A Few Thoughts on Revival

As we study church history, we learn of exciting outbreaks of revival and renewal which have had profound global impacts. Today Christians rightly long to see similar moves of God’s spirit as well. We all desire to see God move in new and dynamic ways. We long to see God’s people renewed, the lost converted and society turned upside down for the Gospel. Yet I sometimes wonder whether we are doing all we can to see God’s spirit break forth in Australia. Is our desire for revival matched by a willingness to pay the price for revival? Are we really willing to make the necessary sacrifices to see revival erupt here?

Sure, in one sense revival is the result of the sovereign work of God. It is his work, and we depend on him to move on our behalf. But in another sense, there are things we can do as well to help bring about revival. An earnest and heart-felt seeking after God would be one such thing, along with a willingness to pray and seek God and cry out to him for a spiritual breakthrough in our land.

Of course most churches have organised prayer groups and the like, and intercessory prayer groups are increasing. But usually those praying, fasting and seeking God for revival are few and far between. While there are many morning prayer meetings and the like, they are usually sparsely attended.

Now I am certain that most Christians, if asked whether they would like to see God break forth in marvellous revival, would respond in the affirmative. Yet for all our interest in, and hope for, revival, it seems very few Christians are willing to take the necessary steps to see it birthed. While I realise that revival is generally due to the sovereign move of God, a study of church history indicates that concentrated passionate prayer is often the means by which revival breaks forth.

That such prayer is so noticeably absent in most churches today is a sure sign of our spiritual impoverishment. My hope and prayer is that Australian Christians will develop a desire and a thirst for revival, and for the most important means to procure such revival: prayer.

What does revival look like?

If a revival were to break out in Australia, what would it look like? Let me seek to paint a picture for you.

Newspaper headlines regularly discuss the revival. The Australian, The Age, The Courier-Mail and The Sydney Morning Herald, for example, often spend several pages each day on the revival, with daily listings of converts. Words of new praise songs are reported, along with maps of where the revival is raging. Media personalities such as Kerry O’Brien devote much time to stories of the revival, and are personally touched by it. Current affairs shows such as 60 Minutes spend most of their time discussing the revival. Numerous journalists experience conversion, and hostility to Christianity in the media is greatly reduced. Media magnates like Rupert Murdoch can only find good words to say about the revival.

The police report that jails are emptying out, streets are quiet and little police work is necessary. Crime is way down, and gambling, drinking, drug abuse and other previously common vices are cut in half. Sex shops and porno theatres are closing down. The large casino parking lots are no longer filled with cars. Many police devote their time to singing in choirs or helping out at church services.

Federal and State Parliaments are often closed, because so many politicians are involved with or observing the revival taking place. Parliamentary prayer meetings have increased in number and size. Federal leaders, opposition leaders, and most MPs and Senators attend regular prayer meetings.

The working class is especially touched by the revival, with blue collar sectors like the Western suburbs of Melbourne becoming new Bible belts. There are far fewer strikes, and tensions between unions and companies have greatly lessened.

Many young people and children are saved, with many of them taking active roles in leadership, evangelism and worship. Churches often double and triple in size, with many new church buildings being built. Whereas congregations of a thousand or more were rare before the revival, now they number in the hundreds right across Australia. Many denominational barriers have come down, and remarkable unity is experienced.

Many of the large sporting facilities like the MCG or the GABBA sit empty, partly due to lack of interest, and partly due to so many athletes converting to Christ. People like Chris Judd, Lleyton Hewitt, Stephanie Rice, and Ricky Ponting now spend most of their time holding evangelistic crusades and attending prayer meetings.

Major Australian entertainment figures such as Hugh Jackman, Kylie Minogue, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Elle MacPherson are no longer much interested in entertainment, but are devoting their time, money and talents to Christian ministry.

People from all over the world have come to Australia to see for themselves the mighty work of God taking place. The tourist industry is experiencing a major boost in visitors, and extra flights have had to be set up to accommodate the large influx of visitors. Christians and churches throughout the world are encouraged, refreshed and blessed by the revival taking place in Australia.

Will revival happen here?

Lest anyone think that all of this is the product of an over-ripe imagination, or a bit of wishful thinking, let me say that the above description is the exact equivalent of what took place during the great Welsh revival of 1904-05. That revival impacted the whole world, and its effects are still being felt today. For example, the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, which helped to give birth to the modern Pentecostal movement, was touched off by the sparks of the Welsh revival.

When we read of such exciting revivals in the past, we can only say, God do it again. If revival is the desire of our hearts, let’s help to make it a reality. One sure way to help see revival to break out in Australia is to pray it through. If your morning prayer meetings are only attended by a handful of people, ask God to put a burden on his people to become a praying church. For as church history clearly reveals, a praying church is a church that will experience revival. And revival is clearly the need of the hour, not just in Australia, but around the world.

