We often hear talk in our churches and social circles about our country’s desperate need for revival. A great awakening, a move of God so vast and powerful that it sweeps the nation, drawing millions to Jesus, indeed, would help right our listing spiritual/societal ship. There could be no more powerful antidote to the addictions, animosity, violence, anger and hurt that plague us as a people.
However, revival isn’t something you can order online. You can’t stroll into your local Christian book store and grab a couple of volumes of renewal off the shelves. It is not something we as pastors can preach into existence. We can talk to our congregations about changes in attitudes, emphasizing the need for a Christian worldview, and give historical examples of awakenings, but sermons alone will not bring down the blessing of revival from heaven.
Only prayer can do that.
Look at some of the miraculous moves of God of the past, and you’ll see prayer is the common denominator. It was fervent petitioning to God that fueled the First Great Awakening in 1730, led by the exhortations of two giants of the faith—George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. The Great Prayer Revival of 1857 began with only six people, who gathered to seek the Lord. A week later, there were 40. Within six months, 40,000 were coming together to pray and seek renewal for the nation. During the next six months, 1 million people put their faith in Christ out of an overall population of 30 million.
More recently, in the early 1970s, the Jesus Movement broke out among the youth of America. This seismic movement of God also started with prayer, resulting in 400,000 baptisms in a single year—still a record for the Southern Baptist Church. You can see the impact revival had on Birmingham, Ala.—at the time ground zero for America’s racial tensions and violence—in a new movie coming to theaters Oct. 16, 2015, called Woodlawn. It’s a remarkable true story about how everyday people, knitted together in their love for Jesus, overcame racism and hate to embrace love and unity.
The makers of Woodlawn have said they hope the film’s themes will resonate with moviegoers and lead to a modern revival. Of course, they know their movie alone can’t do that. However, if it drives those who see it to their knees, to cry out to God not only to heal our broken world—once again riddled with headline-grabbing racial strife—but also to heal individual hearts, well, something special could happen.
As pastors, we need to be at the forefront of this movement. We need to be the ones urging our congregations to seek the face and favor of God, to turn our lives, hurts, fears and sins over to Him to heal. We need to call the people to repentance, to trust, to faith, to Jesus.
Revival is needed today. Prayer is its fuel. Let’s strike the match.