Some people think that we shouldnít pray for revival because revivals are sent according to the will and dictates of a "sovereign" God, and are completely outside our control. We can hope for revival, these people affirm, but it is up to God whether or not He decides to send it. All we can do is to find out what God has done in the past, and leave Him to do what He thinks best. No amount of human endeavour, according to these people, can bring about a revival or an awakening, for God will act when He thinks fit.
There is nothing new about this objection. William Sprague was aware of it back in 1832. "There are those," he wrote, "who attribute too much to the agency of the Spirit in revivals, as if God only was at work in them, and man is a mere passive recipient. The result of this, naturally, is that they just wait for revival to happen, and do not exert themselves to the utmost to co-operate with God, on the ground that a revival is a mere matter of His sovereignty, and that God is able to carry forward His own work independently of means."
1) Sprague partly answers this by saying that true prayer is made in dependence upon God, and it is this spirit of dependence that honours Him. In prayer, we must acknowledge our own weakness and Godís great power and willingness to help us. When we are in the right attitude, we sink down before the throne of the Almighty as nothing, and with the confidence of a child, lift up our hearts to God as our all in all.
Those who honour God in this way, God will honour by sending down in answer to their prayers the blessings that they ask for. "Wherever Godís people have been truly humbled before Him, have been brought deeply to feel their own impotence, and have been willing to be used as mere instruments, and to let God have all the glory, there you will find a rich blessing has been bestowed." Everything, therefore, depends upon God, not just God working externally, but God working internally in and through us. For the Holy Spirit is always waiting to inspire us, and by His power in us, to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think. Consequently, we can acknowledge God and praise Him for doing everything, while at the same time, acknowledging that everything depends upon our response to Him and our co-operation with Him. This underlines our need to open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit for Him to plead and intercede through us.
2) Now God could, of course, carry on His work by Himself without any recourse to us at all, but the Bible and Church History show that He has chosen to do so through human beings who co-operate with Him. We see this in the natural world. Any land uncultivated and left to itself, just produces thorns and weeds. (Heb. 6:8) Even though God alone gives life to all living things, and makes them grow, God expects us to co-operate with Him by preparing the soil, sowing, irrigating, weeding, feeding, pruning etc. in order to produce a harvest. In spite of the fact that we are completely dependent upon God for all our food, without our work in conjunction with His power, we would not have a harvest. If a farmer had broken no ground and sowed no seed, obviously he would have no right to expect a harvest. In the same way, though we acknowledge that revival, like the harvest, is entirely Godís work, this in no way absolves us of the responsibility to play our part in bringing it about.
3) If we say that God determines everything, including revival, and we cannot influence the course of events, but must just leave God to carry on His work in His own way, this view actually makes God the author of sin, for most of what goes on in the world is full of pride and greed and selfishness. Therefore, to put forward such an idea is blasphemous and must be wrong. God cannot be the cause of sin, and obviously has not determined most of what goes on in the world. On the contrary, He is appalled and grieved by the world living in rebellion against Him. His word tells us that all the world lies under the sway of the evil one, (1Jn.5:19) and that Jesus was sent to destroy his works, (1Jn.3:8) and we are here to continue His ministry by the help of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, as Jesus said, we are to watch and pray and work and witness, for we will be held responsible before God for the extension of His kingdom.. There is no ground for saying that all things, including revival, are determined by Him. On the contrary, we will be held responsible.
This is especially true in relation to revivals. If God, in His "sovereignty" decides when to send revivals, and He determined that we should not have revival in Britain for the last hundred years, (apart from the East Anglian, the East Scotland and the Northern Ireland revivals of 1921-1922 and the Hebridean awakenings of the 1930`s, the 1940`s and the 1950`s), then it means that He determined and decreed that sin and iniquity should flourish and abound and get worse and worse, for that is what has happened, as Thomas Charles said it would, unless we are favoured with frequent seasons of revival.
To make such an assertion about God is, as we have said, blasphemous in the extreme, something that we cannot accept for a moment. The Bible tells us that it is Godís will that righteousness should abound, therefore it can never be His will that iniquity should flourish, and that this nation should sink lower and lower morally and spiritually, as it has done, and that more and more peopleís lives should be ruined.
