What is Revival?
Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord
and the king's house; all that Solomon had planned to do
in the house of the Lord and in his own house
he successfully accomplished.
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night
and said to him: I have heard your prayer,
and have chosen this place for myself as a house
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain,
or command the locust to devour the land,
or send pestilence among my people,
if my people who are called by my name
humble themselves, and pray and seek my face,
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:11-14
Billy Graham says:
We need a spiritual revival that will put a new moral fiber into our society... Ever since the end of World War II this country, along with the other English-speaking countries, has been plunging into moral corruption at a rate that is gaining momentum. Honesty and truthfulness have been thrown out of the window. The United States of America is on one mad whirl of amusements and pleasure and licentiousness and immorality. Juvenile delinquency is mounting so rapidly we can't keep pace with the figures. The drug menace, far from decreasing, is increasing, and claiming new young victims every day.
Some of the identical symptoms that were noticed in Rome during the last days of the Empire are now observed and felt in our society. Divorce rates are increasing. Racial tensions are worse, not better. Inflation is siphoning off the savings of those with lower incomes. Political issues are dividing us. Confidence in government has been shaken. Walk down the streets of our cities and read the names of the latest films on the marquees. Most of the films deal with sex, crime, and abnormal behavior. One can only ask, what is the country coming to?
As things are, we are being softened up for the kill. We will be done for before the Communist troops ever get here. It is time that we come to the foot of the cross. When we come to the cross and receive Christ as Savior, he gives us the capacity to love our neighbor. There is no superior race in God's sight. God does not look on the outward appearance, he looks on the heart. God sees our pride. We will have to come where we can love each other as neighbors and look through the eyes of Jesus at these problems.
One of the biggest dangers to the Western world today, as I see it, is false religion. The cults are flourishing. Now, God says you can have all the religion you want. I'm not even going to watch you, he says. I'm not going to hear your prayers because you don't mean what you say. It doesn't come from the heart. Thousands of people in our churches are serving God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. They have never had an encounter with Jesus Christ, have never been born again, have never been converted. God is looking for real and genuine repentance.
In effect, Billy Graham is echoing the passage in 2 Chronicles which states: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." In essence, this is the divine philosophy of revival. It teaches that revival implies a spiritual declension; it also teaches that revival involves spiritual awakening. It matters not how dark and depressing a spiritual situation may appear to be; if God's people, who are called by His name will humble themselves, and pray and seek His face, and forsake their sins, God will hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land. In other words, this verse gives us the "what" of a heaven-sent revival. Observe, first of all:
The Basis of Revival
"If my people who are called by my name." Revival is that strange and sovereign work of God in which He visits His own people—restoring, reanimating and releasing them into the fullness of His blessing. Such a divine intervention will issue in evangelism, though, in the first instance, it is a work of God in the church and among individual believers. This is made clear from the words of our text in which God is addressing His own people; and while the original message was to the nation of Israel we must not hesitate to apply it to ourselves. The New Testament reminds us that "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).
It is plain, then, that if revival is to visit the church there must be a basic relationship of life. In our English Bible the word "revive" is almost exclusively an Old Testament term. It essentially means, "to quicken, recover, or restore," and is always used with reference to God's covenant people. So the Psalmist prays: "Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?" (Psalm 85:6). So when we speak of revival we must not think of the sinner so much as the saint. The sinner needs regenerating; he is "dead through...trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). Nothing but the new birth can bring about a relationship to God. On the other hand, the saint needs reviving. He has life in Christ but he needs life more abundantly. This is why the Lord Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly' (John 10:10).
All across our country today we have men and women who claim to be born again. They have life but their relationship with God is flat and meager, not abundant. This is why we need revival. Only when Christians know what it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit will the nation feel the impact of quality Christianity. The Spirit-filled life is not an optional lifestyle, it is a divine obligation. When God says, "Be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18), He is not offering a promise, He is issuing a command. Not to obey that command is disobedience, and disobedience is sin. The Bible says, "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (James 4: 17). Judged by this standard, how many Christians today are living in sin? This is why the basis of revival is a relationship of life. Only those who have life can have life more abundantly. God says, "If my people…turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
Notice further that if revival is to visit the church there must be a basic responsibility of love— "If my people who are called by my name." The emphasis, in the Hebrew, is on those who own, or profess, God's name. In the language of the church, such people are Christians; they bear the name of Christ.
