When will God bring Revival?
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet,
according to Shigionoth.
O Lord, I have heard the report of thee, and thy work,
O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years
renew it; in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.
God came from Teman, and the Holy One
from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.
His brightness was like the light, rays flashed
from his hand; and there he veiled his power.
Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed close behind.
He stood and measured the earth
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered,
the everlasting hills sank low. His ways were as of old.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
Was thy wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Was thy anger against the rivers,
or thy indignation against the sea,
when thou didst ride upon thy horses,
upon thy chariot of victory?
Thou didst strip the sheath from thy bow,
and put the arrows to the string.
Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw thee, and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep grave forth its voice, it lifted its hands on high.
The sun and moon stood still in their habitation
at the light of thine arrows as they sped,
at the flash of thy glittering spear.
Thou didst bestride the earth in fury,
thou didst trample the nations in anger.
Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people,
for the salvation of thy anointed.
Thou didst crush the head of the wicked,
laying him bare from thigh to neck.
Thou didst pierce with thy shafts the head
of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
Thou didst trample the sea with thy horses,
the surging of mighty waters.
I hear, and my body trembles, my lips quiver
at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones,
my steps totter beneath me.
I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come
upon people who invade us.
Though the fig tree does not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God
of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like hinds' feet,
he makes me tread upon my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
Habakkuk appears on the scene unannounced. Who he was, and of what family or tribe he was born we are not told. Neither do we know very much about the time of his ministry. But we gather from the content of his messages that he came later than Ezra and Nehemiah and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. His name is obscure, though there are scholars who tell us that it denotes "ardent embracing" or "wrestling." There is no doubt that he was a man who wrestled with God. Time after time throughout his prophecy we find him interceding in prayer and stretching out in faith as he seeks to bring down from the open heaven the revival that his people so desperately need. In his great prayer, Habakkuk answers the "when" of revival. He acknowledges several things that are associated with revival:
"O Lord,… in the midst of the years [revive thy work]." The sovereignty of God in a spiritual awakening is always demonstrated by the manner of His working. God is constantly working. During His earthly ministry, Jesus could say, "My Father is working still, and I am working" (John 5:17). It is in the very nature of God's activity to continue working until the task is completed. Only the sinfulness of man hinders the progress of the divine purpose. But in spite of all that man says or does, God will finish His work. The Apostle Paul affirms this when he writes: "I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
When God works in reviving power He does so suddenly
—"God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise." The Holy Spirit came suddenly at Pentecost for we read: "Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind…. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:2,4). And following this invasion from heaven the glory of God covered the heavens and the earth was full of His praise, for with the birth of the Church, her witness passed from one city to another until the faith of the Church was "spoken of throughout the whole world" (Romans 1:8).
When God works in reviving power He also does so searchingly—"His brightness was like the light, rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed close behind." It is significant that when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost we read that He appeared as tongues of fire upon each of the men and women gathered in the upper room (Acts 2:3). That fire symbolized God's searching ministry. It is little wonder that the preaching that followed Pentecost convicted men and women so that they had to cry out, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Revival can never come without an exposure of and judgment on sin.
God also works solemnly in reviving power. Habakkuk illustrates this from the lives of David, Deborah and Joshua. He recalls how God marched through the land in indignation and trampled the heathen in anger. Already Habakkuk has pointed out in his prophecy that God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Habakkuk 1:13). The prophet is only saying again that we cannot expect revival if we are not prepared to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of our God and accept His judgment on every appearance of sin.
And then God's reviving power works savingly—"Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, for the salvation of thy anointed. Thou didst crush the head of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck." In language which is both colorful and challenging, the prophet describes the mighty saving activity which follows in the wake of revival. God's purpose is always redemptive in its out-working.
