Hillsong takes up a revival theme

“This is revival”, says the signs all over the Allphones Arena in Homebush Bay, Sydney, where this year’s Hillsong Conference is underway. The text is white, screaming from a warm red or orange background. So the obvious question to ask at the Hillsong Conference press conference was…

“What is revival?”

Brian Houston: “That is a great question… To me revival is multi-dimensional. You can think of revival as personal passion in terms of our relationship with God, or God putting his breath on our efforts and seeing an outpouring of God’s Spirit, and I think that is very much at the heart of what revival is.

“Our theme verse for the year – and coming into this conference – has been Ezra 9:8-9: The people were displaced, the temple was in ruins and they were devastated. And two little verses of grace come into this desperate situation. Ezra 9:8-9 says, “And now for a little while grace has been shown us from the Lord our God to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in this holy place, that our eyes may be enlightened, and to give us a measure of revival in our bondage.

“(That’s a revival from slavery, obviously). But we were slaves—and our God did not forsake us in our bondage but he extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia (which was favour from a most unlikely source) to revive us to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

“Within that whole verse it is “we were slaves but God did not leave us”. So there is release, revive, repair, rebuild. That is what we have been trying to build into our church.

“You revive dead things. You repair broken things. You rebuild desolate things. So how does that apply to people’s lives, what needs reviving?

“Sometimes our marriages need reviving. They are on death’s door.

“Sometimes it could be, literally, a person’s business and finances. Or relationships. There are many things practically, that revival can relate to.

“We are not talking about one dimension of revival. But the overwhelming thing we are believing for God to do in this conference is for there to be just an absolute reviving of the passion for Christ inside people in a way that sweeps over the entire conference and does something significant when we take it to the cities and nations and states of Australia, New Zealand and around the world – it makes a lasting difference rather than just having a good conference.”

Eternity: “What would look different in Australia if we had revival?”

Cassandra Langton, Hillsong’s Global Worship team leader: “I think a nation that was captivated by Jesus Christ is different to the nation we currently have. I think it infiltrates everything from politics and government, schools and education, and communities. I think it brings release from poverty for people.

“I think revival at a church captures the heart of God for people, and for our nation. It is a beautiful thing. I think it is the message that we try to empower our church to do—to go and make a difference. In people’s everyday lives—to look outside of their own situations and lift their eyes to see what Jesus Christ would be doing if he was here in person.”

Bobbie Houston: “One of the hashtags in the promotions—I like hashtags—is “revival starts in me”. Our true heart is that at this conference for the thousands of delegates travelling today to be here, is that the heavens are going to open, that God is going to pour out his spirit upon them, and that they are going to experience something of a personal revival.

“Because the gathered church at the end of the week becomes the scattered church, we all go back to our places and our plantings, our communities and the things that we have been entrusted with. That sense of revival, what Brian and Cass have been saying, that will be felt in our nation.

“And when the glory and the goodness of God is felt, then that translates into changed lives. Lives that will be better— in Jesus’ name.”

Brian Houston. “I think on revival, my own personal belief is, you can stereotype it in a way, where people have had “revival meetings,” weeks of meetings that have left people weak and exhausted, weary and “revived all out”. I wonder sometimes in Australia whether if we had revival we would even recognise it. We tend to build stereotypes about what it is, and could oftentimes miss something that God is doing. Not because of God, but because of our own stereotypes.”

Ben Fielding, Hillsong music leader: “I really like that thought, because the fact that there would be one person that would take a week off work and come and sit and seek God is remarkable. Imagine ten people. Imagine 10,000 people. Imagine 20,000 people. They are going to pack out a room like this. To me that looks like a picture of revival, in itself.

“Who knows what God might do this week? What might happen in the days to come? I think we could well be living in that time. Already.”

Life FM in Adelaide asked, “How does Hillsong keep the conference fresh?”

Brian Houston: “Twenty three years of conference. You know it’s rather scary. Will the people continue to come? He goes on to say that they no longer feel any pressure to be bigger and “more whizz bang” each year. If worship works at their church, they can be confident it will work at our church, that it will work at the conference.”

Later Brian Houston turns to the unexplainable: why God blesses some human efforts and not others.

“To me there are some things that are unexplainable. To me the Alpha course from Holy Trinity Brompton, literally millions of people, non-Christian people have done these studies, watched these videos that actually are relatively boring. It’s unexplainable. You know Joel Osteen, you watch him on TV, he’s sweet, he smiles, he gives a little pump-up message… and yet you go to America, it is staggering. Joel’s been in rooms with big-time celebrities who just fall to pieces because Joel Osteen is in there. I mean it is un-explainable.

“I just think there are some things that God decides to put his kiss on it. Others can beat themselves up over it, “why them and why not us”. I think for whatever reason, God blessed us.”

As I sit outside the Olympic park railway station taking a break before heading home, my Hillsong media badge obscured, a young man spots me. He wanders up with a smile “Do you know that Jesus wants to bless you?” he asks. “I certainly do,” I reply.

The longing for revival, and prayer for it, is generally held as being the precursor of revival. The desire for revival, for God to act and renew the Church and bring many people into it is always to be welcomed.

It’s worth observing that in my last two interviews, one with Hillsong, the other with a leader of the conservative evangelicals, a heartfelt desire for revival was expressed.

Stuart Piggins book, “Spirit, Word and World” whose third edition was published last year tells the story of how the conservative evangelical and Pentecostal movements have impacted each other, and Australian society in general. One welcome feature of the book its that it makes accessible the history of Australian revivals.

So if a revival was to break out this week at the Hillsong conference, it would join the Sunshine Revival of 1925 in Melbourne, Wudinna in country South Australia in 1969, and the indigenous revival that began in Elcho Island in 1978. (This list includes Anglican, Pentecostal and Uniting Church based movements of the Spirit. As Brian Houston points out: we don’t get to chose what God will kiss.)