Urgent Prayer For Revival
A courageous determination in the life of the men God uses in revival is seen in their boldness in prayer. They are never flippant and careless before God, nor are they over-familiar or presumptuous; but they are bold.
One of the most powerful prayers recorded in the Bible comes from the lips of Daniel, who confessed his sin without reservation (Dan. 9:1-16) and then boldly urged God to respond: "Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of Your servant. For Your sake, O Lord, look with favor on Your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open Your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears Your Name. We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For Your sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people bear Your Name" (Dan. 9:17-19).
All the ingredients of great and confident praying are found in that cry of Daniel: an honest confession of sin and a total lack of confidence in himself are contrasted with Daniel’s conviction that God must respond to defend His great name and honor.
The Priority of Prayer
You cannot read far into the story of a revival without discovering that not only is prayer part of the inevitable result of an outpouring of the Spirit, but, from a human standpoint, it is also the single most significant cause. "In the first month of the first year of his reign, [Hezekiah] opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them" (2 Chron. 29:3). The fact that this was the first recorded action of his reign shows that he made it a priority. Opening the doors of the temple was his way of re-establishing his relationship with God, and that of the people, because the Holy Place was in the temple, and it was there that the high priest brought the prayers of the nation before God.
Hezekiah started here because he was aware that this was the root of the people’s trouble: "Our fathers were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord our God and forsook Him. They turned their faces away from the Lord’s dwelling place and turned their backs on Him" (v. 6). That was their sin – prayerlessness. And Hezekiah started at that point. We cannot overstress this. What Hezekiah did in that action of reopening the temple was to bring himself back into a true and prayerful relationship with God. Those whom God uses in revival are men and women of prayer. That is their great priority. And this is true of a community also. If we really want God in revival, we must ask for it. Our fundamental problem today may be a simple one: "You do not have, because you do not ask." And when we do ask it is half-hearted and insincere, "because you ask with wrong motives" (Jas. 4:2-3). We want revival to improve our reputation, vindicate our theology, add to our denomination, or just to encourage or excite us. In other words we want revival for our sake, not God’s.
When the Holy Spirit saturated the 120 on the Day of Pentecost, they had been in desperate prayer. And I use that word "desperate" carefully. Our Lord left them alone for what must have seemed an eternity; they were terrified of the Jews and Romans, and on this particular occasion were locked in the upper room. That was the position God wanted them in. He wanted them at an end of their own devices and without any confidence in themselves. They must have been praying in desperation. This was the moment God came. Generally among the churches in our country today we have not reached that point. We have masked our failure by extravagant claims and glittering showmanship. Only when we realize and admit our true condition will we long for revival. Praying for revival is not enough: we must long for it, and long for it intensely. We have our revival prayer meetings, but we are neither confident in God’s willingness to answer, nor desperate for the answer.
In describing how revival comes we can never overlook the part that urgent prayer and confident expectation play. There must be, especially among the leaders, the determination that God will come, that He must come.
Jonathan Edwards argued that it is through intimacy with heaven that men are made great blessings in the world. And his carefully disciplined prayer life gave his congregation in Northampton, New England, an example of this.
Nearly a century after Edwards first saw revival in New England, Daniel Baker was greatly used by God on the same continent. After his settlement as pastor of the Independent Church in Savannah in 1828 he spent a day "in fasting, humiliation, and prayer." The site he chose for this was a brick tomb in a cemetery, but it became a Bethel! His cold congregation was revived, his ministry was transformed and, until his death in 1857, Baker saw the continuous hand of God on his ministry with hundreds converted.
Almost every Christian leader today laments a lack of personal prayer, but very few are determined to do anything about it. We are not sufficiently concerned to make a radical alteration in our diaries and get down to the "unproductive" and unnoticed battle of assaulting heaven. We would all prefer to be compared with Hezekiah rather than his father Ahaz, but it was the latter who "shut the doors of the Lord’s temple," and in our lack of prayer we have done just that. When Hezekiah received news of a national emergency, he went straight to God (2 Kgs. 19:14-19), but, faced with an emergency among the churches, we prefer to tackle the problem ourselves.
But prayer cannot be left only to the leaders. Churches must pray also. Joel 2:15-17 is a vital passage for us to come to terms with: "Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O Lord. Do not make Your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples,"Where is their God?"’"
