Against the Wall or Up on the Wall?
Consistently, preceding eras of spiritual awakening, God’s people have been characterized as full of anticipation, waiting in a state of expectation, convinced that everything is now ready, that revival is at hand.
In other words when God moves his people toward revival, we find them growing as a people who pray and prepare for it together—with confidence. As a friend put it: “Whenever God’s people feel like they’re up again the wall, God’s answer comes through those with enough confidence to get up on the wall.” Isaiah 62:6-7 calls such people “watchmen on your wall,” believers who can see ahead of time the big picture of what is coming. They see God restoring his people and making them his praise before the earth. With such an outlook they have no choice but to “give yourselves no rest, and give God no rest” until he does exactly what he has promised to do.
God the Holy Spirit is rapidly raising up a multitude of such watchmen. In fact one denomination is assisting churches from many traditions within individual cities to form “watchmen on the wall” (as they call it) whereby every hour of every day is adopted by various congregations within the city, so that intercessors are meeting and praying there constantly for revival. Recall in the first chapter, how at the National Consultation on United Prayer hundreds of ministry leaders rallied each other and their constituencies to be watchmen, using words like “We recognize our need for divine intervention…We believe God is urging us to call all Christians of America to pray persistently for a moral and spiritual awakening…We will promote this call as broadly as possible…We will participate in corporate, believing prayer…We will pray until God sovereignly acts.” They were calling the church to prayer to revival, not tentatively but with confidence—as they stood on the wall.
Frankly I marvel at where God has brought the prayer movement in this nation and across the world over the past fifteen years. During that brief time frame we’ve seen it transition in the United States from a phase of national consciousness, where there was a growing understanding of the need for world revival, into a phase of national consensus, where we have become more and more agreed on the shape of a world revival, to the place where we’re now entering into a phase of national conviction. There’s a groundswell of conviction that world revival is, in fact, our only hope. Nothing could be more encouraging than this trend. What we’re witnessing is growth in confidence—from consciousness, to consensus, to conviction.
History documents that such confident agreement among Christians about revival always puts the church at the threshold of revival. In his doctoral thesis, “The Concert of Prayer: Back to the Future,” Bob Bakke argues that one of the most consistent characteristics of prayer movements over the past three hundred years has been the high level of confidence, stimulating agreement among the pray-ers, that has prepared the church to receive a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Finney and Spurgeon Agree?
Charles Finney in his classic Lectures on Revival, published in 1834, drew some valuable conclusions based on his own experiences of the outworkings of the Second Great Awakening. Even though some of Finney’s ministry perspectives have proven to be controversial, his understanding on this one issue of confident agreement in prayer is well worth considering. In Lecture 16 he writes:
We must concur in expecting the blessing prayed for…We must absolutely believe that the blessing of revival will come, or we will not bring ourselves within the promise…We must agree in feel the necessity of revival, and its importance…We must be agreed also on the necessity of divine agency to produce a revival. It is not enough that we all hold this in theory and pray for it in words. We must fully understand and deeply feel this necessity. We must realize our entire dependence on the Spirit of God, or the whole will fail.2
Coming from another theological perspective, a contemporary of Finney’s, the great British pastor/preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, concurs on the importance of confidence. In one of the greatest prayers ever recorded for spiritual awakening—a bold, aggressive prayer from which all other revival praying could benefit—he writes:
O God, send us the Holy Spirit! Give us both the breath of spiritual life and the fire of unconquerable zeal. You are our God. Answer us by fire, we pray to you! Answer us both by wind and fire, and then we will see you to be God indeed. The Kingdom comes not, and the work is flagging. Oh, that you would send the wind and the fire! And you will do this when we are all of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer.
Lord, bring us to this waiting state! God, send us a season of glorious disorder. Oh, for a sweep of the wind that will set the seas in motion, and make our ironclad brethren now lying so quietly at anchor, to roll from stem to stern.
Oh, for the fire to fall again—fire which shall affect the most stolid. Oh for such fire, that first sat upon the disciples, and then fell on all around. Oh God, You are ready to work with us today even as You did then. Do not hold back, we beseech You, but work at one.
Break down every barrier that hinders the incoming of Your might! Give us now both hearts of flame and tongues of fire to preach Your reconciling word, for Jesus’ sake. Amen!3
Finney and Spurgeon are speaking the same language! Revival comes as God’s people are so full of confidence that they unite not only in their praying but in their shared expectations that God will, in fact, give them exactly what they ask from him. As Spurgeon puts it, they are so charged with God-given confidence that it could be said they have entered together into a “waiting state.” They have moved beyond simple desperation for revival or even anticipation of it. Theirs is a full expectation that revival is on top of them. They know God will do this when, in Spurgeon’s terms, “we are all of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer.”
