Focused on the Future
In a Time essay on the coming millennium, William A. Henry reflects: “The future. Have any two words excited more hope, prompted more dreams and visions? Has anything contributed more to the wellspring of all progress—the relentless variety of human curiosity and invention—that the belief that the future can and must be different, bigger, better?”1 Earthlings may have never been as focused on the future as we are today. Speculation abounds on what the twenty-first century holds for all of us.
Two American universities, the University of Houston and the University of Hawaii, offer degrees with an emphasis on future studies. Hundreds of consultants, think tanks, and government leaders study the future full-time. Even major corporations are beginning to take this field seriously. “The rise of global business competition, the fall of communism and perhaps the approach of the millennium have all combined to make the present seem more uncertain and the study of the future more appealing.”2 Recently two thousand members of the World Future Society gathered for their seventh general assembly in Washington, D.C. in a growing effort to help businesses and governments be ready for some of the possibilities that lie ahead.
Everywhere today there’s a growing sense we are on the threshold of something extraordinary, something (in Henry’s words) “different, bigger, better.” A recent Time/CNN survey found that 62 percent of Americans believe that compared to the twentieth century, the twenty-first century holds far more hope for all of us (despite the conviction that we will still wrestle with things like poverty, disease, and environmental disasters). Some, intrigued with technology, are dubbed “cyberpunks.” They’re preoccupied with things like brain implantation, “cyberspace” (data highways), and “virtual reality.” Others, like today’s baby boomers, focus on the future with optimistic determination to come out winners; they are bullish on the future if they are anything.
Of course this is not to say there is not also a fundamental uncertainty about the twenty-first century. Many are scrambling to paint for us their own hopeful scenarios. In the special issue of Time dealing entirely with “Beyond the Year 2000: What to Expect in the New Millennium,” Lance Morrow writes, “The 1990’s have become a transforming boundary between one age and another, between a scheme of things that has disintegrated and another that is taking shape. A millennium is coming, a cosmic divide.”3 One example: The battle to save the planet may replace twentieth-century battles over Fascism and Communism, as an organizing theme for international relations.
As we move into the third millennium, most do so with great expectations. And we will enter it in a way no other generation has ever crossed a time line, observing it simultaneously as one electronic global village. Already reservations for New Year’s Eve 1999 have begun to pour in to hotels and establishments around the world. The Millennium Society has booked the Queen Elizabeth II to transport three thousand people to celebrate our entrance into a.d. 2000 at the great Pyramid of Cheops. Others rising up with end-of-the-world predictions feel even more celebratory. Currently six hundred different groups have formulated a host of dramatic projections on how the year 2000 will make the opening of a perfect, utopian age. When do we break out the fireworks and let the party begin?
Preparing for Spiritual Renaissance
Respond we must. How do we prepare for a.d. 2000 and beyond? Among the many options presented none are being stressed more strongly at the moment than what futurologists say is the single greatest hope for human survival: what happens to the human spirit. Increasingly, hope for the human race is ultimately pinned on a spiritual and moral renaissance more than anything else. In fact, in Megatrends 2000 John Naisbitt predicts a simultaneous series of worldwide revivals, not only within Christianity but within other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism, as well as the acceleration of the New Age movement itself.4
Revivals? The International Social Survey Programs concurs in recently published results from polling nineteen thousand people in more than a dozen countries. It found that in the West there is resurgence in religious beliefs in the former Communist block, as well as the return to religion of baby boomers in the United States. All of this is called by the survey “signs of international religious revival.” Their findings show that “religious devotion in countries such as the United States, Ireland and Poland may be higher than ever.”5 For example, the unexpected events in Eastern Europe have reversed predictions that there would be an inevitable decline in religious belief in the modern age.
Yes, many futurologists currently sense a genuine cry for revival and the reclaiming of the transcendent. Many Americans confess the unnerving reality of a spiritual free fall in Western culture and the impending possibility of a genuine moral collapse. According to Gallup, two out of three Americans believe the United States is in a serious long-term decline, not only economically but, more importantly, morally and spiritually. Many Americans are asking, “What are we building for ourselves and leaving for our children in the twenty-first century?” And 68 percent say they are dissatisfied with the religious values they are passing on.
