Is There Hope for Revival in Our Time?

By David Bryant   •   May 5, 2005

Could Wall Street be the launching point for a full-scale revival in the Church? Absolutely. In fact, that’s precisely what happened almost 150 years ago.

A business leader named Jeremiah Lanphier was burdened for the spiritual condition of New York City. He distributed flyers inviting others to join him for a noontime prayer meeting for revival, in a building just a stone’s throw from where the World Trade Center was constructed a century later. That first gathering in September 1857 was the beginning of what church historians define as the “Third Great Awakening” in the United States. Within six months, thousands of Christians in New York gathered every noon for an hour of prayer. Churches were filled for prayer seven days a week! Over the next 50 years, this movement spread worldwide and produced phenomenal transformations–both inside churches and across societies–as well as advances of the Gospel.

It’s happening again! Just a few months ago in New York, I gathered with 200 pastors for the 14th annual 48-hour Prayer Summit. We interceded for revival in our churches, for reconciliation among churches and races, for the reformation of New York and for reaching the lost. But there was nothing surprising in this for New Yorkers. For 10 years, nearly 100 churches have cooperated in “The Lord’s Watch,” a 24/7 prayer vigil seeking God for a Christ-awakening in New York that would make an impact on the nations. Furthermore, over the years we’ve seen tens of thousands, from many Christian traditions and ethnicities, united in prayer rallies and in nationally broadcast Concerts of Prayer. All have one conviction: We have hope that what God did in the 1800s, He is able, willing and ready to do again.

There’s every reason why you should be filled with the same confidence. God desires to pour out a Christ-awakening where you live as well.

Who Needs Revival?
Does the American Church really need revival? What does God see as He looks at the American Church? Despite the glitz and glamour, does He also find waterless pits (Zechariah 9:11)? Is there a sense that in spite of all our measurable activity, the Church generally is paralyzed? Are we outwardly prosperous while being inwardly weak and stagnant?

Research tells us that there is little difference between the lifestyles of Christians and our society as a whole. The sad part is that the living Christ Himself is marginalized; He is not glorified as the Supreme Lord of the Church.

If the American Church would spend time getting a better picture of our true state–”wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17, NIV)–surely we would run to Christ and ask the King of Glory to enter the doors of our hearts afresh (Psalm 24). The picture of Christ standing outside His churches is a haunting image for any generation.

If the Church is blind to its true spiritual condition, then revival will simply be viewed as a divine additive, given basically to increase the effectiveness of our ministries instead of restoring the glory of God in His Church.

But once we recognize how far we have fallen (Revelation 2:4-5) and again realize our covenant relationship and responsibilities to God, then we will humble ourselves, pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways. It is then that we learn that the road to revival is paved with contrite and broken hearts. With such a people our God is pleased to dwell (Isaiah 57:15). Thankfully, there is nothing the Father is more willing to do than to transform us, taking us into a deeper encounter with all that He is as our Savior and Lord.

Revival Is All About the Supremacy of Christ
Pre-eminently, all true revival is about God bringing glory to His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit through His Church. Between His ascension and His consummation, this is one of the most strategic activities of the Holy Spirit. Corporate revival necessitates Trinitarian activity: Father-initiated, Spirit-driven, Son-centered.

Biblical revival is supremely Son-focused–it is utterly Christ-dominated. Some of us call it a Christ-awakening. If any spiritual experience–whether called revival or something else–diminishes, bypasses or leads people away from Christ, it is not of God and holds no hope for any generation.

The first issue before us, then, is not to define the characteristics of revival. Rather, it is to comprehend more fully the Christ who is the Center and Circumference and the Beginning and End of corporate revival.

Fundamentally, revival is an awakening to all that Christ already is. St. Irenaeus said: “Christ brought us every newness by bringing us Himself.” In the same way in revival, the Father does not make new things. Rather, He makes things new by reintroducing us to His Son, who stands at the epicenter of His renewing purposes among the nations. In revival, God accelerates, intensifies, deepens and extends the newness that Christ secured for us by His Cross and Resurrection. At the same time, our capacity to express this newness and to minister it to others increases. In revival, God invites the Church into more of who Christ is, giving Him the supremacy even as we invite Christ into more of who we are, giving Him the centrality.

But there is another hallmark that can be equally helpful.

The Sovereignty of God in a Christ-Awakening
Corporate revival comes from God alone. No human-designed formula can compel God to grant it. The Church cannot plan it, stage it or organize it. It is not ours to create; it is ours to receive. It may be Church-obtained, but it is Christ-attained. This is the distinguishing mark between revival and a human-produced “revivalism.”

However, the Holy Spirit–the primary agent of revival–often chooses to work in grace through our prayers, Bible studies, worship, fellowship, sacraments and daily obedience. There may be nothing Christians can do to guarantee corporate revival at any particular moment. But we can always intensify our preparations for the wonderful gift of God, in keeping with our hope in His promises. Scripture connects God’s sovereignty with our cooperation like this: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5, NIV). Or as Jesus said: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom is at hand, repent and believe the good news” (Cf. Mark 1:15).

A Few Cautions …
Remember the following points when seeking God for revival:

  • Resist fantasies. It is unhealthy to expect current outworkings of corporate revival to mimic the specific characteristics of a previous revival in another generation. Our Father is always ready to glorify His Son in and through His people–above and beyond what we’ve known before.
  • Keep the focus. Avoid the temptation to seek revival rather than God Himself. Christians must engage fully the heart of revival, which is the manifest presence of God’s Son. Never should a revival movement be allowed to become more testimony- or story-fed than Bible-fed and Jesus-focused.
  • Take responsibility. Some see revival as a panacea, thus excusing themselves from responsible obedience to Christ in the day-to-day struggles of the Church and its mission to the world. We are called to faithfulness, regardless of whether God grants revival at a particular moment.
  • Look beyond nationalism. Sometimes revival is pursued as a last-ditch effort to salvage a whole nation when it is a work of God promised initially for the Church. Revival’s impact on a surrounding community or culture is secondary. Our desire must be for God to get the greatest glory through the awakening of His people in whole new ways to Christ and His Kingdom–even if the nation as a whole rejects this gracious hope and undergoes subsequent divine retribution, as happened to Jerusalem in A.D. 70–despite a revived Church in its midst.

Is Revival Necessary to Advance Christ’s Kingdom?
If by “necessary” we imply that Christians cannot obey God, preach the Gospel, pray and make disciples as our Lord commanded, then the answer is a resounding no! The Church clearly has known God’s blessings without revival. But revivals remain desirable because they intensify the display of God’s glory in the Gospel before a watching world with saving effects. Revivals are not God’s only means of advancing the Church, but they are a wonderful means of blessing that should be sought by His people–especially when they have endured long periods of spiritual drought and lifelessness.

There is no reason whatsoever that individual believers must remain in sin or live lives of frustration and spiritual deadness. Every Christian should always confess sin, seek after God with the whole heart, pray for the empowering of the Holy Spirit and implicitly trust Christ every day. As any of us draws near to God, He promises to draw near to us. And when He does, we will experience much more of the presence and fullness of our Redeemer–and in that sense, we will receive at least a foretaste of biblical revival in its truest sense.

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