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The Interceders Encourager No. 36

Is it right to pray for revival (8)

Against those who say it is all right for others to pray for revival, but they have their own priorities, and canít fit in praying for revival as well.

This is something that I hear quite often. Praying for revival and awakening is regarded only as an optional extra, or as one thing among others to pray for. These people are content for us to pray for what we think is important, but they have their things to pray for, which they regard as more important.

It is true that many claims are made upon our time, asking us to pray for all kinds of people, places and situations. How can we decide what should be our priorities in prayer?

1) To answer this, we need to look at the teaching in the Bible on prayer for others, and on Godís priorities.

a) It is true that there is a place for praying about the problems in our society, for we are urged to make supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for all, (1Tim.2:1), and there are many problems in our society. But even if all the exterior problems were solved, the people would still be in their sins, and would need to be saved from them; and history shows that only an awakening can deal with this.

b) It is true that there is a place for praying about political issues, for we are urged to pray "for kings and all those in authority",(1Tim.2:2); and many bad anti Biblical Acts of Parliament have been passed, especially during the last government, which have been instrumental in turning people further away from Godís ways. But even if all the bad legislation was repealed, the hearts of people would remain sinful. They will be changed only by the Spirit of God.

c) It is true that there is a place for praying for the police, and praying against crime, for we are urged to pray "that we may live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and holiness. (1Tim.2:2); and such praying can lessen crime, and make life easier for people. It is wonderful to hear of drugs being seized, but the drug dealers and the drug users are still the same inside. It is wonderful to hear of crime figures going down, but the hearts of the criminals are still sinful. For even if all our prayers for this were answered, and the crime rates were significantly reduced, people would still be rebellious, and Jesus Christ would not be honoured any more by them. Only an awakening would really deal with this.

d) It is true that there is a place for praying about the media, for we are told that righteousness exalts a people, while sin is a reproach to any people,(Prov.14:34), and the media have been instrumental in debasing and debauching the moral standards of this country over the past decades, so a cleaning up of the media is necessary, but even if that was done, the hearts of the people would remain the same. And as we are, this cleaning up is impossible. We need an awakening to do it

e) It is true that there is a place for praying about the education of our children and young people, for children should be trained up in the right way (Prov. 22:6), and the children of this country have not had that, but even if all the standards went up, the children and young people would still need their hearts and their priorities changed. For that we need an awakening.

f) It is true that there is a place for praying for people of other religions, especially Islam, that the country would be protected against the threat of their violence, but even if the threat was taken away and there was peace, they would still be in their sins, and they would not acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Moreover, the Church in Britain is not able to take on the problem of Islam and win. It does not have the resources, nor the power, nor even the will to do so. It needs to be revived.

g) It is true that there is a place for praying for Church Leaders, (Heb.13:17-18, 1Thess.5: 12-13), for they are the face of Christianity to the world, so praying for them would be helpful, but even if our prayers were answered, the leaders would still appear as irrelevant to most people. Far more than this is needed.

h) It is true that there is a place for praying for particular problems in the churches, for the churches are weak and divided and unable to deal with the problems they face. But the only real answer to all these problems is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, as on the Day of Pentecost, the supreme example of how the Church should operate, or rather, how God should run the Church.

Over the past decades, we have seen the churches of this land become weaker and more worldly, and, therefore, having less and less impact on society. We have also seen the moral and spiritual state of the nation go down over the same period. If we look at church history and especially at times of revival and awakening, we can see that it is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, aligned with the preaching of the whole gospel as declared by the great revival preachers of the past, that has been the only answer to the problems that they faced.

This is why it is not sufficient to just pray for God to change this or that, for in comparison with what God can do in times of revival and awakening, it is insignificant, and does not really deal with the problem. It is only tinkering at the edges. The root and the heart of the problem is the heart of man, including ourselves, and unless that is changed, the basic problems remain; people still live in rebellion against their Maker, Christ is not honoured as Lord and Saviour, and the sin of the nation remains as a reproach before God.

We need to remind ourselves that we are not dealing with the Old Covenant situation, under which only kings and prophets could have the Spirit in them, and the rest of the people just had laws to follow as best they could. We are dealing with the New Covenant situation, in which the Holy Spirit can be poured out not only on all those who respond to the preaching of the gospel, but also on whole communities, bringing them to conviction, conversion, a change of heart and mind, and a radical new way of living, in which God and His kingdom are put first. Only through this can the problems of society be resolved. For this is the reason why the Son of God was sent into this world, to suffer and die and rise again and send His Spirit, "to redeem from all iniquity, and to purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good works," so that "the Lamb who was slain should receive the reward of His sufferings."