In the face of this, increasing numbers are on a God-hunt—looking for more—more faith and more spiritual reality. Another survey documents that three out of five Americans hold greater interest in spiritual things than they did five years ago. There seems to be a quiet but persistent shift from a modern secular era to what one sociologist has called “a post-modern era,” which views reality much more in terms of the supernatural. Again Gallup finds one-third of Americans have reported having “a religious insight or awakening that has changed the direction of my life.” Gallup calls this one of the most significant survey results they have ever uncovered. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe dealing with the transcendent will play a much greater role in their lives as they enter the new millennium. That’s why University of Chicago church historian Martin Marty is calling the current revival of prayer and longing for spirituality “the event of our era.”
Many are feeling “as if the hand of God were turning a page in human fate.” That’s what Henry Gruenwald tells us in “The Year 2000—Is it the End—or Just the Beginning?” Not only have we witnessed the end of Communism and the end of nationalism, but we are also witnessing the end or at least decline of an age of unbelief and the beginning of what might be called a new age of faith. Gruenwald observes that one of the most remarkable reasons for this has been the massive impact of dehumanizing forces from technological progress to physical violence throughout this century. Now he and others are predicting a reaction against this phenomenon. They predict that once again we will make our view of man depend primarily upon our view of God.
This reemerging, irrepressible religious impulse (what some are terming “the revenge of the sacred”) is taking many forms: the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of fanatical Hinduism, New Age movements, as well as the growth of evangelical churches throughout the Third World. Prognosticators suggest we are heading into a century that really will be a new age of faith—“heading into an age when faith will again be taken seriously, when it will again play a major part in our existence.”6 The questions to ask is this: Is God preparing to turn this spiritual restlessness in a most unexpected direction—toward biblical revival?
At a Crossroads: What May We Hope?
The existential philosopher Immanuel Kant boiled mankind’s search for truth down to three major questions: 1. What can I know? 2. What ought I to do? 3. What may I hope?7 It is to this third questions that we now turn, for out of it flow answers to the first two.
What may we hope—especially as we look toward the opening of the third millennium? As we seek to answer that question, it would be good to keep in mind the warning of Jack Hayford. Sometimes we fall short of the answers God wants us to give because of an “unperceived smugness that drugs the soul with the notion that our present boundaries of understanding God are the permanent boundaries of His readiness to reveal Himself to us.”8 Which boundaries operate in your life?
As you will soon discover, I believe the boundaries we should set are for nothing less than a coming revival, both for our nation and for the church worldwide. I’ve learned in my extensive travels over these past years—into all parts of this nation, among many denominational and ethnic expressions of the church, and throughout the body of Christ worldwide—that I am not alone in my convictions. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Even so, I have met hundreds of leaders who are as heartsick as I am. They are filled with expectations for world revival—with persistent yearnings for this and nothing less. They can’t rest. It has become for them a magnificent obsession! Take for example the leaders of national youth ministries who met the other day to prepare for a convention of ten thousand youth pastors. These pastors will come from many denominations to talk about the imminent revival among high school students in our nation and how to prepare youth ministries to handle it. The excitement was palpable.
Writing in Christianity Today, Timothy Jones explores many divergent streams of spiritual renewal and formation throughout the body of Christ in our nation under the title “Great Awakenings: Americans Are Becoming Fascinated with Prayer and Spirituality. Is It Time to Rejoice” He discusses the signs of increasing spiritual hunger. Acknowledging that we live in a time of renewed spiritual ferment, which calls us to a systematic, biblical approach to the spiritual life as we strive for matters of unity in prayer, he raises the questions “But is it revival? The ultimate significance of renewals and spiritual movements becomes clear only with a long view. Still, there is the question: What is God up to? And his concludes with this: “Will today’s spiritual enthusiasm lead to some profound awakening?”9 Good question! In other words, what may we hope? Is it to be world revival?
