What Is Revival? 1 – The Seeds of Revival: Prayer

28 August 2023

8.6 MINS

Does anybody remember that “Asbury Revival” everybody was talking about back in February this year? Yes, I wondered what happened to it too. Especially when you consider the grip it had on everyone’s attention. It was all over major media platforms across America, and there was a raft of articles here at the Daily Declaration, one of them mine.

Hence my interest.

In fact, I’ve scoured Google for anything which might point to either its continuance in some form, or its spread beyond the Asbury campus. After all, that is one of the essential signs of revival. It spreads exponentially. But apart from a few anecdotal claims that it had spread to other campuses across the States, I found nothing later than a week or two after the public meetings ended.

Then I found an article at CBN News that reported the expansion from Asbury to other campuses across America, which also provided a link to a documentary on the outpouring at Asbury, which involves a simple and free subscription process to view.

All of that got me thinking about the true nature of revival, what it is and what it isn’t, among other things. As in my previous article, and in particular reference to what occurred at Asbury, I now prefer the term “Divine visitation”, the term used by Dr Barry Chant.

Because after everything I’ve read and seen, I am absolutely convinced that there was a Divine Presence in what occurred there.

But revival? Unless God is doing a work that is still bubbling away under the surface, which is yet to break out of the universities that took up Asbury’s invitation, then I’m prepared to say that it isn’t. Yet as one person at the end of the documentary speaks about “the ripple effect”, as from a pebble thrown in a pond, then just like the prophet Habakkuk, I’m also prepared to “stand at my guard post and station myself on the watchtower” (Hab. 2:1 NASB) to watch for something stirring. And, of course, it’s my fervent hope and prayer that it will continue to spread and grow. Because there’s no doubt that the Holy Spirit was there transforming individual lives, and that process will be ongoing.

So why am I differentiating between “visitation” and “revival”? Isn’t it just semantics? I’m convinced that it is not. And I think we even need to allow for the possibility that it’s always God’s intention that His times of visitation lead to full-blown revival. In fact, I would be surprised if that were not the case. Why? Because the passion of His heart is “to seek and to save that which was lost”. (Luke 19:10 NASB)

Consider this. As we are all fallen, finite creatures groping for the light of God’s intentions, we are never going to “hit the mark” every time. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “We see in a mirror dimly” and “know in part”. In fact, we probably fail to fully achieve the purpose of our Divine assignments more often than not.

But that’s one aspect of the way God works in and through us that I find amazing. He, the infinite, perfect and Holy God, by His grace, chooses to fashion His deeply laid plans through finite, fallen creatures. Come what may, His infinite wisdom is greater than, and so will overcome, the consequences of our imperfections.

In that way, He’s like the sower in the parable (Matthew 13:3-23). He knows that not all the seeds He casts out will germinate and multiply. There are other factors which are part of this fallen Creation. But He will get His harvest! It’s a paradox. God is profligate in His provision and perfect in His production.

So what is the difference between a visitation, like we witnessed at Asbury, and full-blown revival? And what can we learn from such manifestations of God’s Presence? And, more importantly, can we identify a process that moves visitation to revival?

Consulting the Literature

I recently came across three books tucked away in a bookcase in my back room at home. Even though they were all in the bookshelf where the oldest books that haven’t been looked at for years go to die, they somehow caught my eye just at the right time. And all three have given me so much information and direction for this series of articles. A true “Kairos” moment!

The first is 40 years old. Revival: Principles to Change the World, by the New Zealand author and evangelist Winkie Pratney, in which he provides a history of revival from the Old Testament to the time of the book’s writing.

The second is Welcoming a Visitation of the Holy Spirit by Wesley Campbell, which was written in the time following the “Toronto Blessing” and its overflow around the world, published in 1996.

The third is The Hope at Hand: National and World Revival for the Twenty-First Century, also published in 1996, written by David Bryant, who for 40 years has been the founder and President of Concerts of Prayer International and Chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee.

Of particular interest is the fact that, contrary to the popular opinion that revival is an exclusively Pentecostal/Charismatic aspiration, these three authors come from a diverse theological background. Pratney is decidedly Charismatic/Pentecostal, while Campbell was a Baptist minister, trained at a Reformed seminary. But after a Divine visitation involving the outpouring of spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecy and healing, their church joined John Wimber’s Vineyard movement. And David Bryant is a mainline Evangelical.

It was when I first read Bryant’s book nearly 30 years ago that God spoke to me from Ezekiel’s vision of two sticks being joined together (Ezekiel 37:15-19). He said that there was going to come a time when the two “sticks” broadly representing “Evangelicals” and “Charismatics” would be joined together in His hand, their differences resolved for the common good and the greater purpose of the harvest.

So, first off, in the Preface of Pratney’s book, there is a short passage that confirms for me why I’m not ready to define what occurred at Asbury as a revival.

“We hear of a church posting notice of a three-day revival… It no doubt grew out of times when any protracted meetings could lead to revival and subsequent evangelism.”

