“Oh, that Thou wouldst render the heavens and come down.” Isaiah 64:1
The Christian church has a tremendous history of revivals and evangelism. There have been times, however when it seemed as though a cloud of darkness hovered over the church. The church appeared to lose her effectiveness and even her message. She seemed to lose her saltiness, and her light burned dimly.
During those times of spiritual apathy and darkness the Holy Spirit would quietly stir in the heart of an individual or in the hearts of a small group of people. He would call them to prayer. The brightness of the glory of God would begin to dispel the darkness in the days that followed. Mighty preachers would be raised out of nowhere. The Word of God would thunder forth in mighty power. Souls would set aflame for the glory of God. Prayer initiated revival, and revival initiated prayer.
An apparent correlation exists between a movement of prayer and spiritual awakening. In some instances it is difficult to tell which came first. That is because spiritual awakening and prayer have the same focus: God. Revival is simply the manifest presence of God among His people. It is a special visitation of the Holy Spirit to His church.
True prayer is the method by which the Christian comes before the presence of God. Consequently, a praying Christian will be a revived Christian, and a church that seeks the face of God will be one that knows the glory of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones witnessed God’s presence in his congregation in South Wales. He was a student of the great awakenings and revivals of past days. He stated that the great need of the church is that of a knowledge of the glory of God. He said, “There is no doubt but that 99.9 percent of our troubles as Christians is that we are ignorant of God. We spend so much time in feeling our own pulse, taking our own spiritual temperature, considering our moods, and states and fears. Oh, if we but had some conception of Him, the inconceivable glory of God.”
The great need of the church in this generation is the manifest glory of God. We need men and women with the mark of God’s glory upon their lives. Our pulpits need to be set aflame by men who have seen the King of glory in their secret chambers of prayer. Our pews need people to fill them whose hearts long for God’s manifest presence in their lives. The need exists for men and women who are like Jesus because they have been with Jesus. Revival is when God is known as God of our lives, homes, churches, and communities.
Five major traits characterize the great historical awakenings. First, the awakenings were preceded by gross moral and spiritual declension in the church. The church ceased to be a great lighthouse for the world in a stormy sea and was drowning in the waves of immorality and impurity. Because her eyes were filled with impurities, she could not see God in his splendor and majesty.
Second, God would, at the darkest moment, breathe on the hearts of a few individuals. They would begin to seek His face, and a revival of prayer would result. The Holy Spirit would show men and women the utter necessity of absolute dependence upon God.
Third, a visitation of God’s presence would come among God’s people. A fresh breath of life blew into the churches—the life of God in the hearts of His people. A new sense of purity of character grew among God’s people. The church experienced the holiness of God, and Christians were conformed into the image of Christ.
Fourth, a reaping of a great evangelistic harvest occurred—a renewal of the preaching of the old truths of the Bible. Pastors and evangelists preached the holiness of God, the corrupted nature of man, and Christ as God’s only provision for man’s sin. They preached that Christ must be received by faith and that man must be born again. They preached against sin and set forth the extraordinary love of God. And God gave the increase. The greatest times of evangelism took place during the great spiritual awakenings.
Finally, growth in the church resulted, and new movements and ministers were thrust into world evangelism. There were lasting results; the fruit remained. Although there would be some excesses in each movement, in general the church would make great strides in building the kingdom of God.
One aspect of historical spiritual awakenings needs further study by Christians. The Bible exhorts the believer to remember the things that God has done for His people in past times. We have much to learn from the history of God’s dealings with His people. Prayer will always be found at the root of those dealings. As a result, it would benefit us to look at the importance of prayer in historical awakenings. Although this is not an exhaustive study of spiritual awakenings, it will serve to remind us that God has not changed, the God of Paul, Peter, Whitefield, Wesley, Finney, and Moody is the God of our generation. He is looking for men and women who will take hold of Him in prayer and not let go until His glory comes.