IF YOU’D like to see a portrait of a nation that has been void of genuine biblical revival, go to Nigeria. In May, I did. I spoke to the National Conference on Prayer and Revival in Lagos, which was attended by Christian leaders representing over 10 million believers.
These leaders freely confessed to one another that the rampant social and political corruption that has enveloped their land for the past 15 years must ultimately be laid at the feet of a divided and anemic church-a church that has not experienced a general spiritual awakening in its nearly 175 years of existence. As a result, they claim, the nation is on the brink of economic, ethical, and psychological collapse unless God sovereignly intervenes.
Fortunately, the Nigerian leaders did not design the May conference to be simply a cathartic event. Instead, they shaped it to prepare them for the upcoming Congress on Christian Ethics in Nigeria, the first gathering of its kind (that I’m aware oD in any nation. Following the May conference, this multidenominational band of respected “bishops” set out to mobilize a national prayer movement for revival. Their specific focus is to undergird the thousands of leaders who will reassemble Nov. 24-28 to grapple with the complexities of what it means to instigate a moral reformation.
Spiritual Awakening Precedes All
Thats why, throughout my hours of teaching in May, I frequently reminded the Nigerian leaders that moral and ethical awakenings are always preceded by spiritual awakenings. Always have been. Always will be. Therefore, the primary strategy must be united prayer. Because, when it comes to spiritual awakenings, the next move is always God’s. In fact, our very prayers for revival originate in the heart of God (Ps. 80:17-19).
This is more than a mere technicality What the prayer movement worldwide is praying toward
is a spiritual awakening to Christ within the church. British historian lain Murray, in his recent book Revival and Revivalism, surveys the past 300 years to distinguish between a phenomenon in which God graciously pours out His Spirit upon His people (revival), and a religious “experience” in which humans try to work up something extraordinary for God (revivalism).
In every one of the four great awakenings in the United States, there was a deadening aftermath when revivalism preceded revival. As American historian Timothy Smith so convincingly documents in Revivalism and Social Reform, massive ethical reformation can be anticipated in awakenings, but only after God has unleashed pervasive renewal among His people. Smith shows this through his study of the “Businessmen’s Prayer Revival” that began on Wall Street in 1857, and proceeded to shape our culture for decades to come.
Seeking God’s Priorities and Initiative
In this time of heightened passion throughout the United States for a comprehensive reconstitution of our national morals-so desperately needed and so desperately sought by hundreds of thousands spending weeks in fasting and prayer-it has never been more important that we remain clear on God’s priorities and God’s initiative in revival. Let me summarize what I shared with godly Nigerian leaders in May.
Revival is, above everything, about Christ Himself. That’s because God can do nothing more strategic for His church than reawaken us (and then the nation) to the sufficiency, supremacy, and saving power of His Son. God does not possess anything for His people, now or forever, beyond who Christ is and what His kingdom offers. Jesus encompasses everything the church (or a nation) can ever hope to receive from God. He personifies every facet of the church’s experience of revival-and every dimension of moral and ethical resolve that transforms society.
Spiritual awakening is more than just dusting off our everyday view of Christ. Instead, it is an extraordinary reintroduction to the King-to the Lord of history, the nations, the ages, the moral contracts that bind human communities together. In reviving the church, God manifests more of Christ-to us and for us, over us and in us, through us and out ahead of us. The accompanying fruits of His intensified presence scatter the forces of darkness and infect the realms of society-family, politics, education, media, business, economy, entertainment-with a “fear of the Lord” and a pursuit of righteousness.
During the revival of King Asa’s reign, Israel “sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the LORD gave them rest on every side” (2 Chron. 15:15). Rest. Shalom. God’s glory galvanizing the land. That’s exactly what I heard them crying out for in Nigeria. That’s a Christian’s passion in revival prayer anywhere.
Whether by congresses on ethics or concerts of prayer, we must focus on the preeminent grace of a sovereign God. It’s the washing we yearn for, the life we seek. It’s the only hope for our nation and for other nations around the globe. And as always, the next move is God’s. So pray for it!