This entry is part 7 of 21 in the series: Revival
- The Biblical idea of revival
- Divine and human agency in revival
- Examples of revival
- Conditions prior to revival
- Experience of God in revival
- Repentance and revival
- Prayer and revival
- The Word of God and revival
- Preaching and revival
- Results of revival
- Physical and emotional phenomena of revival
- The miraculous element in revival (I)
- The miraculous element in revival (II)
- Demonic activity in revival
- Problems associated with revival
- Evaluating Revivals
- Pentecostalism, baptism in the Spirit and revival
- Prospects for Revival
- ‘Lord, I have heard of your fame’ – stories of revival
- ‘Renew them in our day’ – prospects for revival
We now move on to consider a vital element of our subject, namely, the indissoluble link between prayer and the coming of revival:-
[It] is God’s will, through his wonderful grace, that the prayers of his saints should be one great and principle means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world…It is revealed that, when God is about to accomplish great things for his church, he will begin by remarkable pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication, Zech 12:10.
Edwards, Works, I, 426.
Prayer and revival in Scripture
Throughout Scripture, there are many passages which illustrate the relationship between prayer and revival. According to Skevington Wood:-
Scripture bears continuous testimony to this essential prelude to revival, from the days of Enos, [when] men began ‘to call upon the name of the Lord’ (Gen 4:26) down to the period prior to Pentecost when the apostles ‘all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren’ (Acts 1:14), waiting for the promise of the Father. One instance out of the many will suffice to illustrate the necessity of prayer to revival. A careful scrutiny of the Book of Judges will yield the evidence for no less than five seasons of awakening. And in every case we read that beforehand ‘the children of Israel cried unto the Lord.’
Wood, Baptised with fire, 33.
The writer of Chronicles in particular stresses the importance of prayer (1 Chron 4:9f; 2 Chron 1:8ff; 9:22; 7:14; 14:9-15; 32: 24f). And the importance of prayer in connection with revival is nowhere more powerfully indicated than in the account of the revival under Jehoshaphat:-
2 Chron 20:3ff …Jehoshaphat resolved to enquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.
Psalm 44 reflects prayer for revival when God’s people have been faithful, but have been experiencing defeat and frustration:-
Psa 44:23ff Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us for ever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.
Concerning the ministry of our Lord, R.E. Davies points out that:-
Luke…makes a strong connection between prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. Alone among the Gospel writers, he makes the point that Jesus himself was praying when he received the Holy Spirit at His baptism (Lk 3:21-22). In the power of the Spirit Jesus triumphed over Satan in the desert (Lk 4:1) and began his public ministry in Galilee (Lk 4:14-15; 18-19). Luke also tells us that ‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Lk 5:16), and that after one such occasion ‘The power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick’ (Lk 5:17).
Davies, I will pour out my Spirit, 218.
Moving on to those heady days following the Pentecostal outpouring, we find that fervent, believing, and effectual prayer was accorded a central place among the apostles and believers:-
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread to prayer.
Acts 4:24ff …they raised their voices together in prayer to God…After the had prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 6:4 “We…will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Examples from Christian history
A general survey of the central place of prayer in revival reads as follows:-
The period from 1730 to 1750 was one of the most blessed in the entire religious history of Scotland, for revival broke out not only in Kilsyth and Cambuslang, but in many other places as well…and throughout the entire season of refreshing the spirit of prayer was extensively prevalent. The praying societies were scattered all over the land and incense of intercession rose from many a kneeling band. Meanwhile the spiritual glow that was kindled in England under the inspired ministry of the Wesleys and Whitefield was maintained in innumerable gatherings for the fellowship of prayer. During the awakening on the island of Lewis from 1824 to 1835 visitors overheard the passionate pleadings of the people at all hours of the day…At the time of the 1859 revival in the United States of America there was ‘a prayer meetings two thousand miles long’…Evan Roberts used to show visitors the own rug on his study floor where sometimes for whole nights he would kneel to intercede for the soul of Wales. The Welsh revival of 1904 was much more a time of praying than of preaching. Many of the crowded meetings were almost wholly occupied with prayer.