Therefore it cannot be Godís will that in the last century we have seen so few revivals, and consequently the fact that we have seen so few, in comparison with the many that were seen in the 170 years before that, must be our fault. To put forward the idea, therefore, that God determines when revivals will take place, and that He decided that there would be no revivals in most of Britain for the last hundred years must be rejected out of hand. If it were just up to God, and all we had to do was wait, we would have had many revivals, for God knows how essential they are for bringing about His purposes.
On the contrary, all the evidence points to the fact that the absence of revivals has been the Churchís fault. Over the last hundred years the Church has become increasingly liberal in its theology, so that it no longer believes in the miraculous, including revivals; it has lost its faith in the power of prayer, so that it no longer prays as it should; it has become increasingly worldly, so that it is no longer concerned about holiness and moral separation from the world; it has given up hope, or it has become complacent, with no sense of urgency, thinking that what it has is revival, or that revival cannot be procured. Such a Church cannot co-operate with God to bring about revival.
4) This view has misunderstood the concept of waiting. There is a place for waiting when God has told a person or a group of people to wait for something that He has definitely promised, as Jesus did to the apostles when He ascended. But even then, the 120 were expected, not just to wait, but to pray in unity and in faith. But now Christians should not be waiting for the Holy Spirit. The wait for man ended at Pentecost. Now it is the other way round. The Holy Spirit is waiting for believers to meet the conditions. As Malcolm McDow says, "Within His established guidelines, God has decreed that awakening is a co-operative effort between Him and His peopleÖJust as all Godís promises are conditional, revival is conditional," and "when Godís people meet the conditions, God produces revival."
Christmas Evans, who had great experience of revival, said "Revival is from God, but it is borne to earth on the wings of fervent believing prayer. We cannot expect revival without Him, but He will not bring it about without us," or, as Augustine said, "Without God, we cannot. Without us, He will not."
5) This proposition that we should just leave it to God as to when He decides to work makes a mockery of the promises of God, indeed of the whole concept of prayer, for it is saying that God will not fulfil the promises He has made, such as: "If my people will Ö then I will hear and forgive and heal," "I will yield to the prayers of the house of Israel," "Ask and it will be given to you," "He fulfils the desire of all who fear Him" etc.
Such a position not only shows disbelief in the promises of God, but also in the character of God Himself, for God remains faithful, He cannot deny himself. (2Tim.2:13) We can see that this unwillingness or refusal to pray for revival is a very serious assertion, affecting the most fundamental aspects of faith, and needs to be totally rejected.
6) We can look at this matter in relation to revivals being hindered or stopped. Either revival is something completely outside our control, and God sends it when He wills, He controls it and nothing can hinder it or stop it in any way, or it is dependent upon what man does and it can be hindered and frustrated or even stopped. History shows that the latter is true. Revivals have been hindered, limited and stopped by people. Furthermore, their depth and their extent depend very much on what people do, how open they are to it, and how obedient or disobedient to the Holy Spirit they are.
For example, in the 1904-6 Welsh revival, many people, many churches and even whole areas refused to become part of what God was doing, and were left cold and lifeless. Many revivals have been confined to small areas because the ones revived did not take the blessing to other places. In the 1750`s, the revival attending the ministry of Howell Harris and the other Methodist preachers was completely stopped due to the dissension that arose between them at that time. We know, therefore, that God does not control the continuing or the extent of a revival. These things are controlled by peopleís faith, obedience, co-operation and unity. Therefore, as the former proposition that in revival, God is completely in charge, and nothing can hinder or limit or stop it, is not true, therefore the latter proposition that the sending or the holding back of it as well as the hindering of it, is dependent on our co-operation, must be true.
Or we can put it another way. If God completely controlled the sending of revival, so that it occurred only at His discretion, He would also control the maintaining of it, for it would be rather embarrassing, if not a denial of His power, for Him to send revival, but for it then to be hindered or stopped straightaway. But the fact that we know it can be hindered or limited or stopped shows that God is not in control. In His grace and mercy, He has left us with the opportunity and the privilege of co-operating with Him in the sending and in the extent of a revival.
