A focus on prayer for revival emerged from the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore yesterday. The election of Ronnie Floyd as president–a friend who has been leading pastors’ gatherings for prayer–will doubtless continue the focus begun by outgoing president Fred Luter. I for one am grateful for this, and have in my own heart had a growing burden to pray for revival in my life and in the Church.
No small controversy broke out on Twitter last night from a statement made by a leader questioning the need to pray for revival. Rather than go into apoplexy over someone’s 140 characters, perhaps it is better to ask: what should we think about praying for revival?
1. If we simply use prayer for revival as an excuse for our unwillingness to obey God, we should not pray for revival, we should repent. Prayer for revival is not a bandaid cure; it is a call to repentance. If we are not passionate about sharing the gospel, honoring the Word, and bringing glory to God, our prayers for revival are meaningless. Note the words of Tozer: “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late–and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work.”
2. If we see revival as God’s stamp of approval on our status quo Christianity, we do not know that for which we pray. In the past, awakenings brought fundamental and at times radical change. Music changed, methods emerged, both gospel proclamation and social ministry happened, and churches were planted. Revival will not affirm many of our preferences in the Christian subculture many of us cherish, it will explode them.
3. That being said, we should pray for revival, starting with our own hearts. I know I am experiencing a fresh touch of God when I stop confessing everyone else’s sins and start with my own. I am less concerned about what is said by a person on social media and more concerned with what the Spirit is saying to me.
4. We should pray for revival because of Biblical teaching. Psalm 85:6 and Habakkuk 3:2, among others, offer examples of revival prayer. Don’t let the fact that these passages are in the Old Testament keep you from obeying all of Scripture! Paul calling the Roman church to be awakened (Romans 13:11-14) and our Lord calling the church at Ephesus to repent (Revelation 2) offer examples of the need to constantly seek the Lord. Michael Haykin offers insight on the apostle Paul and prayer for revival here. Ray Ortlund has a fine article on biblical revival praying here.
5. We pray for revival because of our study of history. I’m far more interested in the opinions of those from history whose lives have endured as examples of godly leadership than contemporary spokesmen–including myself–who will likely fade into historical obscurity.
–“It is God’s will through His wonderful grace, that the prayers of His saints should be one of the great principal means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world. When God has something very great to accomplish for His church, it is His will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of His people; as is manifest by Ezekiel 36:37. and it is revealed that, when God is about to accomplish great things for His church, He will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication (see Zechariah 12:10).” Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts on Revival
–“Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival: men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here, as in the times of former generations.” Charles Spurgeon
–“When did you last hear anyone praying for revival, praying that God might open the windows of heaven and pour out His Spirit? When did you last pray for that yourself? I suggest seriously that we are neglecting this almost entirely. We are guilty of forgetting the authority of the Holy Spirit. We are so interested in ourselves and in our own activities that we have forgotten the one thing that can make us effective. By all means let us continue to pray for the particular efforts, for the minister, and his preaching every Sunday, for all essential organizations and for evangelistic campaigns, if we feel led to have them. But before it all, and after it all, let us pray and plead for revival. When God sends revival He can do more in a single day than in fifty years of all our organization. That is the verdict of sheer history which emerges clearly from the long story of the Church.” D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
–“I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.” John Wesley
–When God intends great mercy for his people, he first of all sets them praying.” Matthew Henry
Let’s spend less time in arguments on Twitter and more time in our prayer closets. It could be that reading over our own social media timelines will be evidence enough to demonstrate how much we must pray for God to move in our hearts. May we talk to God more than we talk to each other about revival.