The hope of world revival is at hand. The second of seven good reasons to expect it is the Diving Pattern. It rests on this basic thesis:
God is faithful and consistent in all his ways. He has been pleased to grant times of significant revival throughout the generations of his people from Genesis to the present. One day he will culminate all revivals in the final revival—the consummation of everything in Christ. Surely what God intends to accomplish for all creation and what he has, in fact, approximated repeatedly for so many previous generations, he is able, willing, and ready to do right now for our generation. Therefore we can pray and prepare for it with confidence.
How is it that the church today is eighty-three million times larger than when it first began? How is it that the outward movement of the gospel is the longest sustained human endeavor in the history of mankind? A primary answer to such questions—and one that is coupled with confidence-builder number one, the Decisive Person—is this: God has been pleased to grant to his people in one generation after another episodes of revival (both local, national, and international). They have been glorious ruptures of divine intervention to manifest to his people so much more of Christ.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones concludes that historically revival has been “God’s way of keeping the church alive.”1 Church historian Richard Lovelace says that “the central theme of redemptive history is God’s recovery of an apostate people.: In Incendiary Fellowship Elton Trueblood concurs: “When a Christian expresses sadness about the church, it is always the sadness of a lover. He knows that there have been great periods, and he is not willing to settle for anything less than those in his own time.2
Patterns in Biblical Revivals
In my first edition of With Concerts of Prayer3 I discussed various aspects of this divine pattern that I would like to summarize here, adding some additional insights I have gained since that time.
First it’s a pattern that can be clearly documented from the Old Testament. Exodus, for example, gives us a prototype of spiritual awakenings. Through God’s answer to the prayers of Israel, both the Jews and Egyptians were shaken by the mighty unveiling of God’s power, justice, and grace.
Again, in the Book of Judges we find a four-hundred-year account of this divine pattern that goes something like this: A new generation rises up who does not know the Lord and forsakes him for other gods. God gives them over to their enemies. Their physical and spiritual lives are depleted until they awaken to their need to be restored to Jehovah. They cry out together to the Lord. He responds by raising up judges who lead the people back into his ways. As a result surrounding nations stop harassing Israel because the fear of God comes upon them.
We continue to trace this pattern into the days of Solomon, a definite high-water mark among all the revivals Israel experienced. Whole nations were drawn into it. Magnificent moments of revival also surfaced during the reign of Judah’s kings, such as Hezekiah. God also stirred up the exiles to return to the land, with revival vision to rebuild the place of prayer and reestablish God’s testimony among the peoples.
All the prophets talk of revival, frequently using concepts that have helped the church understand the essence of revival ever since—images such as a new day appearing, waking up, drinking of the fountain of life, being purged by God’s fires, international prayer movements, the drawing in of the nations, and most importantly the comprehensive final revival linked with the coming Messiah. The last prophet Malachi insists God is preparing to awaken his people once more in such a way that the Gentiles join them to offer prayers in response to God’s revealed glory.
The Psalms give us practical, personal experiences of revival as well as signposts about what revival should look like within the whole nation. The Psalms also provide some of the most powerful prayers for revival the church has ever used.
Key accounts of Old Testament revival patterns are summarized in the writings of Walter C. Kaiser Jr., especially in his book Quest for Renewal: Personal Revival in the Old Testament.4 But, every promise of revival in the Old Testament finds it most graphic demonstration in the first-century church. God unleashed an unprecedented revival through the ministry of Jesus Christ. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out in Joy Unspeakable, revival was the pervasive climate of the New Testament church era, from Matthew to Revelation.
As I’ve described in previous chapters, when Jesus set out to preach, heal, and break demonic powers, he had his eye on all that the prophets had promised. Every hope they offered for recovery through a might God-ordained revival was not “at hand” for his generation because he himself embodied the revival foretold. Out of his suffering and resurrection the awakening unfurled with greater intensity. Revival leaped beyond the disciples when the church, saturated with Christ through the Holy Spirit, began to bring the power of forgiveness and reconciliation to multitudes. And so Pentecost became another high point in the history of revivals. Everyone was filled with awe; wonders and miracles abounded. As a result many were added to the church. The manifest presence of the Lord was deeply felt by all, not only in the church but throughout the city of Jerusalem.
Ultimately, however, the church had a grander assignment than extending awakening within Jerusalem. Revival became the experience of newly planted churches throughout the Gentile world, right into Rome itself. We see this in many of Paul’s written prayers, which when answered as fully as Paul intended, invariably led to revival.
