In 2014 current SBC President Ronnie Floyd issued a call entitled Pleading with Southern Baptists calling for a focus on revival prayer. Last fall Dr. Floyd asked me to address almost 100 SBC leaders about the need for and nature of revival. I shared with them five marks of awakenings gleaned from past movements. These do not represent an exhaustive list, but in my mind are critical for our times. The first two marks would surprise no one familiar with God’s work in past revival movements. The next two may surprise some, and the final mark surprised me, as it represents an aspect of awakening I missed in my years of study but saw clearly in seasons of real revival in my own experience and in that of friends.
1. Deep, burdened, desperate prayer. Matthew Henry said, “When God begins a work, He sets His people to praying.” John Knox prayer, “Give me Scotland, or I die.” As a boy, Jonathan Edwards made a booth in the woods and prayed five times a day. No wonder he wrote a treatise on prayer in the middle of the First Great Awakening.
Baptist pastors Stephen Gano and Isaac Backus sent a circular letter in 1795 to pastors of all denominations in New England calling for a concert of prayer, using Edwards’ treatise on prayer in their exhortation. Within a few years the Second Great Awakening came. A group of college guys prayed under a haystack in 1806; as a result the first movement of global missions on American soil was born out of this “Haystack Revival.” Jeremiah Lanphier experienced a prayer revival out of a prayer meeting in 1857 in New York City. On and on the examples go.
Leonard Ravenhill said when it comes to praying for revival, God does not answer prayer, He answers desperate prayer. For what are you praying in holy desperation?
2. A radical passion to win the world to Jesus. Movements of revival send believers into the culture to win people at all costs. John Wesley, a proper, Oxford trained Anglican, wrote in his journal that he doubted whether a person could be saved outside a church building. But when revival came he found himself reaching a whole population by preaching in the fields. Edwards noted that when rescuing people from a burning house, they had no time to fight one another. In the same way, when we focus on advancing the gospel, we build each other up instead of tearing each other down. In the Jesus Movement, a trio of pastors in their pressed suits came upon some Jesus freakish hippies sharing Jesus on the street.
“What are you doing?” A pastor asked a young man. “Sir, we are doing what you just talk about,” the young believer replied. Ouch. When is the last time you were so broken for a lost person you became less concerned about methods or being proper and more broken to show and share Christ?
3. Youth play a vital role. Jonathan Edwards said the Great Awakening was mostly a youth movement. I’ve read countless primary accounts of revival movements from history; youth figure prominently in around 90% I have read. Spurgeon preached to thousands in London in his early 20s. Whitefield preached across the colonies at 25. Brainerd and McCheyne died before they turned 30 yet we remember well their valiant ministries.
If you are middle aged or older, be aware: you and I are not likely to be the people who start a revival, but we certainly have the influence to kill one. What are you doing to involve young people and to allow them to lead?
4. Social justice: in awakenings, people are reach, churches are planted, and orphanages are established. Whitefield spread the Great Awakening across the colonies. He also founded an orphanage called Bethesda in Georgia. Spurgeon, Spener, and others had orphanages as well. Numerous other social enterprises had their genesis in revival movements.
Millennials love causes. If we want to impact a younger generation note this: before they will join in our causes we have to care about theirs. What are you doing about the brokenness in our land and in your community?
5. Here is the one I missed: in revival, leaders get right. Isaiah was the most godly man in the land, yet he was ruined by his own sin. Edwards wept in his church as Whitefield preached. Brainerd lay in the snow, coughing up blood from tuberculosis, begging God to save the Indians.
Leaders can so easily isolate themselves from accountability and thus from confronting their own sin.
Who is in your life that can call you out? Note: you can be in the middle of the activity of God and miss Him. I know I am experiencing revival personally when I stop confessing the sins of others and look in my own heart. When is the last time you were broken personally and sought God to revive your heart? God is stirring the hearts of many. Let’s join together, seek the Lord, and be available for His Spirit to use us.