As one social commentator put it humorously: “Mankind stands at a crossroads. One road leads to hopelessness and despair. The other read leads to total destruction. Let us pray that we will have the wisdom to choose correctly!”10 Yes, it would seem at times as if only two roads are before us: hopelessness or destruction. Even the most cursory preview of the twenty-first century convicts us that we desperately need divine intervention. But that’s what revival is all about. Revival offers us a third road—the road of hope. In fact, we could reword the end of the satirist’s proverb to read: “Let us choose to have the wisdom to pray correctly,” that is, to seek the God who deserves awe and offers us salvation. Because our hope is in him. This is the road that leads toward victory.
As various Christian leaders have increasingly pointed out to me, God seems to be insistent on helping us to find this third road. A denominational president remarked to me, “God is pushing his church toward revival, and into prayer for revival, from all sides.” Historically, we know that whenever every other option outside of revival has been exhausted, revival begins to take a renewed and compelling focus in the life of the church. This appears to be happening again. The vision for revival is ascending within the church as the great new hope of our times.
A growing number of books on the topic say so. For example: The Coming Great Awakening: New Hope for the Nineties (David McKenna); Revive Us Again! Realistic Thinking on Revival (edited by Matthew David); The Spark That Ignites: God’s Promise to Revive the Church through You (Robert Coleman); Preparing for Revival (Brian Mills); Revival Fire (Wesley Duewel).11 Here are some other voices speaking of this hope.
Voices of Hope
- At the outset of the last quarter of the twentieth century, looking toward this very moment, Billy Graham in his final address at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (that drew together some three thousand leaders from over 150 nations, committed to completing the Great Commission) expressed his hope: “I believe there are two streams in prophetic Scripture. One leads us to understand that as we approach the latter days and the second coming of Christ, things will become worse and worse. The Day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” (He is speaking of God’s judgments.) “But I believe as we approach the latter days it could be a time also of great revival…a rain of blessings, showers falling from heaven upon all the continents before the coming of our Lord.”12 In a recent press conference at a similar gathering in the U.S., Graham went so far as to declare: “I believe we’ve already entered revival. May none of us miss it.”
- With equal enthusiasm, Paul Cedar, president of the Evangelical Free Church of American, speaks without apology: “Without a doubt, the major opportunity before us is the potential of an historic revival akin to the first and second great awakenings which took place in the early history of the United States. The need for such a revival is obvious. The encouraging ‘signs’ of an impending awakening is the grass roots prayer movement God is raising up throughout this nation among pastors, denominations, congregations, families and individuals. In addition, there is an unusual openness among church leaders for cooperation in great movements of prayer and evangelistic outreach in the decade of the 90s.”13
- Don Argue, president of an Assemblies of God college and recent president of the National Association of Evangelicals, joins the chorus: “The answer from all quarters is unanimous. We need to pray corporately for a national revival. I firmly believe God wants to send another spiritual awakening to America. But first we need to enlarge our prayer focus.”14
- Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ and New Life 2000 (bringing the gospel right now to millions of unreached peoples worldwide), states that never in all of his years of ministry has he seen so many people praying for personal, nationwide, and worldwide revival. “Wherever I go I sense a God-given conviction that revival is desperately needed. Lately I have sensed that the Body of Christ is on the verge of the greatest spiritual break-through in the history of Christianity.”15
- John Perkins is founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries. Grappling with the desperate need of the church to confront racism and bring about reconciliation within our nation, this key African American church leader declares, “There is an awakening taking place. It is as if the sleeping giant known as the church is beginning to emerge from a long nap—awakening to its commission to be God’s reconciling force on the earth. In pockets of hope around the nation, hard answers are being found to the tough questions of race.”16 One “pocket of hope” can be found in a group of pastors in Harlem who are praying for God to raise up “fifty thousand righteous men” to walk the streets of Harlem and take back the neighborhoods for Jesus Christ. Committed to praying persistently until it happens, they know that it will be nothing less than wholesale revival not only for Harlem but for the whole city.