The Tentative Spirit
Confidence is often not one of our daily experiences, however, especially when it comes to the prospects of a national or world revival. Many of us struggle with what might be termed a “tentative spirit.” Synonyms for tentative include hesitant, uncertain, not fully worked out, conditional, skeptical, suspicious, distrustful, indecisive. Similar to the state motto of Missouri, “Show Me,” our response to revival sometimes is “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
As I’ve met with thousands of pastors across this nation, it is clear by their own confession this is one of the greatest struggles they have. A recent survey backs this up, uncovering that as many as 40 percent of our nation’s pastors are seriously considering leaving the ministry.4 In other words they have faced seemingly intractable challenges within their churches. They have experienced so many “disappointments with God”—meaning they have trusted God in so many areas where they thought he was willing to act and have not seen the evidence that he has—that their confidence toward God has been seriously undermined. Furthermore they lack any significant degree of hope that God might be willing to do something as great as revival in their own lives and churches, let alone a world revival. As a metropolitan pastor of a large church said to me recently, “Many pastors in my city have gone beyond desperation. They have moved into hardness.” What he meant was, they have sought God so desperately over their situations with such intensity and for so long that they have actually become embittered and hardened against God himself and against his promises. For them it is simply an issue of emotional survival.
A pastor in another city, whose bookshelves were once lined with volumes on revival, spent years studying and praying for revival with seemingly little results. Finally he quit the ministry altogether, disillusioned, confused, tentative. The day he and I talked he was just reentering the pastorate, after a lengthy sabbatical, with renewed vision for revival. He said, “The risk we take as we seek and prepare for revival is that without sufficient internalized support for the vision when we pray for revival, we can actually pray ourselves into unbelief.” Avoiding that trap is what the middle section of this book is about.
The trap has already been set for many of us. One of our foremost evangelical urbanologists, Ray Bakke, has concluded out of years of urban consultations in some three hundred cities worldwide that of the ten major barriers hindering the advance of the gospel in our cities, nine of them are inside the church not outside the church. Of those nine barriers, the greatest may be a “spirit of hopelessness.” It is the sense that nothing can be changed, that the desperate condition of the city is too overwhelming for the meager resources of the church—the tentative spirit.5
In The Seventh Enemy, former Oxford don and environmentalist Ronald Hagens talks about this as a part of the universal struggle for our generation.6 Of all the appalling threats overhanging the human race as we close this century, the greatest enemy may be the seventh: apathy. Hagens describes apathy as a feeling of tentativeness rising out of suspicion that nothing can be done, that nothing can be changed. It’s what Latin-American missiologist Ed Silvoso refers to when he defines “spiritual strongholds” within the church (2 Cor. 10:5-8). He calls them “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes the believer to accept as unchangeable something that he or she knows is contrary to the will of God.”7
Surely this tentativeness—hopelessness, apathy, unbelief—is the most prominent stronghold raised against revival. And with this lack of confidence comes the second stronghold: lack of agreement. For without confidence there cannot be agreement. Without agreement there cannot be effective prayer. Without prayer that focuses our total dependence on God for the fulfillment of his promises to us in revival, revival will not come.
In some sense we may actually be confronting a spirit of practical agnosticism. It may take two forms:
- The pessimist who says, “Everything is in such a hopeless condition right now, and the church is so spiritually depleted that absolutely nothing can be changed. We’ve prayed for revival, but we’ve not seen it come. We’ve tried to work toward revival, but nothing seems to have happened. It may be a long time before God is agreeable to the idea and willing to rearrange things to make revival possible. If God wants to give revival, fine. But it is totally out of our hands and beyond our ability to do anything about it. We must leave it immersed in the mysteries of God. What will be will be.”
- The pragmatist who says, “Revival is not practical, it’s not down-to-earth enough. It is nothing more than a fantasy, an escapist’s dream. Revival is simply the church’s misplaced desire to find a quick fix for our problems. We need to face our challenges in more concrete, specific, and manageable ways. We need to take it one step at a time. This is not the moment to challenge people to wait for the dramatic. We must get them into the action. The needs are great. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Have you ever experienced either of these reactions to others’ claims of a coming revival?
Seven Confidence Builders
The next seven chapters are an antidote to practical agnosticism. They can break a hardened spirit and help a person get back up on the wall. They explore seven confidence-building reasons to grow strong in our faith about a coming world revival. Their purpose is to help us counter various reactions of tentativeness—in ourselves or in the church at large—by showing the God is not only willing and able (for the sake of the pessimist) but also ready and committed (for the sake of the pragmatist) to bring about a spiritual awakening to Christ for the twenty-first century.