Here is a community of the people of God called to pray for revival, and it clearly involved a radical alteration of their regular program. The first hint of revival is frequently a stirring in the life of prayer in the church. However, it is frequently the example of the leaders that brings about this burden for prayer in the church. Hezekiah set the example for the people by his own commitment to God in prayer. When Paul urged Timothy to prayer (1 Tim. 2:1), it was in the context of a letter to a Christian leader.
Praying for Revival
Zinzendorf was the leader of a Moravian community on his estate in Saxony. The twenty-seven-year-old count was discouraged at the lack of spiritual life among the nine girls in his Bible class, so he prayed, and his praying was contagious; it led directly to the revival that began in August 1727: "Truly the great Moravian revival of 1727…was preceded and followed by most extraordinary praying. The spirit of grace and supplications manifested itself in the early part of the year…What a spectacle! A gifted, wealthy, young German nobleman on his knees, agonizing in prayer for the conversion of some little schoolgirls!
"Later on we read that the Count poured forth his soul in a heart-affecting prayer, accompanied with a flood of tears; this prayer produced an extraordinary effect, and was the beginning of the subsequent operation of the life-giving and energetic Spirit of God…Not only Count Zinzendorf, but many other brethren also began to pray as never before…A number of brethren covenanted together of their own accord, engaging to meet often on the Hutberg, to pour out their hearts in prayer and hymns. On the 5th of August the Count spent the whole night in watching, in company of about twelve or fourteen brethren. At midnight there was held on the Hutberg a large meeting for the purpose of prayer at which great emotion prevailed."
It is not always clear when prayer meetings are part of the revival itself or are preceding it. But the distinction does not matter too much. Prayer is both the cause and result of the coming of the Spirit in revival.
Urgency and Determination
The same pattern is found before the 1859 revival in Ulster. James McQuilkin had been converted in 1856 at his home town of Ballymena by the witness of an English lady, and before long he had led three friends to Christ. The four of them agreed to meet every week for prayer and Bible Study. They chose the old schoolhouse near Kells and during the winter of 1857-58 each of them gathered an armful of peat and made his way to the schoolhouse every Friday evening. The peat fire warmed their bodies and their prayers called down fire from heaven. Two more joined them, including an old man named Marshall, but it was not until New Year’s Day 1858 that they saw their first conversion. By the end of that year the prayer meeting had grown to fifty. They prayed "for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and upon the surrounding country. This was the one great object and burden of our prayers. We held right to the one thing and did not run off to anything else." The prayer group was ridiculed for praying in this way "but we kept right on praying until the power came." It did come, and by the close of the following year 100,000 people had been converted in Ulster.
You will notice that urgency and determination about the prayer meetings in Ulster: "We held right to the one thing and did not run off to anything else." Today few have learned this. We pray occasionally for revival, but not consistently; we pray casually for it, but not urgently. Surely this is what Paul meant by urging his readers to "pray continually" (1 Thes. 5:17). He did not mean that we should pray without a break, but that we should never give up. If revival is to come, some Christians, somewhere, must pray continually and never "run off to anything else." There are few prayer meetings for revival today even though there may be an increase in prayers for revival. In these days of busy agendas, prayer for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit has to take its place alongside prayer for Mrs. Jones’ backache and for sunshine on the Sunday School outing. Not many Christians today know what to pray for when it is suggested they pray for revival.
Perseverance in Prayer
Reporting on the revival in Shillong in the Khassi Hills of India in 1905 one eyewitness commented: "There are many who ask ‘How did the revival begin?’ To this we can only answer that ‘The wind bloweth where it wants’; but we know for a certainty that many people have been praying for a revival, praying, hungering, thirsting for it. In Wales Christians were praying that the Lord in His mercy would not withhold the blessings from Khassia, and in Khassia a very earnest spirit of expectation prevailed."