History has shown that it is only the pouring out of the Spirit of God, accompanied by anointed preachers of righteousness preaching the whole truth of God to the nation, that is sufficient to stem the tide of rebellion and lawlessness, the rise of Christ denying religions, and the assault on Biblical standards by atheists and secularists; and bring people back to Godís ways. Our greatest priority, therefore, taking precedence over everything else; must be praying for revival and awakening and for preachers of righteousness to be raised up, so that peopleís lives are radically transformed; for God has shown them as His priorities.

2) Let us take an honest look at the churches today.

Many churches have become lukewarm and almost prayerless. Their concerns are petty and selfish. Spiritual concerns have been pushed to one side. The churches may be busy, but they are spiritually unfruitful. People are not being truly converted. The laws of God are not preached. His day is not honoured. Sin is not condemned, but is tolerated and condoned. The Lord Jesus Christ is not given his rightful place of authority over His Church. His word is not honoured and obeyed. False teaching is accepted. Spiritual discernment is noticeable by its absence. Prayers of spiritual petition and intercession are small or even absent from many churches. Especially noticeable are the absence of prayers for peopleís conversion, for those on the front line of evangelism and for the persecuted churches.

The Lordís manifest presence is not sought. There is no longing for holiness. True spirituality is rare. There is no sense of burden for a lost and dying world around them hastening to destruction, no sense of urgency to win a world that is running out of time; no sense of shame and corporate responsibility for a nation that has no sense of sin because Godís people have abdicated their responsibility to tell the truth.

Everything points to a Church that is trying to do things its way and not Godís way, which means a compromising, weak and powerless Church, unable to defeat its enemies.

A visitor from China, when he saw the Western Church, said, "I am amazed that you do so much without the help of the Holy Spirit!" We have become so used to organizing things, and thinking we have succeeded if things go smoothly, that we have lost the whole conception of everything having to be done by the Holy Spirit.

This is why the revival of our churches is so essential. Seeking God and allowing Him to do the work that only He can do is the most important and the most urgent thing we need to do.

3) Let us take an honest look at Britain today.

There are many aspects of our nationís life that show the need of Godís Spirit to be poured out. We will look at some of these in the light of the Ten Commandments being broken.

God is not given His rightful place. He is ignored and abused. Many say they do not even believe in Him. The number of people who serve foreign gods is increasing at an alarming rate. Other gods such as pleasure, money and success are put in His place.

The names of God and his Son are taken in vain, even by young children.

His holy day is increasingly not honoured.

Children and young people are disobedient and disrespectful to their parents on a scale never before seen in history.

There is increasing vandalism, violence and murder, especially against children and animals, never before seen in this country. There is a curse of death over the land.

Fornication, promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality and all manner of wickedness is polluting this country every day.

There is a huge amount of theft, cheating and deception going on at all levels of society.

There is increasing dishonesty in speech and conduct. A manís word is no longer his bond.

Our whole society, from top to bottom, is now based on covetousness and greed.

4) The Answer and the necessity for the Church

It should be obvious that ordinary praying for small or particular concerns will not deal with the horrendous situation with which we are faced. Even over 50 years ago, Martyn Lloyd Jones stated that the people of this country had become so disbelieving in God and the Bible, so unconcerned about spiritual things, so immoral, so selfish, so fixated on pleasure and sport that something far greater than we had ever known in our lifetimes was needed to change the minds and hearts of people. Yet, even then, he realized that churches would try anything other than Godís methods to win people. They would put on entertainment, they would copy the worldís music; they would provide meals and do everything they could think of rather than use Godís methods. Only the power of God can really convict and convert, can humble people, break their hard hearts and make them new. Nothing short of a mighty outpouring of Godís Spirit is adequate to deal with the situation.

"Without the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit," declared P.F.Bresee, "any church is a failure. It may be a great machine, but it is without life and power. Such an organization bears the same relation to the Church of Christ that a dead body bears to a living one. A dead body has all the appearance of a man, but for all purposes for which man was created, it is a useless thing. So with the church. It looks like the real thing, but for the purposes for which the church was called into being, it is utterly useless. It may amuse; it may entertain; it may instruct people; but to lift them out of their sins, and take their sins out of them, it is powerless to do. Only revival can transform the sham into the reality."

Bresee is underlining the fact that the Church cannot be the Church unless it is revived. It is the one thing above everything else that is needed, as Jesus demonstrated. "Before you think about doing anything else," He said to His disciples, "you must pray and wait for power from on high." It was only because the Holy Spirit came in supernatural power that on the Day of Pentecost, that the church could come into being, for only then could the truth be proclaimed in power, and thousands of people be truly convicted of their sin, and repent. Later, when the church was faced with persecution, and its leaders were threatened, they didn't pray for their leaders. They prayed for God to work in power, to confront their enemies, to give them boldness and to perform miracles. God proved that was the right prayer by shaking the house, filling them with the Holy Spirit, and giving them the boldness they asked for.  

