Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
I don’t like blogs. I write content for half a dozen blogs on a regular basis, but I have to confess I only tolerate these 21st century publishing platforms. The source of my displeasure is that an ideal blog post, so I’m told, is 400 to 600 words, just enough space to make an unsubstantiated claim, or spout some cultural cliché. Like seeing and smelling the golden off brown skin of a Thanksgiving Day turkey, 600 words doesn’t get down to the meat and bones of an issue. A blog leaves me hungry for depth, meaning and life changing content.
This topic, praying for revival, is the perfect example. Readers have as many varied expectations of this topic as the number of people reading these words. For some, praying for revival is an evening-long special service, or week-long series and accompanying heightened emotional fervor. Like listening to a carnival barker, we are drawn in by promises of amazing and wonderful ___ (fill in the blank) _________, and a few days later, as the tents are pulled up, and the trucks packed, we feel better, but possessing no lasting change . . . not really. We are still hungry for spiritual change.
A blog post is a lot like what the church accepts for a revival. We read short paragraphs and bullet pointed ideas, feel better, and then life goes on as normal. No, I don’t like blog posts, and I’m not satisfied with this accepted definition of a revival either.
The term revival was coined to describe periods in history through which entire cultures were affected. Significant portions of the population returned to a deep religious faith and renewed religious practice. The First Great Awakening in the US happened prior to the Revolutionary War, and was responsible for the distinct God-centered message in our countries founding documents. Franklin, Jefferson, Washington were greatly influenced by, among others, David Brainerd and George Whitefield. The latter was an English cleric who preached with the Wesley brothers. Together they were responsible for the revival which saved England from the social and moral turmoil which nearly destroyed France during the late 18th century.
During America’s Second Great Awakening (1830-1860), traveling preachers like Jonathan Edwards and Charles G. Finney traveled New England by horseback. Their preaching emptied bars, taverns and closed burlesque theaters. They didn’t preach against the businesses, rather their message of holiness and a Holy God affected measurable cultural change. The power of God’s Spirit was so intense that accounts of Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God” include the story of men and women falling out of their pews, holding to the hard wood seats for fear that the ground were going to open, and they would be sent directly into the flames of hell.
Finney would arrive in a town, and take a room overlooking the town square for prayer and fasting. In one New England town, Finney wrote in his autobiography that after 3 days of intense intercession, men and women wandered out of the bars, and stopped each other on the street, wondering why they felt so unsettled. Finney’s sermons didn’t boast the benefits of heaven as much as he assailed his hearers with the fear of hell. He wouldn’t offer an altar call until his listeners knew their fate apart from Christ. Only then were they invited to repent, and receive new life. This process sometimes took days, and Finney didn’t stop preaching until his hearers “brought forth fruit, suited for repentance.”
At this point, I must backtrack. I started this post with a bit of a complaint, and now I’ve continued to question our modern view of revival. My purpose is not to assail churches, or insist that revival preaching must be hell fire and brimstone. No, my point is much more radical. If we are to pray down heaven’s favor and men’s salvation, we must have an accurate vision of the revival we seek, and not settle for counterfeits.
Genuine revival praying and revival itself brings forth fruit, identifiable visible and measurable fruit. Revivals like the ones recorded in history books are measured by the visible affects they left in our culture. Genuine revival is centered on repentance and holiness, which creates evidence that an entire people group is fundamentally changed. Revival brings transformation in the way men and women conduct their businesses, relationships, and families. Revival is built on the foundation of prayer which leads to and starts with repentance, which interestingly enough means “transformation or metamorphosis” in the original Greek.
So here are my obligatory blog bullet points:
I’m writing to cast a vision, and I do so with the words of late revivalist Leonard Ravenhill. “The reason the modern church doesn’t have revival is that we are content to live without it.”
1 Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear . . .
6b . . . Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands.
7 Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways.
8 The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.
9 Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. (Is 59. 1-2, 6b-9)
Every revival mentioned herein began from a place where God's people acknowledged their evil hearts and deeds, and then accepted God's terms for renewal. If my people, who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray, seek my face, and turn from their own wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land. 2 Chr 7.14.