"Dedicated to strengthening and encouraging the Body of Christ."

Conditions For Revival

By J. Edwin Orr

    "If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chr. 7:14).

    The word "revival," in its ordinary sense, means the coming of life and renewal to something that has already possessed life.

    Let us take an example in nature. We walk into the garden during the winter season, and there we see the old oak tree – leafless. There it has stood, for several months, a sorry sight – a few withered leaves hanging on empty branches as if in self-pity. To all outward appearances, it is dead. But come back again with me next month and I will show you a wondrous thing – little buds of beautiful, delicate green pushing their way upwards towards the light of a springtime sun, breaking through the relics of their winter prison. Soon the tree is in the glory of its leafy splendor. It is a seasonal marvel, this renewal of spring, when all that seemed dead becomes alive before our wondering eyes. What has happened? There has come about a revival of the old tree.

    It is the same in the spiritual realm. Revival, primarily, is the renewal of life in something that has already possessed life. It is impossible to revive something that has never been alive. But there is one important difference – the dying of the summer life of the tree is due to natural causes, and the same causes bring about the springtime awakening. Spiritual death, on the other hand, is due to the disease of sin.

    The best definition of "revival" is the phrase: "Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19).

    Beginning with the understanding that a revival is an awakening among Christian people, let us study the conditions under which revival is given. The prayer of the psalmist, "Wilt Thou not revive us again?" (Psa. 85:6), teaches us that God is the source of revival.

    It is easy to make the Bible our textbook in this study, for it abounds in examples of revival. In the Old Testament, one of the best studies is found in the story of the revival at Mizpeh.

    The antecedents of the story recounted in the First Book of Samuel, chapter seven, are important. It is clear that a period of confusion and anarchy was brought about by the spiritual disobedience of God’s people. Point by point, we may compare this state of affairs with the present day – is it not true that spiritual disobedience has caused a great decline today?

    As a result, defeat came on every hand, and after that a period of eclipse. The Ark of the Covenant, that sacred possession of the children of Israel, was lost to their bitterest enemies – and, comparing it with today, the Ark may be considered as the symbol of the mighty presence of the Lord. And we know that we have lost such – the glory has departed.

    The Ark was returned to the keeping of Kirjath-jearim. "And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord" (1 Sam. 7:2).

    The fact that it seemed a long time to wait, and the fact that all the people of God lamented after the Lord, is one of the negative encouragements. They had come to the end of themselves: they were in despair.

    Look around our own country today. Christians know well that many years have passed since any great demonstration of the power of God. The time is long, and the people are lamenting.

    I say again, it is encouraging. The fact that little prayer groups of saints are lamenting after better things and praying in the agony of despair for revival is surely an encouragement. The tide has turned.

    Satan never persuades folks to pray for a revival. The prayer itself is born in the will of God. God wants to revive us. And, knowing His will, despairing of ourselves, we are thrown back upon God. "O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years..." (Hab. 3:2).

    It is at that stage we come across the intervention of God by the mouth of His servant. It seems as if God said: "I want to give you revival even more than you desire to have it; but you must pay a price." So it is with us.

    "And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines" (1 Sam. 7:3).

    "If...." God’s blessing is conditional upon our wholehearted desire. "If you really want revival, here are My conditions."

    "Put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you." Today we no longer worship idols of wood and stone, but just as much as ever before, we sin against the Lord by enshrining in our hearts idols of our own making. Strange gods – the gods of the outside world. No matter what it may be. If we fall away from wholehearted service to God, we generally put something else there. Who or what is the usurper in your heart? Sin, greed, anything? Any strange god has got to go.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.

    Ashtoreth or Ashtaroth is called the "abomination of the Zidonians." Its worship was the worship of the flesh. God’s people must get rid of all that taint.

    "Prepare your hearts unto the Lord." We prepare our hearts unto the Lord by seeking His will, and then accepting it. Supposing I was to say to you, just before a meeting in which we expected the blessing of God, "I must go and prepare my heart unto the Lord!" What would you imagine? You would expect to find me on my knees seeking God’s will by prayer and by reading His written Word. That is the preparation of heart that we all need today – first a revival of Bible study and prayer. You cannot reap without first sowing.