Dr Skevington Wood wrote: "Revival is the expression of Godís nature. It is also the fulfilment of His holy purpose. Revival must be considered a necessity for the life of the Church. Pentecost is not a luxury. It is an absolute essential." We need to pray for revival and awakening because it is the urgent need of the church above everything else. "Unless we are favoured with frequent times of the outpouring of the Spirit of God," said Thomas Charles, who saw times of revival and declension, "the church will soon fall into decline, will lose its reputation, and sin and iniquity will flourish in the world." We have proved the truth of that ever since those words were spoken. In Britain we have been struggling without revival for far too long, and have seen the dire consequences as our nation has gone further and further away from God.

This is why praying for revival is so necessary and so urgent. Duncan Campbell points out what revival does. It gets "men and women into a vital, saving and covenant relationship with Jesus Christ, and so supernaturally altered that holiness will characterize their whole being: body, soul and spirit." All of our evangelism and efforts today do not do this. Only the Spirit of God poured out in power can do it.

In 1928, Jonathan Fletcher reported that church attendance in Britain was under half what it had been 25 years previously. "There can be no alternative," said Jonathan Goforth, writing in 1929, when he noted that church attendance in Britain, was not half of what it had been 25 years previously, "it is either Holy Ghost revival or apostasy." Since then, of course, church attendance has gone down to far less than a half of what it was in 1928, so the need of revival is far greater.

Charles Finney, whose knowledge and experience of revival was greater than almost anyone else, said, "Revival is the only possible thing that can wipe away the reproach that covers the Church, and restore Christianity to the place it ought to have in the estimation of the public."

In this, he was not only affirming what Thomas Charles has said, but was also echoing the prayer of Isaiah 62:6-7, "You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest and give Him no rest, until He establishes Jerusalem, and makes it a praise in the earth," a promise that was prayed back to God with wonderful effect in Lewis in 1949.

Finney also maintained that "Revival is necessary to avert the judgment of God upon the Church. Nothing else than revival will preserve the Church from annihilation." What could be more urgent or more serious than averting the judgment of God on the church, and preventing its annihilation? Never let it be said that praying for revival is a secondary or an optional matter. It is the most serious and the most urgent thing we can ever pray for.

Stephen Olford underlined this when he wrote, commenting on Psalm 85:4-6, "It is clear from these words that God must vent His anger against an unrevived people. If we donít have revival, the righteous anger of God will come upon us." Olford goes on to point out from verses 6-7 and 9-13, that if we donít have revival, we will not have the conscious awareness of God, and we will not see the gracious activity of God in saving and sanctifying.

"If we do not have revival,"wrote Jonathan Goforth, "the filth and bloodguiltiness of the churches can be swept away only by the spirit of judgment and of burning."

5) The Necessity for the world

Leonard Ravenhill shows the importance of revival and awakening to the world. "A spiritual revival is not just important to the Church and the nation, it is imperative."

"Unless we have it soon, Godís judgment will fall on us. He will not wink at the sins in our churches and in our nation much longer."

Anthony Storr points out the terrible consequences in the world of the church not being in a state of revival. "Because the Church has failed to win the nations of the world, man has become the cruellest, the most ruthless species that ever walked the earth, and unless and until we face the fact, the nature of man will defeat every effort at peace."

"I see chaos coming, as clearly as the shepherds saw the star of Bethlehem," said Roger Babson. "Only one thing will stop this coming chaos, a sweeping spiritual awakening."

"Nothing less than a genuine revival in the Body of Christ, resulting in a true awakening among the unsaved, will ever satisfy the heart of God," wrote Oswald Smith.

Leonard Ravenhill, wrote in 1959, "If the Lord tarries, and there is no revival of pure Christianity, then the next span of years will be the worst that history has ever recorded." We have seen those words proved true, emphasising that the need for revival, after another fifty years, is greater and more urgent than ever.

Now we understand the urgency, ask the Lord to make you more concentrated and more single minded in prayer. "The secret of the 1859 revival in Ulster," (as was also true in Wales before 1904 and in Lewis in 1949), "was that they met for the one great object of praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon themselves and upon the surrounding country. They held right to the one thing, and did not run off to anything else." (Ian Paisley)

Let this be true of us, and let us be willing to pay the price personally. "The refining fire must go through my heart before it can reach an impotent church and an indifferent world." (Skevington Wood)