In our text we also see the manner of His timing—"O Lord…in the midst of the years [revive thy work]; in the midst of the years make it known." Commentators have always found the phrase "in the midst of the years" difficult to interpret. But whatever its connotation, one thing is clear: in the sovereign workings of God we can always be sure of the planning of God's exact moment—"In the midst of the years make it known." When the Lord Jesus was about to leave for heaven His disciples wanted to know when and where He would restore the kingdom to His ancient people. The Master replied, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7). Of one thing, however, they could be certain: God works on time. At the coming of our Lord Jesus into the world God was on time: "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law" (Galatians 4:4). This was true on the occasion of the advent of the Holy Spirit, for Luke tells us: "When the day of Pentecost was fully come…suddenly there came a sound from heaven" (Acts 2:1,2). What a relief it is to know that God has planned exactly when to send revival. Oh that we might be ready in the day of His power!
In this matter of divine timing we can be sure of the purpose of God's express message—"O Lord, I have heard the report of thee, and…I fear…. In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy." God always says something definite and relevant to meet our contemporary need. We could illustrate this throughout the whole history of the Christian church, but let us start with the sixteenth century, the age of the Protestant revival known as the Reformation. The message that rang out happened to be the central word of Habakkuk—"the just shall live by his faith" (2:4). Then came the seventeenth century with the revival of Puritanism when the message was the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The eighteenth century saw the first evangelical awakening, with its restatement of the simple gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. John Wesley and George Whitefield traveled north, south, east and west in the British Isles calling on men and women to be born again and to be reconciled to God. The second evangelical awakening of the nineteenth century brought a slightly different emphasis: to evangelize the world. There was a rediscovery of the meaning of the Great Commission: to go "into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Most of the well-established evangelical societies and foreign missions were born out of that revival.
So we have seen something of the manner of God's sovereign working and timing in this unique activity of revival.
But the "when" of revival has to do also with:
"O Lord,…in wrath remember mercy." Here is the cry of a man in dire straits. There is a burden upon his heart; there is a sob in his voice and there are tears in his eyes. He has reached an extremity.
As I have read and reread the stories of revivals, I have found that God always visits His people when they reach the point of desperation. Habakkuk opens his prophecy with the words, "The oracle of God which Habakkuk the prophet saw" (1:1). Then follows a vision of the desperate condition of his people. He sees sin as high as the mountains, the law of God disregarded and the wicked surrounding the righteous. In verses 5 to 11 of that first chapter God replies to the heart-cry of the prophet and discloses what He is about to do. So backslidden and wicked were the chosen people that God had to raise up a nation worse than themselves to whip them into submission and repentance. His language is, "For lo, I am rousing the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize habitations not their own" (Habakkuk 1:6).
God has had to do this again and again throughout history. And I wonder if we are not in a situation when it may well happen again. Communism, with all its strength, its sinister and subtle strategy, is infiltrating one country after another. How soon will it be before the West is overrun and the Church is driven underground and persecuted?
With such a horrifying vision before him, Habakkuk cries out with words of utter desperation:
Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained them as a judgment; and thou, O Rock, hast established them for chastisement. Thou who art of purer eyes than to be-hold evil and canst not look on wrong, why dost thou look on faithless men, and art silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he (Habakkuk 1:12-13).
It is my conviction that we will never have revival until God has brought the Church of Jesus Christ to a point of desperation. As long as Christian people can trust religious organization, material wealth, popular preaching, shallow evangelism, and promotional drives, there will never be revival. But when confidence in the flesh is smashed, and the church comes to the realization of her desperate wretchedness, blindness and nakedness before God, then and only then will God break in.
Desperation leads us to the point of intercession—"I will take my stand to watch, and station myself on the tower, and look forth to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint" (Habakkuk 2:1). Whether or not the "watch" was an actual watchtower with a prayer room, we do not know. What is important and plain is that Habakkuk had to shut himself up with God. There was nothing else for him to do but to watch, pray and wait until God spoke a word from heaven. Oh that God would bring us to this place of intercession! We cannot think or talk, let alone taste of revival, without intercessory prayer. Indeed, the ultimate reason for an unrevived church is the sin of prayerlessness. Certainly there are individuals who are praying for revival, and God is graciously meeting them in personal blessing in their need; but where are the prayer groups, where are the companies of intercessors, where are the churches that are united in an agonizing cry that God would open the heavens and come down and cause the mountains of hindrance and sin and unbelief to melt before His presence? There is only one thing that will save us in this hour of desperation and that is prayer.