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13 Replies to “A Few Thoughts on Revival”

  1. Yeah I’ve heard that revivals start with many people getting together and praying. Really praying. And that makes good sense. Our church has started a 24/7 roster for prayer, where everyone participates in a particular time to pray for the church and what we’re doing; as well as an expectation for leaders to pray 2-3 hours a day. You say, ‘very few Christians are willing’ – yes I would concur. Most it would appear are fairly carnal/fleshly and only want the benefits of praying lots without the hard yards of actually praying. Plainly for a revival to occur, you’ve got to have a revival in your own life first.

    Nathan Keen

  2. As much as I am committed to the work of influencing politics and government for Christ and righteousness, I nevertheless am always conscious of the fact that revival is Australia’s and the West’s only real hope. Without revival there exists only a limited opportunity for societal reform through a Christian influence on government. Hopefully as the darkness continues to increase all around us we will reach a point where the church begins to awaken and really seek God for revival.

    With regards to what a modern day revival would look like, the church would be reformed before the impact was noticed outside the church. Among other things, there would be a restoration of Holiness and a fear of God as these two attributes are among those most noticeably absent in the contemporary church. The end of the preoccupation many Christians have for superficial pursuits especially of sports and entertainment would be another dramatic change.

    It doesn’t necessarily need many people to pray for revival as historically it has been often only a small group of very committed individuals who petitioned God to send revival. The standard answer to the question of why we don’t have revival is because we are willing to live without it. When we reach the point when we can say with conviction that we can no longer live without revival, then we will have taken a large step toward seeing one.

    Ewan McDonald.

  3. Thanks Ewan

    You make a lot of good points here. I have long maintained that we need both personal revival and social reformation. But if push comes to shove, and we had to choose just one (although I think we can and should strive for both – it is not either/or but both/and), I too would go for revival (but please don’t quote me on that!)

    I have also long said that the reason the world is in a mess is because the church is in a mess, and the reason the church is in a mess is because you and I are in a mess. We simply need to start getting serious about God, and stop our trivial pursuits and selfish concerns. But as you say, that may sadly only come if and when we get desperate enough.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Quite so, Bill. As you have pointed out, the key is you and me (and the rest of the church) getting serious about God, and about his glory. When we can achieve the personal holiness which entails a true committment to the glory of Christ, we will see revival. As Paul said to the Galatians, we have no other leg to stand on, bar the glory of the grace of God, which is found most clearly and powerfully in the Cross. Once the church shifts its focus from the ‘Kingdom of Me’ to the ‘Kingdom of God’, watch out!
    Simon Kennedy, VIC

  5. Wonderful, Bill. Can someone lead me to the best book they’ve read about the Welsh revival, please?

    I remember a quote by a preceding Archbishop of Canterbury where at the end of his life he had come to realise that if he wanted to see change in his family, his community and in the world it had to start with change in him. Revival starts with me coming to the end of myself and finding God’s fullness in my weakness, through which He can then do wondrous works.

    Garth Penglase

  6. Thanks Garth
    There were two main Welsh revivals: in 1859, and 1904-05. I am not sure which is the best book, but I pulled these five volumes off my shelves:

    -Evans, Eifion, Revival Comes to Wales [1859]. Evangelical Press of Wales, 1959.
    -Evans, Eifion, The Welsh Revival of 1904. Evangelical Press of Wales, 1969.
    -Jones, Brynmor, Voices from the Welsh Revival 1904-1905. Evangelical Press of Wales, 1995.
    -Phillips, Thomas, The Welsh Revival [1859]. Banner of Truth Trust, 1860, 1989.
    -Roberts, Richard owen, Glory Filled the land: A Trilogy on the Welsh Revival (1904-1905) [H. Elvet Lewis, C. Campbell Morgan, I.V. Neprash]. International Awakening Press, 1989.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Garth, one of the best reads is Rees Howell, Intercessor by Norman Grubb. I am reading it again for myself and when you look at his way of life and how we live here in Australia, revival will never happen as we are so self centred and self serving by comaprison. Taking up your cross and dying daily is an unkown concept for us.

    After 28 years in Australia, I have yet to met one leader who comes anywhere near the way of life that Rees Howell lived. They seem more interested in their power and position, whereas Rees Howell was only interested in denying himself so that Jesus was pre-eminent. Today’s leaders do not have the servant spirit that he had.

    He worked from 7 -4.30 each day in the coal mine before he gave up his job, walked home, had tea and spent every weeknight at the chapel and on weekends he spent all his time visiting people and praying for the sick.

    He lived on two meals a day of bread and cheese and soup so that his money was not wasted on non-essentials.

    He would spend days on Black Mountain praying and interceeding for others.

    Like Bill, having studied revivals for many years and looking at the current church scene, I have a feeling that a revival will bypass most church leaders. I have a feeling that it will come through one church that is relatively insignificant, who have sufficient humility to say we need God.