In fact when Jones entitled his book Joy Unspeakable, he was referring to 1 Peter 1:8. His thesis: When Peter told the church in the diaspora that they were even then experiencing unspeakable joy, he was able to do so because he was confident all the churches were already living in the atmosphere of true revival. Thus joy would be a natural experience for them day by day.5
And finally, in the Book of Revelation Christ calls many of the Asian churches, born in the initial awakening, to relight their fires and to come back to the intensity of their first love. He then proceeds to display an enlarged view of his purposes for history, showing his church the outworking of the final revival, the consummation of all things. As noted earlier, Jesus draws on many of the images from the end of the book to motivate the churches toward spiritual revitalization now.
Patterns in Church History
This strategy of revival, to no one’s surprise, has continued on for two thousand years. (Duewel’s Revival Fire and Murray’s Revival and Revivalism are two recent books that provide exciting, insightful accounts beyond what I highlight here.)
For example, the great Monastic movements, which endured for fifteen hundred years, frequently acted as bases of both renewal and missionary operation. Breaking with the values of their cultures, these communities developed lifestyles of praise, commitment, vision, simplicity, and mission, which became a renewing force time and again. The Reformation itself was one of the greatest revivals since Pentecost and focused specifically on reforming the church’s understanding of the transcendence of God and the saving work of Jesus Christ. A whole continent was set on fire as a result. Subsequently the Puritans in their writings and their praying pressed the Reformation into what church historians today call the First Great Awakening of the modern era.
One of the leaders in that Awakening was Count Nikolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, who spawned a twenty-four-hour prayer watch in Germany that interceded for revival and mission for one hundred years. The Moravians, as they were called, not only sent out
Missionary teams to many unreached peoples worldwide, but with equal zeal they deployed “renewal teams” to preach revival and unity in Christ to churches in many parts of Europe and the Colonies, even going to Rome to preach to the pope.
This extensive eighteenth-century revival also involved people like the Wesleys, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. Richard Lovelace describes the divine pattern in Edwards’s experience when he writes:
The classical pattern generally began with concerted prayer, which led to a deepened sense of the holiness of God and depth of sin. Under Jonathan Edwards’s ministry in North Hampton, the whole town went through a collective “dark night of the soul.” Lay persons lay awake struggling with convictions, not of gross sins but of pride and envy. Yet during the day they were so fascinated by God that they could not conduct business. To persons in this state of spiritual openness, Edwards’s preaching of Jesus Christ as justifier and sanctifier was seen to be intensely relevant and was eagerly welcomed. Once church members were awakened and thoroughly converted, they became an evangelizing team seeking out relatives, friends, and neighbors with the message of salvation. The result of an awakened church was inevitable a subsequent wave of evangelization.6
A Second Great Awakening is staked out by church historians from 1790 onward. Prior to this revival, leaders like William Carey, called by some the father of modern missions, formed small prayer bands that met monthly for almost eight years before they saw their revival prayers answered. Others like William Wilberforce, a member of a prayer community in the Anglican parish of Clapham near London, spearheaded efforts in slave abolition in addition to a new missionary enterprise. The presence and power of God was so evident in the church that they also led battles for judicial, penal, and industrial reform and for the spread of popular education.