Wood, Baptised with fire, 87.
It was intense and fervent prayerfulness which was a great part of the secret of the power and effectiveness of the Puritans both as preachers and as pastors:-
They watched for their people’s souls as they that must give an account; they watched in the spirit of him who, when once found by a friend at midnight in the cold floor of the lonely church, and asked the reason of his heaviness of spirit, replied, ‘I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, while I know not how it is with many of them.’
in Gillies, Historical collections, 154.
At the time of the ‘Moravian Pentecost’ of 1727, twenty-four men and twenty-four women covenanted together to pray for God’s blessing on the congregation and its witness. They agreed to pray for one hour each, around the clock. Thus began the ‘Hourly Intercession’, which continued for over a hundred years.
Note the link between prayer and revival in Wales, in 1733:-
[A Welsh Dissenter, the presbyterian Jeremy Owen, writing in 1733, bemoaned the spiritual barrenness of the day and called for earnest prayer.] ‘At present the cause of Christ is low in the world. It is now night in the Church. The friends of the Bridegroom are uneasy…The language of each heart is, “Come, my Beloved…return, return in greater glory than ever, to enlighten and quicken our present state”…who knows whether this is not the time for the Lord to break in upon us in a powerful manner?’ He could not have known that the answer to those prayers was near.
Evans, Daniel Rowland, 15f.
Daniel Rowland was typical of the revival preachers in the place that he gave to prayer:-
Rowland was a man of prayer as well as an eminent preacher of the Gospel. It was his habit to seek God’s face with a prolonged season of prayer and intercession before taking a service. Llanbadarn Odwyn church was situation on a hill overlooking Rowland’s home. From this vantage points the congregation could see him setting out for their service. On one occasion the crowd lost sight of him in a cluster of trees on the way up to the hill. As the time for the service passed, some went to find the cause of his being delayed. They found him on his knees and as they approached he greeted them with the comment, ‘Dear brethren, I have had such a sweet opportunity in that place.’ The service which followed was attended ‘with amazing power and effect’. In his public ministry he would usually prayer before the sermon or ask someone to pray for him. At one rather lifeless Association he asked a godly old man to do so. In his prayer he cried for the divine influences: ‘Lord Jesus, your servants have been winnowing here yesterday and today in vain, but there has not been the slightest breeze. The Wind, gracious Lord! for the wind is in your hand now and always.’
Evans, Daniel Rowland, 256f.
In October, 1737, George Whitefield began meeting with friends daily for prayer:-
We began to set apart an hour every evening, to intercede with the Great Head of the Church to carry on the work begun…Once we spent a whole night in prayer and praise: and many a time, at midnight and at one in the morning, after I have been wearied almost to death in preaching, writing, and conversation, and going from place to place, God imparted new likfe to my soul, and enabled me to intercede with him for an hour-and-a-half and two hours together…I cannot think it presumptuous to supose that partly, at least, in anser to prayers then put up by His dear children, the Word, for some years past, has run and been glorified, not only in England, but in many other parts of the world.
Whitefield, Journals, 91
One of the most notable features of revivals has been their tendency to generate ‘concerts’ of prayer which were sustained sometimes for many years. Jonathan Edwards played an important role in an early such concert. As early as 1742 Edwards had written:-
I have often thought it would be very desirable, and very likely to be followed with great blessing, if there could be some contrivance for an agreement of all God’s people in America who are well affected to this work, to keep a day of fasting and prayer; wherein we should all unite on the same day, in humbling ourselves before God for our pastlong-continued lukewarmness and unprofitableness; not omitting humiliation for the errors that so many of God’s people – though zealously affected towards this work – through their infirmity and remaining blindness and corruption have run into; and together with thanksgiving to God for so glorious and wonderful a display of his power and grace in the late outpourings of his Spirit, to address the Father of mercies, with prayers and supplications, and earnest cries, that he would guide and direct his own people, and that he would continue and still carry on this work, and more abundantly and extensively pour out his Spirit…
Edwards, Works, I, 427.
