During our recent COVID-19 shutdown, some churches—even some that had long abandoned corporate prayer—organized online prayer meetings. Suddenly, these churches had a renewed interest in prayer. Interestingly, when we are spiritually sick, we feel no special need for prayer, but let God afflict our bodies, and we finally call upon Him for intervention and mercy. At least for some people, COVID had done what spiritual lethargy and spiritual decline could not.
What will it take for us to be driven to our knees in fervent repentance and intercession? An economic collapse? A massive natural disaster? Another pandemic? The complete loss of our freedoms?
Prayer is our “Declaration of Dependence.”
If we truly desire revival—and most Christians do—we need to go to the Source of our hope. We must look beyond politics and beyond secular solutions for our ills and call on God to do what we cannot. We need to pray individually, and we need to pray together. We need to be of one mind and heart, surrendering to God without agendas and without telling God exactly how He should bring the revival about.
What do we mean by revival? I’ve heard it said, quite correctly, that it is God’s manifest presence among His people. This is characterized by confession, reconciliation and heartfelt evangelism. Sins that had long since been excused are seen as serious matters that need to be addressed. Couples on the verge of divorce confess their need for forgiveness and reconciliation; wayward children are reconciled to their parents. There is restitution for anything that was obtained fraudulently. In short, Christians are willing to pay any price to make things right with God and with others. Their desire to please God outweighs their desire to please themselves.
Many Christians long for revival because they want to see our nation turn to God. But revival does not begin with the unconverted turning to Christ; it begins with the people of God honestly dealing with sin and brokenness; it begins with a renewed commitment to honesty and to generosity, coupled with a burning desire to please God. Don’t expect revival to be pleasant, because acknowledging our own deep-seated narcissism is painful.
The word revival is derived from two Latin words—re, which means “again,” and vivo, which means “to live.” So it literally means “to live again.” Clearly it can only be applied to the people of God; we who have already experienced eternal life need to be revived. As one person put it, “It is the inrush of the Spirit into a body that threatens to become a corpse.” Five of the seven churches to whom Jesus wrote a personal letter in the Book of Revelation were commanded to repent. Revival begins in the church before it spills over into the wider culture.
Prayer is vital to revival, but personal obedience must follow. You’ve heard Christians say, “I’m praying for our country and for a revival,” but such prayer can become an excuse for complacency with personal sins of greed, anger and moral impurity. As one person put it, “Prayer for me was like an air raid shelter, a bunker where I could hide and not have to confront my own deceptions and darkness. I felt good because I was a praying Christian.” Prayer that does not include repentance is really not prayer at all.
When a revival came to some communities in Canada many years ago, more than a few Christians were not pleased with it. They said in effect, “We thought revival meant that the unconverted would be convicted of their sin; bars and pornography shops would close. We expected that crime would decrease, and people would return to church. We did not realize God would deal so thoroughly with us!”
The bottom line: Don’t pray for revival unless you personally are willing to be revived; God may begin with you, and I warn you that it might be painful. He may then use your personal story to begin a chain of events that will eventually affect others. And the sorrow wrought by repentance and faith will eventually turn into joy.
So go to prayer, not to get certain blessings; go to prayer willing to have your own need for repentance exposed. Go to prayer and ask God to show you what should change in your life and in your relationships with others. What wrongs have to be made right? What offenses need to be addressed? What attitudes need to be changed? Here is God’s Word to us, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).
Yes, of course we should pray for our political leaders and the country at large. But God will not bypass His people, His church for whom Christ died. If you truly desire revival, begin with your own heart, and your own church.
“Revival,” said one evangelist, “is God’s finger pointed at you!” ©2021 Erwin W. Lutzer
The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Erwin W. Lutzer is pastor emeritus of The Moody Church in Chicago and is an award-winning author of numerous books. He is heard on the daily preaching broadcast “Running to Win.”
Photo: Paul Sherar/©2018 BGEA