Prayer And Revival
By Gordon Watt
"Then the fire of the Lord fell" (1 Kgs. 18:38).
In these words is crystallized a marvelous record of the power of prayer. Two facts stand out with great clearness in this Old Testament incident involving Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and the counterparts of these facts can only too vividly be recognized in the religious life of our land.
1. It was a time of apostasy and peril in the nation. Darkness was over the land. Forces antagonistic to God and the worship of God were diligently and aggressively at work in the court and among the people. For three years the divine judgment had lain heavy upon them.
2. Then came the challenge to these powers of evil. For answering the aggressiveness of sin and pricking the bubbles of misguided and deceived men, God has always His own time.
Standing forth before his countrymen as the champion of divine rights, Elijah threw down the gauntlet to Satan in his attack upon the prophets of Baal. The evil in court and nation was laid bare, and in the name of his God, Elijah challenged them to a test which would prove whether Jehovah or Baal was supreme: "Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto Mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table…and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God" (1 Kgs. 18:19,24).
The circumstances of today present something of a similarity to those of Elijah’s day. Satanic forces are abroad. The land is in the grip of a spirit that holds in it perilous possibilities for the religious and social life of the realm. The Church seems, by many tokens, to have lost touch with the people. In her preaching there is a lack of that confident accent of faith which in the past made her a mighty witness for God. Fundamental truths are not proclaimed with the emphasis they demand. We greatly need the return of God to the world in power!
It is the Church, in the first instance, in which revival is an urgent and vital necessity. To condemn those who enter no church, to denounce their pleasures, and even their sins, is only to increase their antagonism to the Church and its message. After all, a country is very much what its churches make it. We have no right to cast any aspersion upon the world and its devotees because they do not believe in the Christ of the Bible, if they are failing to discover Him and His power in us.
How are the perils of the day to be met? In no other way is that possible but by the coming of God in power to convict of sin and righteousness and judgment. That happened in Israel when Elijah witnessed for Jehovah. Graphically the historian has described the entrance of God upon the scene: "Then the fire of the Lord fell." What is the meaning of that sentence? It is the point of division between Jehovah and Baal. It is the signal of victory, the dawn of revival.
What Creates Revival?
Prayer is essential, and yet not in prayer alone can revival originate. Charles Finney, in his Lectures on Revivals of Religion, says with appropriate force: "Some have zealously used truth to convert men, and laid very little stress on prayer. They have preached, and talked, and distributed tracts with great zeal, and then wondered that they had so little success. And the reason was that they forgot to use the other branch of the means – effectual prayer. They overlooked the fact that truth by itself will never produce the effect without the Spirit of God, and that the Spirit is given in answer to prayer.
"Sometimes it happens that those who are the most engaged in employing truth are not the most engaged in prayer. This is always unhappy, for unless they have the spirit of prayer (or unless someone else has), the truth by itself will do nothing but harden men in impenitence. Probably in the Day of Judgment it will be found that nothing is ever done by the truth, used ever so zealously, unless there is a spirit of prayer somewhere in connection with the presentation of truth.
"Others err in the reverse direction. Not that they lay too much stress on prayer. But they overlook the fact that prayer might be offered for ever by itself and nothing would be done; because sinners are not converted by direct contact of the Holy Ghost, but by the truth employed as a means. To expect the conversion of sinners by prayer alone, without the employment of truth, is to tempt God."
Revival has always sprung from the right use of the right means. When did the fire fall on Carmel? When did revival begin there and Jehovah show His hand in power? The answer to that question is a revelation of the factors which are manifest in every revival as its source.
1. Elijah emphasized before the people the secret of all their trouble.
"And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him: and he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down" (18:30). In that broken altar lay a most significant fact. It told why the forces of evil had been triumphant, and what had brought Elijah out with his challenge to them. That was the cause of the spiritual declension, for from that had proceeded the advantage of Satan over them.
Is that not the reason for much of our present spiritual weakness and defeat? The altar has been forgotten, slighted, broken down. What does it typify? Is it not the cross? And only when the altar had been repaired and restored to its central place in the eyes of the people was it possible for the sacrifice to be offered upon it, and the fire of the Lord to fall and consume it.
Revival springs from the cross. Dishonor that, and God hides Himself. Put the cross aside, in the deep magnificence of its meaning, and the Holy Spirit withdraws His power. May the restraining of revival not be the result of a broken-down altar, a slighted cross, a silence regarding the great and full message of the death of the Son of God?
The Church, to a large extent, has lost her vision of Calvary, and is becoming blind to the magnitude of her loss. The cross needs to be brought back to its right place in our theology, to understand its meaning, and proclaim fearlessly its fullness of victory.