A Third Great Awakening surfaced noticeably in 1857 when a Manhattan businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, gather together a few on Wall Street for a noontime prayer meeting for revival. By 1858 New York City alone had six thousand people involved in such daily prayer gatherings. Tens of thousands crowded into the churches for prayer in the evenings. Within a year one million converts were added to the church rolls across the United States. As Dr. Orr notes in The Fervent Prayer:
The mid-century awakenings (1858-59) revived all of the existing missionary societies and enabled them to enter other fields. The practical evangelical ecumenism of the revival was embodied in the China Inland Mission founded by Hudson Taylor in the aftermath of the British awakening…As in the first half of the century, practically every missionary invasion was launched by men revived or converted in the awakenings of the churches in the sending countries.7
Timothy Smith proves in Revivalism and Social Reform that this revival also had significant impact on the social needs of that day.8
Historians mark another worldwide revival that began in the early 1900s, the aftermath of which is still with us in many forms, including the modern Charismatic movement. Often called the Welch Revival, because its origin seemed to have begun in Wales in the preaching of Evan Roberts, its impact extended far beyond what happened there (which included eight thousand converts in five years). Dr. Orr writes:
One of the leaders of the revival in 1905 was a young man of the ivy league who later became perhaps the world’s most famous professor of missions. When he was at Yale in 1905, 25% of the student body was enrolled in prayer meetings and Bible studies. Again, the ministers of Atlantic City reported that of a population of fifty thousand in that city, they knew of only fifty adults who were unconverted. In Portland, Oregon, two hundred and forty department stores closed from eleven to two for prayer and signed an agreement among themselves so that no one would cheat and stay open.9
Such are some of the patterns when God gives revival.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic descriptions of true revival in any generation is the one given by James Burns in his book The Laws of Revival, published just shortly before the outbreak of the Fourth Great Awakening. Having spent a good deal of his life studying episodes of revival in church history, he drew the following conclusions:
The appearance of revivals owes nothing to chance; they are a witness to God’s sovereignty. . . We are able to see a regularity in their appearance and, within certain limits, to anticipate their coming. . . First of all, we perceive that they come when preparations have been made, when the times are ripe. Next, their appearance is signaled by certain infallible signs one of which is a growing discontent in individuals’ hearts with corruption and backsliding. With this comes an intense craving for something better. A growing spirit of expectation that change is coming soon develops.
At last, when contributing streams converge at a definite point there suddenly appears the messenger who speaks for God, and whose voice people instantly recognize and obey.10
Another similarity is what occurs when the revival movement is set in motion. When the voice of the leader is heard, vast forces, which seem to have been lying dormant, are awakened. The revival spreads like fire, and huge numbers of people are affected. Wherever it goes, and into whatever heart it enters, it creates an overwhelming realization of sin—then confession. With the forgiveness of sin comes a joy that expresses itself in song. The main effect of the revival is felt in the inner life. It awakens new spiritual emotions. It sharpens lives into subjection to the will of God. It brings the church back to simplicity, sincerity, and a renewed spiritual vitality.11
No revival can come from below. All attempts to create a revival fail. Nor can we bring a revival down, since prayer is not the cause of revival but the human preparation for one. By prayer we prepare the soil. Is there a disposition to pray for revival? Are devout men and women everywhere becoming alarmed, not for the success of the church, but for the glory of Christ?12
Writing at the same time, South African theologian Andrew Murray focused the last two of his nearly 130 books on this divine pattern. In 1900 he wrote Key to the Missionary Problem, a treatise for world church leaders gathered at the New York International Missionary Convention, to discuss the possibilities of evangelizing the world in that generation. In the book he reviewed the divine pattern of revival and then confronted them with the fact that unless that pattern was repeated again in his generation, all of their great plans and good intentions for evangelizing the nations would ultimately fail.13
He took up the same thesis ten years later as he wrote a response to the International Missionary Conference in Edinborough, Scotland. The State of the Church reasoned that the verdict of history was clear. Unless missionary leaders dealt with the condition of the church and its desperate need for revival, calling forth united prayer to that end, their missionary enterprises would ultimately be an embarrassment to them and the name of the Lord.14
Murray understood the truth that what God has done repeatedly for so many previous generations, he was willing to do and must do for theirs. He urged them to seek and prepare for world revival diligently and with confidence, even proposing a worldwide week of prayer the following January.
A Pattern with Seven Phases
Let me conclude this brief overview of the divine pattern by collapsing all of my years of study on this subject into what I see to be the seven major phases of every historic revival. I realize this is a lot to digest. But really, what I’ve done in the end is paint a simple picture of how revival expresses itself—a picture you can use in critiquing the developments of this drama in our generation, or even within your own city or congregation. (I’m also saving you years of research with these seven points—and that’s worth something!)
Each phase is a gift from God. Each phase intensifies and accelerates the work of God in revival. Each phase, if it’s allowed to do so will lead to a final experience of full-orbed revival for that particular generation. I believe phases one and two are already in motion today, which creates in us no small anticipation of what is waiting just ahead (phases three through seven) and what its dimensions will be for our generation:
- A particular generation of God’s people comes to the realization of their desperate need for revival. There’s a growing expectation that God is ready to give revival, to give so much more of Christ than they have yet experienced. The realization comes through both the preaching of many who see this vision and the convincing pressure of events and circumstances within which the church finds itself. In the end it is all a gift of the Holy Spirit—a “waking up” that has already begun.
