Revival: Should We Pray for It?
Lately, I’ve been hearing a recurring theme among Christians and church-goers alike. It is the need for revival in the land. Because of this, I’ve decided to write what I’m hoping will be a short series on the subject of Revival. While I would fully agree that revival is needed, I cannot help but wonder if it will come. If it does come, the other concern is what might it look like and how long might it last?
If we consider some of the great revivals in American history, the question immediately comes to mind – what did that revival accomplish? Certainly, it brought people closer to God. It caused people to look at their own lives and compare them with where they should have been. However, did those revivals change society as a whole? Did they have any real lasting effect?
I want to look at the following areas in this series to help us unpack the meaning of revival, why revival might not come, and what it means even if revival does not come (to America).
First, let’s look at what revival is all about, shall we? I don’t intend to be exhaustive here by any stretch. I simply want to provide a basic understanding for the meaning of revival and what it entails.
WHAT IS REVIVAL?
In short, we might say that revival in the religious sense is a renewal or an awakening within a person or people that compels them to take their relationship with God more seriously. Revivals are designed to “wake” people up to the need to understand the living relationship we have with God (for those who are saved) and to call people into that living relationship with God (for those who are not saved).
Often, revivals are said to occur when there is some great outpouring of emotionalism. Some argue that this emotionalism is what the Holy Spirit uses to cause people to realize their need, while others argue that the emotionalism is the result of a movement of the Holy Spirit. Still others argue that emotionalism itself is not an evidence that the Holy Spirit has worked at all. They compare this to the birth of the Church in Acts 2 where it was not emotionalism but the very presence of the Holy Spirit who caused disciples in the Upper Room to speak in languages that, while unknown to them, were clearly understood by Jews from all parts of the known world who had come to Jerusalem to worship during the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which is also Pentecost for Church.
In essence then, most would agree that revivals are times when people are called to renew their relationship with God, to make good on their promises, to undertake to live a more holy life before God in order that He would receive the greater glory.
Historic Revivals in America
Many historians consider 1801 to 1900 times of revival in America. This time in America was filled with failures and challenges and created a need/desire to see things changed.
“Sometimes it is during the days of hopelessness and despair that revival comes to a people! So it was in the middle of the nineteenth century. In the United States, it was a spiritual, political, and economic low point. Many people had become disillusioned with spiritual things because of preachers who had repeatedly and falsely predicted the end of the world in the 1840’s. Agitation over the slavery issue had bred much political unrest, and civil war seemed imminent. A financial panic hit in 1857. Banks failed, railroads were bankrupt, factories closed, unemployment increased. Many Christians realized the need for prayer in such dire situations, and prayer-meetings began to spread around the country.“
Notice the description of the times above. America was at “a spiritual, political, and economic low point.” So many bad things were happening that people began to think that God had abandoned America. Many believed the only clear solution would be found in revival. Where else could one turn for solutions if not God?
The problem though is that God never said He would eliminate problems in our life. He does promise to be with us through them. We need to learn to trust Him in all situations. In fact, Paul argues that in all things we should give thanks because this is God’s will concerning us and our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
If Paul could say that with confidence, then I have to wonder why we look at what we consider to be bad things and immediately think that God is opposed to it but can’t really do anything unless and until people get right with Him. The implication is that God is powerless, impotent, unable to accomplish His will unless human beings actively partner with Him. This is a belief that stems – I believe – from emotional virtue, which is political correctness.
How often have I heard or read that God is getting ready to judge America. Maybe you have too. These concerns are voiced by sometimes well-meaning Christians and other times by individuals who seem to have no clue about rightly dividing the Word of Truth. They see everything “bad” as being out of God’s will and only the “good” as being part of it. To believe this is to ignore biblical truth that God is gloried in all things – good and bad, not just those things which we identify as good.
From 1795 to 1835, parts of America went through what is known as the Second Great Awakening, which was led by evangelist Charles Finney. His emphasis was actually on works. Some of the things he believed and taught left him open to attack from individuals who compared what he said with the Bible. This is partly due to the fact that Finney himself was somewhat unclear in what he taught/believed. People didn’t know for certain if he was teaching a works-based salvation or that good works should naturally follow true repentance leading to salvation. It was almost as though Finney did not know – from a truly biblical perspective – whether true saints would be able to persevere unless the emphasis was on persevering through good works, the emphasis being on the individual rather than on God’s work in and through the individual.
There are some who count Finney as an outright fraud, a person who did not thoroughly understand what the Scriptures taught. Though licensed as a Presbyterian minister, he often expressed doubts about some of the Presbyterian theological framework.
However, in spite of all of this – and each reader can decide for themselves the validity of Charles Finny – the fact remains that a revival of sorts did occur under his ministry. People were changed, but for how long and how far was the reach of those changed individuals?
What I believe Christians need to be aware of today is that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Faith does not come through our emotions. God never wants us to use our emotions to make decisions because decisions made based on how we feel about something are destined to change because our emotions are not constant.
Today, we are hearing a cacophony of voices crying out that if only America would experience revival, all would be well. We have people who stand up and base their entire best-selling book on one verse of Scripture that actually applies to Israel, but is somehow made to apply to America, and these people are praised! Don’t question that person because he is a sacred cow to someone. What he says is clearly what God wants to happen, right? He speaks for God…uh…not necessarily.
We need to leave our sacred cows behind and while we can and should be taught by godly people from God’s Word, they should never be held up as though they cannot fail. To rightly understand what revival means and whether or not America should be praying for national revival, isn’t it best to understand what God’s Word actually says about the times in which we live? Isn’t God’s Word the barometer and guide for our lives? If so, surely God has something to say about whether or not revival is on the way, wouldn’t you think?
This is part 1 and we have numerous parts to go through yet. We will take the time to discuss more related to revival and whether or not the push for revival in America is simply wishful thinking or something attainable. I will leave you with this. Any time a movement seems to be propped up by people, it is destined to fail. In Acts 2, the 120 waited and prayed in the Upper Room. They simply waited as Jesus told them to wait. Their patience was rewarded with the outpouring and filling of the Holy Spirit. It was He who empowered and emboldened them to be His witnesses and it was He who saved 3,000 people that day.
But did this “revival” take Rome by storm? History shows us that this was not to be. If we follow today’s logic, we would have to say these first century Christians failed. Yet, I don’t believe that at all and we’ll talk about that next time.