Revival, both personal and corporate, is something about which the Bible often speaks and something all of us should desire. So, as we turn our attention to ten things everyone should know about revival, may these biblical prayers be in our hearts and on our lips:
“Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine; . . . Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! Restore us [or revive us], O LORD God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved! (Psalm 80:14, 18-19).
“Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation (Ps. 85:4-7).
“My soul clings to the dust; give me life [or revive me] according to your word” (Ps. 119:25).
"Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life [or revive me] in your ways” (Ps. 119:37).
"Hear my voice according to your steadfast love; O Lord, according to your justice give me life [or revive me]” (Ps. 119:149).
"O that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence” (Isa. 64:1).
(1) Revival cannot be scheduled. Revival cannot be predicted, but neither can it be precluded. There simply are no natural laws that guarantee revival. True revival is a sovereign work of God (Zech. 4:6). In other words, revival is always a miracle. Revival is not "in our pocket." Once we fall into the trap of thinking that revival is at our beck-and-call, we will begin to develop earthly strategies that we are convinced will produce the desired end. We will become sinfully pragmatic in the business of religion, as we justify virtually any tactic or method just so long as it gets "results". But this is precisely what we must avoid at all costs.
(2) Someone has defined revival as "a copious effusion of the influence of divine grace," i.e., a bountiful outpouring of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. J. I. Packer defines revival as "a work of God by his Spirit through his word bringing the spiritually dead to living faith in Christ and renewing the inner life of Christians who have grown slack and sleepy" (Revival, 36). Or again,
"Revival is God stirring the hearts of his people, visiting them . . . coming to dwell with them . . . returning to them . . . pouring out his Spirit on them . . . to quicken their consciences, show them their sins, and exalt his mercy . . . before their eyes" (Keep in Step with the Spirit, 256).
(3) True revival is a surprising work of God. This is because revival is a gracious work of God. No one deserves revival. One may never expect what one does not deserve. If God were not to send revival, no one could protest that an injustice had been done. That is why we must never demand revival, as if God were in our debt. God is not obligated to visit us with the refreshing waters of his presence. That he occasionally does is an expression of mercy. It is the compassion and loving kindness of God that accounts for revival.
(4) True revival is a sudden work of God. It frequently comes without preparation or planning. Revival is like the sudden spring thunderstorm that bursts from the sky when only moments before the sun shined brightly. Virtually every revival in the history of the church came without warning. Even when revival came upon those who were fasting and praying for it, their testimony reveals that they were, nonetheless, caught off-guard by the sudden effusion of divine favor.
(5) But if revival is a sovereign, surprising and sudden work of God, does that mean we are to do nothing? No. Passivity is never justified. As with salvation and healing, both of which are sovereign works of God, we are to pray for revival. There is nothing inconsistent with praying for that which is a sovereign and surprising work of God, for even prayer is God's gift to us! A. W. Tozer reminds us that when we feel stirred to seek after Christ, "God is always previous!" Jonathan Edwards put it this way:
"There is no way that Christians in a private capacity can do so much to promote the work of God, and advance the kingdom of Christ, as by prayer. . . . Let persons be never so weak, and never so mean, and under never so poor advantages to do much for Christ and the souls of men otherwise; yet, if they have much of the spirit of grace and supplication, in this way they may have power with him that is infinite in power, and has the government of the whole world: and so a poor man in his cottage may have a blessed influence all over the world. God is, if I may so say, at the command of the prayer of faith; and in this respect is, as it were, under the power of his people” (Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival [Yale, 1972], 518).
And again, says Edwards: "When God is about to bestow some great blessing on his church, it is often his manner, in the first place, so to order things in his providence as to shew his church their great need of it, and to bring 'em into distress for want of it, and so put 'em upon crying earnestly to him for it" (Some Thoughts, 517). See especially Isaiah 62:6-7; Jer. 33:2-3; Zech. 8:20-23.
(6) Prayer for revival can be costly. It may cost you your comfort and convenience. Our tendency is to pray for revival, because we think that is the religious thing to do, only later to say, after revival has come: "Oh my! This isn't at all what I had in mind!"
We say we want revival . . . but on our terms. Sadly, we pray, "Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if you promise in advance to do things the way we have always done them in our church."
Or we pray, "Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if I have some sort of prior guarantee that when you show up you won't embarrass me."
Or again, we pray, "Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if your work of revival is one that I can still control, one that preserves intact the traditions with which I am comfortable."
"Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if your work of revival is neat and tidy and dignified and understandable and above all else socially acceptable."
"Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if you plan to change others; only if you make them
"Come Holy Spirit . . . but only if you let us preserve our distinctives and retain our differences from others whom we find offensive."
We must all ask the question of ourselves: How much change am I willing to accept in order to reach the point where the Holy Spirit is no longer quenched?
(7) We are also responsible, in God's power and by means of his grace, to cultivate those qualities of character, those spiritual virtues that please him.
One of the greatest obstacles to revival is pride. In Ps. 138:6 we are told that "though the Lord is exalted, . . . he regards the lowly. But the haughty (or proud) he knows from afar." This is a nice way of saying that God has no intention of going anywhere near the proud. He keeps the arrogant at arm’s length, so to speak. If revival is God drawing near to his people, pride must be crucified (see also Isa. 57:15; 66:1-2; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5-6).
(8) Humility is essential to the onset of revival. Humility entails an openness to do whatever God says, to follow him wherever he leads, regardless of the social, personal, physical, or financial cost. Pride often manifests its ugly head in the form of self-sufficiency, a demand for control over what God is doing, a reluctance to trust God with our emotions, and an excessive concern for reputation and image.
(9) But how do we know when we’ve prayed enough? It is reported that on several occasions during the Welsh revival (1904-06) that people could be heard crying out: "No more, Lord Jesus, lest I die." The point is this: You want revival when you pray for more of Christ. You are in revival when you've got so much of him that you're forced to say, "Stop, no more!"
(10) We are also exhorted to seek God's face, by which is meant an insatiable hunger and unquenchable thirst for God. During the revivals under Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:6 and under Josiah in 2 Kings 23:25 it is said that they "cleaved" unto God (cf. Gen. 2:24; Dt. 11:22; 30:20). Thus what we seek in revival is God himself, his presence, his blessings, his manifestation in our lives, union and communion with him (see Pss. 24:6; 63:1-2,8; 69:32; 73:25)!