- Those within the more organized renewal movements of our day, such as the Charismatic movement, have reached the conclusion that there is so much more God is waiting to do for his church beyond what they themselves have yet experienced. Mario Murillo, writing in Charisma, claims that the Charismatic renewal is in desperate need of “fresh fire.” We must experience a new Pentecost. We must stop our frenzied round of activities and form upper rooms to pray and wait on God for a fresh outpouring of His Spirit. Seek Jesus—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Call upon the God who answers by fire. Soon you’ll be engulfed and your fears will be ashes. Then the ensuing sense of God’s purpose and power will astound you.”17
- Many are convinced that the whole of western culture has no other hope but revival in the church. Christian philosopher Os Guinness has articulated this need in two recent books, No God but God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age and The American Hour: A Time of Reckoning and the Once and Future Role of Faith. In the latter, as he looks toward the twenty-first century, Guinness ends with a discussion of our nation’s prospects. One prospect is that America will become increasingly secular, deeply liberal, and prosperous. But the other is that “there will be a massive revitalization of American life, including both its ideals and institutions, through a movement of decisive spiritual revival and reformation.”18 His own expectation? It is that America will response—that God will move in reformation and revival, mobilizing sufficient numbers so as to revitalize the whole of American society. And yet Guinness cautions that any kind of an American spiritual renaissance will take place only by the sovereign intervention of Almighty God.
- James Dobson, the most frequently heard Christian broadcaster today, after outlining a number of illustrations on the disintegration of our society in an article entitled “Morality Under Fire,”10 arrives at the same conclusion: “What can we do? What should be our response? First, we must continue to pray for worldwide revival that will reawaken millions of people spiritually. This is not mere pious sentiment. Every great revival has been accompanied by social reform…We seek the Lord in earnest prayer that He would once again grant revival to his church in the U.S. and round the world.”
- A similar theme resounds from the pen of Carl F. H. Henry, evangelical statesman and theologian, when he predicts, “Slick promotion and management techniques aren’t the answer. Without genuine revival the church’s vision is inevitably blurred and its hope is misplaced.”20 This parallels the convictions of Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners: “For some4 of us who see the danger of these times, there is also vision to see the opportunity for a true spiritual revival. Because the present crisis has so much to do with our basic spiritual values, the possibility of revival is great.”21
- Perhaps William Abrahams in his book The Coming Great Revival captures the current mood best when he writes, “The present moment is a time for celebration and hope. Those evangelicals who know the full riches of their history and the winds of the spirit should entertain hopes of better things to come. Expressing it most boldly they should be anticipating a coming great revival.
“The signs of that revival are already clear. Among a host of groups within and without the mainline churches there is an urge for renewal that shows no indications of abating. There’s a vast army of new Christians hungry for initiation into a modern version of the Christian faith that will integrate deep piety, social action and classical theology in a penetrating expression of the Christian Gospel…”22
- But this sense of impending world revival may be more strongly felt by Christian leaders in the Two-Thirds World. In my travels throughout that part of the church, I have discovered a great hope for global awakening to Christ. So has Roger Greenway.23 Missions Now: This Generation describes what he calls a “third wave,” in the Two-Thirds World, of spiritually renewed Christians. He foresees them sweeping through the church to act on deep concerns about lost people and poor people, and striving for revival everywhere the church needs God-given revitalization.
- He is joined in this perspective by one of the leading pastors in Latin America, Omar Cabrera. Cabrera believes that “the best is yet to come” for the church in Argentina. The church there has been experiencing a degree of spiritual awakening, but it’s only beginning to understand what to do with it. The more fully the church understands the comprehensive nature of its mission, says Cabrera, the more thoroughly he believe that the real revival is coming.