- Christians begin to persistently pray and persistently pray and prepare for revival. The pray both individually and corporately with a growing consensus of what revival should look like and that revival is near. The prayers are expressed in terms of joyful anticipation but also sober repentance. Above, ardent requests are made to God to fulfill his promises. Christians also commit themselves to reorder their lives and ministries to be ready to run with the full impact of revival when it comes. Repentance is a primary characteristic of how they pray and prepare. (I will discuss more on preparation in the final chapter.)
- God answers the prayer of his people! He provides a greater revelation of his grace and glory in Jesus Christ. This brings about a corresponding reformation around the doctrines of Christ and his kingdom, as well as a restoration of devotion in the hearts of God’s people toward the Lord, and a reorientation of the church toward the work of the kingdom and the future into which God is leading us.
- The impact of revival brings renouncing of sin, a hunger for holiness, and a zeal for the glory of God. This causes God’s people to offer themselves in fresh new ways to be used of him to extend the kingdom of Christ in whatever ways he chooses as an outflow of the revival. Revival is a time of recruitment when God raises up and thrusts out laborers who are wholly devoted to Christ and his global cause.
- The church experiences renewal through the unleashing of the fruits of the Spirit, renaissance through the unleashing of the gifts of the Spirit, and the ensuing renovation of the very programs and structures of the church to fit in with the very programs and structures of the church to fit in with God’s new day for his people. All of this brings forth a revived community that is experiencing in greater measure “the fullness of the stature of Christ” along with greater maturity in worship, discipleship, and ministry for Christ.
- The revived church begins to influence and impact the society in which it finds itself. Through its witness God gives a reformation of society in morality, righteousness, and justice and a renovation and rebuilding of the structures of a society to be more compassionate and just. Above all this, evangelization unfolds as the revived church goes forth to bear witness of Christ within every structure of society, at every level, among every people, and within every situation and need. The power of such penetration by the church rises in part from how the fear of God has come, first on God’s people through revival and then on unbelievers who sense the presence of God in the midst of a revived church. But it doesn’t stop here. Finally there is expansion.
- The gospel is extended into many parts of the earth and among many peoples where the kingdom has not yet come. Out of revival there is a release of the laborers, an increased vision for reaching those who are currently beyond the reach of the gospel, and a rebellion against the strongholds of the enemy that have usurped Christ’s lordship among the nations. In the end, churches are planted among peoples where Christ has never been named before, to become bases of operations for his kingdom in their own societies and beyond. Of course, all of this will trigger many evil forces against the gospel and may lead to significant persecution.
What’s so exciting about this seven-phase analysis is that it connects beautifully with the three words used in chapter 4 to describe the impact of revival: focus, fullness, and fulfillment. Here’s how it works.
Through the phases of realization, preparation, and manifestation, the church is given a new focus toward the person of Christ—all that he is to us and for us. Through consecration and revitalization the church enters afresh into the fullness of the life of Christ—all that he want to be over us and in us. And finally out of the phases of penetration and expansion the church moves forward in new ways into the fulfillment of the mission of Christ—all that he wants to do through us and out ahead of us. We can picture it like this:
The Divine Pattern
That’s the divine pattern, plain and simple. In a sense, however, we’ll never fully understand it until our generation has gone through it. Furthermore, as it continues to unfold for us, the expressions of each phase will be so unique to our times—unmatched by any stories of previous revivals—that even the backward look will only begin to help us grasp where we’re headed. However, in principle, this is what we have to look forward to! What God as done before, he is not only able and willing but also ready to do again.
The First Law of Wing-Walking
History, observes Lance Morrow, “is filled with regenerations, with new beginnings, as one era replaces another.” But because “regeneration is always cleansing but usually dangerous,” it requires that we all learn how to apply the first law of wing-walking. This law cautions, “Never let go of what you’re got until you’ve got hold of something else.”15 That’s true for all of us! We are like wing-walkers. Our flight into the twenty-first century carries a certain sense of that terrifying moment of suspension in midair between two planes—that is, between two eras.
A coming era of national and world revival presents us with something fresh, something dependable to take hold of, something worth stepping on to. There need be no fear here because a look at the divine pattern indications, in principle, precisely what we’re stepping on to. We have every reason to let go of the old. We can seek and prepare confidently for what is coming with a minimum amount of terrifying midair suspense! And we’d better get started soon—because the hope is at hand!