When Habakkuk prayed with this urgency God gave him a twofold vision. First, the vision of the sinfulness of man. From Habakkuk 2:3 through 2:19 God describes to His servant the utter sinfulness of man by pronouncing five terrifying woes. Such is the character of this unveiling of man's desperate need that Habakkuk himself is brought to the depths of despair. But this is always God's method; until we ourselves understand heaven's pronouncement upon human sinfulness we shall never be serious enough in our praying for revival.
Second, there was the vision of the holiness of God—"But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him" (Habakkuk 2:20). Because man is what he is in his native defilement, he can only understand his sinfulness in the light of God's holiness. We see this concept repeated again and again in holy Scripture. Think, for instance, of Isaiah. We find him first pronouncing woes upon all and sundry, until he catches a vision of the holiness of God in Chapter 6. Then he bursts out, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5). Here man's extremity brings him to a point of desperation and intercession because of human sinfulness and divine holiness.
Once again, the "when" of revival has to do with:
"O Lord,…in the midst of the years [revive thy work]." Until revival comes there is only one attitude for the man of God: the attitude of trust which believes righteously—"the just shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). The Apostle Paul says the same thing when he writes: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live" (Romans 1:16, 17).
One of the determining factors in bringing about a churchwide revival is this determination to fulfill all of God's purposes righteously in the power of the Spirit. This, of course, is not popular in our present age. Carnal Christians do not and will not understand this attitude to life. They look askance at you and say, "Why bother to live like that? Why be a martyr? Why be considered different or odd?" God have mercy on such thinking and questioning! The Word is clear: "The just shall live by his faith." It is a faith which believes righteously and believes rejoicingly—for though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like hinds' feet, he makes me tread upon my high places.
Dr. G. Campbell Morgan says this passage is the greatest and most priceless of all prophetic poetry.
In verse 17 Habakkuk paints a picture of a country laid waste. What a description of the present-day Church! But faith can look at a hopeless situation and laugh rejoicingly and victoriously. It does not matter how barren, how wasted, how fruitless may be the life of the church—individually or corporately—God can restore and revive. Dr. Morgan points out that to translate this passage literally would almost startle us. What Habakkuk is saying here is: "I will jump for joy in the Lord. I will spin round for joy in God." This is believing rejoicingly. This is faith looking beyond the desolation of sin to the jubilation of the Spirit. While the man of faith believes righteously and rejoicingly, his own life is energized—"God, the Lord, is my strength." If we study the lives of Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah and John, we note that, despite the human outlook, God energized them to stand the strain until it was time for Him to intervene.
The man of faith is also stabilized—"He makes my feet like hinds' feet." The hind, or red deer, is one of the most sure-footed of animals. However dizzy the heights or precipitous the rocks, the hind is sure of its footing. When personal revival lifts the man of faith to heights of revelation and experience, he is strengthened by God's Spirit in the inner man to stand the wonder and glory of the indwelling Son of God. How welcome it is to know that he can be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
And then his life is vitalized —"He makes me tread upon my high places." It is one thing to stand; it is another to walk. By a glorious visitation from heaven a Christian may be placed on a pinnacle of fellowship with Christ, but it is another thing to walk in that light and to continue to breathe that rarefied atmosphere of heaven. But thank God, whether it is commencement or continuance in the Christian life, the secret is the same. It is the faith of the just. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him" (Colossians 2:6).
So we have seen that waiting for general revival is an opportunity for enjoying personal revival. While we expect the sovereignty of God, the extremity of man, and the opportunity of faith to result in a church-wide movement of the Spirit, we can each believe righteously and rejoicingly through a faith that is energized, stabilized and vitalized by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Only a Christian living on these terms has a right to pray: "O Lord,... [revive thy work]; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy."