CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Thinking About Revival

Nov 17, 2009

Study the history of revival. God has always sent revival in the darkest days. Oh, for a mighty, sweeping revival today! (Adrian Rogers)

When 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 and Tony Jones 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.

Now, 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.

A few choice quotes on revival

“If you want revival, let me remind you that God only plants the seed of His life in soil which has been broken up by repentance.” – Alan Redpath

“Are we jealous for God’s glory? To me that is what revival is all about.” – Leonard Ravenhill

“Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God. It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility.” – Charles Finney

“If revival is being withheld from us it is because some idol remains still enthroned; because we still insist in placing our reliance in human schemes; because we still refuse to face the unchangeable truth that ‘It is not by might, but by My Spirit’.” – Jonathan Goforth

“In the Irish Revival of 1859, people became so weak that they could not get back to their homes. Men and women would fall by the wayside and would be found hours later pleading with God to save their souls. They felt that they were slipping into hell and that nothing else in life mattered but to get right with God… To them eternity meant everything. Nothing else was of any consequence. They felt that if God did not have mercy on them and save them, they were doomed for all time to come.” – Oswald J. Smith

“An awakening is ready to burst on the dismal scene when Christians have a deep, profound Spirit of prayer for an awakening.” – Lewis Drummond

“A revival almost always begins among the laity. The ecclesiastical leaders seldom welcome reformation. History repeats itself. The present leaders are too comfortably situated as a rule to desire innovation that might require sacrifice on their part. And God’s fire only falls on sacrifice. An empty altar receives no fire!” – Frank Bartleman

“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.” – C. H. Spurgeon

“Whether it be in the personal life, or in the church life, or on the mission field, we need revival – we need revival urgently – we need revival desperately!”  – Stephen Olford

Recommended reading

General works

Backhouse, Robert, Spurgeon on Revival. Kingsway, 1996.
Davies, R.E., I Will Pour Out My Spirit. Monarch, 1992.
Dixon, Patrick, Signs of Revival. Kingsway, 1994.
Edwards, Brian, Revival: A People Saturated With God. Evangelical Press, 1990.
Hill, Stephen, Time to Weep. Creation House, 1997.
Kaiser, Walter, Revive Us Again. Christian Focus, 2001.
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Revival. Crossway, 1987.
Murray, Iain, Revival and Revivalism. Banner of Truth, 1994.
Pratney, Winkie, Revival: Its Principles and Personalities. Huntington House, 1994.
Warner, Rob, Prepare for Revival. Hodder & Stoughton, 1995.

The Welsh Revivals (of 1859 and 1904-05)

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.

[1681 words]

21 Responses to Thinking About Revival

  • The standard answer to the question “Why don’t we have revival?” is that we’re willing to live without it. Of course this is a challenge to me as much as it is to anyone.

    A few further suggestions for reading might include:

    Why Revival Tarries, Leonard Ravenhill.
    In the Day of Thy Power, Arthur Wallis.
    A Time for Holy Fire, Michael Brown.

    In fact there are several I would recommend from Michael Brown. They can be found here.

    Ewan McDonald

  • Yes revival is a great need for the Church in Australia, to have some level of transformation like the Welsh revival is a good desire to have today. Be encouraged there is a growing desire for passionate prayer. In places such as Orange there is a 24/7 house of prayer where laity and pastors are learning to pray more effectively – about 80 are learning at present at the 24/7 house of prayer, with almost all the churches represented. A teaching is being used that is being used around the world to help churches passionately pray and have more effective prayers that usher in a move of God in a community and beyond. I am looking forward to great reports from what God does in the days ahead as his people get a praying.
    Stephen Lewin

  • Psssssst. Bill! Bill! God is not real.
    Stephen Jacobs

  • Thanks Stephen

    So everything which I just described here – all based on historical fact – is all simply the stuff of human initiative and will power? Sorry, I just don’t think so. It is probably closer to the truth to say that atheists are not real.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Sounds like a much better Australia that’s for sure! Another good article from Bill.

    Anthony Lichoudaris

  • As I read Matt 24 and 2 Tim 3, I get a sense that there will be final falling away from true, vibrant faith in the last of the Last Days.

    Thank God for the vibrancy of faith in China, Africa and elsewhere – but should we expect God to do it here before That Day?

    Stephen White

  • Richard Dawkins claims to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist”. So thanks to Stephen Jacobs for beautifully demonstrating how little effort an atheist expends in achieving such fulfillment.
    Michael Watts

  • Bill, the deep need of spiritual revival is stark in your article. Thank you for it. Would you consider including Edwin J Orr, who attended 300 plus revivals world-wide, devoting all his days to awakening God’s people. His 3 earned doctorates were an amalgum of intellect and passion for the LORD. He held annual conferences at Oxford with attendees from revival areas. Striking!

