Series Theme: Looking at Prayer Afresh
Phase Two : Thinking into the Issues
Title: 7. Considerations about Praying for Revival
This is the hardest of these pages on prayer to write. There is so much that could be said. I first started having stirrings about revival many years ago after hearing a tape of Duncan Campbell speaking about the revival in the Hebrides in the early part of the twentieth century. Looking on the shelves of the local Christian bookshop at that time there were no books on the subject. Since then there have been dozens.
Arthur Wallis's Day of thy Power was one of the first to touch on the subject. Then came Revival by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, transcripts of his sermons on the subject from the mid 20th century. Since then I have come across Revival by Brian H. Edwards, an excellent, simple and straight forward book on the nature and characteristics of revivals, Rivers of Revival by Neil T. Anderson and Elmer L. Towns, an interesting book detailing a whole variety of ways God has moved in awakenings and Seasons of Revival by Frank Damazio, again on the variety of ways that God comes. And of course there are now scores more you could no doubt find with an Amazon or Google search.
So with all these books, why add anything else, surely it's all been said? I'm sure it has, but I want to try and speak to where many of us in Britain seem to be today and make some, hopefully, practical and helpful comments to encourage us to both pray and work in such a way that it allows the Lord greater access in and through us to reach this world.
2. What is Revival?
Very simply, revival is a time when God turns up in sovereign power to stir alive the Church and to come with convicting power to bring people into the kingdom of God. It is not, what the Americans often call revival, an evangelistic campaign but a sovereign move of God.
Revival seems to be brought by God at times when the church is especially spiritually low. A precursor to it is often people with a real urgent sense of need to pray. It seems to frequently be followed a conviction of the lost with their need of salvation, by unusual manifestations of the Spirit, and an ongoing obvious outpouring of the Spirit.
I once had the opportunity of visiting villages in the middle of Borneo where God had come in amazing power with the net result that the entire village is now Christian. There appear to have been outpourings of the Spirit in Borneo in 1938, 1953 and 1973. Visiting round about the year 2000 the locals still tell stories of how the Lord came. What was sad was that although an entire village was Christian, there did not seem to be the vibrancy one might have expected, which only shows that the form and the history remains but the life diminishes.
Why does God come when He does? Because He chooses to! Can we make Him come? That's a bit like saying can you push the tide out? The best we can say, is that we should ensure we have done all we can to respond to the word and the Spirit and be faithfully doing what He has given us to do.
In my lifetime I have lived through the Charismatic Renewal of the late 20th century and the Toronto Blessing at the end of the 20th century. I have heard many pronouncements that we are in a time of revival but nothing has compared with the characteristics of ‘classic revival' as observed many times in history. In many ways we have lived through periods where really good things have happened. Hundreds of thousands of people have turned to the Lord, we are told, through the means of the Alpha Course, great teaching has been given at many Bible Weeks and the presence of the Lord has been very strong, but still nationwide we do not see the characteristics of revival and overall the nation continues to increase in godlessness and unrighteousness, and many churches just plod on without a sense of the living Lord moving in their midst.
I will overcome the temptation to categorise the many signs that I believe there are to back up and support that last sentence and will instead seek to be more positive in the remainder of this page. I will however quote a few of sentences I saw in a recent article extolling the virtues of cities: “Cities not only make us clever; they make is happier, wealthier and healthier too. People who live in big cities tend not only to be brighter than their country cousins - they live longer, earn more, have a wider set of social contacts, are less prejudiced, more educated, eat better and have more sexual partners. And all these benefits are multiplied in tall cities.” Apart from the fact that I believe some of those things are questionable, did you notice the end? Lots of sexual partners are considered a ‘benefit'? Such is the wisdom of the age, a false wisdom that needs challenging, not merely on a spiritual or moral basis, but also on an intellectual basis, i.e. there are reasons why the above is false, and they go further than merely “God said…”; He said it for a reason!
