Volume 36, Number 4
We continue this issue with our theme of revival. By the time you read this, Annual Conference will be in the history books. But the minute book will not be able to record the work done by the Holy Spirit in peoples’ hearts as they sang God’s praises, as they listened to anointed preaching, or as they shared in small groups. Only eternity’s book will have that record. BRF trusts God to work in reviving the hearts of His people.
Over the years, many have prayed and continue to pray–for the Lord to visit the Church of the Brethren with revival. Brethren Revival Fellowship was begun in a prayer meeting at the 1959 Ocean Grove Annual Conference. Perhaps few even thought it believable that the Annual Conference itself would have a central theme of revival. We thank God that He is in the revival business! Prayer for Heaven-sent revival must go on. It is no time to let up or take it easy in our spiritual discipline. The devil may convince many that the excitement and joy is simply illusory; we must engage in prayer to resist that temptation, and to plead that revival truly come throughout the Church of the Brethren.
The work of revival is certainly not finished with the close of the Conference. If anything, it is but beginning. The preparatory cultivation for the Holy Spirit to work within believers’ hearts still must go on. Many come away from conferences with a feeling of a spiritual “high.” Yet the real enterprise of Christian living must continue and grow in daily life. When we see people flocking to prayer meetings of the church, witnessing to friends and neighbors about their faith, studying and applying the Word of God, going to church rather than going to the sports arenas and theaters–we know we are seeing revival.
Brethren should be praying for those in leadership positions; for the General Board; for the other Annual Conference agencies; for pastors; for deacons; for Sunday School teachers. While “grassroots” Brethren are at the heart of our denomination, leadership plays a key role in determining whether the church is ready to receive revival. Remember in the Old Testament, how the leadership of men such as David, Josiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah was used of God to strengthen the spiritual lives of Israel. Play that God will raise up men and women who will stand under the authority of God’s Word, and carry the only important message–the Gospel of Jesus Christ–to all who will hear. By faith, it will be done!
Prayer and Revival
by Craig Alan Myers
Prayer is an indispensable element in revival. The great revivals of Biblical faith in history have been occasioned with two things: the proclamation of God’s Word and prayer. Revival cannot be “worked up;” it must be sent down from the Father. But we can pray that God would again visit His people with a quickening Spirit,. and revival, and the joy that comes through that. Even the great “revival verse” of the Bible, 2 Chronicles 7:14, says “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray…” We want to consider how prayer is so important to God’s people in receiving revival.
PRAYER IS CHARACTERISTIC OF BIBLICAL REVIVAL
The revivals which occurred in Old Testament Israel and Judah were preceded by the plaintive cries of kings, prophets, and ordinary people to the Lord for revival. The promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 begins with God’s people seeking Him and praying for God to work afresh in their hearts. Habakkuk 3:2 records the prophet’s plea, “O Lord, revive Your work.” The Psalms ask the Lord, “Will You not revive us again?” (Psalms 85:6).
Prayer preceded the first coming of our Lord Jesus. In the four hundred “silent years” in which the voice of the Lord was not heard–godly people prayed for the Lord to visit them again as He did in the days of Moses and Elijah. In Luke’s Gospel, we find that Simeon and Anna, two aged saints, had engaged in prayer that they might see God’s work again in their lifetimes (Luke 2:25, 37). God graciously answered that prayer when they laid eyes on that little baby who had been born to be the Saviour.
Acts 2 finds the early church gathered in a prayer meeting. While seeking the Lord’s face-in response to Jesus’ command before He ascended into Heaven–the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those faithful believers. The result was the power to go into all the world. God had provided the means necessary for them to carry out His command. Again, prayer preceded the mighty manifestation of God’s work.
Tobias K. Hershey, a Mennonite missionary and author, wrote, Through prayer, the revival of the past gave us scores of well-known preachers and evangelists, men of spiritual power. Great missionary enterprises were undertaken. Family altars were erected, and men in all walks of life were convicted of sin, and with a contrite heart they turned to God” (Old Time Revival Again, page 12).
