WHAT WILL REALLY BRING REVIVAL?
By Mark Sandford
Youth are straining against the riptides of culture, and Maureen and I are pulling them out of the undertow. We hear them lamenting: “Half of my Christian friends are living with their girlfriends.” “Some of my Christian friends have gotten abortions.” “Some of them don't think gay sex is wrong.” Add to that their discouragement over the many Christian leaders who have fallen into sin, and worse — a string of young leaders who have left the faith altogether, the latest being Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and Marty Sampson, singer/songwriter for Australia's Hillsong. There have always been leaders who fall into sin. But until recently, Maureen and I had almost never heard of Christian leaders declaring, “I am no longer a Christian”! Is this becoming an epidemic?
In any case, it makes sense that it's happening. When Maureen and I were young, if parents weren’t believers, their kids still had the support of a Christianized culture. Even non-Christian parents generally held to Christian morals. And they understood covenant; most parents stayed together “until death do us part.” A lot of today's kids have none of that to fall back on.
My father, John Sandford, used to say, “Parents body forth God to their children.” When leaders compromise their morals or leave the faith, how can the fatherless trust anyone to body forth God? No wonder atheism is on the increase! For so many of our youth, a father's love has not existed, and often, neither has a mother's. So in their hearts and minds neither must Father God. They deceive themselves that they have arrived at atheism through careful philosophical consideration. But who have they really learned it from?
In a recent article, “Understanding the Falling Away,” my brother, Loren, referred to his 2011 book, Visions of the Coming Days, in which he warned of a great falling away from the faith, which has since begun. One of the causes he cited was the absence of fathers. Maureen and I would like to build on that thought with a prayer counselor's perspective.
We have seen the absence of fathers and mothers cause a shift in the way young people face life. This is the most neglected generation in our nation's history, and neglected children often remain in perpetual infancy, emotionally. It’s hard for them to put the ups and downs of life into perspective because parents didn’t do that for them when they were little. You can even see it in the news. Emotionally fragile youth react to a “micro-aggression”--a look, a posture--a slight hint of innuendo--like it's an act of violence. And the failure of their political candidate sends them running to a puppy room for comfort. When our children were hurt, Maureen and I taught them how to regain perspective. We settled their hearts with hugs and consolation, then taught them to not let their feelings define reality. “Yes, that hurt,” we said. And we truly felt it with them. Then we helped them see that it wasn't the end of the world. “We're here, m’love. It's gonna be OK.” They leaned into our chests and soaked up our strength. They sensed in the core of who we were that what we were saying was true.
When children don't have that, their emotions define what is true. When the pain feels too great to bear, nothing that causes pain may be tolerated. That can include eternal laws that, in order to be obeyed, require pain. Staying chaste until married, no matter how hard the wait. Choosing to give birth to the child you have conceived, even when it's terribly inconvenient. Saying “no” to gay sex even if you are same-sex attracted. Marching on in blind faith, even when it feels like God has abandoned you.
When parents haven't made God's love real, children may numb their pain with the lie, "There is no one who will love me." Because no one in heaven or on earth feels safe, they hold pain inside until they can hold it in no more. Then, in desperation, they blindly run to anyone available. I saw this illustrated on a TV show about a wild horse-tamer. He went into the corral alone. The horse frantically ran from him until it realized there was no one else to turn to. Then it approached him as if to plead, “Someone — anyone — please help me!” It submitted and became willing to do anything the horse-tamer wanted
The question is, who is in the corral with today's youth? Who will compete with the horse-tamers of this world? Pastors and counselors like Loren and Beth and Maureen and me are doing what we can. But we alone cannot turn this generation around. Fathers and mothers, we need you!
I find it ironic that one of the young leaders leaving the faith has the last name of “Sampson," for one of our recent newsletter articles was titled, “The Samsons Are Awakening”! Maureen and I have counseled youth, especially young men, from all over the world who have Samson-like inner strength and passion to serve God, but not the family grounding to keep passion from morphing into deceptions and sexual deviancies. We bathe them with a mother's and father's love, and win their trust to let us harness their strength to the power of the Father's wisdom. But our work will go far only when mothers and fathers in Christ come alongside us and help give young people the nurture they have missed at home. And that won't happen until the church's first priority becomes intimacy with God instead of signs and wonders.
I'll tell you something you might find shocking. Many of the next generation will not be won over by signs and wonders. All their lives they have watched their parents run after these things more than they have pursued their children.
I'll say something even more shocking. If God sends a revival before enough spiritual mothers and fathers are raised up, it will destroy the next generation. Those we win over will be like seeds falling among the rocks. They'll spring up with joy and then wither in the face of testing or temptation because they have no root (Luke 8:13).
When John the Baptist prepared the way for the greatest revival the world had ever known, he did not do it through signs and wonders. He did no miracles; nor did he prophecy much. He did it by preaching a simple message: “And he will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Only after John had accomplished these two tasks did the Messiah usher in the greatest explosion of signs and wonders the world had ever known.
When I was in my mid-forties, the Lord brought this into sharp focus. He impressed upon me that when I reached fifty-seven, Maureen and I would begin our greatest work, and that this would accelerate during my sixties. I sensed that this would also be true of thousands of Christians our age. That work didn’t turn out to be miracle-working or prophesying. Instead, it is giving a father’s and mother’s love to thirsty young souls. As we have spoken to audiences throughout North America, east Asia, and Europe, we have asked, “How many of you have found that since 2013 (the year I turned fifty-seven), increasingly, young people have been drawn toward you like a magnet, wanting a father’s or mother’s love and mentoring?” The sea of raised hands has brought us great comfort. People are catching on.
In his article, Loren warned, “If your emphasis is on the supernatural, you will end up in shipwreck, but if your emphasis is on intimacy with the Father, you will end up being supernatural.” John the Baptist knew that intimacy with the Father fosters intimacy with your children, and that if you plow their hearts, the seeds of the supernatural will will have fertile soil in which to take root. They won't wither under the blazing sun of an increasingly anti-Christian culture.
Do you want to see a great revival, accompanied by signs and wonders? Then stop running after signs and wonders. Seek intimacy with the Father. Then share what you receive with the young people God brings your way. Do your part to halt the great falling away. Show them His fatherly and motherly love. Body forth Christ to them like no one has before.
If you do this, you may be amazed at how many signs and wonders will come your way.
Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6)
© Mark Sandford 2019