Much is said in the spiritual community about revival—a longing to return to a sustained space of divine favor and uncommon blessing—yet little of revival is ever experienced. Why is that, and is it even possible in our day to have revival? The reasons we don’t and the reasons we still can are the same. There are conditions that must be met to live in the revival zone. Over and again in scripture we are told that it is nothing less than wholehearted devotion, authentic repentance and an organic pursuit of holiness that releases the mighty hand of God.
Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 7:1-4
So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all. Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.
Finally! We traveled through a nearly 400 year cycle of backsliding, subjugation, repentance and rival during the period of the Judges, and it has been a consistently depressing journey with only brief sunbreaks of spiritual awakening for the most part. Now, however, the prophet Samuel bursts onto the scene and catches Israel at a time of willingness to once again turn their hearts to the Lord.
Samuel will lead Israel as its last and greatest judge for at least a decade. His righteous administration wouldn’t be the longest of the judges, by far, but he would usher in a period of deep and abiding righteousness that he would faithfully pass on to Israel’s first king, a promising young man named Saul. When Saul’s leadership eventually went off the rails, Samuel was still there to steer the brightest star in Israel’s history to the throne, David, the man after God’s own heart. Samuel’s righteous influence cast a large and indelible shadow in Israel’s history.
This chapter is most instructive as Samuel laid out the conditions for national revival. Israel suffered under their pesky bully of a neighbor, the Philistines, until they finally came to their good senses and humbly returned to the Lord. And the Lord welcomed them back—and he would bless them with freedom, joy and prosperity over the course of the next century. 1 Samuel 7:10-12 highlights just one of the many victories that Israel would experience during this golden period—a stunning win over the Philistines where the Lord himself actually took up their fight:
But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
“Thus far the Lord has helped us.” That was a prophetic description of life for Israel under godly leadership like Samuel’s. It likewise prophetically described what the nation would experience through the kingly reigns of Saul, David and Solomon—this would be a time of military, economic and spiritual expansion for Israel. Moreover, it is a prophetic description of what will be true for God’s people of any time and place when they, too, return to the Lord and live in the revival zone.
The revival zone—what in the world is that? Samuel was very clear to explain what it would take to get into and stay in that blessable space:
- Wholeheartedness: “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts…” Samuel was not referring to just a sense of remorse, but deep repentance and godly sorrow that God’s people needed to offer if they wanted to come back under his sustained favor.
- Sanctification: “then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths…” Repentance meant a change of mind and heart—a 180 degree turn from evil to pursue what was righteous. It required them to cast off their ungodly practices and dependencies to follow hard after holiness.
- Service: “commit yourselves to the Lord…” It was not just about what they were no longer to do (worship idols), but what they were now going to do (actively serve God’s purposes).
- Devotion: “and serve him only.” This was not to be just a partial return, but a full surrender to the rule of God over their lives individually and collectively.
Then Samuel adds that when those conditions of revival are met, God’s favor will ensue: “He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” We are told that the Israelites did just that, “they repented and served the Lord only.” And the Lord did what he had promised:
So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7:13)
This marked a turning point for Israel. During the time of the judges, God had also delivered Israel, but they always turned back to their sinful ways once the thrill of the victory had faded. And each time, God would again allow their enemies to subdue them. Not this time; there would be no backsliding. That is why Samuel set up a stone between Mizpah and Jeshanah and called the stone, “Ebenezer”- the stone of help. (1 Samuel 7:12) Each time the Israelites passed this marker, they would remember the joy and freedom of God’s favor. As they passed their Ebenzer, it would be a visual reminder that the conditions of living under God’s mighty hand of blessing required of them wholeheartedness, sanctification, service and devotion.
God still longs for his people to live in the revival zone—that space of uncommon blessing and divine favor. Maybe we need to set up Ebenezer of our own, because those same conditions that Samuel gave will invite God’s uncommon favor into our lives, too!