To let the Holy Spirit exercise His power through the cross in our lives is essential to revival fire touching and possessing us. Revival is not an accident, but the outcome of divine principles in action. Are we willing to pay the price of a religious awakening? That may mean a revolution in the manner of living, putting aside wrong standards of measurement, and yielding ourselves, honestly and without reserve, to the Spirit of God, to enter into the deepest meaning of personal identification with the Lord Jesus Christ.
May that not be the condition God is waiting to see fulfilled by us to answer the cry for revival: "Let the cross do its work in you"? When that is done, there will be no difficulty about putting it, in the fullness of its meaning, in the very forefront of preaching, and keeping it there, as the one power by which men can be saved and led into a sanctification that, in experience, is marked by sanity and healthfulness, and into a service that stretches out to the uttermost ends of the earth with the message of life through a crucified, risen, victorious, and returning Lord.
But more than an altar repaired was necessary for the success of God’s work in Israel.
2. Elijah shut the door on counterfeits.
"And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under…And he made a trench about the altar…and the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water" (18:25,32,35).
In this work of Elijah for God there was to be no room for any false fire. Are we learning that Satan is ever on the watch to dash in with his counterfeits when there is any likelihood of the Spirit of God moving? Can we detect them? In orgies of emotionalism, in going "under power," in allowing tricks to be played on the will, in hypnotic influences at work in assemblies of people, in falling into trances, in power that is psychic instead of spiritual, can we recognize the false fire and resist it?
And apart from the counterfeits, what is our motive for seeking revival? Is there not need for Christian workers to come to an end of their own resources and plans if revival is to visit us? Must it not be altogether for the glory of God in the land that we ask and labor for such a longed-for change in religious life, and not for the advantage of any denomination or church or personal interest? "Put no fire under." God demands purity of motive, straightforwardness of action, devotion to His honor and cause.
One other factor was apparent in that Carmel victory, as it must have its right place in all our work if revival is to come.
3. Elijah confessed before the whole nation his dependence upon God and God’s place in the life and prosperity of the people.
"Hear me, O Lord, hear me; that this people may know that Thou art the Lord God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again" (v. 37). Longing for revival, pure and unhindered, is universal among the children of God.
"Oh, for the breath of the Spirit,
Oh, for the might of His sword
Leading us on to inherit
All that in Jesus is stored."
Some such cry as that rises upwards to the Throne of Grace from hour to hour. In the moving of God’s Spirit in the world, as of old time, lies the one hope of dealing with and repairing the ravages of sin. And great is the need for persistent, prevailing, expectant prayer.
What can such prayer effect? It paves the way for revival. It creates the atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit can work. It defeats the antagonisms of evil. It affects human stubbornness and satanic subtleties. It breaks the grip of the devil on conscience, mind, spirit, and will, opening the door for the light of truth to enter and the life of God to possess the soul.
Of the great revival of 1859 and 1860 in the north of Scotland we are told that "a strange awe began to fall upon the minds of many, and an expectation of such a visitation took shape in their prayers, both private and public. Then came the visits to Aberdeen and other northern towns of such laymen as Grant of Arndilly, Brownlow North, and Reginald Radcliffe.
"At the same time there came to be developed a remarkable spirit of prayer… The need for prayer was felt as never before, and appeals were made for united and persevering supplication. It was no uncommon thing for hours to be spent in prayer in view of special services that were to follow….Too much stress cannot be laid on this as a feature of the movement from the beginning, and it remained a distinguishing characteristic of it throughout. One of the most notable instances of its power occurred in connection with meetings which were to be held in Gartly. For several previous days much prayer was engaged in by those who were to take part in them.
"The greater part of the previous night was spent in prayer by several of them. When the people had assembled in the Gartly Free Church, and the Word which had come with power several days before in the grounds of Huntly Lodge, was opened up – ‘Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God’ (John 11:40) – that night many were pricked in their hearts. The chief speaker on that occasion was Mr. Radcliffe. The scene was a never-to-be-forgotten one. Many, old and young, sought earnestly the way of life. Long after, the fruits of that night were found in changed lives."
"When David and Goliath met,
The wrong against the right,
The giant armed with human power,
And David with God’s might,
God’s power with David’s sling and stone
The giant low did lay,
And the God that lived in David’s time
Is just the same today."
"And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together" (Acts 4:31). God is just the same today.
Let us not lose sight of one outstanding feature in the wonderful victory on Carmel. One man stood for God against the forces and influences of evil. One man with God became the savior of his nation. One man repaired the altar and hoisted again the standard of loyalty to Jehovah. And that man’s own altar had not broken down. For that reason was God able to use him amid the darkness of apostasy.
Then the fire fell. And the people fell. And the rain fell. God got back His own.
Are we making it possible for the fire to fall in our land? When we come to the point where we can say, "Let God have His way with me; let the Holy Spirit do His work in me; let the cross triumph in my life," revival is not far off.
– From Effectual Fervent Prayer by Gordon Watt.