3. Understanding God's Heart
Possibly many of us rarely think about this matter of God's heart for His world, but I believe it is vital to understand. It was only when I was researching for writing the book, “God's Love in the Old Testament” that I saw most clearly God's desire for His whole world. In Chapter 9 of that book – “God and the Rest of the World” I systematically went through the Old Testament picking up references to God's intent for Israel to be, as Isaiah puts it (Isa 42:6), “a light for the Gentiles” i.e. for the rest of the world. If you are unsure of this I recommend you read that Chapter 9 and see the many, many references to the rest of the world finding or seeing God through Israel. The role of the modern church, therefore, is to reveal the Lord to the world and to present the world to God.
The very best illustration of this in the Old Testament is when the Queen of Sheba comes to King Solomon. 1 Kings 10:1-10 is so powerful that it bears repeating here:
Now that is absolutely remarkable. If only the modern world could say something similar about us, the Church! The nearest to that intent in the New Testament are Jesus' words, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)
Possibly the greatest recorded experience of that in Acts is the following:
The general public were blessed by what was happening; it was awesome (literally) but that didn't stop them coming to the source of God's blessing, the church, to receive of God.
A number of years ago I listened to a talk by a researcher from the Bible Society who had investigated trends in the church following the revival in mid 18th century. The numbers in the church did not appear to go up much from before the revival to shortly after it, but what he did see is that within a hundred years the numbers in the church had increased dramatically. His conclusion was that, although the church was revived, it took a while for the revived people to go out into the world and change the mind of the nation as the church engaged with society. To change the society, he concluded, it had not been enough to preach the Gospel but they also had to change the mind of society and then larger numbers were saved and the church grew.
For those of us who have been brought up in a form of evangelicalism in which ONLY preaching the Gospel is important, these may be threatening words. Likewise, I suggest, there has been a mentality within the church that says, “All you need do is pray for revival.” In the second of these pages which was about corporate praying, we made the point that to be fruitful we needed to pray AND obey. Jesus indicated in Mt 5:16, we noted above, that it was our “good deeds” that bring glory to God.
Now I would suggest, before some feel too threatened and switch off, that “good deeds” are things we do as a result of being prompted by the Holy Spirit and may include an expression of the Gifts of the Spirit – including healing – which touch and bless people and effectively do the same things as Jesus did leaving people feeling good – and good about God, just like the Queen of Sheba.
4. A Change of Mind Set
I have written in this series, that I believe that sometimes Christians have a less than godly way of thinking and as a result look down on people, organizations, technology and science and see them, mistakenly, as “the world”. If we consider “the world” in the context of 1 Jn 2:15-17 it is godless thinking and is defined as the yearnings of the self-centred, self-pleasing mankind that is just concerned for personal pleasure, ‘I see it, I like it, I want it', and self worth measured by possessions or experiences.
Perhaps I was challenged by this a number of years ago when, in a large gathering of leaders, the Lord gave me a prophetic word as follows: I saw a picture of a theatre and on the stage were all the church leaders, and the people of the church were the audience. Then came a shaking and the stage collapsed and the scenery fell down and leaders and people filled one big area. The shaking continued and the walls of the theatre fell outwards (this is where pictures vary from reality because there was no roof to fall down on us). In the celebrations that followed everyone spilled out of what had been the building into the area around, and the word of the Lord came, “This is my world and I am coming to take it back with my church.”
Technology, science and material possession are all initially neutral things. They are initially the fruits of us being made in the image of God which, I suggest, means that we have the abilities to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and worship (appreciate God). Of course when those things are used to bolster the pride of man they become tools of godlessness, but until that they are simply things given to us by God when He designed us, and He designed us to enjoy this world and enjoy one another. Sin of course, completely spoils that and the way we think about it.