- In Bangkok, the pastor of Thailand’s largest and fastest-growing church is full of similar hope. Kriengsak Chareonwongsak says, “I see a great harvest coming.” With this Kim Joon-gon, a respected leader in the churches throughout Asia concurs: “The next ten years is a time of spiritual emergency. It is a time of opportunity. The Lord Jesus has the keys to open what no one can shut. I believe in the next ten years, history’s greatest revival will take place in our area.”24
- The declaration drafted in 1993 by the Jamaican Association of Evangelicals and affirmed by evangelical Christian leaders of nine countries in the Caribbean reads in part: “We commit ourselves to be used by the Lord to bring about revival in our region, not as a catchword but as a reality, in light of d. 2000—revitalizing, reawakening, renewing and rekindling the evangelical church.”25
The Most Hopeful Voices of All
Chaplain of the U. S. Senate, Dr. Richard Halverson, commented a decade ago that even though God is sovereign in the works of revival, there are still conditions that we must meet—prayer is preeminent among them. He wrote: “I think all the conditions have been met (for national revival) expect one—the desire on the part of God’s people for an awakening that will issue in righteousness, in selflessness, and in authentic piety.”26 How radically this trend has reversed itself since he penned those words. If Halverson is right, we can now say that all conditions for revival are being met because the final one is coming to the fore: desire—expressed by increased repentance and prayer. And these are the most hopeful voices of all.
Maybe some historical perspective would be helpful here. 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.”27 If that has been foundational to God’s agenda in any generation, how can we conclude otherwise than that a world revival is coming? Look at the current growth of united prayer focused on that extraordinary work of the Spirit throughout the body of Christ. This is the most hopeful sign of out times!
For example, David Barrett, leading demographer of the world Christian movement today, has given us the following statistics from his extensive research: 1. Worldwide there are about 170 million Christians who are committed to praying every day for spiritual awakening and world evangelization. 2. Of these, twenty 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 there are at least ten million prayer groups that have as a major focus every time they meet to pray to seek God for a coming world revival.28 And finally, 4. worldwide there are an estimated thirteen hundred prayer mobilization networks that are seeking to stir up the church to accelerated prayer for world revival and mission.
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?
Just review with me the development of the prayer movement in the United States. It is now estimated that nine out of ten Americans pray frequently and earnestly, and almost all say God has answered their prayers.29 Over the past twenty-five years we have seen significant stages unfold in this movement of prayer. In the early 70s the foundations were laid by key spokes persons who were often regarded as “voices in the wilderness” calling the church to united prayer for revival. But by 1976, with the first U. S. Congress on Prayer, came an emergence of united prayer in the life of the church that has not been silent since. Throughout the 1980s prayer momentum grew with the emergence of citywide prayer movements, with the strong leadership of pastors in churches and cities, and finally with the formation of coalitions at the national level to foster and encourage concerned prayer for revival.
All of this came to dramatic focus in 1993 at the National consultation on United Prayer. This gathering of three hundred leaders, from 166 denominations and Christian ministries, representing nearly half of the Protestant churches in America, and coming from thirty-five states, convened for twenty-four hours beginning on the inauguration day of a new presidential administration. The purpose of the consultation was clearly similar: to inaugurate a new era of spiritual leadership in the body of Christ, calling the church to united prayer for revival until revival comes. During the course of the event most of the time was spent in prayer over the nation. But at one point a committee of twelve was set aside representing the diversity of the gathering. Sequestered with three hundred written recommendations from the delegates, they were to compose a simple call to prayer that would reflect the consensus of this broad-based gathering and their constituencies, regarding what God was “up to” in preparing his church for revival through prayer. They returned with a document that has been widely circulated since (see page 33).
Without question, this is a prayer movement that is already having dramatic impact. It is doing so in ways that are providing preliminary demonstrations of true biblical revival. Church historian Richard Lovelace, giving an overview of historic cycles of renewal and revival, summarizes what he has observed since his attendance at the International Prayer assembly (IPA) for world evangelization (a historic first) in 1984. Noting that united prayer is key to past spiritual awakenings and that evangelical Christians are experiencing an acceleration of revival prayer today that may be unprecedented, he surveys a decade of prayer following the IPA. Marveling at the collapse of atheistic communism throughout the world, he calls it a historical change as significant as the Reformation of Constantine’s conversion.
