NOTE: Thank you to Ryan Denison for writing today’s Daily Article. He is the Denison Forum Senior Fellow for Theology and has written more than four hundred articles for Denison Forum.
A recent report out of England found that the country’s forty-two Anglican cathedrals contributed £235 million (roughly $321 million) to their local economies in 2019. Among that value included more than six thousand jobs and volunteer posts, accruing more than nine hundred thousand hours of service through food banks, support groups, and various outreach ministries to help their respective communities.
And such contributions are not unique to Great Britain.
In America, faith-based groups contribute more than $316 billion in savings to the US economy every year. In addition, congregations, religious institutions, and faith-based businesses contribute roughly $1.2 trillion of socio-economic value to the country, which is the equivalent of the world’s fifteenth largest national economy.
I bring these statistics up, however, not as an opportunity to congratulate ourselves for a job well done but rather to show just a small taste of the potential we have to bless our country and our community by serving others in the name of Jesus.
Why the global awakening is missing America
There is a Great Awakening going on in our world, and hundreds of thousands are being adopted into the family of God every day as a result. Muslims are coming to Christ in numbers never before seen in history. Similar stories are found in South Korea and China, where within the next ten years, their combined Christian populations are projected to pass America’s.
But we’re not seeing it here, and there is little to indicate that will change on its own.
Matthew 8 could give us a hint as to why that is.
The chapter starts with Jesus coming down the hillside after delivering the Sermon on the Mount to encounter a leper and then a centurion. Both were in desperate need of his help and, because of the faith they demonstrated, both received the healing for which they asked (8:1–13). He then proceeded to do the same for the mass of people that followed him to Peter’s house (8:14–17).
Later on in the chapter, he and the disciples leave that area and encounter two demon-possessed men. Jesus heals them both, granting the demons’ request to instead inhabit a herd of pigs who are then driven off a cliff and die. The herdsmen fled and came back with a town’s worth of people who “begged him to leave their region” (8:28–34).
In both instances, people experienced the miraculous power of God. But while the first group responded with gratitude and faith, the townspeople at the end of the chapter asked Jesus to leave and wanted nothing to do with him. The difference is that those he healed were aware of how much they needed him. Those who sent him away were not.
That same pattern is at the heart of why some parts of the world are encountering Christ in powerful and transformative ways while, for most of the West, that’s simply not the case. Our culture just doesn’t understand why we need what Jesus has to offer.
So what can we do to help them take that step?
A different path to revival
In previous centuries, the Great Awakenings that helped shape so much of western culture—especially in America—began because a large segment of the population became increasingly aware of their need for God.
At times, as with the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, that happened through preaching and emphasizing the depravity of humanity. Far more often, though, it happened because people who thought God just didn’t care about them or that Christianity was just for the wealthy—one of the primary fallacies the First Great Awakening tried to correct—encountered the good news of Jesus from people who cared about them enough to share it.
Given the state of our culture today—where morality is largely subjective and the church is often seen as a barrier to progress—we are not going to convince many people that they need Jesus by just praying that God would change their hearts while criticizing all the ways in which their lives run counter to his teachings.
To be sure, prayer still has a very large role to play in helping our culture come to Christ, but if it essentially amounts to “God, please let them know how awful they are,” then we’re not going to see things improve very much.
I’d like to propose a different approach.
Revival starts with you
Instead of looking at the world around us and lamenting at how lost they seem to be, what if we shifted our focus instead to asking God how we can best bless the lives of those around us?
What if our prayers were less about what’s wrong with the world and more about what we can do to make it better?
In Genesis 12, God blesses Abraham so that, through Abraham, he might bless the world (Genesis 12:2). As Christians, we are heirs of that purpose.
What would it look like if we devoted a substantial amount of our time in prayer to asking the Lord how he wants to use us to bless the people we meet?
What kind of an impact could we make on our community if, instead of trying to figure out ways to get them into our churches, we chose instead to figure out ways to meet their needs where they are?
As mentioned at the start, the numbers don’t lie. A lot of Christians are already doing that, and it’s awesome. But if we want to see the Great Awakening that’s creating new believers across the globe come to our borders, then it’s going to take a level of intentionality and Spirit-driven focus that is often lacking in our communities of faith.
We may not change the narrative about our faith on a national level, but every person we meet is a chance to change it on a personal one. If we want to see revival, then it has to start there.
God has a plan to use each and every one of us to be a blessing in his name to the lost around us.
We just have to ask and then obey.