    "And serve Him only." An Irish friend once said to me: "If Christians served their earthly employers with the same carelessness and incompetence, they would all have got the sack long ago." We tremble to think of our wobbly sense of duty, or our utterly hopeless perspective.

    I was talking to a minister about proposed revival work. He was not concerned about the need of Christians to be revived; neither was he much worried about the state of the ungodly out of Christ. All that he seemed to care about was that no one should trespass on what one might describe as purely denominational interests. We can thank God for the testimony of denominations, but we must also say that a minister’s first duty is to serve God, and all other things are secondary.

    When the Christians concentrate on revival with the same zeal that firemen tackle a blazing house; when they serve the Lord with brain and brawn, straining every nerve; then and only then will they be rewarded with the desire of every spiritual heart – revival.

    "And He shall deliver you...." God’s promises are clear. If we take one of them – "...Prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven..." (Mal. 3:10) – we can rejoice in the definite promise made so that there is no room for doubt, no place for misunderstanding.

    In the case of the Israelites, we read next of their obedience. They put away the strange gods and served the Lord only. In so many words, they did what they were told and they did what they knew to be right.

    "Obedience, faith and prayer," wrote my friend, Dr. Horace Philp, "are still the only human factors that can bring about revival."

    After the people of God had turned away from their idols, Samuel made the way clear before them. "Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord" (1 Sam. 7:5).

    We recall that Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord, and cried: "I will not let thee go except thou bless me" (Gen. 32:26). He prevailed. In consequence, his name was changed from Jacob, the supplanter, to Israel, a prevailer with God. We know also that Mizpeh means the "place of watchfulness" – and it was the rallying place of the tribes.

    Let us read this verse, the declaration of Samuel, very literally: "Gather all the prevailers with God to the place of watchfulness, and then prayer will be fruitful."

    Prayer will bring revival. But it must also be united prayer. Dr. A. T. Pierson, the noted church historian and missionary statesman, has said: "There has never been a revival in any country that has not begun in united prayer, and no revival has ever continued beyond the duration of those prayer meetings." The idea of praying for revival in one section of the church only is both ludicrous and profitless. We must pray unitedly for the whole household of faith.

    "When God intends great mercy for His people," said Matthew Henry, "He first of all sets them a-praying." But prayer must be real prayer. One may say truthfully that much that goes under the name of prayer is nothing more than hot air, and it rises no higher than the roof. True prayer is the cry of a child to its Father.

    Prayer will bring revival, and if ever you hear of an intensive prayer meeting, take it as a sure sign of blessing to follow.

    The people of God hearkened to the advice of Samuel. They meant business. They prepared. They fasted. And they said there: "We have sinned against the Lord" (1 Sam. 7:6).

    True searching of heart follows the seeking of God’s presence in prayer, and it invariably produces conviction of sin. They confessed their sin. I cannot imagine from the Bible narrative that these tens of thousands recited the words together: "We have sinned against the Lord." No: rather it must mean that they individually and collectively confessed their sins to God and sought His pardon.

    It is the same today. Revival is impossible apart from confession of sin among believers. It must be confession to God, and it may be confession to one another. Every hindrance must go. Sin must be confessed in order that it may be cleansed. It is noticeable that Samuel "judged" Israel in Mizpeh. Judgment must begin at the house of the Lord.

    The result of prayer and confession was a mighty revival and a glorious victory over the powers of evil.

    We have lessons to learn from the story of the revival in Samuel’s day. The conditions of revival remain unchanged. When we, as Christians, are willing to turn away from our idols, and to prepare by united prayer for widespread blessing, then the Spirit of the Lord will convict us of our sins against God, and with the confession and cleansing of these will come a lasting revival of true religion.

    God grant it.

    – From The Church Must First Repent by J. Edwin Orr.