Revivals are birthed in prayer
by Larry Kreider
I was born an American. In times past, Christian values were part of the American social and political fabric. Not so anymore. Today’s society is often hostile to Christian values. The percentage of Bible-based believers has significantly decreased in America, according to recent statistics:
- Builders (born 1927-1945): 65% Bible-based believers
- Boomers (born 1946-1964): 35% Bible-based believers
- Busters (born 1965-1983): 16% Bible-based believers
- Bridgers (or Millennials, born 1984 or later): 4% Bible-based believers1
For as long as many of us can remember, we have known that when the Boomers hit a certain age, their sheer numbers would affect all of American society more than any other generation in modern times. With only 35 percent firmly believing in Scripture, they have shaped our culture with the following results: morally corrupt films and television programs, an increasingly perverted music industry, the pornographic invasion of the internet, civil initiatives promoting gay marriage, battles to remove the Ten Commandments from public buildings, and fights to take “under God” out of our Pledge of Allegiance. Can you imagine what America will be like when today’s teens become the next generation to dominate the population, with only 4 percent currently claiming to be Bible-believing Christians?
Our nation, the United States of America, is in a desperate need of revival. As I travel from continent to continent, I hear the same heart cry from believers in Christ whom I meet: “Lord, send a revival.”
Preparing for Rain
What is a revival, and what causes a revival to take place?
Psalms 85:6 states, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in You?” and Hosea 10:12 tells us, “Break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and showers righteousness on you.”
Unplowed ground refers to the hardness that comes into our hearts, of which we may not even be aware. It keeps us from experiencing God and true revival. Only when our hearts are softened through prayer, repentance, and faith can the Holy Spirit send His rain into our lives to refresh and revive us.
I grew up a Pennsylvania farm boy. Whenever we had times of drought on the farm, my dad and every other farmer knew that only rain would pull us through. And when we sensed the rain was finally coming, you could smell it in the air. But the soil had to be properly plowed and tilled, or the rain would erode the topsoil and the crops would be lost.
A true revival, in its most simplistic sense, is a return of obedience to God after a time of apathy or spiritual dryness. Charles Finney, who spearheaded revival in America in the early 1800s and led more than a million people to Christ, defined revival as “the Christian’s new beginning of obedience to God.”
According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), revival is a “renewed interest in religion, after indifference and decline; a period of religious awakening; special religious interest.” When a revival comes to a person or city or region or nation, there is an awakening of people’s spirits to the Spirit of God. God comes in a powerful way to change lives, families, churches, and transform communities. God actually visits an area with His presence and power, and believers become very sensitive to obey the Lord in every area of their lives.
All revivals seem to have one thing in common: they are preceded, sustained, and earmarked by a new level of prayer among God’s people. Let’s look at a few examples of revival from history.
The Great Awakening
During the Reformation in Europe, God used Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others to bring spiritual change to Europe. However, by the eighteenth century there was again great spiritual darkness, and life was deeply crippled by spiritual decay and moral bankruptcy.
In England . . . religion was emptied of its spirituality and power. Viewed with contempt, it became at most a code of ethics. The masses were largely untouched by the church. There were godly, faithful ministers here and there, but many clergy were mere figureheads who did not teach and actually opposed the doctrine of salvation by faith.2
The deplorable spiritual and social conditions set the stage for the revival efforts of John Wesley and George Whitefield. This great revival, called “The Great Awakening,” could be considered the first sweeping revival to take place since the time of the apostles. While confined geographically to Great Britain and colonial America, the effect of this awakening would eventually bring radical changes to the world.
In 1739, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and about 60 others—many students from Oxford University—held a love-feast in London. Prayer continued until three in the morning, and they reported, “The power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground (overcome by the power of God).”3 They believed that God was about to break through in revival and spent whole nights in prayer.
Whitefield preached with great power. He was only 22 years old, but wherever he spoke, crowds flocked to hear him. His rooms were filled with praying Oxford students. Crowds increased each day at one church building until they overflowed outside and eventually twenty thousand people gathered. God’s Spirit gripped many as Whitefield preached, as did the audiences of Charles and John Wesley.
In colonial America, Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts pastor, began to pray for the unconverted. According to Edwards, “the worst persons in the town seemed to be suddenly seized with a great degree of concern about their souls.”4 Church records of this time period indicate that as much as one-third of the population of the American colonies had had a salvation experience.
Francis Asbury is regarded as the moving force behind American Methodism. He was born in England, and at age 16 began to preach, speaking up to five times per week, walking several miles to get to each appointment. Meanwhile, help was needed desperately in America. So in 1771, when John Wesley challenged, “Who will go?” 26-year-old Asbury stepped forward. He spent the rest of his life in America and promoted the circuit rider system in America, personally traveling more than 100,000 miles to spread the gospel, and enduring many hardships. At the time of his death in 1816, Methodism in America had grown from 5,000 members in 1776 to 214,000.