PRAYER RECOGNIZES OUR NEED FOR REVIVAL
Many disdain the need for revival today. There seems to be an attitude that everything is spiritually well, and there is no need for anything additional. While it is true that every Christian has everything necessary to rightly live the Christian life (Ephesians 1:3), there is still the fact that the church and many-if not most–Christians have a worldly mind-set. How can we appropriate the blessings we possess if we don’t even see the necessity for consecrated Christian living? How can God bless a church where sin is excused and the teaching of the Bible is ignored or neglected? There have been churches in which persons serving on the board have been living together with a person of the opposite sex without the commitment of an honorable marriage. Other churches support divorced and remarried persons and openly homosexual persons in leadership positions. There seems to be little regard for issues such as biblical modesty. In general, churches no longer present a clear alternative to what the world offers.
Praying for revival means that we understand that we have backslidden in our Christian walk. We have lost our first love, and need to go back and do the things we did when first born again (Revelation 2:4-5). Remember what it was like when you first trusted Christ as your Saviour? It was hard to stay away from the meetings of the church. God’s Word seemed so wonderful and invigorating. Has it remained so in your Christian experience?
Prayer confesses that we have sinned against God. Much praying today is praying for self (James 4:3). We do not see how great our sin is before a holy God, and we try to minimize it or justify it, saying, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” But sin is serious, and needs to be confessed. The 2 Chronicles passage says that God’s people need to “turn from their wicked ways.” Repentance is needed today. We need repentance for proud hearts, for lack of concern for the purity of the church, for lack of love for the lost, for prayerlessness, for spiritual laziness. We need to repent of our vain pursuit of this world’s goods, and of this world’s fame.
PRAYER ACKNOWLEDGES THAT REVIVAL IS GOD’S WORK (PSALMS 85:6)
Ours is an age of style over substance. Many think that revival means promotion, slick advertising, charismatic leadership, and emotional preaching. There may be a big show, but what is the end result–the fruit? Heaven-sent revival is seen in the long-term, life changing effect of the Gospel. Man-centered attempts simply utilize technique, making it appear that revival is a mechanical formula to be followed. True, one can get a crowd with a smooth presentation, and get people to stand or come forward in a meeting with psychological tricks, but that is not evidence that God is working in peoples’ lives for real change.
The Bible is uniform in teaching that God sends revival to prepared people. God is the One who forgives our sin, and heals our land. We cannot do it ourselves. It is God who revives His work. It is God who will revive us again. We are not commanded to be revived, but are told to be faithful, and to be ready. When we pray for revival, we are asking God to do the work within us. We ask God to refresh us in the way that only He can. As with salvation, we accept that we are unable to do it ourselves. Prayer for revival embraces our dependence on God. We admit our helplessness to cause God’s power to fall upon us. He must do it.
It is necessary that Christians be prepared to receive revival. To this end, we pray for it. We ask God to soften our hearts. We pursue holiness. We seek to be faithful to God. We are active in His work. We do not neglect the assembling of ourselves together, but in light of Jesus’ soon return, we do love being with His people (Hebrews 10:25). But these things, of themselves, do not constitute revival–they are forerunners of revival. In the end, God must send revival to His people. Revival is a challenge that only God can meet.
Some have credited the lack of revival in our day to the lack of prominent godly leaders. While this may be a factor, it must be understood that having prominent leaders with charisma and strong personality traits is not a prerequisite to revival. Rather, godly men rise to prominence in God’s time to meet the spiritual needs of the church (Ephesians 4:11-12). When God sends revival, He will be sure to send the personnel necessary to care for the results of revival.
