Revival! In January, my friend Rebekah asked me to co-lead a prayer group on this topic. Combined, we probably have as much experience on this topic as Billy Graham’s desk chair, but luckily, conviction of spirit trumps qualification. Maybe the Christians in 1918 thought their pandemic was going to usher in a fresh work of the Holy Spirit, too, I don’t know. But I don’t care—why should that close our mouths or calm our hearts? He is risen, indeed! We labor in this present darkness and will not cease praying for a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to flood the earth.
Here’s what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to say about revival:
“You cannot revive something that has never had life, so revival, by definition, is first of all an enlivening and quickening and awakening of lethargic, sleeping church members. Suddenly the power of the Spirit comes upon them … they are humbled, they are convicted of sin … then as a result of their quickening and enlivening, they begin to pray. New power comes into the preaching of the ministers, and the result of this is large numbers are converted. So the two main characteristics of revival are, first, this extraordinary enlivening of the members of the church, and, second, the conversion of masses of people who have been outside in indifference and in sin.” Revival, Crossway, 1987.
No one enjoys being humbled or convicted of sin, but these two things draw us close to the heart of God. Humble, lowly, meek—these are all words that describe Jesus, and therefore are to be sought after in our own souls. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut. We’ve got to repent. Repentance is not a box we have to check off before the Holy Spirit can fall, it is a privilege given to the child who already belongs. We abide with Him. We are already clean. We’re talking about sanctification here, the searing of our souls toward godliness. Repentance is a command that turns out to be a gift. Since our prayers are a sweet aroma to the Lord, why not yield to the lover of our souls?
Repentance is one of the reasons we feel a little nervous and awkward when we pray for revival, though. “Bend me, bend me, bend us!” prayed Evan Roberts in the Welsh revival of 1904-1905. What will that bending look like for me? For my church? For the nation? We want a change in atmosphere, a revolution, a reckoning, but we are uneasy—what if the gospel convicts us, instead of the other guy?
“Shut up about that, I want to hear revival stories!” And they should be told, in all their glittering, hope-filled glory. But you can’t tell them without talking about repentance of sin. Sin is a super unpopular topic these days, not because sin is hard to find, but because modern language traps it in verbiage other than the soul-sick, crushing weight of damnation that it really is. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we must not wallow about in it, reshaping our identity with it, holding it up to ask others if it’s really that bad. No matter what name you give it, sin is not a virtue. It is a state of depravity from which Christ does not tarry in delivering us.
He does not tarry. Right after condemning the lack of repentance in the cities where He did miracles, Jesus gave an invitation stunning in its mercy: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30)
We say we want revival and we’re willing to repent and not get tangled up in accusations from the enemy, but how do we pray? What do we pray for? Indulge me in my Spurgeon phase. I’ve been devouring his sermons like a fangirl. I can’t believe he kept attracting crowds the way he called them out. Every sermon I’m like…OH NO YOU DID NOT!! But he just tears it up every time! It’s ruining all my 1850-fantasies. Instead of trying to keep Jane Austen popular and avoiding tuberculosis, now I can only imagine myself stuffed into a pew at New Park Street. Oh well. These things happen. Here he is on the topic:
“To me it is clear that we need a revival of old-fashioned gospel preaching like that of Whitefield and Wesley. The Scriptures must be made the infallible foundation of all teaching; the ruin, redemption and regeneration of mankind must be set forth in unmistakable terms. It is to be desired beyond measure that the Lord would send a real and lasting revival of spiritual life. We need a work of the Holy Spirit of a supernatural kind, putting power into the preaching of the Word, inspiring all believers with heavenly energy, and solemnly affecting the hearts of the careless, so that they turn to God and live. We would not be drunk with the wine of carnal excitement, but we would be filled with the Spirit. We would behold the fire descending from heaven in answer to the effectual fervent prayers of righteous men. Can we not entreat the Lord our God to make bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the people in this day of declension and vanity?” Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Kind of Revival We Need.” Date and location unknown, possibly circa 1860.
Let us boldly entreat the Lord would make bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the people. If a pandemic can stir the globe to the same screen, how much more a world-swept move of the Holy Spirit? Even in countries whose governments stifle information, salvation spreads behind closed doors and barbed-wire walls. God’s grace is irresistible, His power irrefutable, His love incomparable and eternal. We want revival on the earth because we know the endgame: Jesus is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail because of him. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
So, there’s our answer to the what/where/how to pray, and as you might suspect, it’s another “not about us” answer. Worship the One who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. (Rev. 1: 5-6) Praise him! Obey his Word! Delight, rejoice, wail, crash to your knees, get up and feast, dwell in the sweet, precious, complete victory of the cross. Our stories may have started in death and failure, but we’re not just walking in the righteousness of God now. He made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21, emphasis mine) We are a new creation. So when we cry out for revival and the Holy Spirit beckons us to repent, do not fear. Forgiveness flicks sin off our shoulder like it weighs nothing, because the weight of shame and guilt and death was borne to the depths and left there forever.
And now, the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Come, rest in Jesus.