Finney and the Power of Prayer
The figure who dominated America’s revivalism was former lawyer Charles G. Finney. Finney’s early ministry took place in western New York State. His preaching sometimes resulted in entire towns being converted. The focus of Finney’s revivalism centered on social reform. He attacked every vice known to society. The roots of virtually every social reform movement of the 1800s can be traced to Finney’s revival meetings. Prayer was always at the heart of the revival.
During one revival in the Rochester, New York, area, Finney urged the people to pray to God earnestly and expectantly for “the immediate outpouring of His Holy Spirit.” Finney wrote:
Indeed the town was full of prayer. Go where you would, you heard the voice of prayer. Pass along the streets, and if two or three Christians happened to be together they were praying. Wherever they met they prayed. Wherever there was a sinner unconverted, especially if he manifested any opposition, you would find some two or three brothers or sisters agreeing to make him a particular subject of prayer; and it was remarkable to see to what an extent God would answer prayer immediately. . . . No one could come into the village without feeling awestricken with the impression that God was there in a peculiar and wonderful way.5
An eyewitness to the revivals wrote that “preaching and praying were [Finney’s] only weapons. He surrounded himself with an atmosphere of prayer, and a body of devoted praying and working Christians male and female such as New York had never before seen, and probably never since.”
In September 1857, a man of prayer, Jeremiah Lanphier, started a businessmen’s prayer meeting in Manhattan. By March of 1858, every church and public hall in downtown New York was filled with praying businessmen. A famous editor sent a reporter with a horse and buggy racing around to the prayer meetings to see how many men were praying. In one hour he got to only twelve meetings, but he counted 6,100 men attending. A landslide of prayer began, which overflowed to the churches in the evenings. People began to be converted, ten thousand a week in New York City alone. The movement spread throughout New England.
The 1859 Prayer Revival in Wales
Wales experienced revival several times throughout its history. During the second half of the nineteenth century many Welsh Christians felt the need for a spiritual awakening. They prayed privately and in churches, asking God for revival. God used a twenty-six-year-old Methodist, Rev. Humphrey Jones and another pastor, David Morgan, who worked together in ministry to influence this revival.
Beginning at 5:00 A.M. every day, even in the busiest days of harvest, . . . people lined the roads for a half mile in all directions. Young and old came and, in a very orderly way, prayed, praised, and worshiped. Prayer meetings were held each night. . . . The revival fire and blessings spread from church to church among all denominations, into outlying villages and other counties. A tremendous work of God spread through the men working in the huge state quarries. Revival spread like a belt of fire encircling the mountains.6
Harvest in America
The revival in Wales was of great interest to the Christians and Christian press in America. The New York Herald gave extensive coverage to the prayer meeting revival. Not to be outdone, the New York Tribune devoted an entire issue in April 1858 to news of the revival. News of the revival quickly traveled westward by telegraph. This was the first revival in which the media played an important role in spreading the revival.
Revival blessings and conversions were reported in towns and cities across the state. Within four months, the Methodists alone reported ten thousand conversions in Philadelphia. Revival spread quickly from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. In Atlantic City, not more than 50 unconverted people were reported to be remaining in a population of sixty thousand. In Schenectady, New York, all evangelical denominations joined in prayer in evangelistic rallies, and the revival movement continued for months.
About a thousand businessmen met in Atlanta to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On November 2, in an unprecedented way, stores, factories, and offices closed at noon for prayer. The Supreme Court and even saloons closed so people could attend prayer meetings. In simultaneous meetings in Louisville, Kentucky, there were fifteen hundred inquirers, and one thousand joined the churches at once. Soon the press reported “the most remarkable revival ever known,” with four thousand recorded conversions in the city. Fifty-eight leading business firms closed at noon for prayer meetings. In Danville, Kentucky, all businesses closed, and management and employees attended services as a body. In Paducah, Kentucky, Southern Baptists reported that God sent “a great Pentecostal revival” that lasted for five months. One church alone added one thousand new members.7
Continued Revival in Wales
The Welsh Church continued praying fervently, and by 1902, 2,000 prayer groups had formed all over Wales. In 1904, a series of mighty revivals began. The Holy Spirit anointed a 25-year-old unknown Welsh coal miner by the name of Evan Roberts who was instrumental in this move of God.
For thirteen years Evan Roberts had prayed for a move of God’s Spirit. Every time the church doors were open, this young man was there on the front pew. One year prior to the revival that flooded Wales, the Spirit of God broke through and washed over this young man. He prayed so loud and so hard that his landlady kicked him out of his apartment. Here was his prayer: Bend me. Bend me. Bend me, O Lord.
Because Evan Roberts prayed, fasted, and sought God, he had a vision in 1904 that the revival would see a hundred thousand people saved in Wales and would literally sweep around the world. He was loudly ridiculed and scorned by religious leaders; nevertheless, within five months, the revival added a hundred thousand people to the Church.8
The revival moved through central Europe, Norway, and Scandinavia. It spread down to Africa and India, through China and into Korea. Healings, visions, signs, and wonders such as those recorded in the book of Acts were witnessed throughout the revival in the early 1900s. The Church added more than a million people to its rolls and at least that many more were reportedly saved.