The term "Christian" is used three times in the New Testament and each occurrence helps us to understand the responsibility God's people have in bearing the precious name of Christ. When the Apostle Paul confronted Agrippa with the words, "Believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest," the king replied, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:27-28). He understood that being a Christian presupposes a belief in Christ as God's Messiah and the Savior of men. And this is true for you and me today. No one can be a Christian with out the exercise of saving faith.
Then we are told that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). The name was given to them in contempt because they belonged to Christ. Everybody in Antioch was aware that Christ was alive, and huge crowds were turning to the Lord Jesus as Savior and Master. The impact of their Christian witness was so extraordinary that Barnabas was sent to investigate what was going on. "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose" (Acts 11:23).
The other reference is in 1 Peter 4:16, where the apostle writes, "If one suffers as a Christian, let him not be a-shamed, but under that name let him glorify God." Whether we like to admit it or not, we live in a Christ-rejecting world, and everyone who takes a Christian stand is bound to face opposition and persecution. The Lord promised this very thing. He said, "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
And as the days darken and the coming of the Lord draws nearer, we are going to face more and more trouble. Even in this kind of a situation God is willing and waiting to revive His church, but He must have men and women who have a basic relationship of love. He must have people who believe in Christ, belong to Christ, and behave like Christ, and the unmistakable mark of Christian behavior is LOVE—love to God and love to man. It is with this in mind that God says to us, "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
This, then, is the basis of revival.
But our text takes us further and underscores for us:
The Burden of Revival
"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways." The burden of revival can be summed up in one word: prayer. As Dr. Louis L. King has pointed out, "The Bible and the record of history reveal that there has never been such a thing as a prayerless revival." And Leonard Ravenhill in his book, Sodom Had No Bible, writes: "The Church is dying on its feet because it is not living on its knees."
The fact of the matter is that we want the blessing of revival but we are not prepared to assume the burden of revival. And yet God says, "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
This matter of prayer is so important that the Spirit of God clearly defines this burden in terms of brokenness in prayer—"If my people…humble themselves." The root meaning of the word is "to bend the knee." "Thus was Midian subdued [under Gideon]...so that they lifted up their heads no more" (Judges 8:28). The picture is one of brokenness. The Bible reminds us that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). This is both a solemn as well as a satisfying statement. For God to resist a man, a church, or a nation, is a terrible thing. The writer to the Hebrews warns us that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). But to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God is to be exalted in due time (1 Peter 5:6). Until we know brokenness in prayer we shall never know blessing in prayer.
How graphically this is exemplified in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14)—"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' "Five times over the Pharisee uses the personal pronoun "I." He was proud and arrogant, and as a consequence his prayer never reached heaven. By way of contrast, however, the publican, "standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' " And commenting on this man's brokenness, Jesus declared, "This man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Are we prepared to be broken in order to be blessed? This can only happen as we contemplate the majesty, glory and purity of God, and then see our own wretchedness, as did Moses, Job, Isaiah, Peter and Paul. God must bring us to the place where we cry, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). Or in the words of Paul Rader:
|Bring us low in prayer before Thee,|
|And with faith our souls inspire,|
|Till we claim, by faith, the promise|
|Of the Holy Ghost and fire.|
Selflessness in prayer—"If my people…pray." Of the twelve Hebrew words employed to express this single verb "to pray," the one used here means "to judge self habitually" (Robert Young). Our major problem in prayer is the selfishness of our desires and designs. Only the Holy Spirit can put to death selfishness in prayer and substitute selflessness in prayer. Paul makes this clear when he affirms that
the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26, 27).
Without doubt, this practice of selflessness in prayer is one of the hardest disciplines to achieve. Selfishness is so much part of our nature. Before we know it, we may even find ourselves praying for revival in order to acquire the fame of a Jonathan Edwards or a Charles Finney!
