Balancing the Revival Controversy
Last week the Southern Baptist Convention elected Pastor Ronnie Floyd as their new President. Floyd has a burden for pastors and a real heart for prayer and revival. His declaration of the need for revival was strong and passionate.
Andy Stanley, another very visible pastor, stirred up no small controversy on Twitter when he questioned the need to pray for revival and pointed to a very large church in South Carolina as a model of revival. Stanley’s bent is openly toward a CEO model of leadership and an equation between church growth and “revival.” (Few students of revival would identify the ministry he exemplified at the South Carolina church as a picture of revival.)
In any case, when it comes to discussions about revival there are two extremes we must avoid. One is to use a “burden for revival” as an excuse for avoiding reaching the lost. The other extreme is to work hard to produce the Gospel results seen in Acts 2 apart from an Acts 1 spirit of humble reliance on the Holy Spirit through prayer. One extreme produces no results. The other tends toward human results produced by clever programming and personality-driven ministry. It is my view that neither will likely reap eternal rewards in heaven.
Dr. Alvin Reid, who serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, wrote an article in response to this recent debate. Rather than trying to improve on his insightful words, I wanted to simply share his thoughts as this week’s devotion.
1. If we simply use prayer for revival as an excuse for our unwillingness to obey God, we should not pray for revival, we should repent. Prayer for revival is not a Band-aid cure; it is a call to repentance. If we are not passionate about sharing the Gospel, honoring the Word, and bringing glory to God, our prayers for revival are meaningless. Note the words of Tozer: “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late – and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work.”
2. If we see revival as God’s stamp of approval on our status quo Christianity, we do not know that for which we pray. In the past, awakenings brought fundamental and at times radical change. Music changed, methods emerged, both Gospel proclamation and social ministry happened, and churches were planted. Revival will not affirm many of our preferences in the Christian subculture many of us cherish, it will explode them.
3. That being said, we should pray for revival, starting with our own hearts. I know I am experiencing a fresh touch of God when I stop confessing everyone else’s sins and start with my own. I am less concerned about what is said by a person on social media and more concerned with what the Spirit is saying to me.
4. We should pray for revival because of biblical teaching. Psalm 85:6 and Habakkuk 3:2, among others, offer examples of revival prayer. Don’t let the fact that these passages are in the Old Testament keep you from obeying all of Scripture! Paul calling the Roman church to be awakened (Romans 13:11-14) and our Lord calling the church at Ephesus to repent (Revelation 2) offer examples of the need to constantly seek the Lord. Michael Haykin offers insight on the Apostle Paul and prayer for revival here. Ray Ortlund has a fine article on biblical revival praying here.
5. We pray for revival because of our study of history. I’m far more interested in the opinions of those from history whose lives have endured as examples of godly leadership than contemporary spokesmen – including myself – who will likely fade into historical obscurity.
Reid went on to provide many quotes from godly leaders from past generations. (To see his entire article, CLICK HERE.) I have included just a few for our inspiration.
–“Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival: men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here, as in the times of former generations.” Charles Spurgeon
–“When did you last hear anyone praying for revival, praying that God might open the windows of heaven and pour out His Spirit? When did you last pray for that yourself? I suggest seriously that we are neglecting this almost entirely. We are guilty of forgetting the authority of the Holy Spirit. We are so interested in ourselves and in our own activities that we have forgotten the one thing that can make us effective. By all means let us continue to pray for the particular efforts, for the minister, and his preaching every Sunday, for all essential organizations and for evangelistic campaigns, if we feel led to have them. But before it all, and after it all, let us pray and plead for revival. When God sends revival He can do more in a single day than in fifty years of all our organization. That is the verdict of sheer history which emerges clearly from the long story of the Church.” D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
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