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.