But it was not America, but Scotland, which responded first to this plea, for in 1744 a concert of prayer was called for by such eminent Scottish ministers as William McCullock of Cambuslang, James Robe of Kilsyth, and John Erskine of Glasgow. Jonathan Edwards heard of this, and took up the idea again, first in a series of sermons and then in a book, published in 1748. In the preface to this book he explains:-
In October, AD 1744, a number of ministers in Scotland, taking into consideration the state of God’s church, and of the world of mankind, judged that the providence of God, at such a day, did loudly call upon such as were concerned for the welfare of Zion, to united extraordinary applications to the God of all grace…that he would appear in his glory, and favour Zion, and manifest his compassion to the world of mankind, by an abundant effusion of his Holy Spirit on all the churches, and the whole habitable earth, to revive true religion in all parts of Christendom, and to deliver all nations from their great and manifold spiritual calamities and miseries, and bless them with the unspeakable benefits of the kingdom of our glorious Redeemer, and fill the whole earth with his glory.
Edwards, Works, II, 282.
News of the concert soon spread. Christians in Wales began meeting for prayer at the agreed times. John Wesley gave his support to the concert, having heard about it from James Erskine. The original agreement was for two years, but the Scottish leaders renewed it for a further seven. It was at this point that the concert was publicised more widely, and Edwards produced his book supporting the scheme. In 1751 Edwards proposed to John Erskine that ministers in the Netherlands be informed of the concert for prayer. In 1754 in Glasgow the concert was re-established for a further seven years. In 1784 the Baptist leader Andrew Fuller read Edward’s ‘Humble attempt’ and was himself led to propose ‘a general union in prayer’ for the revival of religion. Many Baptist churches in Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and elewhere responded to the call and held regular prayer meetings for revival. Edwards’ book had a major effect upon the development of the London Missionary Society and the Baptist Missionary Society.
The 2nd general Awakening was likewise preceded and accompanied by a great concert of prayer:-
The spiritual preparation for a worldwide awakening began in Great Britain seven years before the outpouring of the Spirit there. Believers of one denomination after the other…devoted the first Monday evening of each month to pray for a revival of religion and an extension of Christ’s kingdom overseas. This widespread union of prayer spread to the United States within ten years and to many other countries, and the concert of prayer remained the significant factor in the recurring revivals of religion and the extraordinary out-thrust of missions for a full fifty years.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Africa, 1.
Not only large revival movements but also individual awakenings in particular localities can often be linked to specific, fervent prayer:-
The mighty Scottish revival of 1839 had its commencement at Kilsyth on a Tuesday morning after that saintly servant of God, William Chalmers Burns, and many other Christians, had spent the whole of the preceding night in prayer.
Hughes, Revive us again, 18.
J.S. Stewart also refers to the prayer-life of W.C. Burns:-
He prayed for hours daily as he began his public ministry at the age of twenty. One morning, when his mother came to his bedroom to call him to his breakfast, she found him lying on the floor where he had been detained by the Spirit all night in mighty pleadings. He greeted her with the words, ‘Mother, God has given me Scotland today!’. In a short time the whole of Scotland was shaken by a mighty spiritual upheaval without any organised effort.
Stewart, Opened windows, 140.
In 1857 New York suffered a financial disaster which left many of its inhabitants in financial ruin. Prayer meetings were already in existence, formed by Christian believers who were concerned about the godlessness which had prevailed amongst those pre-occupied with worldy gain:-
These pious people had been gathering in meetings for prayer, before the convulsion began. Now, indeed, the meetings received large accessions of numbers in attendance, and a new infusion of life from above. More meetings were established, and larger numbers attended. The prayer meeting became one of the institutions of the city. Christians in distant parts of the country heard of them. They prayed for the prayer meetings. When they visited the city, the prayer meeting was the place to which they resorted…Returning, they set up similar meetings at home. The Spirit followed, and the same displays of grace were seen in other cities, and in the country, that were so marvellous in New York. So the work spread, until the year has become remarkable in the history of the church.