PRAYER CULTIVATES THE BELIEVER’S SPIRITUAL LIFE
When we pray for revival, we are obeying God’s directive to “break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you” (Hosea 10:12). Our lives must be made available for God to sow the seed. We may think that taking our seemingly valuable time in our busy world to get alone with God seems out of place when there is so much to “do.” Yes, there are people to visit, lessons to prepare, and a load of other needful things to do as believers in Christ. Yet the most important thing–praying–should not be overlooked as if it is a trivial point in relation to revival.
Prayer tunes our minds to the same note as God’s will. It is not we asking God to do our bidding. It is the gradual changing of our minds and wills to mirror those of God. In calling out to God for revival, we are agreeing with Him that revival is needed in our lives. Our spiritual life is not as it should be, and needs the power of God afresh.
In connection with prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines are useful in preparing our hearts to receive revival. Those things which draw us to seeking God’s face, and shut out the distractions of the world, should be carefully used to draw our attention to God and His Word.
PRAYER ASSUMES OUR DESPERATION FOR GOD
In 2 Chronicles 20, Judah was -faced with a terrifying situation of being surrounded by three armies. While Judah, under King Jehoshaphat, had done much to restore the right worship of the Lord, there was a temptation to rely on their own resources for their defense. But Jehoshaphat desired that the Lord receive the glory for the defeat of their enemies, and to show the people that God could be trusted to care for His people. He even acknowledged that “we are helpless, but our eyes are on You.” In other words, only God could effectively deal with the need.
John Knox, the Scots Reformer, prayed, “Give me Scotland, or I die!” George Whitefield, the co-worker of John Wesley, said, “Give me souls or take my life.” Such desperation in prayer is rarely heard today. Prayers are not bold pleas to God for revival, for the reason that many Christians are not interested in having a new visitation of God. Like Israel at Sinai, many would like to have the benefits of God without God Himself. But the conscientious Christian desires, as David did, God Himself. “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You, O God” (Psalms 42:1).
FOR WHAT SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE PRAYING WITH REFERENCE TO REVIVAL?
Christians should not merely pray for “revival meetings.” The desire for revival is the desire that God Himself visit His people in an extraordinary way. Martin Lloyd-Jones, in Revival (pages 174-186), wrote that when we pray for the powerful manifestation of God’s presence, we ask for the following:
1) Ask for the certain assurance of His presence. Moses, in Exodus 33:12-17, knew that he was in God’s care, but he desired more. He wanted to see God Himself. He wanted to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God was with him as he led the Israelites to the Promised Land. Those who really love the Lord are not content with knowing Him in a distant way.
2) Ask for renewed spiritual power (1 Corinthians 2:3-5). The church seems to suffer with a lack of energy. Much of this can be attributed to the many secular activities with which our energy is dissipated. But there is a lack of spiritual zeal, or fervor, or power. See how church attendance swings so wildly. Note the continual drop in active members. Look at the general complacency of even Bible believing Christians. Believers need to ask God to invigorate them with new power to carry forth the Gospel. Our strength, as the Apostle Paul says, is in God, and not in ourselves.
3) Ask for God to move to show that the Church is really His people (Exodus 33:16). How does the world really know that the church is God’s chosen people today? “What is needed is something that is so striking…that it will arrest the attention of the whole world. That is revival. Revival always does that.” (Lloyd-Jones, Revival, page 183). People noticed the church in the book of Acts, during the Reformation, during the Methodist revival of the 1700s, the 1857 revival, and the 1904-05 Welsh revival. It was obvious that those events were not the works of men, but instead they were the works of God in men.
Christians should pray for themselves and for others to be revived. Pastors, ministers, and evangelists ought to be prayed for as they prepare messages to communicate God’s Word. Messages that conform to the Word of God are sure to cause offense among complacent Christians and those who belong to the world. Those who write commentaries, books, and articles should be committed to the Lord as they do the important work which may be read for years to come. Parents should pray that their children see the work and fruit of revival.
If even a few believers begin to pray for revival in the church, God will grant change. God has promised to move in response to prayer, “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). We are limited, but prayer taps the unlimited power of Almighty God!