Has it ever occurred to you that sin started in heaven? When Lucifer, son of the morning, aspired to take the throne of the universe he fell like lightning from heaven. The same sin of self-seeking ruined the Garden of Eden; and it can ruin your life and mine. And believe it or not, that can even happen while we kneel in prayer. This is why it is so important to pray in the Holy Spirit, because one of the ministries of the Spirit is to put to death the manifestations of our self-life. Paul says, "If [we] live according to the flesh [we] will die, but if by the Spirit [we] put to death the deeds of the body [we] will live" (Romans 8:13). Let us daily learn how to accept the sentence of the cross upon our self-life, through the power of the Spirit. Only then shall we know how to prevail in prayer.
Earnestness in prayer — "If my people…seek my face." To seek God's face denotes earnestness in prayer. To illustrate this, Jesus told the story of the friend who went to a neighbor's house at midnight to borrow bread for a hungry traveler. With dramatic emphasis, the Master described the persistence with which the night caller sought the face of his friend until his request was fulfilled. Then Jesus added, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Luke 11:9).
The Word of God reminds us that "it is time to seek the Lord" (Hosea 10:12). In other words, we must avoid the things and people that divert us from deliberately seeking the face of God in these desperate days in which we live. It is true that we may be misunderstood, even misrepresented, but this is part of the price we have to pay for earnestness in prayer.
When Peter was in prison and for a time the voice of the gospel was silenced, we read that the early church prayed "without ceasing" for his release (Acts 12:5). This must have involved the denial of food and sleep, and even business, in order to prevail with God. Let us remember that earnestness means seriousness in prayer. When Jacob cried, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me" (Genesis 32:26), he was in earnest, and God rewarded him with blessing.
Holiness in prayer—"If my people…turn from their wicked ways." Here, of course, we reach the climax of revival praying. The burden that God would lay upon us is not simply brokenness, selflessness, and earnestness, but holiness. James reminds us that "the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:16). And Paul exhorts us that "men [should] pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Timothy 2:8). And the Psalmist asks, "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place?" and then gives the answer, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Psalm 24:3, 4). To have defilement on our hands, dissension in our spirits, and doubt in our hearts is to cancel out all our effectiveness in prayer.
Turning from our wicked ways, very often, involves the public confession of our sins. In the Welsh Revival (1904-1905), when more than 100,000 people were converted in the space of five months, Evan Roberts emphasized this matter of public confession of sin. His four points were:
- The past must be made clear by confession of every known sin to God, and every known wrong to man.
- Every doubtful thing in the believer's life must be put away.
- Prompt and implicit obedience must be rendered to the Spirit of God.
- Public confession of Christ must be made within and without the church.
Reporting on this revival, Dr. G. Campbell Morgan points out that the movement was characterized by the most remarkable confessions of sin—confessions that were costly.
In the 1932 Shantung Revival in China, prisoners would not confess their sins, even though they were tortured unmercifully. But when they came under the power of that revival they admitted their wrongdoings immediately. What torture could not do, the Spirit of God accomplished.
Only the Holy Spirit can convict "the world of sin,...righteousness, and…judgment" (John 16:8). We play at prayer when we come into God's presence with unholy lives. There is more said about holiness in the Bible than on any other subject and yet, tragically, this quality is least apparent in the church today. We must hear God saying afresh to us, "Be holy: for I…am holy" (Leviticus 19:2); and "without [holiness]…no man shall see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). We have confused biblical Christianity with national culture, and have compromised the laws of God with the lusts of man. We will never see revival until we know what it is to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2).
The Blessing of Revival
"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." God is far more ready to bless than we are to receive. It is His very nature to give and to keep on giving. The Bible reminds us that "the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11). "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?" (Romans 8:32). "God…richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17).
These and other promises all go to show the warmth of God's heart toward man, and what He is willing and waiting to do for us. The only reason we do not know the fullness of blessing is because we have not fulfilled the conditions. But if we understand the basis and the burden of revival we are promised God's favor—"Then will I hear from heaven." We notice that the opposite of revival is a closed heaven. God warns, "When I shut up the heavens…there is no rain." Nothing can be more ominous than a closed heaven. On the other hand, when God looks on His people with divine favor heaven is opened and refreshing rain begins to fall.