God heard generalized prayers for revival and this was one result. This historic shift is not simply a political victory for the west; it is a defeat of a demonic power structure which has defied God and persecuted Christians for seventy years. It is practically a planetary exorcism…throughout the former communist world, there is now a spiritual hunger that puts the west to shame…The worldwide renewal team we are playing on is large and diverse. What might we expect if all sectors of the professing church were awakened and unified?30
Once again recall the well-reasoned conclusion of Dr. Orr. I’d like to paraphrase it this way: whenever God is ready to give a world revival, he will set his people to praying for it worldwide. Is this not what we see? And if so, can revival be far behind?
Here Comes Your Pizza!
What all these voices are suggesting mirrors the words of John Naisbitt in Megatrends. He calls this moment a “time of parentheses,” a time “between eras,” “yeasty” and “filled with opportunities.”31 To be sure, it is a special moment, not only for human endeavors and hopes but for god’s purposes above all other things. Today’s megatrends convince me increasingly that this is god’s hour, ordained by him to leverage his work among the nations with extraordinary influence. I see nothing less than a true spiritual awakening to Christ, accelerating his mission for the twenty-first century.
In the face of all of this, I’ve reached one simply conclusion: we have no other choice but to keep on praying. Something wonderful is coming! It is evident that God intends this movement of prayer, with all that accompanies it, to become the fountainhead of a national and world revival that will itself be our usher into the twenty-first century.
I must be honest with you, however. I do struggle with a degree of impatience! “Hope deferred” tends to keep one restless and hungry for more. My daily experience is similar to one I had a short while ago while traveling the interstate between Chicago and Minneapolis. At one point in the Wisconsin countryside I saw coming southbound on I-90 what turned out to be a car caravan of one hundred newly painted Domino Pizza delivery cars. Evidently they were being dispersed to franchises across the Midwest. Every one of them had the same simple sentence painted in bold black letters across the front of the hood: “Here comes your pizza.” I wondered, Could it be?
Other cars followed—two, five, ten, fifteen, twenty-five—each telling me, “Here comes your pizza.” These were followed by car number fifty, then sixty, then seventy-five, all proclaiming that there was pizza coming and that it was just for me! By the time the caravan vanished in my rearview mirror, I found myself saying, “All right, already—where’s my pizza?” In fact, I was so enticed by the mouth-watering thought of devouring a piece of sausage pizza that I escaped from the interstate at the very next exit in search of a pizza establishment.
In the same way, day by day, prayer by prayer, leader by leader, report by report, movement by movement, I feel as if the Spirit of God is saying to us, “Here comes your revival! Here comes world revival!” It is coming, and it is nearer than when we first believed. As God increasingly impresses upon us that world revival is truly at hand, it will make us even hungrier for it. In fact we’ll find ourselves with greater desires for a spiritual awakening than when we first began to pray for it. The praying makes us hungry!
But we can be hungry with confidence. The hope is at hand. In the next chapters I want to begin telling you what I believe this revival will look like, why I am confident that it’s coming, and why you can be confident as well.
National Call to United Prayer
National Call to United Prayer
Issued by the National Consultation on United Prayer
January 21, 1993
Colorado Springs, Colorado
We recognize our absolute dependence on God and our desperate need for divine intervention.
We believe God is urging us to call all Christians of America to unite in humility and repentance across ethnic and church boundaries to pray persistently for a moral and spiritual awakening in the Body of Christ.
We believe this will greatly advance His Kingdom in our nation and worldwide.
We covenant to obey this call by taking the following actions:
- We will promote this call as broadly as
- Individually, we will commune with God and pray with faith daily.
- We will encourage and participate regularly in corporate, believing
- We will fast as God prompts
- Feeling incomplete without embracing God’s family from all races, we will seek reconciliation and participation with all our brothers and
- We will pray until God sovereignly acts.