I am distressed at the zeal of heretics and at the amnesia of the believers.
— Leonard Ravenhill
Everything in me knows that true spirituality is not the end result of a cook-book process. You can no more dictate to the Lord what he will do and when he will do it than you can predict next week’s weather conditions. We use models, science, instruments, and logic, but, all too often, we still get it wrong.
Throughout my Christian life I have come to understand that “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.” He cannot be coaxed or manipulated into doing something that he does not want to do; prayer is not a form of magic or divine mind control. God desires to move in regard to our prayers, but has made it clear that he seeks those who will worship him in spirit and in truth. He is not an ephemeral figure in a lamp that is ready and willing to allow us to splurge our wanton pleasures after we have made them known to him.
Revival is that amazing condition when the people of God are graced with a visitation from the Lord in an extraordinary way, that allows him to accomplish his will in and through them, with spectacular spiritual impact. We should pray for revival, for revival episodes have proven in history to be dramatically pregnant. When revival occurs, all heaven breaks out. Revival does not merely result in wholesale transformation of people’s lives and thousands of conversions to Christ (i.e., the transformation of folk’s spiritual condition), but also to healing of neighborhoods and communities, to the blessing and renewal of whole societies. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, and the transformation of the communities in which they live.
Those of us in missions do not pray for God’s intervention and visitation because we are lazy, merely seeking to avoid the hard, arduous work of making disciples and suffering on behalf of the Gospel. There are no shortcuts to spiritual depth, not even prayers for revival. We don’t seek the Lord’s moving and manifestation to escape Jesus’ claim that we must crosses as his followers, even in a post-revival setting. Revival does not eliminate our duty to suffer in the name of Christ, rather, it can actually enhance our chances of undergoing suffering on Christ’s account.
Not only this, but revival prayer is not meant to be seen as a guaranteed recipe for change, a once-for-all list of ingredients that once mingled together will automatically produce certain results, in the same way at the same time. If this were the case, then prayer for revival would be more akin to magic than faith. When God’s people pray, when they seek the face of God, turning from their wicked ways, earnestly asking God to visit and manifest his power and glory in their midst, God has promised to forgive us. When we are broken before him, he said he would heal our land, he would visit our nation, and come and dwell with us (2 Chron. 7.14). The standard God gave to Solomon for his visitation was clear and definite; he would move, but only if they met his standards of heart preparation, and genuine repentance from sin and idolatry.
The cities of America and the world are the crowning achievements of self-made society, religious impiety, human ingenuity and civilization, and the reckless lust of national greed and pride. They are in open and continuous rebellion against the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb who deserve blessing, honor, glory and power (Rev. 5). According to the apostolic testimony, the cities of the world are under the control and auspices of the god of this world, languishing under the domination and power of the evil one (Eph. 2.1-2; 1 John 5.19). Without God’s direct and sufficient intervention, none of the strongholds which plague and ravage the lives of millions of city dwellers can be torn down, and no deliverance or rescue can be made of its inhabitants. Only the power of the Lord Christ can so intervene so as to break the power of sin, thwart the activities of the enemy, and open the door for the truth of the Gospel to spread its light, freedom, and hope.
This is why we should daily and fervently pray for the revival of the Church, and for the visitation of the Lord on urban America. This is why we so desperately need thousands of Christians who will plead daily and hourly to the Lord to manifest his glory among the lost and the least in the ghettos of the world. This is why, regardless of how it may look or appear on the surface, those of us who read the Scriptures are convinced that faithful, continuous, and longing intercession may move the very heart of God to come to the worst communities and make them into the very trophies of his high grace and mysterious power. Nothing can break the power of evil but the working of the Lord and his Spirit (Zech. 4.6).
Revival is not the answer at the end of an equation, the sure product of a clear recipe, or the wonderful result produced after we have mechanically followed all the directions of the assembly instructions. These images are far too static to understand the dynamics of revival.
Cookie-cutter approaches to spirituality are doomed to failure, because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor. 3.17). The Lord has made it plain that his work will not be accomplished by human ingenuity or fleshly might, but rather by the moving of the Spirit of God on his people, through his people, for his people. Thinking that all we need to do is to woodenly follow some specially crafted steps, which will without fail lead to God’s visitation and the revival of his people and the nation, is naive and untrue. Thinking like this reveals a shallow picture of God, and a unclear notion of how intractable evil really is in the city.
The Lord is the Great I Am, the One who was and is and is to come (Exod. 3.14). he who is alive, whose ways are past finding out. The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be deciphered or mapped out by the natural mind (1 Cor. 2.9-16); our God is God, truly divine and absolutely free, and he will do whatever he pleases in whatever he chooses (Ps. 135.6).
Insights like this ought to make us humble. We ought not demand that the Lord show up in our endeavors, or expect him to arbitrarily reveal his power on our behalf, just because we think he should. If his work in the Old Testament teaches us anything, it ought to show us that God is both sovereign and patient, that he works his own will for his own sake in his own time. We pray prayers, not demands.
I am not shocked when I hear of the Moravian’s hundred year prayer meeting; that sounds about right in both seeking the Lord, and him responding in his own time. Those of us who desire the Lord to move should not fail to overlook this one fact, as Peter declares, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord will fulfill his Word; he is not slow to fulfill his promise but, rather, will prove to be patient towards us. He knows our weakness and our motives, and he also knows his purpose and his plan. He will bring us into the place he has for us, in his own way and at his own time (2 Pet. 3.8-9).
While it is always good to study revivals and to induce from them the “steps” and principles we can from them, we would be much better off if we simply prepared our hearts, and sought the Lord with all our might. Rather than seeking to discover a science of revival, we ought to be broken before him, and be constant in our begging and imploring him to transform us as we pray for the cities of the world. Let revival begin with us, with our hearts, in our lives.
In the end, perhaps the only sure step to revival is our own personal repentance, and our long perseverance in obedience and prayer. Revival starts with a broken hear, either yours or mine.
Rev. Dr. Don L. Davis, Director
The Urban Ministry Institute