We must remember the clear alternatives: either judgment or revival. Many believe that with the prevailing conditions in the Church and in our country judgment is inevitable. If God had to judge the generation of Noah's day, and later the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, is there any hope for us today? And when God judges He begins with His Church, for Peter reminds us that "the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God" (1 Peter 4:17). On the other hand, when the Lord looks with favor on His people the windows of heaven are opened and blessing is poured forth in such measure that there is not room enough to receive it (Malachi 3:10).
Divine favor is one of the guarantees of genuine revival, which someone has described as "a person or a community saturated with the presence of God—an accurate description, for when God breaks into a life, or a community, there is nothing else that matters, except Jesus, the glory of Jesus, the name of Jesus. Revival is not some emotion or worked up excitement, it is rather an invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God.
God's Word comes alive. A study of revival shows that every visitation from heaven has brought with it a new interest in God's Word. Great doctrines that were forgotten, or neglected, come to light; justification by faith, the forgiveness of sins, the work of the Spirit, the authority of the Bible, and the hope of the Lord's return, and so on.
God's Church comes alive. Christians cease to be passive and assume their true leadership in the family, the church, and the country. They become the "salt" and the "light" in contemporary society.
God's work comes alive. Evangelism and foreign missions have followed every major revival, ever since the days of Pentecost. All this, and more, are the evidence of divine favor. This is what Habakkuk meant when he cried, "Revive thy work in the midst of the years, in…wrath remember mercy" (3:2).
God's Fellowship—"Then I will…forgive their sin." Unforgiven sin is the most serious condition in human experience. For the unregenerate, it means ultimate hell; for the believer, it means barrenness and uselessness here on earth, and shame and loss at the judgment seat of Christ. By the same token, forgiven sin is the ground of true fellowship with God. John reminds us that "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
Luke gives us a beautiful description of fellowship in times of revival. After the Holy Spirit had come with renewing wind and refining fire, we read that the disciples "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). No less than seven aspects of this fellowship of revival follow:
There was the fellowship of divine energy—"Many wonders and signs were done by the apostles" (Acts 2:43). When God is at work in a fellowship of believers there is always the evidence of the miraculous—"wonders and signs." Our problem is that we have come to feel that so much of our church life must be explainable in human terms. It may be helpful to become computerized, organized, and publicized but so often we become efficiently dead because we are so suspicious of the miraculous or the supernatural.
There was the fellowship of divine unity—"All who believed were together" (Acts 2:44). Nothing pleases God more than the unity of His people. That is why the Psalmist exclaims, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" for there the oil of fragrance, the dew of freshness, and the blessing of fullness are poured out in abundant measure (Psalm 133).
There was the fellowship of divine charity—They "had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:44, 45). How heartwarming it is when a revival of caring and sharing pervade the people of God! Unfortunately, the opposite is what we usually see today. Materialism, possessiveness and selfishness keep us from true love and fellowship.
There was the fellowship of divine constancy—"Day by day [they attended] the temple together" (Acts 2:46). There was no problem in church attendance, either at the prayer meeting or at the Bible Hour. Only revival can solve the problem of empty churches today.
There was the fellowship of divine radiancy—"They partook of food with glad...hearts" (Acts 2:46). That word "glad" describes exuberant joy. One of the fruits of true revival, down through the centuries, has been this quality of joy. We have plenty of superficial or circumstantial happiness and shallow merriment, but so little true joy in the Holy Spirit.
There was the fellowship of divine purity. "They...did eat their meat with...singleness of heart" (Acts 2:46). The word "singleness" occurs only here in the New Testament. It comes from apheles and means "free from rock, stones or grit." It suggests the thought of purity from anything which creates friction in personal or communal life. There was a transparency and openness with God and with one another. Here was a fellowship of believers walking in the light under an unclouded heaven with the ungrieved, unquenched Holy Spirit filling their lives.
There was the fellowship of divine liberty. They were found "praising God and having favor with all the people (they were uninhibited in their witness). And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). This is what happens when God visits His people in a spiritual awakening.
