"O Lord, Revive Thy Work!"
By T. T. Shields
All saints have need to pray, "O Lord, revive Thy work!" (Hab. 3:2).
Sometimes the need of revival is outwardly apparent. Then sometimes the need of revival is entirely known to God only. There may be no outward lapse, there may be no open inconsistency, and there may be no flagrant wrongdoing whatever. Character and conduct may be as blameless as ever. Yet there may be a failing spiritual appetite notwithstanding, a want of communion with the Well-Beloved, a neglect of private prayer, a neglect of the study of the Word of God, a neglect of all the duties of personal soul-culture. In such case, although there may be no outward appearance of the failure, that will come unless there be an inward revival.
If any of you have not seen the face of the Lord today, if any of you have lost sight of the Beloved, and have had to exclaim, "My beloved hath withdrawn Himself and is gone" (see Song 5:6), if you have not been on speaking terms with Jesus Christ, will you begin right now and let this prayer go up from your heart – "‘O Lord, revive Thy work!’ Bring back to me my spiritual appetite, my passion for Christ, my love for the souls of men, my desire for His glory, my hunger and thirst after righteousness – bring it back! ‘O Lord, revive Thy work!’ "
The Import of This Prayer
If any individual believer is aware that there is in his or her life a need for spiritual revival, if anyone is saying, "How shall we pray? What shall we pray? How shall we get back again?" – listen to this prophet’s prayer: "O Lord, revive Thy work." Habakkuk does not pray "Lord, help me to work," but he prays that God Himself will begin to work again. If you are a Christian, God has already begun to work in your heart, for "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). And if you have really been born again, if you are really a child of God, then God who is the Creator of all worlds, has begun to do something in your heart and life.
The prayer here is that God would revive His work, that He would resume His work in your soul. If love has become stagnant and stationary, if you have ceased to grow up into Christ in all things, if you have ceased to run with patience the race that is set before you, if you have come to a standstill in your Christian life, if the only progress you make at all is made with your lips in outward profession, if there be no real fellowship with God, no real walk with Him, no real commerce with the skies – then it is because the Spirit of God has been grieved away.
Is the wall left unfinished? Is the temple incomplete? Is the Holy Ghost not disciplining you, and teaching you and searching you, and burning you by His blessed Word, leading you on to higher and nobler things? If that be so, it is because in some measure and for some reason, the Holy Spirit has been grieved until He has ceased to operate in your life; and the work of God in your heart is at a standstill, dwarfed, stunted, dishonouring to God, because the Spirit of God is not active in your life. Oh, if that be so, shall we not pray this simple prayer, "Come back to Thy temple, O Spirit of God! Revive Thy work!"
God Works through His Word
How does God work? He always works through the Word. The Word is the sword of the Spirit, and it is indeed "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).
The work of revival is always God’s work. If we are to be what we ought to be, if love is to be rekindled in our hearts, if power is to be given us for service, if we are to follow on to know the Lord, if grace and peace are to be multiplied to us through the knowledge of God, and of Christ Jesus our Lord – it will be because God Himself is at work in our lives. He is working in you "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).
Salvation is God’s free gift. The Word of God denies the right of proprietorship in everything, to every one of us, excepting in this: salvation is ours. There is one thing you may call your own. Your house, legally, may be yours, and yet death may take you from it. Your wife, your children, may be yours, but God has a prior right in them. You may have other possessions of which you say, "This is mine," and yet it is true that we brought nothing into this world – and it is certain we shall take nothing out. We came without property; we shall go away without property save this – that we shall have our own salvation. It is our estate, deeded to us by the last will and testament of our gracious Saviour. It is a farm of immeasurable dimensions, and the title to it is yours for ever. But you must work it out, you must cultivate it, you must develop it. Why? Because it is "God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure."
It may be there are some who have ceased to work out their own salvation because God has ceased to work in. The Spirit has been grieved, and we do well to pray, "O Lord, revive Thy work; come back to the garden that is overgrown with weeds and briars; come back to the fields that are barren, to the life that is unfruitful. O Lord, revive Thy work!" He is the great Master, and only as He dwells within us continually shall we be fruitful to the praise and honour of His name.
Revival Must Always Begin with Prayer
Our text is a prayer for revival. You say, "I do not know where to begin." Begin here, "O Lord, revive Thy work." Habakkuk said, "O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid" (3:2). May God help us to hear His voice and be afraid! And if it be so, it should be the first instinct of our hearts to cry, "O Lord, revive Thy work" – just that. You need not make up your prayer. Here is a prayer already made, and if we make it the prayer of our hearts now and we pray with all sincerity, God will help us.