This revival is to be remembered through all coming ages as simply an answer to prayer.
Prime, The power of prayer, 2f.
David Morgan, a leader in the 1859 revival in Wales, had several years earlier become convinced of the necessity of prayer for revival. He noted in his diary during 1855:-
It is a great thing to long for the Lord to revive his work. Whoever has this, it will compel him to do all in his power to revive the Lord’s work. Reading church history we realize that the great work of God fluctuates up and down, but whenever the Lord draws near to save there was among the godly an expectancy for his coming. Together with prayer we should also strive for the reviving of his work. This is how the godly have always done: they prayed and they worked.
Evans, Two Welsh revivalists, 37f.
The prayer meetings held during the revivals could seem transcend the ordinary passage of time, as in Wales in 1859:-
Many prayer meetings were held underground at Frongoch Mine. Not an oath was heard within the confines of the mine…One morning a prayer meeting was commenced as usual on reaching their work as six. Heaven penetrated into the pit and earth was forgotten. When the worshippers awoke from that sacred trance, they found it was two o’clock in the afternoon.
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 56.
From the same revival comes a lovely story concerning the prayer of a small child:-
A child convert at Rhosesmor was heard to pray, ‘My father is ungodly; I am afraid to go home because of his swearing. O! come and save him, Lord! Thou hast knocked at his door many times; compel him to open, and if he refuses, take the door off its hinges, Lord!’
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 104.
When revival touched Scotland in 1859, the link with prayer was recognised immediately:-
[The Scottish Guardian of 2nd August, 1859, claimed that] the Holy Spirit has been manifesting his gracious power in a remarkable manner in this neighbourhood during the last few days. Our readers are aware that even since the news of the Great Revival in America reached Scotland, prayer meetings for the special purpose of imploring a similar blessing have been held in Glasgow as well as in other places. The intelligence which has reached us recently leaves no room to doubt that these prayers have been heard.
Orr, The light of the nations, 134.
The kind of praying which occurs in a revival is sometimes so extraordinary as to demonstrate clearly the supernatural character of all true prayer:-
[On Boxing Day, 1904] three prayer meetings were held in the village of Rhos, near Wrexham, the evening congregation filling two chapels; and for months after this there were two prayer meetings a day, and three on Saturdays and Mondays. Such a spirit of prayer comes not by the will of man, but is a gift from on high, an offshoot of the divine visitation. Accompanying the spirit of prayer there was also a gift of language and fluency of expression. Sir John Morris-Jones remarked on the fluent and exalted diction in prayer of farm-labourers who had little education but were filled with the spirit of revival.
Roberts, Revival and its fruit, 16.
Duncan Campbell records the link between prayer and the commencement of the revival in the Hebrides (1949):-
Bernera is a small island off the coast of Harris, with a population of about 400…Here as in other districts, there were men who, on their faces before God, cried for an outpouring of His Spirit; …One morning an elder of the Church of Scotland was greatly exercised in spirit, as he thought of the state of the church…While waiting upon God, this good man was strangely moved, and was enabled to pray the prayer of faith and lay hold upon the promise, ‘I will be as the dew unto Israel.’ This word from God came with such conviction and power, that he was assured that revival was going to sweep the island, and in that confidence he rose from his knees. While this man was praying in his barn, I myself [Duncan Campbell], taking part in the Faith Mission Convention at Bangor in Northern Ireland, was suddenly arrested by the conviction that I must leave at once and go to the Island of Bernera, where I found myself within three days! Almost immediately on arriving, I was in the midst of a most blessed movement.
Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 23f.