When the revival of 1858 broke out in the United States it is reported that 50,000 New Yorkers were converted from March to May—a period of three months. During that single year the number of reported conversions throughout the country reached an average of 50,000 a week for a period of two years. There were 10,000 additions to church membership weekly. By actual count, over one million persons were added to the Body of Christ in that brief period. Just to read such figures makes us long for a similar visitation in our time.
God's Fruitfulness—"Then I will…heal their land." As we read the context carefully we see that a closed heaven meant drought, famine and pestilence. No words could better symbolize the problems we now face in our country today, and it is even worse overseas. We must recognize that the material, marital and moral problems of our time are due to spiritual causes. This is why we need revival. There is no situation in contemporary life that cannot be righted by God Almighty—if only He is allowed to work through His revived people. After all, the promise is, "I will…heal their land."
God has an answer to material problems. Inflation, energy, unemployment, and a host of other issues, are due to human sin. Call it greed, self-seeking, mismanagement, or whatever, it is human sin. The history of revival is replete with illustrations of how problems like these have been solved by the working of Almighty God.
In the Great Awakening under the Wesleys, problems such as slavery, prison reform, liquor traffic, poor education, were substantially eliminated.
Wesley fervently believed that Christianity was a religion with social implications. One of his maxims was, "The Gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness." Thus out of this fire which swept England, Wales and Scotland there came a purifying social reform. Its cleansing power was felt in every direction and in all areas of life. (M. O. Owens, Jr.)
God has an answer to marital problems. Never in our history has there been such a breakdown in married life. In spite of all our seminars, and the flood of literature on topics such as the home and human relationships, we have more people, including preachers, who are being divorced than ever in living memory. Only one thing can solve marital problems and that is revival.
A study of Ephesians, Chapter 5, will establish this beyond dispute. The harmony between husbands and wives, and parents and children, depends upon the fullness and freedom of the Holy Spirit, in marital and family life. It is one thing to have a Pentecost in the church, but quite another matter to experience a Pentecost in the home. In God's economy there is no dichotomy. If we claim to know revival in the church it should also affect our home life. Since the home is the unit of society and the bulwark of national life, we must not rest until God heals the relationships of our homes across our land.
God has an answer to moral problems. M. O. Owens, Jr., in a study of the effects of the Wesleyan Revival in Great Britain, records that
with the upsurge of the Gospel and the decrease in the consumption of liquor, crime also began to diminish. It became safe to walk the streets of the cities again. Bribery and corruption in business and government lessened. Conversation modulated toward the chaste and decent. The theater became once again the place for art and true entertainment rather than the vulgar and bawdy. The gambling craze almost disappeared, and cruel sports were outlawed.
The effect of the Revival was felt in every area of life. England was once more "merrie England." The full effect is, of course, incalculable. Only eternity can tell of the many lives touched and redeemed. Wesley himself wrote of the results: "Multitudes have been thoroughly convinced of sin, and shortly after, so filled with joy and love that whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could hardly tell; and in the power of this love they have trampled under foot whatever the world accounts either terrible or desirable, having evidenced in their severest trials an invariable and tender goodwill to mankind, and all the fruits of holiness. Now so deep a repentance, so strong a faith, so fervent love, and so unblemished holiness, wrought in so many persons in so short a time, the world has not seen for many ages." No other movement can make a claim comparable to this—to be known as the moral watershed of Anglo-Saxon history.
When we read accounts like this we have to cry out. "Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down—at your Presence the mountains would melt" (Isaiah 64:1); and again: "Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?" (Psalm 85:6).
I believe that revival for our time is possible. The only question is whether or not we are prepared to take seriously the basis, the burden, and the blessing of revival. God says, "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." Are we ready to take God at His Word, meet His terms, and see Him work in our homes, in our churches, and in our land? Then let us pray with all our hearts:
|Come, Holy Spirit, dark is the hour—|
|We need Your filling,|
|Your love and Your mighty power;|
|Move now upon us, stir us, we pray,|
|Come, Holy Spirit, revive the Church today.|