Now the reason I mention these things is because I believe many Christians have a defensive attitude in respect of the rest of the world around them, and that puts a division between them and everyone else which needs to be bridged if we are to communicate God's love. Now I know, of course, there is much about being hated by the world and being persecuted and so on, but actually when the church was working at its best we find they were “enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47). Many Christians, and Christian preachers take the apostle John's words, “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you,” (1 Jn 3:11) to mean “Don't be surprised at opposition because it's what happens” but I would suggest an alternative reading “Don't be surprised if, from time to time, the world expresses hatred for you.”
The fact is that there has always been persecution but not all the time. The “if” in 1 John 3 above, suggests it isn't always so. It is almost as if there are seasons of opposition and seasons of acceptance, and I suggest that, rather than feel mildly guilty that we are not going through some of the things our brothers and sisters in certain other parts of the world are going through, we instead pray that the Lord will make us a people who so move in the power of the Spirit that we do the same things as the early church (before persecution really hit them) and we bless the world with God's love.
To reinforce this same point (because there will be a number who struggle with it) I remember listening to a talk on the impact of the church in its earliest days, and of the story that often when the Roman emperor was about to order persecution of the Christians who would not worship him, the local Roman governors would warn the Christians to leave town until it had all died down. Why? Because they knew that the Christians were the backbone of their society who brought blessing to it. There have been vaguely similar words about the church and charity in the past decade which enabled one writer to speak of the historic church and “its care of widows and orphans, its alms houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions. charitable aid societies and so on.” This is the history of the church being salt and light to society and in so doing, changing the minds of people and opening their hearts to the Gospel. If we've done it in the past, then the upheavals of the present reveal an incredible opportunity for it to happen again TODAY.
5. Revealing the Real Church and a Real God
To summarize so far: we need to pray AND act. Our praying should be a tool that enables God to reveal HOW we should act in specific situations. Going back to the page on corporate prayer, this was our main thrust there and it applies again here. But there are general ways that we can act that are obvious and which match the character of God. I am going to describe them as
a) Bringing Love
Over the past few years I have been impacted by two sets of verses. The first was in the Old Testament:
Ex 36:6,7 “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
This is the God revealed in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the other verse that has impacted me, is the apostle John writing, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). In other words everything God thinks, says or does is an expression of love, and if He lives in us (and He does) then so should that be true of us. A description of the church as a community that is “loving, accepting, caring and compassionate” should be our starting place and if people learn anything about us, it should be this.
But before we move on, what actually is ‘love'? In a Biblical context (and I'm not sure if there really is any other meaningful context for it), it is “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others ”. That should be our goal towards the rest of God's world. Oh, and one more thing I note about God's love: it can't stand still; it is always working for the good of any it encounters. This is our starting place.
b) Bringing Goodness
This brings us to ‘goodness', which is not a word that is much used today. A dictionary defines goodness as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome”. ‘Good' signifies in our thinking, something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with. When we do ‘good' to someone they are happy about that, because if was a positive, beneficial thing.
Now the Bible speaks about God being a good God, a God who brings goodness; it is one of the ‘fruit of the Spirit' that is to grow in us. So, suppose the church was constantly exhibiting love and goodness? Yes, there are likely to be some who are upset because we show them up, but the larger body of people, as revealed in Acts, will be blessed by us.
If love is the heart attitude, goodness is the outworking of it to the world around us. This is what provoked men to work at abolishing slavery, create unions, establish hospitals etc. etc. To be salt and light, we really need to get into the world to be effective. So often Christians live in a ghetto that comprises church services on Sundays, Bible Studies on another night, House Group on another night, and a Prayer Meeting on another night, so that there is hardly any time or space for anything else. Rarely, or never, do they participate in groups, clubs or organisations in the rest of society and so their salt-effect or light is missing from such places.
Many Christians feel threatened in such places where they are a minority, but this is simply because of their misunderstanding of who and what they are. Instead of requiring the world around us to come into our meetings, can we first go out and serve and bless them with love and goodness?