These seven confidence builders will help us come together in greater unity around the issue of revival—that it is, what it is, and that it is at hand. They will act as counselors to lead us into the “waiting state” of which Spurgeon speaks where we are all “of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer.”
Here are seven signposts of the road ahead:
- Confidence Builder 1: The Decisive Person
- Confidence Builder 2: The Divine Pattern
- Confidence Builder 3: The Dark Prospects
- Confidence Builder 4: The Disturbing Paralysis
- Confidence Builder 5: The Dramatic Preparations
- Confidence Builder 6: The Distinctive Praying
- Confidence Builder 7: The Determined People
The upcoming chapters will also offer these benefits:
- The seven reasons we explore form a “curriculum” on revival. Each reason gives you categories for thinking about revival and for interpreting the ways of God in revival both in the Scriptures and in our own generation. In turn, you can continue to flesh out this curriculum on your own as revival comes.
- These seven areas also help you to better prepare for revival. They give you new directions to move both as an individual and with others in equipping yourself to seek and prepare for the full work of the coming revival. For example each area provides wonderful fuel to help you fire up a meaningful prayer meeting for revival. (Such applications will be most evident in chapter11.)
- You can share these seven confidence-building perspectives with others to incite them to join with you in full agreement and expectation, by prayer and preparation, for a coming revival.
- Studying these seven areas will reinforce your expectations about the full scope of revival—that it is to be nothing less than “an approximation of the consummation.” The scope of these confidence-building reasons will make you aware of the great things God intends to do in revival, giving you renewed determination to settle for nothing less for our generation. God may use these chapters to awaken a greater desire for revival in you than you’re ever had before. I certainly hope so! Because the hope is at hand.
Prisoners of Hope
At a prayer conference in Washington, D.C., Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson challenged the hundred from all over the nation gathered to pray for revival by asking us, “How much have you prayed for the second coming of Christ and the consummation of history?” As he pointed out, to pray for revival and not to pray for Christ’s return is a contradiction. Because the two work together, they draw from each other; they inform and shape each other. The longing that we have for national revival, he said, should be of a similar nature as our longing for the New Jerusalem. And vice versa. To hope for one is always to hope for the other. To want one is to want the other. To be confident about one is to be confident about the other. Revival is an approximation of the consummation. And that’s the kind of hope to which we can gladly—confidently—surrender.
I saw this perspective dominate a citywide revival-prayer movement in Philadelphia. It took as its motto a popular phrase from the film Field of Dreams. In that movie a pots fanatic builds a baseball stadium in the middle of his Iowa corn field. Why? Because he’s heard a voice, a voice that repeatedly assures him that if he does so, famous baseball players of the past will reappear to play on the field for him to watch. The voice whispers to him over and over, “If you build it, they will come.” With a corresponding sense of fanatical hope, Christians in Philadelphia (made up of scores of churches of all denominations and ethnic backgrounds) set before them a similar motto: “If we build it, he will come.” By this they meant if they build the movement of prayer, uniting together as God’s people to seek him for citywide revival, then Jesus would come into that arena. He would come upon the churches in great power with healing and redemption for their community and beyond.
I have met tens of thousands like them in my visits with prayer movements around the world. Multitudes of Christians would say of themselves what Bishop Desmond Tutu says of himself (praying for so many years over the tragic struggles of South Africa), that they have become “prisoners of hope.”8 (You met some of them in chapter 1.) Not prisoners of hope in some vague emotional sense. No, these are prisoners of the hope, the hope of genuine revival, both the immediate revival that is coming and the ultimate final revival that will one day consume the whole universe.
As President Kennedy once observed: “Some folks look at things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ Others look at things as they could be and ask, ‘Why not?’” Prisoners of hope are people who continue to ask, “Why not?” God has given them the gift of seeing things as he wants them to be, and they are not willing to settle for anything less. As St. Augustine observes, hope has two daughters: anger and courage. Hopeful people have a holy anger with the way things are (“this is not what God designed, this is not what he desires, this is not what he deserves”). But they also have the God-given courage to be agents of change—mainly by getting up on the wall as a people of prayer.
As we turn in the next chapters to explore the impact of true revival, we do so with the questions “Why not?” Why would God not want to unleash over the world such a revival—such an approximation of the consummation—for the twenty-first century? Why would he not want to make you a prisoner to the hope of such a revival—and an agent to help bring it forth?