Revival and Prayer: What’s the Link?
Recently, I attended my church conference. The conference theme was “revival is now.” The theme was appropriate considering that we are living in a time where we need the revival of God. The church needs to experience revival, starting in each single individuals. And part of the revival, as we study history, hinges on prayer. Nevertheless, as I read and hear from people about the link between revival and prayer, I can’t help but wonder if we need to adjust our understanding of revival and prayer. Hence, I started some thinking about this issue on revival and prayer.
The Quintessential Passage on Revival and Prayer
As I began my investigation into revival and prayer, I cannot avoid the famous passage from 2 Chronicles 7:13-14.
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Some brief comments, I believe, are necessary about this passage. The context of the passage talks about Solomon’s prayer to God after the completion of the temple (7 Chronicles 5:36-39). God was essentially answering Solomon that in the event when Israel turns away from Him but repents later, God will then forgive them and heal their land. So one thing must be clear. The immediate context is not about Christians, it is about Israel. But since we know that as Christians, we are also people who are called by God’s name, then we need to understand how this passage applies to us.
I do believe that this talks about revival but not the way most people think. In bridging the context, it seems that this passage calls for us, as Christians, to repeatedly seek God’s face if we have found that our ways are not in accordance to God’s words. In fact, I will not say that this applies to ‘revival of a nation.’ It at most applies to a corporate revival within the body of Christ.
This provides a lesson in exegesis. Not every passage that talks about ‘land’ refers to nation. Israel was a people called by God which happened to be a nation. But in bridging the context, I do not think it talks about revival of nations in its contemporary context.
How about History of Revival and Prayer
People normally draw conclusions about revival from history as well. Hence, we need a brief comment about history, along with a deeper dive into the theology of prayer.
Many people who study revivals in history will notice the relationship between revival and prayer. It seems that historically, the prayers of a few who are concerned about seeking God will precede revivals. This led to some people concluding that God brought about the revivals as a result of their prayers. The implicit claim is that the prayers resulted in the revivals. Or put it in another word, the prayers are the causes of the revivals. This has led to the quote below:
“Every revival throughout history is unique. No two are exactly the same. God uses different people, different methods, and different times. However, one thing is always the same in times of revival. There have never been great revivals without great prayer.” – Allen, Brad. The Moravian Principle, The Secret of Revival. (emphasis mine)
I personally think that this is the wrong conclusion. Putting revival aside, to establish the link between revival and prayer, one must fully understand what really is prayer.
A brief theology of prayer
Taking reference from Wayne Grudem, he has defined prayer simply as “personal communications with God.” There are a few reasons for prayer. Firstly, God wants us to pray so that we can depend on and trust in Him. Secondly, this is a means to a deeper fellowship with God. Thirdly, prayer gives us an opportunity to be involved in activities that are eternally important.
But does prayer really result in anything? At least to theologians, prayer changes the way God acts and is made possible as a result of Jesus’ work on the cross. But nevertheless, the keys to effective prayers lie not just in our faith, but also in us praying in accordance to His will in humility and not allowing our life of disobedience to become the hindrance to our prayer. That means that before prayer can become effective, the individual has to become a disciple who truly aligns himself with God’s word.
Drawing the link between revival and prayer
Drawing the different threads of thoughts together, we can then make a more reasonable conclusion regarding revival and prayer.
Revival is then not a result of people coming together to pray. If corporate revival happens first at an individual level, then we need to realise that the prayer is the consequence of a convicted individual who has chosen to align himself with God’s words. In that case, this means that the Holy Spirit has firstly come and do His work of convicting the individuals. And the individuals have chosen to submit to the molding of the Holy Spirit. By extension, we can say that revival is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the individuals’ lives, not the result of prayer. Once we realise that, we can then say that revival and prayer have a positive co-relationship. This is the most we can conclude with regard to prayer.
Therefore, I am of the view that we need to remain guided in how we make conclusion about stuff such as revival and prayer. At the end of the day, this hinges on our understanding of the relevant Scriptures and the theology behind a high theological topic such as prayer.
So, do you agree with the conclusion? If yes, why? And if no, why not? I look forward to hearing from you.
If you wish to read more on this, I recommend Clinton Arnold’s book on spiritual warfare, which is an excellent theological resource for such matter.