Essentials Of Revival Praying
By Mark Bearden
The following is edited from a workshop given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2011 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A. Used by permission.
When I was in college, God gave me a burden to quit preaching and just go away and learn to pray. I had no idea how this could happen, but I strongly sensed that I needed a season in my life to just pray. I came across Life Action Ministries in 1989 and met with one of their leaders in the middle of their travel year. He informed me that they did not have any openings except for "team intercessor." So for the first five years that I was in Life Action, I knelt at the front pew and prayed through every service of the team I traveled with. God taught me much about prayer through that experience, and prayer has become my passion.
I am still with Life Action, but I now travel and teach about prayer. Revival is also a passion of my heart and is woven through everything I do. Before I share with you several essentials in praying for revival, I call your attention to three things He has laid afresh on my heart about prayer and revival.
The first one is that everything in the Christian life has to flow out of intimacy with Christ. The praise movement going on right now is a healthy thing, but there is a real danger of confusing worship and praise with intimacy with Christ. You may be stirred in praise, but that is not the same as having an intimate encounter with Christ. In fact, God might get your attention in a crowd, but He will rarely do His deepest work there. His deeper work requires that you get away and meet with Him alone. Everything else has to flow out of that time with Him.
Secondly, there is a difference between Revival with a capital R, and revival with a small r. Revival (capital R) is that sovereign work of God in which He moves in and literally can turn the course of a nation. It is an out-of-the-ordinary move of God. We have had three such Great Awakenings in the history of our own country. On the other hand, revival (small r) is that work that God does in an individual’s heart. Now you cannot have Revival without revival, but you can have revival without Revival.
Thirdly, prayer is not about getting our will done in heaven, but about getting God’s will done on earth. It is not about you and me convincing God to do something, but about us getting in touch with the heart of God. God is always working and He always wants to do a new and powerful work in His church. When we get in touch with the heart of God and pray for His will to be done on earth, that is when prayer takes on power.
Let’s look now at the eighteenth chapter of Luke which includes a series of encounters with Christ through parables and events. These encounters reveal some of the major qualities and attitudes the Lord desires us to have as we pray for Revival/revival.
We will begin in verse 1: "Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, "Give me legal protection against my opponent." For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, "Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming to me she wears me out."’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; and shall not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?’" (Luke 18:1-7).
In many parables the lead figure in the parable represents God, but in this parable the unjust judge represents the opposite of God. When the woman came to the judge asking for justice, he basically responded, "I do not care about people, and I do not care about justice and what is right. But because she is wearing me out, I am going to give her what she wants." This is the opposite of God. He cares about people and He cares about righteousness. He wants to answer our prayers. If the unjust judge who did not care about the woman or justice responded to her persistence, "shall not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night...?" (v. 7). So the first essential is persistence in prayer.
I love in the Book of Acts the "suddenlies." When you find that word "suddenly," you often find it preceded by prayer (Acts 2:2; 12:7; 16:26). People are praying and are suddenly aware of the presence of God. When I traveled and preached on revival, I frequently prayed for God to come into our midst like that and take over the service. Jonathan Edwards believed that the primary way the church advanced was in those divine moments when God manifested Himself in an unusual way.
I remember one night before a service that I faced a number of interruptions and had only a few minutes to spend alone with the Lord. I felt guilty and wondered how I could ask God to move that night. But I had already prayed that God would divinely show up because that is a constant prayer of mine. As I was on my knees there was an immediate sense that God was going to do something unusual.
As I preached that night from Isaiah chapter six on the holiness of God, the youth were sitting on my left. A team member had told me earlier that this group of youth was one of the hardest he had worked with. They had been uninterested, unresponsive, and disruptive during services. But that night I began to notice an intensity on their faces, and then some of them would lay their heads on the pews in front of them. As I preached, some responded with "Amens," but there were also groans. I would make a point and hear a groan. The conviction of God moved into that room. I stopped and looked out at the congregation and said, "Some of you are hypocrites. You are putting on a show. Some of you youth are here because your parents are making you come. You need to go to the prayer room and get on your face and repent before God for being a hypocrite."