"But I do not feel like praying." That is why you ought to pray. "I have not prayed this morning. I have not prayed for a long time." Well, begin now. "But," you say, "I have so much to do before I am ready to pray." You have nothing to do before you pray. You should pray that God will begin to do; and as God begins to do, He will revive His work, and memory will be quickened. You will think of duties neglected, of sins committed. Memory will be on the alert, and you will find a procession of things going through your mind that will keep you busy for weeks and months to come. He will convict your conscience, purify your heart, strengthen your will; and you will find that the whole man will begin to throb with divine energy if you will but pray, "O Lord, revive Thy work."
There are some people who imagine that God is very concerned about the phraseology of our prayers. No, my friends, our God understands our need; and if you will only pray, I do not think it matters very much how you pray so long as you let your heart cry out to God, "‘O Lord, revive Thy work.’ I do not know how it will come. I do not know where it will begin, but I cast myself upon the wisdom of God, upon the grace of God. Only let God come back and begin His work again in me now!"
Will you pray that prayer today – every believer? Is there anyone who says, "I do not need to pray that prayer"? Then let us all pray for him, because he needs ever so many people to pray for him! How little we have served the Lord, how imperfectly, how wretchedly we have failed of the possibilities of life! Do we not all need to pray, "O Lord, revive Thy work"?
This is a prayer that is appropriate to every Christian church – EVERY CHURCH: "O Lord, revive Thy work." Lay upon your hearts once again that our chief business is the business of prayer. Preaching is useless unless accompanied by divine power. It is not in human power to revive God’s work: God has to do that. He only can quicken dead souls, and out of the valley that is full of bones, bring forth a marching army. This is God’s work, and we are foolish to suppose that anyone but God can do it, or that any one can be used in doing it if he lives apart from God.
Prayer is our main business. It is not our learning, it is not our logic, it is not our intellectual powers, certainly not our eloquence that God needs. What He needs is our hearts, and if we could only become, in a deeper sense than we ever have been as yet, a praying church that ceases neither day nor night to cry unto God for a great spiritual awakening – there is nothing we could not do!
The voice of prayer has not ceased – but have any of you found your delight in the place of prayer diminishing? Are you less frequently found among those who gather together for prayer?
"O Lord, revive Thy work." What is His work? His work is convicting sinners. There are not many people being convicted of sin just now, someone says. Well, my brother, get down on your knees and ask God to do it, for no one else can do it. It is not your work, it is not mine, it is not the deacons’. That is God’s work, and if it is to be done we have got to go to Him and say, "Revive Thy work." Only God can make all things new.
This is a prayer appropriate to the church of Christ in general – everywhere. We ought to be praying for other churches. We have fallen upon evil days. I can tell you of churches that have no prayer meetings – think of it, a church without prayer! – just like that company that Ezekiel saw (Ezek. 37:1-10), when bone came to his bone, and flesh to his flesh, and skin came upon them, but he said, "There was no breath in them." They were still dead after all the preaching, and it was not until the prophet cried, "Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live" (v. 9), that they stood up an exceeding great army.
I do not care what eloquence you have in the pulpit, what wealth may be represented in the pew, or what social influence, if you please – the church that does not pray is a cumberer of the ground. It has no right to meet in the name of the Lord. Our business is to call down Heaven’s power into human lives. Yet here are churches all around us some of which do not pray at all; and some of them, even in the best season, scarcely have a baker’s dozen in a prayer meeting. Is there not reason to pray, "O Lord, revive Thy work"?
And when men use the pulpit to deny and discredit this holy Word, when the doctrines of the Gospel are scorned, and Jesus Christ is wounded in the house of His friends, is there no reason for us to pray that God will revive His work? Therefore, dear friends, in the face of a great task I call you to a recognition of a great Power that is equal to the task. As we lay hold of God He can turn back the tide of unbelief.
I was reading recently The Leaven of the Saduccees by Ernest Gordon, son of the late Dr. A. J. Gordon. It goes back to the beginning of the nineteenth century and shows us that conditions in New England and all through the States, were as bad or if possible, worse than they are today. And yet, by God’s grace, revival came at last.
I believe my friend, Dr. Riley, was correct when he said we are bound to win – that if we are in the last great apostasy, the Lord is on the way and He will be here soon, and in that case it will not be very long before we share in His glorious triumph. But that if we are not, we may still have a great and glorious world-sweeping revival. Hallelujah! I do not see why not. Did you ever see God save a soul? Oh, we have seen Him do it many, many times. If He can save one soul, He can save a hundred; and if a hundred, then a thousand; and if a thousand, a million.
God can revive His work in our hearts and in all churches, until once again we shall hear and see multitudes in the valley of decision, inquiring their way to Zion with their faces thitherward.
– This article was originally printed in The Gospel Witness, August 25, 1983, and is used with permission.
Dr. T. T. Shields was founding editor of The Gospel Witness, a ministry of Jarvis Street Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.