The following account shows clearly the supernatural aspect, which is present in all true praying, but particularly so when the Spirit is poured out in revival:-
Perhaps the greatest miracle of all was in the village of Arnol. Here, indifference to the things of God held the field and a good deal of opposition was experienced, but prayer, the mighty weapon of the revival, was resorted to and an evening given to waiting upon God. Before midnight God came down…and a wave of revival swept the village: opposition and spiritual death fled before the presence of the Lord of life. Here was demonstrated the power of prevailing prayer…There are those present in Arnol today who will bear witness to the fact that, while a brother prayed, the very house shook. I could only stand in silence as wave after wave of Divine power swept through the house, and in a matter of minutes following this heaven-sent visitation, men and women were on their faces in distress of soul.
Campbell, The Lewis Awakening.
The preacher J.S. Stewart narrates the following incident:-
One day in a northern city of Eastern Europe (now in Soviet Russia) I was concerned because, for no apparent reason, God had suddenly sent revival. In other cities and countries it usually comes after several weeks or even months of throne ministry. But here on the fifth day, the heavens were rent asunder, and we were deluged with heaven-sent blessing. One thousand believers packed the church building each morning for Bible study. Thousands heard the Gospel in the evening in a larger auditorium. So great was the hunger for the Word among the unsaved that there was no room for the believers in the evening service…One evening the Lord very kindly allowed me to discover the secret of the blessing…I made my way to the basement of the auditorium in order to have a few minutes more of prayer. I began to pray in the darkness, but it was not long before I felt an overwhelming sense of the majesty of God. I knew right away there was someone else in the large basement, praying. I quietly put on the light, and there I saw at the extreme end of the basement some twelve sisters, flat on their faces before God! They were totally unaware of my presence. They were ‘inside the veil’, touching the Throne, by the power of the Spirit, while upstairs God was working mightily among the unsaved.
Stewart, Opened windows, 106f.
The same writer adds elsewhere:-
Whenever you see revival in any place, if you will inquire among the members of the church or churches you will find that an unknown Jacob has been wrestling in prayer for the blessing; some Elijah, alone perhaps, with head bowed between his knees, has been praying for a spiritual deluge, and keeping a sharp look-out for the gathering clouds.
Stewart, Opened windows, 135.
In the first place, given the centrality of prayer in revival, it becomes an urgent responsibility for us to apply ourselves to this task:-
Prayer for revival must become a major part of the prayer life of the local church. It ought to find its way into the public services of worship. It ought to dominate the prayer meetings of the congregation. Prayer for revival in the local church must begin with a focus on the spiritual needs of that fellowship and must include a willingness, even a heartfelt desire, to be ‘broken’ before the Lord.
Roberts, Revival, 147.
To pray for revival is a solemn and very real responsibility:-
Although revival is an operation of the Holy Spirit of God, yet man has indeed a part to play in the bringing about of it; but it is the part of a humble, impotent suppliant who earnestly awaites the gift of the vital dynamic energy from above.
Hughes, Revive us again, 14.
In the second place, we should be encouraged to realise the largely untapped potentialities of believing prayer:-
Much of the time our minds are numbed and unresponsive to spiritual reality as we read and hear the news. We generally restrict our faith entirely to the private areas of our personal lives. Our failure to use the channel of prayer to change history may be the main reason the church has had so little impact in the West in this century. We may be running at five percent of our potential efficiency in the church, because we are like billionaires who have somehow been persuaded to think they are paupers and have put away the checkbooks that put at their disposal tremendous economic power.
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 176.
But, tragically, modern Christians know so very little of the power of prayer:-
In much of the church’s life in the twentieth century…both in Evangelical and non-Evangelical circles, the place of prayer has become almost vestigial. The proportion of horizontal communication that goes on in the church (in planning, arguing and expounding) is overwhelmingly greater than that which is vertical (in worship, thanksgiving, confession and intercession). Critically important committee meetings are begun and ended with formulary prayers, which are ritual obligations and not genuine expressions of dependence – when problems and arguments ensue, they are seldom resolved by further prayer but are wrangled out on the battlefield of human discourse. The old midweek prayer meetings for revival have vanished from the programs of most churches or have been transformed into Bible studies ending with minimal prayer.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 153.
