveness looks like weakness. The Christian’s refusal to take refuge in wealth and privilege seems like adolescent silliness at best. At worst, the humble-yet-prophetic way of Jesus can activate the defense response of those in power. Violence. The emperor does not like being told he’s stark naked.
My years as a Christian have been filled with a sense of longing. I’ve yearned for the revolutionary days of the early church. I’ve looked back to the fiery, apocalyptic campaigns of the early Quaker movement with admiration. And I’ve wondered: What must we do to ignite this kind of movement in our own time and place? What must I do to be part of God’s continuing revolution?
I know a lot of other people are experiencing this same yearning. We live in frustrating times. Stuck times. Times in which we all find ourselves longing for upheaval and change.
I hear words like “revolution” being thrown around a lot. In Christian circles, the word “revival” is often a popular choice. Heck, even I’ve used this word once or twice. Quakers and Christians of all stripes throughout the world are longing for revival – the restoration of that movement-church fire, the Holy Ghost power of a people gathered by God to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.
It’s a beautiful vision. It’s the right vision. And it’s a vision that we are completely unprepared for.
I’ll be completely honest: For a long time, I’ve blamed God for the lack of transformation in my own life and in the communities where I’ve served. I’ve been baffled at the lack of forward momentum, Spirit-led change and healing despite how much I and many others have prayed for it. Looking back to the miracles of the early church and the prophetic Quaker movement, I’ve been perplexed. If God could do that in the first century and the sixteenth century, why won’t he do it now? Why doesn’t Jesus send the Holy Spirit like he used to?
I’m seeing now that I’ve been wrong to blame God. The Holy Spirit is alive and ready for action any time we call on her. God isn’t the problem. I am. We are.
We’re not ready for the spiritual revolution we dream about, precisely because it is a dream. Far too often, our ideas of revival are a fantasy of spiritual highs, supportive community, and connection with God. But when’s the last time you fantasized about losing your home, your bank account, your sense of security? Does your imagined revival include beatings, persecution, and social ostracism? Does your vision of the beloved community involve sacrificing career, enduring hardship, becoming a community that our culture laughs at and punishes?
Lots of Christians talk a big game about revolution and revival. (I myself talk about both.) But it’s all a delusion if we aren’t ready to embrace the cross, the sacrifice that comes when we choose to be friends of Jesus. I’m weary of all our talk of revival – I’ve gotten fed up with my own words! You and I have no business talking about revolutionary transformation of our society when we have yet to take seriously Jesus’ call to repentance.
The whole Christian movement is founded on the idea that we must profoundly change our way of life. If we think that we can follow Jesus but keep our toys, our security, our status, and our noble conceptions of ourselves, we’re going to be very disappointed. I know I have been.
How much longer will we chose to wander in the wilderness of conformity to the 21st-century capitalism, self-centeredness, and the world’s conception of what’s important? How long will we refuse to let go of our dreams about community and embrace the real relationships that make the church a revolution – not a club? When will the numbing effects of our opiate religion make us so nauseous that we resolve to sober up rather than choking on our own vomit?
Jesus has told us time and again that the way to life is narrow. The passion and beauty that we admire in the early church and other Spirit-filled movements has always emerged from sacrifice and struggle. Until we repent – until we turn away from our involvement in the consumer-capitalist war machine and all its false promises – we will never be that community we dream of. But if we do embrace this challenge, Jesus has promised us life, real life. Gathered in his victorious and comforting Spirit, revival is possible.