Psalm 85:6 asks God a question that many Christians are echoing in these strange, dark and disheartening times: “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?”
It’s easy to look around at the state of our nation—and indeed the world—and think it is beyond hope in terms of halting or reversing the rampant immorality we’re witnessing. But I’m here to tell you that with God all things are possible. He has in fact brought spiritual awakening to this nation several times before, and He is able to do it again.
A History of American Revival
It’s important for us to know what God has done in the past in order to pray for what He wants to do in the future, so let’s have a brief history lesson. America has essentially had four great spiritual awakenings in its lifetime.
What is termed the First Great Awakening was in the 1700s, led by such men as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. This is actually before we were officially a nation. George Whitefield, an evangelist from England, came and preached to masses of people in the colonies. So many, in fact, that it is estimated some 80% of the colonial population would have heard him speak. As a result of his preaching, thousands of people were coming to Christ, and a revival broke out. So you can make a very good case for the fact that America as a nation was actually born in a time of spiritual awakening. It was that fertile soil of revival that produced the conditions in which the founders of our nation could succeed in their great experiment of a nation built on self-governance, liberty and virtue.
The Second Great Awakening happened from the 1790s to around 1840. It was led by many, including Charles Finney. This was in the days of the Wild West. Law was disregarded and sexual sin was rampant. But people would gather for what they called “camp meetings,” often out in the middle of the wilderness. They would build tents or other structures, lay sawdust on the floor, and people would walk forward to accept Christ when the speaker invited them to repent and believe.
The Third Great Awakening was from around 1857 to 1859, led by a young man in New York named Jeremiah Lanphier, and it started as a prayer meeting. Lanphier felt it would be a good idea for New Yorkers to start praying, so he called a regular prayer meeting at lunchtime. Very few people showed up—until the stock market crashed. Because of the general panic and alarm that this sudden change caused in so many lives, thousands of New Yorkers began coming to Christ within a short span of time. There were around 10,000 additions to church membership every week during this revival. When it was all said and done, around 1 million people came to the Lord in this brief period.
That brings us to the fourth and most recent spiritual awakening, also known as the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. I had the privilege of being there; I had a front-row seat. At the time, I didn’t know it was a revival. I didn’t realize I had walked into the middle of a great spiritual awakening. There was a pastor named Chuck Smith, who opened his heart and his church to this spiritual movement, and as a result, thousands of people—especially young kids and hippies—were getting saved. A lot of churches took one look at those kids who were hungry for God’s Word and for fellowship and said, “You’re not coming in here looking like that!” But for the churches that opened their doors to the Jesus People (or the Jesus Freaks, as they were sometimes called), those churches experienced revival.
Billy Graham had a huge impact on the Jesus Movement as well.
His book “The Jesus Generation,” written in 1972, acknowledged that what was happening among the young people was a genuine spiritual awakening. This all culminated when Billy spoke to over 80,000 “Jesus People” at Explo ’72 in Texas.
I once asked Chuck Smith if he thought we’d ever see another Jesus Movement—another spiritual revival in America. His response was an interesting one. He said, “I don’t know if we are desperate enough.”
Are we desperate enough to humble ourselves, turn from our wicked ways and seek the Lord?
When things are going well, and everything is sunshine and roses, we tend to think and act like we don’t really need God all that much, that we’ve got things under control. It’s when things go south that we start to realize how desperate our spiritual position is.
Looking around, we can see that our nation needs healing. I cannot remember a time when we have been more divided, desensitized, deluded and spiritually dead. What we need is to come back to life. That’s what revival means.
A revival is an awakening, a restoration, a resurrection. We can’t bring about a revival in our own strength. It is something the Holy Spirit initiates. But we can prepare the ground—or maybe I should say we can pre-prayer the ground—for another Jesus Movement. Let me share with you five things that the church did in the days of the Jesus Movement that we could really learn from today.
Lessons from the Jesus Movement
1. When we came to church, there was a sense of expectancy.
In other words, nobody ever came late to church, because we knew we were going to meet with the Lord and worship Him. The Bible says of the first-century church, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). In the original language, the phrase “continued steadfastly” speaks of a passion, an urgency.
2. The worship was passionate and heartfelt.
Back in those days, we might have had just a couple of acoustic guitars, and we sang really simple choruses. The songs may have been simplistic, but people would engage. People would worship from their hearts. It’s so important that when we come to church, we truly worship.
3. We had a hunger for the Bible.
The Bible was taught, not just referenced, in church services. We devoured it. We studied it. We consumed it. Hungry people are healthy people, and when you’re doing well spiritually, you’ll be hungry for the Bible—not just on Sundays, but every day.
4. We believed Jesus was coming back.
You might think, “Wasn’t that, like, over 40 years ago?” Yes, it was. But I still believe Jesus is coming back. In fact, He could come back at any moment. We’ve never been closer to the return of Christ than we are right now at this moment. And if you really believe Jesus is coming back, it will impact the way that you live and the decisions you make.
5. We invited people to come to Christ.
There was an invitation at every service, and people responded by the hundreds and thousands. We should be bringing people to church who don’t know the Lord. Every week, we should bring people to Christ and look for opportunities to share our faith.
Revival in Our Time?
It’s been said that the fame of revival spreads the flame of revival. That’s why I think it’s important that we talk about these things. I want today’s generation to hear about them and think, “I want that for today’s America—for us!”
If you want to see revival, I encourage you to do revival-like things. Don’t wait for the emotion. Don’t worry about feelings. Just get in there and start doing it. The emotions will catch up.
Let’s apply these principles to our personal lives and to our churches and see what the Lord will do. I pray that God would bring a new Jesus Movement for America and the world today, and I hope you are praying for that, too. ©2021 Greg Laurie
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, with campuses in California and Hawaii. He began his pastoral ministry at age 19 by leading a Bible study of 30 people. He is the author of such books as “Jesus Revolution” and his latest, “Billy Graham: The Man I Knew.”
Photo: David Uttley/©2011 BGEA