Why We Pray For Revival

I was walking with my now-wife and her sister one night when we came upon a few young men going to a prayer meeting where they intended to pray for revival.

“We think God is about to do something big in this area,” they told us.

I dodged the invitation. Red flags had gone up. But later, I couldn’t stop thinking about why the red flags had gone up. I’ll explain. Several years back, I would’ve gone with those young men. Honestly, I would’ve been the person inviting them to come with me. I stood in vacant churches on Saturday nights and prayed that God would send revival. But last night, something had changed.

The biggest issue I have with praying for revival is that it assumes that something is wrong with the world, and that that something is someone else.

Someone once asked G.K. Chesterton what was wrong with the world, and he replied, “I am.” Prayers for revival assume the opposite response. “I cannot possibly (really really) be what’s wrong with the world! I’m praying for revival! I’m praying for God to revive other people’s hearts and bring about a Third Great Awakening.” (An aside: I’m particularly suspicious of the outcomes of the so-called first and second great awakenings, so I’m not the least bit interested in a repeat performance).

What’s wrong with the world? Someone else. It’s far easier for me to pray that God will change my neighbor than for me to love my neighbor as he or she already is. Easier still to pray that God will change all or most of our neighbors en masse. After all, did Christ not say that the greatest commandment was to pray that God would revive our neighbors?

Now, even if we who pray for revival assume that we may be part of the problem, it is often for concerning reasons. Examples: We are part of the problem because we don’t pray for revival enough (meaning that we need to be more the way we are, not change). Or we are part of the problem because we do not work hard enough to get our neighbors to accept Christ (i.e., change). It’s still about us asking God to change other people because the world in which we live is not to our satisfaction.

To borrow from a paraphrase of Ghandi, which he may well have borrowed from Christ, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Or, a step further back to Christ: You are the light of the world. Christ doesn’t suggest that we pray to God to make others the light of the world. He tells us that we are.

David M Schell About David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

10 thoughts on “Why We Pray For Revival

  1. How can we have revival?” someone asked the great evangelist, Gypsy Smith. The wise, old preacher replied, “Take a piece of chalk, and draw a circle on the floor. Then step inside the circle and pray: Lord, send a revival inside this circle.”

  2. Chesterton had a lot to say regarding what’s wrong with the world.

    God does act through us, and we must be the light of the world. When renewal does come, and it has come in the past, it is through his Church, which is the Kingdom of God, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God simply is the Gospel. And, just in case that makes us cocky, remember that it is through the weak things of the world that God does his work.

    So, as you allude, the two greatest commandments are central. Love God, and, almost as important, love your neighbor. The implications of this include, in reverse order, prayer for men and turning toward God. This includes turning away from sin.

    Dave: There’s a lot here you have almost right, and a lot that’s frustratingly draped in irreverent platitudes. You’re more right in doctrine and more wrong in attitude than they are. It is your attitude that makes your doctrine dangerous. Put another way, where they’re wrong can be fixed more easily than where you’re wrong — their foundation is solid. Back off from slick refutation. It would do you a world of good.

    Ah, and here’s the brilliant part about it — in saying so, I am merely taking your advice in this very blog post and applying it to you. You say that we should not build on the faults of others, and yet this blog post does this very thing.

    Solution: Do not orient your blog against where everyone else is wrong. Orient, instead, your blog to simply stating truth —

    • Hmm… I see a guy trying to figure out how to navigate the world after leaving a fundamentalist background behind. The quest for truth is always going to be disputational; it’s very hard if not impossible to “simply state truth” without pointing out error as part of that. And it’s very easy for a critic like you to say to somebody else, “Just tell the truth without objecting to anything.” Luther said the pope was the anti-Christ. John Wesley and George Whitefield were convinced half the time that the other one was going to hell for Calvinism or Arminianism and the other half the time they were BFF’s. So no, your critique isn’t all that brilliant. It’s a Jesus juke you could recycle for pretty much any situation in which a Christian says, “You have heard it said X, but I tell you Y.”

      • My last sentence uses the word “orient.” That is, “directed towards” as in “final cause.” Over recent posts, this blog, through recent posts, seems to express more of an interest in refutation than saying true things.

        Even when saying true things requires refutation — and it does not, not always — the purpose of the refutation is not an end in itself, or should be relished more, compared to the duty of saying true things.

        • I think it’s fair to ask for a constructive alternative but often we have to wrestle for a long time and throw out what we’ve found not to be true before we can find the truth we’re looking for. I know that I see my own blog as a wrestling mat where others can sharpen and refine my perspectives more than a polished final product of teaching that I’m presenting to the world as my mature view. But I do agree that we need to have the goal of arriving somewhere instead of just leaving somewhere else.

  3. I think Christians need to understand ourselves as people whom Jesus is saving the world from rather than people whom Jesus is saving from the world. It is very easy for us to pray for other people to see the light and become on-fire Christians like we are. I think a way to pray for revival in the right way is to ask God to show us where He has already been at work and how we can become a part of what He’s doing. Instead of pretending like we’re selfless in our zeal for God’s will to be done, it’s okay to acknowledge that we have the “selfish” need to know (at least some of) God’s plans and be part of what God is doing.

  4. Pingback: Sermon 9-14-14 | A Path of Living Stones

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