    There is only one way you can make that happen and that is via desperate pray until you get him.

    I have been through two revivals in England. The first was a little Baptist Church where a handful of us decided that there had to be more so we met every Tuesday evening to pray and seek God. After 6 months of this we had the breakthrough.

    Before I left England I was in a church for 10 years that was in revival for 30 years. Nearly every time we met God showed up and did miraculous things.

    We did away with platforms, pulpits, programmes, preachers and pastors. It was just us and the Holy Spirit who took charge and used whoever he wanted to minister life and liberty.

    The Welsh revival went 24/7 and people came and went as they were able to (that is why they didn’t need larger buildings). No one was in charge of the meeting because that meant the Holy Spirit wasn’t. They left it to him to decide who did what and who got converted, convicted or crucified (metaphorically).

    Compared to the average church meeting here, and most of them are average, the Welsh revival meeting was a mess. I think most leaders today would say “stop, we must do things decently and in order” which means a man made programme that the leader has control over.

    There was a lot of confession of sin, falling on their knees before a holy God, the manifest presence of God was palpable, hence the conviction of sin, and many were delivered from demon possession.

    It doesn’t take a brain to work out that the church and the world in Australia are nearly identical. Christians are chasing money, prestige, popularity, power; it is totally divided; christians are divorcing, having abortions, siding with the homosexual cause, living together, beating their wives. no wonder it is totally irrelevant.

    Roger Marks

  8. Roger makes a very valid comment. “Today’s leaders do not have the servant spirit that he (Howell) had.”
    This is largely true but going hand in hand with this is the problem that even when we find leaders who have the servant spirit we then elevate them into a status where we want them to be leaders and not servants.
    Social ‘norms’ have so skewed much of our thinking that we think we ‘need’ leaders who lead by managing us when we really need to learn to have that servant spirit and to work with (but not under) leaders with the same servant spirit.
    The servant spirit requires us to submit to Gods will and whilst that is easily said it is very hard to do.
    Personal revival which leads us to accept the servant spirit will lead to social reformation.
    I dont yet have the servant spirit but I pray that I will find it and I will pray for others to find it.
    John Ryan

  9. Thank you Bill and Roger for your suggestions.

    Roger, I think you said it all in the first paragraph. The concept of holiness, humility and self-sacrifice as the core of a Christian’s life has indeed been alien to us. I look forward to reading Rees Howell’s story.

    Garth Penglase

  10. Oh, and “It doesn’t take a brain to work out that the church and the world in Australia are nearly identical.” is so true. And people wonder why there is no power unto salvation in Australian churches.

    I have long enjoyed reading about Smith Wigglesworth; his love of truth and hatred of lies, his devotion to the Word, his intimacy with God born of obedience.

    Garth Penglase

  11. Hello Bill,

    I disagree that revivals lead to peace. Christians look to rival like some Marxist look to revolution. Both groups believe that both are inevitable; both groups dream about their occurrence and both groups send large amounts of time, thought and money working towards those eschatological hopes. The difference is that revolutions tend to initiate violence while rivals have violence inflicted upon them.

    A Biblical template is supplied by the healing of the demon processed fortune teller by Paul and Silas (Acts16:16ff). Out of frustration, Paul cast out a demon from a woman. The charitable act got Paul and Silas thrown into jail because it threatened the income of some of the town’s wealthy citizens.

    It is a small example of the rule that conversion leads healing leads to lasting social change. If many turn to Christ it affects nations and beyond. Many good church folk resisted the rise of Methodism for it challenged the established norms. The Wesley brothers preaching about Christ had consequences for the social and economic basis of Britain. I have read about riots preventing the either of the brothers from preaching near a town. That is why they preached in open fields.

    Though they were not agents of social change, the converts were. However, the changes were resisted at every point. The film Amazing Grace illustrated the resistance to the abolition of slavery. One institution that came from that revival was the Trade Unions. Early Union cells were based on local communities called ‘chapels’ for that is who formed them. Indeed, one former secretary of the British Labour Party said that the labour movement owed more Methodism than it did to Marx.

    Revivals lead to social reformation because, as part of their personal reformation, converts work to correct the injustices within society. Personal change leads to social change because it reforming their lives a convert wants to change the social condition that entrenched evil in their former lives. Revivals inject energy into the thirst for justice. Every time Christ comes it is with a sword (Matt 10:34).

    Michael Boswell

  12. John, what you say is true because we have followed the world and imbibed the “personality cult” syndrome. The use of titles does not help this. In one book I am reading the founder of a denomination is billed as Senior Minister, Founder and President. I think if he was introduced to Jesus in that way, he would say “get behind me satan.”

    Michael, you disagree that revivals lead to peace. If you read Rees Howells, Intercessor, you will find that it does.

    Roger Marks

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