In the third place, we ought to understand what kind of prayer will God be pleased to honour:-
The very heart of the biblical teaching on prayer is fervency and consistency. When men are so earnest that they cannot live without a desired blessing, God is pleased with their attitude and takes delight in their petitions. Halfhearted praying doesn’t even produce halfhearted results. It is worse than nothing. In fact, it is an affront against a gracious God. God himself is earnest. He deals earnestly with people and requires people to deal earnestly with him.
Roberts, Revival, 147.
In the fourth place, we learn that there is a great need for constancy in prayer, if we are not to become discouraged:-
And I hope, that such as are convinced it is their duty to comply with and encourage this design, will remember we ought not only to go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek his mercy, but also to go constantly. We should unite in our practice these two things, which our Saviour unites in his precept, praying and not fainting. If we should continue some years, and nothing remarkable in providence should appear as though God heard and answered, we should act very unbecoming believers, if we should therefore begin to be disheartened, and grow dull and slack in seeking of God so great a mercy. It is very apparent from the word of God that he is wont often to try the faith and patience of his people, when crying to him for some great and important mercy, by withholding the mercy sought, for a season; and not only so, but at first to cause an increase of dark appearances. And yet he, without fail, at last succeeds those who continue instant in prayer with all perseverance, and ‘will not let him go except he blesses.’
Edwards, Works, II, 312.
In the fifth place, we need to understand the various ways in which the spirit of prayer is opposed:-
Prayer is opposed by our bodies, which relax into indolence and interject the excuse of weariness when our spirits cry out for prayer. Prayer is opposed by our minds, which embrace the time set apart for devotion as an opportunity for the entertainment of vain fancies and ungodly imaginations. Prayer is opposed -ah, with what raging fierceness! – by the devil, who permits the Christian to engage upon any spiritual exercise rather than that of prayer
Hughes, Revive us again, 17.
In the sixth place, we should recognise that real prayer calls for effort and discipline:-
Real prayer is a Christian practice which is not easily performed or maintained. Prayer that prevails is an athletic exercise of the spirit which demands rigorous training and discipline. How few there are, alas, who know what it is to wrestle with God face to face, like Jacob, and to affirm, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me!” It is far more convenient and less exhausting to lead a complacent and uncontrolled life: that, indeed is the flaccid sort of existence with which most of us Christians content ourselves today. And that is the chief reason why, on the human side, we do not see revival in our midst. The cause is not the capriciousness of God, but the complacency and unconcern of the Christian.
Hughes, Revive us again, 16.
In the seventh place, we should remember the vital place of private devotions. Although in a season of revival it is natural for Christians to be drawn to the many public meetings which will be taking place, therein could lie one of the dangers, if private devotions should be neglected:-
Failure to maintain steady personal habits of devotion is a danger much to be feared. No amount of public praying can substitute for the prayer closet. While caught up in the thrill of seeing the Word of God grip and change the lives of those around you, beware lest you neglect your own time along with the Bible. True prosperity of the soul must always be maintained on the private level. Anyone who looks to the revival to do publicly what God himself has ordained to be accomplished privately will find the revival as much as source of difficulty as a source of blessing.”
Roberts, Revival, 111.
W.B. Sprague also emphasises the importance of private prayer:-
It is in the closet especially that Christians must expect to get the flame of devotion enkindled; and if the closet be neglected, whatever of a devotional frame they may suppose themselves to possess while mingling in public exercises, they have great reason to suspect is the mere operation of sympathy or animal feeling…It is probable that, during every true revival, the most fervent and effectual prayers that are offered, go up from the closet; and are never heard by any other ear than that which hears in secret.
Sprague, Lectures on revivals, 135f.
So who is praying for revival now?-
The vast majority of Christians seem never to pray for revival at all. Of the handful who pray for it, only a small percentage pray with regularity. Among those who pray with regularity, a minority pray as if they were desperately in earnest. And unfortunately, even some among this slim number are growing weary of asking and are abandoning their divinely appointed task while the hand of God is still preparing the blessing.
Roberts, Revival, 146.
Let us give ourselves to this work of praying for revival:-