Persevering in Prayer

So, if what we’ve seen in recent times isn’t truly revival, then what is? In particular, what is required of us? Pratney gives us a convincing answer in a quote from the landmark 1956 book on revival by Arthur Wallis, In the Day of Thy Power:

“… the two essential conditions of revival are unity and prayer. ‘All together in one place… with one accord continued steadfast in prayer’ (Acts 1:14). Revival has two foundation stones: the preparedness of man and the sovereignty of God.”

I plan to deal with the issue of unity, and its opposite, division, in a future instalment. Here I want to deal with the role of prayer in fostering revival.

Asbury is a good place as any to start, as one of the distinctive traits was concerted prayer and repentance. In fact, one thing I learned from the documentary I watched was the praying for a long time prior to that visitation, that there is in fact a strong focus on revival prayer in that place.

This is what underpins all the major revivals. When you read through the history of the past few centuries, from the Moravians, through the Welsh revival, to the Hebrides in the 1950s, and finally to Toronto and the overflow from that in 1994, it’s prophetic revelation from God followed by deep, concerted intercessory prayer which is the catalyst.

And it’s concerted, heart-burdened prayer, not for what we don’t have, but for what God doesn’t have: a body of believers who fully represent His passion and His heart’s desire for the lost. Or, as Count Zinzendorf of the Moravians phrased it, “That the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering”.

As Hudson Taylor put it,

“If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, ‘Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.’”

So, the first step is to “seek His face”. In my earlier article, I mentioned the prophetic parable delivered by Wesley Campbell’s wife, Stacey, on that issue. And it’s the seeking that produces greater intimacy and desire. That leads to a greater intensity of experiencing God’s desire for the lost, which leads to a revived vision and sharing in God’s hunger for souls and for societal reform.

Could there be a more pressing need at this point in history?


David Bryant notes what Chuck Colson wrote in an article for Christianity Today in 1992:

“In a startling brief period, the West has been transformed from a Christian culture – in which the majority accepted basic Christian concepts – into a post-Christian culture.”

Recently, I watched a video from Hillsong London where apologist and social commentator Mal Fletcher, speaking nearly 30 years on from Colson, said:

“Contrary to what some people will tell you today, we do not live in a society that is post-Christian. If anything, our society is pre-Christian again. We live in a society where people don’t know very much about the story of Christ or His power to transform a life, a relationship or a career. Or an entire community. We live in a pre-faith age.”

Now you might think that Fletcher is contradicting Colson. But I don’t think so. This, I believe, merely reflects the decline of our culture over that time, a decline that followers and supporters of the Daily Declaration will be all too aware of.

Over the years, it’s not as though the need for prayer has not been noted and responded to. Bryant mentions another Christianity Today article, this time by then Chaplain of the US Senate, Dr Richard Halvorsen, from 1982. He wrote:

“I think all the conditions [for revival] have been met except one – the desire on the part of God’s people for an awakening that will issue in righteousness, in selflessness, and in authentic piety.”

Global Effort

Bryant then notes that, at the time he was writing a decade or so later, prominent Christian demographer David Barrett, who had done extensive research on the issue of prayer, offered the following statistics:

  1. “Worldwide, there are about 170 million Christians who are committed to praying every day for spiritual awakening and world evangelization.
  2. Of these, 20 million believe that praying in that direction is their primary calling in ministry within the Body of Christ (what we might otherwise term as “prayer warriors”).
  3. Worldwide, at least 10 million prayer groups have as a major focus every time they meet to pray to seek God for a coming world revival.
  4. Worldwide, there are an estimated 1,300 prayer mobilization networks that are seeking to stir up the church to accelerated prayer for world revival and mission.”

While I can’t find any update on those figures, I think it’s safe to say that whether they’ve decreased or increased, there is still an enormous prayer effort around the world today.

While you might be wondering why it hasn’t borne fruit, it actually has. Just not in the West. At least, not yet. Because we know that Christianity in the ensuing 30 years has exploded, especially in areas of the world where persecution is severe.

Who knows when our Kairos moment of revival will come? And will it involve the West also experiencing similar levels of persecution? It’s my belief that it definitely will at some point.

United as One

Either way, it’s clear from such a long history that united prayer is of paramount importance. As David Bryant writes:

“The evangelical scholar J Edwin Orr summarized into one simple statement his sixty years of historical study on great prayer movements preceding major spiritual awakenings: “Whenever God is ready to do something new with His people, He always sets them to praying”.

If we know historically, as Dr Orr suggests, this groundswell of prayer is a gift of God; if it is biblically accurate to teach that God has not only ordained the end but also the means (the end being world revival, the means being the prayers of His people); if this massive chorus of prayer is increasingly focused on nothing less than national and world revival; and if, when God stirs us up to this type of praying He does so because He is actually ready to answer us – how can we believe otherwise than that world revival is bearing down on top of us?”

So, as we at the Daily Declaration are now at the start of three weeks of prayer and fasting, under the banner “The Wave of Glory”, it seems appropriate to finish my first instalment with Bryant’s references to “this groundswell of prayer” and “world revival… bearing down on top of us”. It matches well the keynote verse for this time:

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)

Here’s a great worship song from a conference I attended several years ago in Sydney that sings into that hope.

Image by J F from Pixabay.

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