Revival Prayer Today
A few weeks before I wrote this article, I joined thousands of Korean youth in a stadium in Seoul, Korea, who were praying all night for another visitation of the Lord’s Spirit like the revival of one hundred years ago that had spread from Wales to India to Korea.
Lord, send rain in our generation!
This week, I was worshiping with more than forty thousand believers from 65 nations in Sydney, Australia, crying out to God for revival. Lord, revive us again! And today, as I write these words from a hotel in Australia, more than 60,000 believers, including both young and old, are gathered together in Nashville, Tennessee, at “The Call” with one purpose: to cry out to God for revival among the youth of the United States of America. Lord, send rain!
Pray for the Harvest!
Great moves of God are always preceded by prayer and obedience. In Acts 2:41 we read that the Lord added three thousand to the church. As the early believers kept praying, multitudes were added to the early church (see Acts 5:1). The early church was a praying church and experienced exponential growth. Tommy Barnett says this about the connection between prayer and the harvest of souls:
If we really believed that prayer changes things, then every day we would pray for our children, for our nation and for new converts. We have not seen a harvest or workers for the harvest because we have not prayed and asked God. We act as though prayer is not really important and as though we have matured beyond the need to pray. In all of history, the church has never been so organized, computerized, specialized, and equipped with surveys, data and statistics. Yes, all of these sources of information are wonderful, but if we are not careful, we will begin neglecting prayer and looking to our organization for power. Only prayer will loose the chains of bondage and release the power of the Gospel to a hurting world.9
We must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show us anything in our lives (including prayerlessness) that could hinder us from experiencing true revival. Next to the Bible, the book that has shaped my life more than any other is Revival Lectures by Charles Finney. He said that revival was not a miracle, but it is the result of the right use of the appropriate means:
It is impossible for us to say that there is not as direct an influence or agency from God, to produce a crop of grain, as there is to produce a revival. . . . In the Bible, the word of God is compared to grain, and preaching is compared to sowing seed, and the results to the springing up and growth of the crop. . . . I wish this idea to be impressed on all your minds, for there has long been an idea prevalent . . . that there is no connection of the means with the result, and no tendency in the means to produce the effect. No doctrine is more dangerous than this to the prosperity of the church, and nothing more absurd. Suppose a man were to go and preach. . . among farmers, about their sowing grain. Let him tell them that God is a sovereign, and will give them a crop only when it pleases him, and that for them to plow and plant and labor as if they expected to raise a crop is very wrong, and taking the work out of the hands of God, that it interferes with His sovereignty, and is going on in their own strength; and that there is no connection between the means and the result on which they can depend. And now, suppose the farmers should believe such doctrine. Why, they would starve the world to death. . . . The connection is as clear in religion as it is when the farmer sows his grain.10
When our hearts long for God more than anything else, then we move into the realm of prayer that brings us to the very throne room of God. God hears the passionate prayers of His people. As we intercede before God for people without Christ, His Spirit will make it happen. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord” is the very foundation for revival.
I Have a Dream
I have a dream. This is a dream that I share with millions of God’s people in the nations of the world—that our God would visit His people in our generation, both young and old together, in a way that we will experience His power and presence in our families, our churches, our communities and our nations like never before. Acts 2:17-18 declares it so boldly and so clearly: “In the last days, God says, I will [not might] pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will [not might] prophesy, your young men will [not might] see visions, your old men will [not might] dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will [not might] pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will [not might] prophesy” (italics my addition).
This Scripture was fulfilled at Pentecost—yet God desires an even greater fulfillment as thousands more turn to Him and receive the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. He is simply asking us to pray. Remember the words of John Wesley: “God does everything by prayer and nothing without it.”
Lord, revive us again. Continue to teach us to pray.
This article is taken from Larry’s book Building Your Personal House of Prayer. Learn more about prayer in this book.
About Larry Kreider
Larry has spent the past four decades training leaders to make disciples with the small group concept. Larry serves as the international director of DOVE International, a worldwide network of over 1,000 churches in 26 nations. Larry has written more than 40 books and travels extensively teaching and imparting practical discipleship to leaders globally. Read about Larry or catch up on Larry’s blog.
- Ron Luce, Battle Cry for a Generation (Colorado Springs, CO: NexGen, 2005), 30-31.
- Wesley Duewel, Revival Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 50.
- Duewel, Revival Fire, 53.
- Jeff Ziegler and Jay Rogers, “Revival and Spiritual Awakening,” accessed January 2008, http://forerunner.com/forerunner/X0606_Revival_Spiritual_A.html.
- Duewel, Revival Fire, 101.
- Duewel, Revival Fire, 161.
- Duewel, Revival Fire, 209-210.
- Tommy Barnett, Multiplication (Orlando, FL: Creation House, 1997), 82.
- Barnett, Multiplication, 129.
- Charles G. Finney, Revival Lectures (Tarrytown, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company), 5.