Jonathan Goforth, working in China at the time of revival in 1908, wrote of the great impression that the prayer life of missionaries of Korea made upon him: "Mr. Swallen of Pyungyang, [North Korea] told me how the missionaries of his station, both Methodists and Presbyterians, upon hearing of the great Revival in the Khassia Hills of India, had decided to pray every day at the noon hour until a similar blessing was poured out upon them. ‘After we had prayed for about a month,’ said Mr. Swallen, ‘a brother proposed that we stop the prayer meeting, saying, "We have been praying now for a month, and nothing unusual has come of it. We are spending a lot of time. I do not think we are justified. Let us go on with our work as usual, and each pray at home as he finds it convenient." The proposal seemed plausible. The majority of us, however, decided that, instead of discontinuing the prayer meeting, we would give more time to prayer, not less. With that in view, we changed the hour from noon to four o’clock; we were then free to pray until supper time, if we wished. We kept to it, until at last, after months of waiting, the answer came.’"
Before God began the revival that swept across Borneo in the 1970s, He had been preparing the ground by giving the missionaries a burden to pray. One missionary comments: "At the Field Conference in 1970 and over the following years God began to work in the missionary team. There are frequent mentions of an increased urgency in prayer for revival…." But the turning point came when a group of Bornean students spent the whole night in prayer and fellowship. In June 1972 the missionaries held a houseparty for the students and this led to an even greater desire for prayer. Two students began to pray each evening at 9:30 p.m.; gradually the group grew and then divided into two groups until a great wave of student prayer was reaching God for revival in Borneo.
God Draws Near
In 1921 even the Yarmouth and Gorleston Times for November 10th acknowledged: "God has become very near and the secret of it all can be summed up in one word – prayer." That local newspaper was right! In fact the revival began in Lowestoft in the London Road Baptist Church, where for six months prior to the outpouring of the Spirit in February 1921, around sixty members had met every Monday evening to pray for nothing but revival. Jackie Richie reminds us that this revival was preceded by a time of spiritual decline: "Yet, in the mending lofts, on the boats and along the quays there were those who had a hunger for God. Days and nights were spent in prayer before the Throne of Grace. God had moved upon the hearts of these people who had little education and whose material means were limited, but who were ‘far-ben’ with Him…These men ‘whose hearts the Lord had touched,’ had received a vision and were willing to wait upon God until the vision became a reality."
Revival came to Lewis in 1949 as groups of Christians, here and there throughout the island, set themselves to pray. Peggy and Christine Smith prayed, alone in their cottage. Peggy was eighty-four and blind; Christine was eighty-two and crippled with arthritis. They prayed until they knew that God was going to send revival.
Prayer for revival should never be self-centered. If we long for the glory of God then we will be ready to invest prayer time that others too will receive the Spirit of God in revival. We should never be parochial and long for the touch of God only for ourselves; we must pray for those churches that do not pray for themselves, as well as for those that do.
Prayer for revival must surely be one kind of preparation that is never wrong; it is essentially God-centered and not man-centered. It tells God we are at an end of ourselves. The church in this country is not at that point yet. Commenting upon Zechariah 12:10 – "I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication…" – the Puritan Matthew Henry remarked, "When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them a-praying." Similarly, John Wesley was convinced that "God does nothing but in answer to prayer." Arthur Pierson, who for many years edited The Missionary Review, made the same claim: "From the day of Pentecost, there has been not one great spiritual awakening in any land which has not begun in a union of prayer, though only among two or three; no such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meetings have declined."
God Is Waiting to Respond
God waits to see whether those who say they are concerned for the state of the church and the nation are serious enough to get down to prayer. Is He still waiting for His church today? No church can ever expect revival unless it is praying for it. This is not to say that revival will not come to such a church, for God is too sovereign to be limited; but He is the God of the means as well as the end, and He has invited us to ask in order that we may receive. Our prayers for revival may be frequent, but our prayer meetings for revival do not last very long. This gradual diminishing of our determined prayer is a mark of our lack of urgency and longing for revival.
We say that we long for God to forgive our sin and heal the land, yet we seem to have forgotten that He has set His own conditions for doing just that: "If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place" (2 Chron. 7:14-15). Hezekiah knew that condition and was determined to fulfil it. Commenting on the prayer that preceded the revival in Shotts in 1630, one writer remarked that while God sometimes works without His people, He never refuses to work with them.
Taken from Revival! A People Saturated with God by Brian H. Edwards. © 1990 Evangelical Press, Darlington, England. www.epbooks.org. Used by permission.