In American history the First Great Awakening (1730s-1750s) primarily targeted church members who had never embraced true Christianity. That revival did not mark a permanent adherence to Christianity in America, however. The Second Great Awakening took place in the 1790s to 1830s, and the Third Great Awakening occurred in the 1850s to 1890s. Many cite another great revival on the heels of World War II. Why have these revivals been needed so frequently? Why has Christianity, once ignited, not persisted?
The same questions easily apply to biblical history. Israel had great revivals interspersed with periods of egregious wickedness. The book of Judges highlights this repeated cycle. Revivals happened during the reigns of Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Manasseh; outstanding spiritual awakenings occurred under both Hezekiah and Josiah. After the years of captivity, another great revival happened under Nehemiah, but that one didn't last either. Jesus decried the empty worship in His day, and the book of Hebrews was written to Christians considering a return to Judaism.
Wikipedia shares surprising insight in its article "Great Awakening": "Pulling away from ritual and ceremony, the Great Awakening made religion intensely personal to the average person." God stated the problem this way: "This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote" (Isaiah 29:13). That truth is illustrated poignantly in the book of Malachi, and Jesus applied Isaiah's assessment to His generation (Matthew 15:8).
The bottom line is that Christianity has to be based on something real; it must be internally genuine rather than externally compliant. The genuineness of Christianity starts with salvation, when a person begins a new relationship with God, but this is only the beginning. Many people have started there, yet never progressed into deep Christianity. Many have been saved for years with only marginal effect on their overall lives. Others have walked with God, perhaps even rendering some level of Christian service, but eventually ended up in complacency and ambivalence. Why do some Christians waver or remain anemic, while others are steadfast and dynamic?
Again, the answer is that Christianity must be based on something real. This is true for the ongoing relationship just as it is for the initiation. Sadly, too many believers do not comprehend the significance of the relationship aspect. They see Christianity merely as an eternal redemption or a life philosophy, but not as a constant practical relationship.
Christians' initial ability to appreciate the "something real" aspect of the ongoing relationship with God comes with knowledge of the Bible. Christians must be exposed to and challenged with biblical truth. They must be taught about life-long growth in their faith. For a new Christian, this may involve discipleship. For some Christians, this may involve counseling or one-on-one Bible study. For every Christian, this must include regular church attendance and personal Bible study. Someone will not achieve a life-long and life-impacting relationship with God if he does not know that such a relationship exists.
Beyond merely understanding that such a thing can happen, the "something real" must be modeled so a believer sees what the relationship should look like. Christians should encourage others toward meaningful relationships with God by demonstrating such a genuine walk themselves. This allows newer or less mature Christians to translate theoretical knowledge into deeper awareness. This is what happened for the author of Psalm 119. As he observed other believers, he noticed, "How blessed are those whose walk is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart" (vs. 1-2). As he observed the deeper relationships of others, this man desired the same for himself. "Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes!" (v. 5).
Paul taught, "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have seen in us" (Philippians 3:17). "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1). Every sincere Christian should desire for his walk with God to inspire and encourage others toward a deeper walk. "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). The dangerous mantra that "Christianity is personal, and I don't talk about it" must be abandoned; believers must speak biblical truth and must share testimonies. Believers must exercise some transparency in actively displaying their Christianity, beginning with their own families.
In understanding the "something real" of practical Christianity, first-hand experience is even more powerful than second-hand example. No one desires adversity, but it is the most powerful venue for revealing the precious relationship that exists with God. There is no greater confirmation of God's character and faithful support. After Job passed through adversity, he admitted, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You" (Job 42:5). Looking to God during hard times clearly reveals the genuineness of the relationship and provides a platform specially designed for deepening that relationship. "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (I Peter 5:10).
Even believers who already have a lasting, significant relationship with God should earnestly desire to strengthen their relationship by seeking God's truth, by being encouraged by others, and by seeking communion with God through their own trials. Furthermore, they must let others know by their words and by their examples that such a special relationship is possible. Christians who refuse to share their own "something real" have no grounds for bemoaning the weakness of Christianity around them.