    Bill, God has used Peterus Octavianus in East Java and Swiss Heine Germann-Edey in revivals in Indonesia, where 30 million followers of the Lord contrast with the other 200 million followers of the Muslim faith. Heine planted churches in Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sumatra, leaving them with 20 believers. Ten years later, 10,000 followers of Christ were active in each field, Bible-saturated with intercession. I reckon this is our pressing need.

    Harrold Steward

  • Good thoughts Bill. Prayer is so very essential, and yet so very neglected. May we become a people of prayer.
    Isaac Overton, ACT

  • Bill, I love hearing about the results of when God visits us… the supernatural the radical changes and transformed lives.
    To see God move in such ways I believe it does take individuals to press in to God, to being to hunger and thirst for righteousness Matt 5:6 (as opposed to drinking in iniquity like water – Job 15:16). To become God chasers who spend set aside time seeking God 1 to 1.
    Thank you for stirring us up to desire this and for lifting our vision to see this in our sights.
    Michael Dawson

  • Can I throw a stone into the pond. Having been used by God in the UK with a few others to bring revival to a church, I have a very distinct impression here that the biggest barrier to revival is the leadership of the church. They prefer the status quo where they have control than a move of God where they lose control.
    Roger Marks

  • Thanks Bill for writing on this subject.
    There is a need to make a clear distinction between revival (a sovereign supernatural move of God) and revivalism (a man whipped up frenzy). When we grow impatient for God to bring about the desired revival we can be tempted to work something out ourselves. People organise revival meetings and try so hard to get the spirit moving that they end up looking more like the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel. I went to Argentine a few years back with the expectation of seeing a revival in progress. I was in the country seven weeks. A lot of people came out for prayer at the end of the church meetings and all ended up on their backs on the floor. I don’t know if they were spiritually transformed when they got up but I saw no change in the culture of the country. Corruption was rife, crime at epidemic proportions and no adherence to the rule of law. The country was in moral chaos. Whatever was going on in the churches was not being translated to the culture of the nation.
    Let us fervently and expectantly pray for revival but let us wait for the real thing.
    Des Morris

  • Thanks Des

    You raise some good points. Those who have been in the thick of revival have had to exercise discernment as to what is really of God and what is not. Thus Charles Finney for example could write books such as True and False Repentance, and Jonathan Edwards could write about True and False Conversion, and so on. As you say, in our desire to see revival break out, we can be tempted to embrace that which is of the flesh, and not the Spirit.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Stephen Jacobs, keep an eye open for what is happening in South Africa, and will be happening more and more often. As the one quote states: it’s history and it will be repeated – across the world, where the church is willing to pray ofcourse. We are truly digging into our roots here at the moment, repenting of whatever God shows us – and we’ve got one wicked past! What has happened here and what is happening through the church at the moment are too much to speak of in this space but I trust you will be able to buy the books and read the reports as well. Just to confirm, we are seeing glimpses of what Bill wrote about above already: sport stadiums are being filled across the country to host evangelical events and trust me all the papers are writing and debating about it. After our recent Currie Cup rugby finals (I would compare this to Grand Final day in Aus) both captains of the winning age group teams (u/19&u/21) as well as the captains of both the winning and losing Premier Division teams thanked and praised God in their post-match speeches – just as an indication of where we are at. There is a general revival among our sport stars, same even among those in the music and entertainment industry and then obviously among the general public. Schools are experiencing it and recently there was a surprising response in the papers wherein the SA public called on the government to let religious practices remain in schools. I believe that these are only glimpses of a coming revival though, there are still loads of praying and repenting which need to happen. I understand that we are not the only country experiencing it and will pray for Aus and the nations of the world and encourage all people to do so for their various countries.
    Servaas Hofmeyr, South Africa

  • Bill, another good article. To Stephen Jacobs: if Bill is wrong about God then no matter, but if you are wrong about God (ie he does exist) then it will be dire for you.
    Lawrie McNamara

  • Thanks Bill for a wonderful article. You’ve stirred me to pray for this. Nothing more needs to be said, so I’ll leave it there!
    Scott Buchanan

  • An inspiring article Bill and which book on the Welsh revival would you consider the most inspiring?

    Annette Nestor

  • Thanks Annette

    They are all pretty good. Perhaps the Evans’ volumes are a good place to begin.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks, and are those two much different in content from each other?

    Annette Nestor

  • Thanks Annette

    Different in the sense that they cover two different Welsh revivals. But hey, just get them both!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I didn’t know there were two Welsh revivals and for some reason I didn’t notice the years on your book list. I don’t notice the numbers, just the words … and I have done as you suggested.

    Annette Nestor

Leave a Reply