What Are You Praying Toward?

A few years back, I spent nearly 18 months researching 25 urban prayer movements around the world-from Minneapolis to Capetown to Hong Kong. I uncovered hundreds of successful principles at work in these initiatives. But I discovered that out of all the down-in-the-trenches insights leaders shared with me, one stood out above all the rest. I articulate it this way: The key to igniting and sustaining a work of prayer-whether in one life or in a while city-is to help the pray-ers remain clear on the hope they are praying toward.

This is the principle of vision for revival. And that is the topic of this issue of Pray!


I once saw a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal for a brokerage firm that builds its entire message around the word “VISION.” The word appeared in four-inch-high bold type in the center of the page. They defined the term this way: “Vision is an acute sense of the possible. It is the ability to see what others do not yet see. And when people with vision get together, something extraordinary occurs.”

Little did they realize that this was precisely the dynamic that was at work across our land in the mid-1980s in the emerging prayer movement. God galvanized all kinds of intercessors around the extraordinary vision of revival. By coming together in prayer, we joined forces to make the one investment that would eventually bring down God’s saving blessings among the nations.

Today, the vision for revival seems to be on everybody’s mind. It certainly was foremost for nearly a million men who gathered for the six-hour revival prayer meeting on the Washington Mall in October, and for tens of thousands in November, who were joined for three days by satellite during Fasting and Prayer ’97. But is this the vision you are praying toward? Is this what you really want?

What is revival? That’s what the following articles begin to explore. I think you’ll be amazed at the words our contributors use. They liken revival to consuming fire, hurricanes, floods, and torrential rain. Get ready for powerful word pictures like “overwhelming,” “unbearable,” “unpredictable,” “engulfing,” “painful,” “messy,” “confrontational,” and “massive.” Phrases like: “visitations of the Lord.” Or, as Richard Owen Roberts’ article defines revival, “the reentry of [Christ’s] manifest presence.” Put it all together, and it almost sounds like they’re talking about the second coming of Christ!

No wonder. In a sense, every revival is an “arrival” (to use Steve Hawthorne’s term)-it is Christ showing up in an extraordinarily powerful new way, to significantly overthrow the status quo and establish the claims of His kingdom afresh. As historian Dr. J. Edwin Orr put it, “Revival is war between the Spirit and the Devil.”

Is this what you are praying toward? To be sure, there is a lot of room for misguided enthusiasm when we promote a vision for revival-or even worse, for some kind of Gnostic heresy to reemerge. Already the debate has begun to mount. Two recent books on the topic engage each other: one accuses the other of “counterfeit revivals” that end up leading Christians to look for God “in all the wrong places”; the other fights back, warning us away from the critics of revival, saying, “let no one deceive you.” I suppose in some measure, this discussion will prove healthy … as long as we “keep the main thing the main thing.” This issue of Pray! can help us do that.


To get us started, however, let me briefly weigh in with my own vision of the revival we are praying toward. Put simply: Revival is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit that brings the church into a wonderful rediscovery of Jesus Christ in three key areas. I call them focus, fullness, and fulfillment.

In revival there is a fresh focus on Christ’s person (who He is to us, especially His character as God’s Son) and on His passion (who He is for us, especially in His death, resurrection, and ascension). As a result, we experience together in new ways the fullness of Christ’s life over us (as He rules over us as Lord and Head of the church) and in us (as He indwells us with His resurrection power). All of this presses us into new involvements in the fulfillment of Christ’s mission, where we live and among the nations, as He carries out His purposes (through us), and as He establishes His preeminence among many peoples (going out ahead of us to lead His global cause to victory and to bring about the consummation of history).

Focus. Fullness. Fulfillment. A careful reading of revival history (over many millennia) will confirm how God weaves these three themes together every time. This is what He is willing and ready to do again. Clearly He must also bring it about in a manner equal to the serious challenges we face today both inside and outside the church. So, how could such revival not seem like fire, like war, like an invasion of heavenly glory? We should anticipate an acceleration and intensification of what God’s grace has already accomplished among us-God coming to us where we are and taking us deeper, and wider, and further. Words like reformation, awakening, visitation, and revolution almost fail us.

Believe it or not, this is what I chose to pray toward a few weeks ago, when I was asked to give the opening invocation for the “President’s Banquet” of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Before me were 1,500 of the top financial leaders of our nation. My prayer was to be no more than two to three minutes. So I spent a long time writing it out, composing an intercessory cry for revival that built on language familiar to financiers. That day I prefaced my prayer by stating that I was praying from the “overflow” of being with a million men prostrate on the Washington, D.C., Mall. Then I boldly petitioned God for nothing less than a wholesale awakening to Christ throughout America. I concluded by asking Him to capture the wealth of our nation and bring it to the feet of the Lamb to be used for His purposes. I imagine many of the guests were in shock!

Early the next morning, however, in the quiet of my family den, the memory of the preceding day compelled me, for integrity’s sake, to double-check my own daily prayer agenda. Was I praying in secret the way I had prayed at the banquet? Is that what I am consistently praying toward-and nothing less-in the thick of all my prayers? Do I pray in a spirit of hope that says, “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, 0 LORD. Renew them in our day in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2)? And do I pray anticipating with the prophet, the profoundest of answers: “God came” (v. 3)?

Is this what you are praying toward?

As you read these theme articles, ask God to give you a clearer vision of what revival is, and a stronger hope that it will soon come.