We therefore need to hesitate before we use the term "sovereignty" in relation to revival. God is sovereign, i.e. completely in control with regard to the creation and maintenance of the whole universe, but in the stewardship of this world and in spiritual matters, He has entrusted man with huge responsibilities, as we are finding to our cost on both scores. We need to be very careful, therefore, how we use the powers He has given us. Of course it is true that all the work of the Holy Spirit in a revival/ awakening is entirely of God. It is His power alone that convicts and converts. But as we know that the sending of the Spirit and the continued sending of Him can be frustrated and even stopped by manís sin, doubt and unbelief, then it seems we should say that God alone can do the reviving and awakening, but that man alone has the responsibility to bring it down; to confess and pray and plead and intercede and seek the face of God, and thereby create channels through whom the Holy Spirit can flow.
7) We can also look at this in terms of the warfare between God and Satan. When
revival comes, the devil suffers a setback, his kingdom is shaken, his territory has been attacked, and people are being taken out of his control. So he comes down like lightning to try and stop it, (Lk.10:18) and very often does so.
Now it is clear that God wants the devilís domain completely destroyed, so if
revival was just a matter of Godís decision, He would come down and destroy Satanís rule completely. There would be a state of continuous revival, with no sin. But in this period before Jesus returns, that doesnít happen because we have been given a measure of free will, and God has made Himself dependent on our faith and obedience to deal with Satanís wiles on the earth. Therefore the coming of revival to defeat the devil is dependent upon our voluntarily fulfilling the conditions for sending revival. When we pray according to His will, and break through the devilís defences, then God can send the power and defeat the enemy.
We know that the devil can hinder and stop revival continuing and spreading, for he does it in every revival. If he can do such work when the power of the Spirit of God is most active, then obviously he can the more easily work before the Spirit is poured out, and hinder and stop any revival coming, which he has been very successful at doing in this country for a very long time. This makes it even more imperative for us to pray with all the weapons at our disposal for the devil to be defeated, and for the power of God to come down, especially as we know that one of the main reasons for our Redeemer to come to earth was to destroy the works of the devil. (1Jn.3:8) Jesus is waiting for us to enforce the victory of the cross and resurrection, so that the devilís power is broken, his hold upon people is taken away, Godís power is released, and people are set free.
To believe this and act upon it is no easy option. It demands all our determination and resolve, all our faith and trust in the Strong Deliverer. It means putting on the whole armour of God, and fighting against our enemy with spiritual weapons until the breakthrough is made.
8) Let us now look at some wonderful quotations on the subject:
"Revival is often regarded as an act of divine sovereignty in which man is generally considered incapable of hindering such a manifestation of divine power. In the light of Scripture and Christian experience, this view is completely without support. When all the facts are considered, it is abundantly evident that Christians have a vital role to play in preparing for and promoting a true revival. Revival is the work of the Holy SpiritÖyet manís attitude must not be effortless waiting for the blessing to come from God. He must put himself into the position where he can receive. Man cannot make it happen, but he can make it almost inevitable." (C.C.B. Bardsley)
"God is waiting for men to meet the conditionsÖIt is of the utmost importance that we plainly understand where the responsibility restsÖSome have been inclined to deny that bringing about a revival is within the range of human possibility. They regard a revival as an altogether mysterious and unaccountable consequence of divine intervention, apart altogether from anything that man can doÖ.Such ideas are fraught with the gravest peril to the Church, and need to be finally shattered. Nothing is easier than to fold our arms and with sanguine presumption affirm that revival will come when God sees fit, and then sink back into contented complacency. We need to recognise, however, that the responsibility belongs to the Church aloneÖ Revivals do not break out without the appropriate means being made use of. A revival is the sure result of divinely ordered processes followed carefully by man. It will no more come without the proper preparation than the harvest will come without ploughing and sowing." (G.E.Young)
"To say, as so many do, `We can do nothing,` may be a very accommodating
doctrine to those who are at ease in Zion, but it will not stand in the light of divine revelation." (Duncan Campbell)
"There has been an absence of revival for a very long time now. There can only be two reasons for this. Either God has changed His mind, and decided not to send any more, or there are hindrances on manís side. We know the former is not possible, for God has said that He does not change, so the only possibility left is that it is our fault there have been no revivals." (Richard Owen Roberts)
9) Finally, let us look at some of the proofs, the times when praying brought
about revival. At the beginning of the 18th century, in the American Colonies, most Christians had come to believe that only united, earnest prayer could bring a divine outpouring which would change peopleís minds and hearts. "A revival of religion was regarded as the only antidote for spiritual declension. Ministers began calling Godís people to seek Godís face in prayer so He could lead His people into revival, which in turn would bring about a moral reformationÖ. The first results of such praying were seen in a revival in the Rariton Valley in New Jersey in 1726, under the ministry of Theodore Frelinghuysen, an immigrant from Holland, who had been influenced by Pietism, and who had arrived in 1720 with a burning passion for revival in the Dutch Reformed Church." (McDow & Reid) It is interesting to note that Frelinghuysen preached the necessity of conversion and the new birth, emphasised church discipline, zealously visited his people, set up small group devotional meetings, and appointed lay preachers; all of which features were later adopted by the Methodists.