Can people look at our lives, and the way we live and work and learn, and see something commendable? I grew up in a defensive, evangelical environment and kept myself separate from ‘the world'. If I ran my life again, I would do what I have been doing for the last year and a half, and get out into the world and seek to be a blessing to it – and that doesn't mean looking for ‘salvation scalps', it means looking to serve and bless others, and then, as opportunities come up, share God's love with them.
We need a church leadership that is not a holy clique who know nothing of living and working in the world, but men and women of confidence who understand the world, its pressures and weaknesses and failures, and who can encourage the rest of us in our engagement with the world to not be ashamed but to be vessels of God's love and goodness.
Goodness also means we seek to be good at whatever we do. That means giving our time to work, time to learning, time to whatever it is we find in life we have to put our hand to. Christians should have reputations for being good workers whether that be at school, college, workplaces or wherever.
c) Bringing Revelation
The greatest revelation that we can bring is not “You need Jesus” (that comes later) but “God loves you.”
Most people have a low self-esteem. Some cover it up well, but so often when God starts to work and people start opening up their lives honestly, most people want and need to hear that they are loved. They want to know that, if there is a Supreme Being, He loves them and accepts them just like they are (that is acceptance), but loves them so much He has got something better than what they are at present (that is hope for a better day.)
Many people don't dare face what they are truly like and so they become defensive if they are told they are a sinner. In my own experience I can face my failures best when I know I am loved. I have been transformed in life because I have been loved. When I know I am loved, I can be honest and when I am honest I can say sorry.
Jesus came to a society that was oppressed by the Romans, oppressed spiritually and so full of sickness and occult activity that led many to be demon oppressed or demon possessed. When John the Baptist came to prepare the way, it was a call to this oppressed people with a big history with God, to put lives right with God. Jesus came, bringing the blessings of God, healing all who came to him and speaking of a new way. When the apostle Paul went to the Greeks, he started with where they were at and appealed, in the philosophical forum, to their philosophical ideas and then led them to thinking about God.
The lessons are that we start with where people are at. Wherever that may be in our country today, it is that God loves them and is there FOR them to bring them the hope of something better than they have today. The problem is that with the communication world and political world we live in, they have been promised much but it has always fallen short. They need something more.
It is at this point that the Holy Spirit, working through us, brings words of revelation – words of knowledge, words of wisdom or words of prophecy. Words of knowledge reveal things that couldn't be known otherwise. Words of wisdom bring ways of working, how to resolve problems etc. Words of prophecy bring a greater content about the future and establish a sense of being loved and of hope for tomorrow.
In each of these ways, the people around us are brought into an awareness that God is there and He's there for them without condemning them. As they respond to His love so they come to a point of recognition about themselves, of their need and of their yearnings deep down (the convicting work of the Holy Spirit).
We thus need to learn to listen to God and be available for Him to flow through us in these ways. Not everyone will do this for we are body with different gifts given. Some will do this and some will do other things. We need to encourage the diversity in the life of the body and not lay false expectations on people to be what God is not leading them to be. As we watch for His working so we will see the embryonic signs of gifts appearing in people and we need to encourage them in that, so that they grow in gifting and confidence.
d) Bringing Power
Healings, or dealing with demonic oppression or possession, are examples of power issues that Jesus used with great effect. I will simply say that I believe the Lord wishes to raise up an increasing number of those who are available for Him to use in these ways. This we've already touched on in the previous page on praying for healing.
6. And So…
i) The General Approach
The call, I suggest, is to go into the world to bless it with a combination of
Areas to pray for, as we look to be a church that is available in this way, rather than praying in general, vague terms, we may pray for:
a) Ourselves as the Church
A release of faith in us
b) For all others in our community
iii) And Act
If we pray without being willing to also become, partially at least, the answers to our prayers, places a question mark as to whether the Lord will answer our prayers.
Our ‘acts', in this context, mean
Right attitude, right praying, right actions! May it be so.