The entire section of youth got up and rushed to the prayer room. The presence of God moved into that room. Team members told me later that in the prayer room there was sobbing and people confessing, "O God, I don’t want to be a hypocrite." After the service, I saw a teenager embracing his father, sobbing with him, and saying, "Dad, I don’t want to be a hypocrite." The pastor sat down next to a lady who looked troubled, and she confessed, "Pastor, I have got to learn how to pray." A man came up to me and said, "God told me that if I did not confess my adultery and be reconciled with my wife by the end of this day, I would die." God can accomplish more in a short time than all our programs, ministries, visitations and everything else. And so you persist in prayer because of the hope of what God can do!
The founder of Life Action Ministries, Del Fehsenfeld, Jr., died at the age of forty-two of a brain tumor. His last formed sentence as he came out of a coma was a prayer, a cry for God to revive His church. He did not see Revival in his lifetime. There are times God will set you to pray for things that you will not see in your lifetime. Why would God set me to pray for Revival if I may not see it? Because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:21). Praying for the glory of Christ keeps your heart where it is supposed to be. James Robe, a Scottish preacher who saw God move upon his congregation, said in effect, "If we know that Revival advances the kingdom of God, brings the glory of Christ’s church to full bloom, magnifies the name of Jesus and stirs the lost to give Him honor, how can we pray for anything less?"
One other thought on this. Prayers do not die when people do. Oswald Chambers said, "When we respond to God, we may be answering prayers that someone prayed a hundred years ago." My grandmother was my intercessor. She prayed me out of rebellion. I would come home from partying, sit on the edge of my bed and be under such conviction that I would say out loud, "God, no!" I did not know that in the next room she was praying for me. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jas. 5:16). She was availing all over me! She knew I was called to the ministry before I told anyone. When she died, in my grief I said, "God, I have lost my intercessor!" Then the thought hit my mind, "Mark, she is gone but her prayers are not." I believe her prayers are still being answered in my life.
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells another parable: "And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get." But the tax gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift his eyes up to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.’"
A second attitude the Lord wants us to have as we pray is humility. This is produced by the Holy Spirit and is a mindset that says, "You are God, and I am not. You are the Creator, and I am the created." This is how we need to approach God.
Psalm 50 depicts a court scene in which God is the Judge and the Prosecutor. "Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God. I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings are continually before Me. I shall take no young bull out of your house nor male goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and all it contains. Shall I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of male goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High" (Psa. 50:7-14).
Pagan religions in that day believed that their gods literally ate the meat and drank the blood of sacrifices. Their gods needed the sacrifices to survive. But God told the Israelites that He did not need anything they were offering Him. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Everything is already His! Instead, He calls them to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving acknowledges what the Lord has done for us, and expresses our need for Him.
We are incapable of transforming a person’s life. We cannot change a person’s heart. Only the Spirit of God can do that. This humbles me every time I minister to others. Anything good that happens will be through the Holy Spirit. John Fletcher, one of John Wesley’s associates, had a prayer along these lines, "God, I acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from You. Thank You for the use of Your power for this season, and now I return to nothingness until You should choose to use me again." We do not want to ever claim anything that God does as having been accomplished through our own abilities.
Beginning in Luke 18:18 is the story of the rich young ruler who wanted to inherit eternal life and who believed he had done everything he needed to do in keeping the commandments. "When Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’" (vv. 22-25).
A third essential in prayer is surrender. You cannot come to God with an agenda. God does not send revival to vindicate a man’s ministry. He sends revival to glorify the name of Christ. You cannot bring things you are clinging to and expect to hear from God.
When Del Fehsenfeld, Jr. was a youth minister, he started a Friday night prayer meeting for youth. He advertised it, "No pizza, no pop, no party, just prayer and a lot of power." The ground rules were that you had to be a youth to participate, you had to stay a minimum of two hours, and all that you would do was pray. He had a good-sized youth group and thought that a few would come. The first Friday night only one youth came. But that number grew slowly over the weeks until 70 were praying for hours throughout the auditorium. God began moving. One young lady led thirteen of her classmates to Christ in a single day.
One night Del was praying and God asked him, "Will you go anywhere and do anything I ask?" Del said, "Lord, as best as I can I say I will." And immediately Africa came to his mind. "Will you go to Africa?" And Del said, "Lord, I don’t want to." He wrestled for a couple of hours with the Lord and came to this conclusion, "Lord, I will be more fulfilled in Your will in Africa or anywhere else than I will be out of Your will. I will resign my position and announce I will go to mission school to prepare. I surrender." And immediately it seemed the Spirit said, "I don’t want you to go to Africa, but here is what I want." And Del said he could not put down a notepad for three days as God began to give him the vision for what is now Life Action Ministries. That came as his heart was yielded before God.
