Last week we began to think about revival. We defined it as a sovereign visitation of God’s Holy Spirit which brings deep repentance for sin and a renewed passion for God to the church. “A revival,” wrote the 19th century minister Calvin Colton, “is a special and manifest outpouring of the Spirit of God when the work no longer labors in the hands of men but seems to be taken up by God himself” [Calvin Colton, The History and Character of American Revivals of Religion (London: F. Westley and A. H. Davis, 1832)].
We concluded that despite all the recent talk about the coming revival, we cannot know for certain when revival will come. Revival comes when God comes, and who can say when the Holy Spirit will visit the church in the fullness of his power?
The only thing we can say for certain is that we long to see the Spirit revive the church in our day, as he has in times past. Asa Nettleton (1783-1844) was a preacher during the Second Great Awakening (c. 1787-1825), and he left an eyewitness account of a meeting where revival took place. He wrote:
Did you ever witness two hundred sinners with one accord in one place weeping? The scene is beyond description… I felt as though I was standing on the verge of the eternal world; while the floor under my feet was shaken by the trembling of anxious souls in view of the judgment to come [Winkey Pratney, Revival: Its Principles and Personalities (Lafayette, PA: Huntington House, 1994)].
Or think of the “Praying Revival” of the late 1850’s. That revival began with a lunchtime prayer meeting in New York City. The first week, six people came. The next week, twenty turned out. Six months later, ten thousand businessmen were meeting for prayer. Similar meetings were held in more than a thousand towns and cities east of the Mississippi River.
Christians who lived through that great movement of God said it was as if the Spirit of God was hovering over the Eastern seaboard. According to one account,
Those on ships approaching the East Coast at times felt a solemn, holy influence even hundreds of miles from land. Revival began on one ship before it reached the coast. People on board began to feel the presence of God and a sense of their own sinfulness. The Holy Spirit convicted them and they began to pray. As the ship neared the harbor, the captain signaled, “Send a minister.” Another commercial ship arrived in port with the captain, and every member of the crew converted in the last 150 miles of the journey. Ship after ship arrived in the ports of the East Coast with the same story. Passengers and crew were suddenly convicted of their sin and turned to Christ before they reached the American coast [Wesley Duewel, Revival Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995)].
What Christian does not long to experience such a gracious work of the Holy Spirit in his or her own lifetime? Imagine a DC-10 full of passengers sensing the presence of Almighty God and coming under the conviction of sin. Imagine them crying out to God to be saved. Then imagine the request coming over the airwaves to the air traffic controllers: “Send a minister!” Then imagine the man boarding the aircraft on the runaway in order to preach the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
Or imagine what it would be like if revival came to your own congregation. Just imagine it! Imagine the church full on a weeknight, with people coming simply to pray. Imagine the leaders of the church openly confessing their sins. Imagine long-standing grudges settled in a moment through the reconciling grace of the Holy Spirit. Imagine teenagers coming forward to give their lives to Jesus Christ and to commit themselves to a lifetime of Christian service. And imagine members of the church in far distant places—missionaries, perhaps—being visited by the Spirit of God at the very same moment.
God can do all that, and much, much more. We should long for him to do great and marvelous things in our own times. Not that we can make God come in the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot predict when he will come, or even whether he will come at all.
But there is one thing we can do, and that is to ask God to come. In his wonderful little book on Prayer, the Norwegian theologian O. Hallesby (1879-1961) writes, “We long for revivals. We speak of revivals. We work for revivals, and we even pray a little for them. But we do not enter upon that labor in prayer which is the essential preparation for every revival.”
If we want to see revival in our times we must pray, for it is God’s usual method to send his reviving Spirit in response to the prayers of his people. Therefore, revival ought to be one of the regular themes of every Christian’s prayer life. Indeed, one of the surest signs that revival is needed is when prayer ceases to be a vital part of the life of a church or of an individual Christian.
Pray for revival. Usually, the best way to begin is to kneel in your prayer closet, draw a circle around yourself, and ask God to revive everyone inside the circle. Then put revival on the prayer list for your small group. Ask God to revive your church, starting with the minister and working all the way out to the smallest child. After that, ask God to revive the other churches in your city, and even throughout the nation.
As you pray for the Holy Spirit to come and revive the church, pray in all humility, holding on to the promise God made through his prophet Isaiah:
This is what the high and lofty One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isa. 57:15).
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