We are in desperate need of revival. Our marriages, our families, our churches, our nation — in every arena of life and society and religion we need the omnipotent, renewing visitation of the Holy Spirit.

Several years ago I was doing some ministry in the inner city of Memphis, Tennessee. Driving along the old, unkempt neighborhoods of this urban setting, I passed by an old, long-forsaken church building. It was still evident that, in its day, the structure had been quite impressive. Stone carvings, marble steps, ornate iron work still graced its dilapidated front.


A sign hung out front, made of individual large letters, that had in previous day obviously spelled out the simple statement, “Jesus saves.” However, by now several of the letters had cracked and the final letter was missing altogether, so that the sign now emblazoned this sentence over the entire neighborhood: J-e-s-u-s  S-a-v-e.


I soon was past the old building, but I could not get past the impression it left on me. What an accurate physical portrayal this place was, of a greater spiritual problem in our day. Where many churches once prospered and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ across this country, the gospel has in many areas been altogether forsaken (although people-packed auditoriums may still meet there under the name “church”). One can perhaps still see the shell of what was once a great church, but now the actual gospel that made it a great church has crumbled through neglect…and theological vandalism.


Where once the theme of many neighborhoods, families, churches, and even our nation could perhaps accurately be described by the declaration “Jesus saves”, our situation might now be better expressed by the prayer, “Jesus, save!” As one faithful pastor writes:


“Our land is filled with the murder of unborn babies. Homosexuality, which God detests, is becoming socially acceptable. Corruption abounds on all levels of government. We are seeing a revival of interest in the occult, with witchcraft, séances, etc. Evolutionary teaching, which in effect calls God a liar, is universally taught in public schools. The God-given roles of male and female are being challenged and ridiculed. But who is weeping? Who is agonizing in prayer?”


What Revival Is Not

When we speak of the need for revival, I want to be very clear, first of all, about what revival is not.


For one thing, revival is not a denigration of those devoted saints who continue to faithfully pursue God’s Word and God’s will, even in times of relative spiritual drought. These are the unsung heroes whom God uses to perpetuate His church. It is upon the labors of these dedicated men and women and children that revival is built when it does finally come.


Secondly, revival is not an excuse for personal spiritual lethargy. Revival does not ever have to wait on anyone else; it can be enjoyed personally and immediately by any devoted child of God who is committed to pursue Christ with all his or her heart and soul and mind and strength. Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him” (Revelation 3:20).


Third, revival is not a fell-good change only. It will indeed feel good to have the Spirit of God moving in a mighty way among us, but it will also cause great discomfort to our old way of life. True revival will affect our money, our time, our priorities. You see, if true revival comes we will be better employees…but we will realize that family is more important than career…but we will realize that pointing our family to the Lord is more important than pointing them to a good education, sports success, etc…but we will realize that personal devotion must come before we can point our family to the Lord.


So true revival will be a radical inward change of heart towards the Lord, which will radiate such a powerful magnetism, from our core, that it will result in a compass-shift for our family, career, church—and if on sent on a widespread scale—even our country and culture.


What Revival Always Involves

Now that we plainly understand what we are not looking for in a revival, it is vital that we consider what any widespread revival always involves.


First, revival always involves prayer. We might put it this way: prayer has happened without widespread revival, but a widespread revival has never happened without prayer.

Again, we must ask, “Who is weeping? Who is agonizing in prayer?”


Agonizing in prayer is often accompanied, in the Scriptures, with fasting as well. Fasting is a physical discipline which encourages and manifests an inward wrestling and temperance of soul. Isaiah writes, “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (57:15).


Second, revival always involves repentance. This is because the very word revival presupposes a declination. One dictionary defines revival in this way:


  1. To return to life or consciousness.
  2. To impart new health, vigor, or spirit to.
  3. To return to use, currency, or notice.


Wouldn’t you love to see all of these descriptions coming true in the church today? To return to a new life and awareness of God’s grace and its gracious demands upon us? (This is doubtless why the first great revival in America was described as the great awakening). To see new health and vigor and spirit imparted to the church of Jesus Christ and the gospel as it is preached? To see the church, then, return to use, currency, and notice in our culture?


If true revival comes in our day, we will not have to tell others about it; it will be evident to all who know or hear or come in contact with us. As Leonard Ravenhill observes, “You never have to advertise a fire.” It is its own advertisement!


Third, revival involves growth. This growth is both personal and numerical. When God comes to church, things happen. People start changing. Multitudes start attending. Converts start appearing. Growth starts occurring.


The same labors that have faithfully been taking place for years suddenly bear countless and genuine and unmistakable fruit. The sowers are planting and watering the same seed, but God is giving the increase.


It is informative and inspiring to read Benjamin Franklin’s account (being not himself a Christian) of the revival that swept America in the 1730’s, under the preaching of men like George Whitefield:


It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants...From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.


Does this describe your heart’s desire, your prayers’ plea, your soul’s yearning? Then let us join together in fervent echo of David’s prayer: “Wilt thou not revive us again that thy people may rejoice in thee?” (Psalm 85:6).