Look now at the encounter with Christ beginning in verse 35. "And it came about as He was approaching Jericho, a certain blind man was sitting by the road begging. Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this might be. They told him it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by. And he called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’" (vv. 35-39).
The Jews in that culture commonly believed that if you were blind it was because God had cursed you. So in their minds, the last person Jesus would want to deal with would be this blind beggar who was probably cursed by God. But "Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he had come near, He questioned him, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ And he said, ‘Lord, I want to receive my sight!’" (vv. 40-41). Notice how specific he was. When you are blind you know what your need is. He was desperate to receive his sight. One of the qualities for effective prayer is desperation.
My life verse is Matthew 11:12, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." That simply means that God’s kingdom is powerful, and men and women who lay hold of it with a holy violence are the ones who get to take part in the will of God. The idea is not that we command God, but that we lay hold of God in a holy desperation that says, "God, I have no place else to go. If You do not do it, it will not happen!"
I remember as a young man doing mission work with a group in another country and as we shared the Gospel we encountered great resistance, mocking and contempt. We were burdened and grieved, and out of desperation our group went to our knees in prayer on the street. We told God that for two and a half days we had tried, and we asked Him if He would do what only He could do. We got up off of our knees and that day nine people prayed to receive Christ!
We have lost the belief that God changes lives. It is common in the midst of Revival for town drunks and town atheists to come to Christ. Mary Peckham, who was in the Hebrides Revival, shared that in her village there was a man known for his wickedness and drunkenness. Two of his friends had come to Christ, and he became fearful that he also was going to come to Christ. So he fled town to the mountains. He came back two days later and had met God! You cannot run from God when He begins to move.
We need that holy desperation that lays hold of God to do what He alone can do. Leonard Ravenhill said, "We have a lot of people who pray, but few agonizers." We need to cry out in desperation and touch the heart of God in prayer. But we are a generation of whiners. Many Christians view endurance as whining until God stops. One man told me, "God is the wonderful Counselor, but we treat Him more as the wonderful Counselee because we spend most of our praying telling Him what He should do and how He should do it."
Evan Roberts, who became a leader in the Welsh Revival, was at a morning meeting at which Seth Joshua prayed, "Lord, bend us." J. Edwin Orr notes that the word "bend" in Welsh holds the concept of melting or molding. Evan Roberts fell on the pew in front of him and began rocking and crying out to God, "O God, bend me! O God, bend me!" Sweat was pouring from him, and some people thought he was unstable because of the intensity of his prayers. But it was at that moment that God told him Revival was coming. He did not know how it was going to come, but God had promised him. He said, "I wrote a check in prayer for a hundred thousand souls and my God graciously cashed it."
During the Hebrides Revival, an elderly woman would periodically call for Duncan Campbell and give him instructions. He trusted her because he knew she walked deeply with God. One morning she told him he was to cross the island to a particular village he had never been to before. On the way he passed a young girl sitting alongside the road crying. He stopped and knelt down in front of her and asked if he could help her. She replied, "You cannot help me, only God can help me."
He thought perhaps God was dealing with her and that he could lead her to Christ. He said, "I think I can help you."
But she resisted, saying, "You cannot help me, only God can help me."
He said, "What is wrong?"
She said, "Way over the mountain somewhere there is a man named Duncan Campbell. And God has told me that he is to come and preach at my village because my brother and my uncle are lost."
Duncan Campbell asked, "How do you know this?"
The seventeen-year-old girl said, "Because I spent the whole night in prayer."
"You spent the whole night in prayer?"
"Aye, and the whole night before that."
"You spent two whole nights in prayer?"
"You do not understand. My brother and my uncle are lost, they are going to die and go to hell, and God has told me Duncan Campbell will preach in my village and that they will be saved."
Duncan Campbell took her by the shoulders and said, "Look at me. I am Duncan Campbell."
She threw her arms around his neck and began to sob and kept repeating to the Lord, "You are a covenant-keeping God. You are a covenant-keeping God." Duncan Campbell preached that night in her village and the first two people down the aisle were her brother and her uncle.
God has mighty works He wants to accomplish in our day as well. And it will be the people who are persistent, humble, surrendered and desperate in prayer who get to participate in what God is doing.