Revival Is A Yearning
By Roger Ellsworth
"We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old" (Psalm 44:1).
"I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings" (Psalm 77:10-12).
"I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands" (Psalm 143:5).
The above verses come from different psalmists. The 44th Psalm is attributed to the sons of Korah, the 77th to Asaph, and the 143rd to David. Each of these psalmists had learned a vital lesson, namely, that the mighty works of God in the past could not only encourage their hearts but also create a tremendous yearning to see God do something of a similar nature in the present.
The Experience of Asaph
Because Asaph, the author of Psalm 77, goes into more detail about this matter, we shall focus on him. We don’t venture far into this psalm before we realize that Asaph is tracing for us how he went from despair and misery to trust and joy. "I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me" (v.1).
His misery is obvious. He alludes to his day of trouble, and tells us that his trouble was so deep and serious that his soul refused to be comforted: "In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted" (v. 2).
He even goes so far as to say that the thought of God did not comfort him, that his despair was so great that he felt overwhelmed in his spirit: "I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed" (v. 3). His feeling of despair was so great that he couldn’t sleep and couldn’t even talk about it: "Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (v. 4).
What was there that put Asaph in such despair and woe? It all came about because he had been thinking about the past: "I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times" (v. 5).
What was it about the past that would cause him such misery? Was there some great, glaring failure there that now raised its ugly head to disturb and terrify him? No, the past he was considering was good. It was a past in which he had a song in the night: "I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search" (v.6).
Why would a good past trouble him? The answer is quite plain. Asaph’s present didn’t begin to compare with the past. He was in trouble because he could look at the past and see marvelous instances of God at work in his life and in the lives of those around him. But the present was such that there were no such evidences.
As Asaph surveyed his present circumstances, it seemed as if God had cast him and his people off forever, that God had decided to be favorable no more, and to withdraw His mercy. Furthermore, Asaph says it appeared that God’s promises had failed, that he had forgotten to be gracious. It seemed to Asaph that God had in anger locked up all his tender mercies and thrown away the key. "Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" (vs.7-9).
Thank God, Asaph did not stay in his despair. We find him turning the corner in verse 10: "And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High." As he reflected on the glories of the past, he suddenly realized that he had been looking at them in the wrong way. Instead of letting them depress him, he realized that he should have been letting them bless him. The fact that God had worked so mightily in the past meant there was hope for the future. The God of the past has not changed. He is the same God.
Asaph came to understand that no matter how bleak and dark his present circumstances were, they were not greater than God. He could break in and do glorious things even in difficult times.
Lessons from Asaph
We would do well to learn from Asaph. Instead of allowing ourselves to be despondent over the difficulty of our day, we can look to the past and be encouraged to believe that God can do mighty things today even as He did then. The Bible itself contains several examples of God moving powerfully in the midst of His people. Richard Owen Roberts identifies twelve revivals in the Old Testament.
But God’s reviving work is not relegated to the pages of the Bible. There have been several instances of revival down through the centuries. So much so that America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, wrote: "It may be observed that from the fall of man to our day, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit of God."
Edwards amplifies this comment by saying: "Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances, yet the way in which the greatest things have been done in carrying on this work always has been by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy."
History is filled with such special seasons of mercy. Our own nation has had several of these seasons. In 1735, Jonathan Edwards’ congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, experienced a breaking of her slumber. Edwards wrote of his people at this time: "The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven and every one appeared pressing into it. The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid. It appeared in their very countenances. It then was a dreadful thing amongst us to lie out of Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell; and what persons’ minds were intent upon was to escape for their lives, and to fly from wrath to come….The town seemed to be full of the presence of God; it never was so full of love, nor of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then."
The revival in Edwards’ church soon flowed throughout the American colonies in what we know as the First Great Awakening of 1740-42.
Another great American revival occurred from 1857 to 1859. It all began with a single man who carried a great burden for revival. This man, Jeremiah Lanphier, announced that he would conduct a noon prayer meeting each Wednesday at the North Reformed Dutch Church in New York City. This was in September of 1857.
Only six showed up the first week. Twenty came the next week and forty the week after that. The decision was made to hold these prayer meetings on a daily basis. Suddenly prayer meetings began to spring up everywhere: printers’ shops, fire stations, police stations, theaters. By March of 1858, Burton’s Theater, capable of holding 3,000, was filled each day.
It wasn’t long until prayer meetings began in Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago. In Chicago a young man was so touched by the moving of God that he decided to start a Sunday school class. That class became the launching pad for his ministry. His name was D. L. Moody. This revival led to over 200,000 conversions in the northeastern states alone.
One of the greatest revivals in history occurred in the early 1900’s in Wales. This revival began with a student named Evan Roberts. A Presbyterian evangelist came to his school, and Roberts, deeply affected by his ministry, began to pray: "Oh, God, bend me!"
Finding he could not concentrate on his studies, he went to the principal of the college and asked permission to go to his home so he could speak to the young people in his church. The principal gave him a week off. At his church, Roberts asked the pastor if he could speak. The pastor agreed to let him address any who cared to remain after the church’s Monday evening prayer meeting. Seventeen chose to stay.
Evan Roberts said to them: "I have a message for you from God. You must confess any known sin to God and put any wrong done to man right. Secondly, you must put away any doubtful habit out of your life. Third, you must obey the Spirit’s prompting. Finally, you must confess your faith in Christ publicly."
All seventeen of his hearers responded to his message. The pastor asked him to stay another week and preach. That week of services was enormously blessed. From that tiny beginning, a revival swept across the land. There were 100,000 people converted in a five-month period. Rapes, robberies, and murders became non-existent. Drunkenness was cut in half. The illegitimate birth rate dropped forty-four per cent in two counties within a year of the beginning of the revival.
These are just three accounts of mighty revivals. There are many, many more. I have shared these with the hope that they will spark within us a yearning for something similar.
These revivals brought unbelievers into the kingdom in droves. Do we have unsaved family members and friends? These revivals delivered people from various addictions. Do we have any addictions today? These revivals purged society of its immorality and wickedness. Do we need this? These revivals drove the apathy and indifference from the hearts of the people of God. Is there not apathy among us?
If we find ourselves having to say an emphatic "Yes" to these questions, we need to start yearning and longing for God to do again what he has often done in the past. Are you yearning yet?