In the middle of the 19th century, in Boston, Massachusetts, Charles Finney met a man who had travelled two thousand miles from Nebraska, and who had found prayer meetings established all along the route. "From north to south, a great and mighty cry had gone up to God that He would come down, take the people in hand, and convert souls. And God heard and answered, and everybody stood astounded," for it has been said that over a million people were converted at that time.
Seth Joshua, who had himself prayed daily for revival in Wales for over ten years before his prayers were answered in 1904, and 100,000 were brought to the feet of Christ, said that "the awakening was the result of much soul agony."
Jonathan Goforth, who earnestly prayed for revival in China, and saw his
prayers answered in the most amazing way, wrote: "We wish to state most emphatically as our conviction, that Godís revival may be had when we will and where we willÖ.Our reading of the word of God makes it inconceivable to us that the Holy Spirit should be willing even for a day to delay His work. We may be sure that where there is a lack of the fullness of God, it is ever due to manís lack of faith and obedience. If God the Holy Spirit is not glorifying Jesus Christ in the world today, as at Pentecost, it is we who are to blameÖ.If revival is being withheld from us, it is because some idol remains enthroned; because we still insist in placing our reliance on human schemes; because we still refuse to face the unshakeable truth that "it is not by might, but by My Spirit."
Before revival came to Congo in 1953, people had been praying for years. Then in the early 1950`s, the missionaries became desperate. The pressure from the enemy was very strong; stronger than they had ever known before. During one weekend in January 1953, after reading the book, "Rees Howells, Intercessor," two missionaries, a husband and wife, felt the burden of revival, and told God that they didnít mind where the revival began, or through whom it came, but they must have revival. By this time, they had realised how holy God is, and how sinful they were, and were flat on their faces before the Lord. Later, they found out that revival had broken out in another place that very weekend, a revival that was incredible in its depth and results.
In 1951, Raymond Edman, the principal of Wheaton College, U.S.A. wrote:
"We have not seen revival on a large scale in our day because we have been waiting for God to do what is manifestly our duty and responsibility to perform. At Wheaton we found the truth of 2Chron. 7:14. It was our part to humble ourselves in the dust, to pray earnestly and expectantly, to seek the Lord, and to turn from all known sin. Then there came a gracious ministration from heaven." Edman saw revival impact the college three times, in 1943, 1948 and 1950, with thousands of lives transformed and many significant missionaries and church leaders produced. Even in the midst of 20th century America, God worked in revival power in response to the heartfelt confession and intercession of His people.
We have seen just a few examples of the Lord hearing and answering the earnest prayers of His people. Exactly how He answers our prayers is up to Him, for only He knows the genuineness of our hearts, but we have every reason to believe that He will keep the promises that he has made, for He who called you is faithful, and He will do it. (1Thess.5:24)
Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!
Thine own immortal strength put on;
With terror clothed, hellís kingdom shake,
And cast Thy foes with fury down.
As in the ancient days appear;
The sacred annals speak thy fame;
Be now omnipotently near,
To endless ages, still the same.