Revival at the Margins: How Emptiness Prepares us for the Spirit

This article is a part of our #PrayMay15 initiative leading up to Pentecost. To join us in praying for Pentecost, and learn more here.

Whatever we call it—“Revival” or “Healing” or “Renewal”—it often begins among “the least of these.” In the places which have the least power, I’m watching folks re-imagining and ready for revival.

Whether because of their work as artists and activists or because of their gender, race, ability or age, all of these folks in my community are on the margins in some way or another. In my conversations with each of them I’ve seen my longing mirrored in their longing and I see how it grows from their own brokenness and the brokenness of the world.

Hear their stories of longing for revival.


Maybe a good question to ask would be whether God wants revival? Most people would answer, “Yes.” If he does, why aren’t we seeing it? What is hindering it? Do we want it? Is He withholding it? Is it being offered to us and we’re rejecting it, maybe unknowingly? Maybe when we reject little promptings or signs from Him, we’re rejecting seeds that would produce a large harvest. What are we afraid of? Would we recognize it if we did see it? Would we reject the manifestations of the Spirit as false? What will it cost us? What will we gain? What is lost or missed for us as individuals, the Church, the world if we resist what He wants us to do?

“Do” is such a loaded word. Maybe it’s good to pray about what He wants us to not do, stop doing, undo, and/or start doing again. I suspect He is offering seeds of revival and we resist submitting and surrendering to the planting, pruning, uprooting, fertilizing, etc. What if we made room for the seeds already planted to flourish? Maybe it's good to pray about what He wants us to not do. Click To Tweet

If I dare to fully examine what I really long for, it’s a Supernatural Leap Forward, seeing some instant deliverance from the baggage we’re slowly unpacking. I long for strongholds to be demolished, broken minds and bodies to be healed. I long for spiritual eyes and ears to be opened. I suspect a modern-day revival would involve an increase in compassion for the marginalized. I suspect the modern-day revival would bring peace and unity among believers. In my mind’s eye, I can see believers putting down their swords in the world’s arena, and finding that they make more progress than they ever did in the cultural and political wars.


I think that revival necessarily follows the disciple, and the choice of discipleship, which has everything to do with repentance, literally turning around, changing our minds, following the better way. A lot of our discourse of repentance leaves us suspended somewhere between these two pitfalls: either undermining the transformative, revolutionary force that repentance is or relegating it to the purely moral and individual. The sort of spiritualized repentance that assuages my conscience while ignoring the most significant questions of how my life reflects and embodies the kingdom in substantive ways, is at best uninteresting and at worst all too congruent with the world’s values. “Revival” that leaves us in a pietistic high but doesn’t address our collective complicity with the structures of the principalities and powers is dangerously lopsided. Spiritualized repentance that assuages my conscience while ignoring the most significant questions. Click To Tweet

What does revival mean for the person experiencing homelessness I pass up on the way to a “revival meeting” at church? What does it mean for the rural poor in America’s environmental “sacrifice zones?” For drone strike victims in the Middle East? We as First World Christians stand alongside Peter in the courtyard outside Jesus’ trial, warming our hands at the imperial fires of wealth, privilege, power, and entitlement, and we are being asked the same question: do you know this man? Just in earshot of the tortured Christ in the wounded earth around us, how will we respond – discipleship or denial? Whose reality will we bear witness to – Pax Christi or Pax Americana?
Revival will come when we learn to do justice, love mercy, and walk in humility. The living Christ will meet us there. Let us pray we have the grace, and the courage.


When I think about what revival feels like or what that longing would be, sometimes it’s more of a “restore to me the joy of my salvation” kind of hope & longing, like returning to a beloved place I’ve visited before. But most of the time it feels like dreaming and longing for things I’ve never experienced. It comes from a feeling in my bones that “things aren’t as they should be” when I encounter the brokenness around me and in myself. Then, out of that feeling I’m reminded of stories from others where hope has broken through all that and amazing things have happened: cancer has been healed, dreams became reality, sorrow turned to joy. For me revival looks like longing for all the brokenness to be made right and seeing the hope I’ve seen or heard of in the past lived out in my current reality.


Last year someone asked if they could pray for healing for me. I didn’t feel any need for healing but said yes anyway, with a whisper to God, “If you see something, it’s yours to heal.” And in an instant, He found a wound I didn’t even know I had. And healed it. His Spirit went straight to an image I had of myself and replaced it with his image of me. He took away my belief that I am a weak, irrational woman and showed me how my emotions provide windows into truth. It gave me courage to set aside bondage and shame, to embrace my call, and find my voice. My concern for pleasing others and avoiding stereotypes had me bound up in a stiff suit, marching in line—performing but not free. In contrast, life feels now like running, with hair flying and feet bare, across open fields.

This same image is my prayer for the Bride of Christ. I long for that same healing for the Church, for her to be released from bondage, to remember her calling, for her to run, free and fearless—a powerful and beautiful witness. Does the Church or the world seem irreparably broken? Click To Tweet

These folks feel their brokenness, know their humanity. It’s from these places that they are able to welcome the Spirit. And the best vessel to be filled with the Spirit is an empty one.

What in your life reveals your own humanity? Are you overwhelmed by the political climate? Do you long for justice or peace? Does the Church or the world seem irreparably broken? Do you seem irreparably broken? When we are faced with our inability to understand, control and fix these insurmountable problems, what do we do? Do we numb it? Do we work harder? Do we succumb to depression? There’s a better way—the way that the people of God have always known and that we must rediscover: our limitation is an invitation to cry out to God.

If revival comes when we are receptive to the Spirit and our human limitation makes us know our need for the Spirit, perhaps our weakness is the seedbed of revival.

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