As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, most of us will agree that the outlook on the world is bleak, while the condition of the church seems weak. Who can disagree that the body of Christ desperately needs revival? It is tragic enough that the political community of America is awash with corruption and division; but the church is paralyzed with apathy, complacency, and division. It appears that God looks to his people to allow him to bring us to new life before we can expect to influence the world to make the changes he demands before he can pour out his blessings on the nation.
But there is hope. God promises: 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 will forgive their sin and will heal their land (II Chron. 7:14, NIV). I am encouraged because everywhere I turn I hear believers testify to the conviction of the Spirit within them to pray for revival. Many of our readers of this quarterly periodical responded to the last issue by saying, “We are praying for revival!”
Recently Shirley and I drove over to southeastern Arkansas to the community where I was raised and where I was saved to attend a revival conducted by our dear friend, Dr. Jim Diehl, General Superintendent Emeritus of the Church of the Nazarene. Under the anointing of the Spirit, he preached on revival in every service and the responses were tremendous—people were filled with the Spirit, healed, and blessed. Some of us left feeling the Lord had restored the joy of our salvation.
The Nady church had revival not only because of great preaching but also because members of that church had been praying for revival! When his people are right with him, God answers their prayers and pours out his Spirit. It happened in that same community of Nady 67 years ago after my mother, Estelle Tharp, along with others, had prayed for seven years. Many of you have read my book on the story of her prayer life, when God poured out his Spirit and transformed practically all the people in that small community.
Some of you are tempted to believe that revival is impossible in your church and community. Don’t cave in to doubt; pray for a personal revival—a deeper commitment to God in your own heart that will result in an anointing for prayer—and the Lord will restore your faith for revival praying. But, remember God’s formula for revival.
Revival praying is humble praying. A humble person is someone who has a great sense of need. There is the realization of the need that revival must begin with me—I’m the one who needs revival most of all. No finger pointing, no criticism of a fellow believer, no judgment on the church body—just a yearning to once again feel the fire burning in our hearts and to be lifted out of our slumbering, our shallowness, our emptiness, our coldness, our hardness, our powerlessness. When God gets us to the place of willingness to confess to Him our undoneness, then we’ll pray for ourselves along with praying for our loved ones and all the members of our church body.
Revival praying is honest praying. When the Lord begins to answer our prayers for revival, we can know it by the Spirit’s conviction of sin in our lives. But we’ll need to be honest with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters in Christ when the Lord begins to convict us of our sins. Revival comes when God’s people begin confessing their sins of unbelief, pride, lust, greed, criticism, murmuring, blaming others, judging, backbiting, and gossiping. Ill will can mushroom in a church to incredible degrees where there have been no outpourings of the Spirit over the weeks and months. Hearts can freeze up and tongues can loosen. When attendance drops, some will blame the pastor, members of the board of elders, or worship leaders and worship teams. They feel so justified in their criticism that they refuse to acknowledge the conviction the Spirit is seeking to bring to their own hearts.
I’ve seen amazing breakthroughs in revival over the past decades when those who were looked upon as pillars in the church have been willing to go forward publicly and weep their way back into close communion with their Lord, and then be honest enough to get up and confess to the congregation that they had lost their first love, settled for a lukewarm profession, and struggled on in emptiness and loss of joy. After some of the most prominent members of the church decided it was time for a full-scale revival in their own hearts and those of their family, I’ve also seen the Spirit use such honest, humble confessions to melt the hearts of frozen saints and hard-nosed sinners.
Revival praying is also hungry praying. Let us remember Jesus’ instruction on prevailing prayer: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9, NIV). The kind of revival praying that brought the first Colonial Revival in early America was hungry praying by prayer warriors such as Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, and many others. The desperate prayers of preachers such as Francis Asbury, Charles G. Finney, Father Nash, and numerous others brought about the second great American revival. The kind of praying that produces revival usually includes three stages: (1) Asking—filing our claim, stating our request, spelling out what we need; (2) Seeking—following through with more sincere requests, taking it as a serious quest, committing to the long haul for as long as it takes; (3) Knocking—this stage involves burdened intercession, tearful crying, pleading the blood of Jesus, Spirit-inspired agonizing, desperate supplication. Isn’t this what we see in Jesus’ praying? In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear (Heb. 5:7, RSV).
We need to realize that even though intercessory prayer is driven by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it will require the commitment of human effort—energy, concentration, and determination—to make our case with God as the most urgent business we’ll ever undertake. Souls are at stake, communities are up for grabs, and the nation’s survival depends on our prevailing with God to pour out his Spirit in tidal waves of sweeping conviction for sin and glorious outpourings of faith in Jesus Christ as the only way, the truth and the life!
Let us hear apostle Paul’s call for those who are strong in the Lord and in his mighty power to put on the whole armor of God in order to take their stand against Satan’s hierarchy of evil with his strategies against the church in the last days (Eph. 6:10-18, NIV). Let us commit this call to memory, to heart, to practice. We are to pray in the Spirit (v. 18) as we wrestle against demonic rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Are we filled with the Spirit? Are we committed? Are we ready to stand our ground, and are we ready to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of praying?
The apostle Paul, under divine inspiration, opened his epistle to the Romans by arguing that when a human culture arrogantly closes its mind to the word of our sovereign God, it sinks deeper and deeper into the swamps of its own sick culture. Those who reject divine revelation are soon ignoring conscience and will later ignore reason. It is this writer’s considered opinion that our nation has reached the dreadful point of moral insanity. Only a sovereign, merciful God can save us. But he has made it clear that it must begin with his people, those who claim to know his Son, Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, do we not hear the urgent call of the Holy Spirit to intercessory supplication for revival in our church and moral and spiritual reform throughout our nation? Where are those American pastors and laymen in our churches who will allow the Spirit to increase our hunger for God to send a full-scale, historical outpouring of his Spirit that will bring Americans to their knees in humble repentance and renewed faith in Jesus Christ?
Until we acknowledge, receive, and respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction for the sins of the saints, there will be no salvation or moral reform for our lost nation. The revival must begin with us!
I wish to close by reminding us of a definition by Evan Roberts, God’s youthful leader in the great Wales Revival of 1904-05: Revival is God’s marvelous way of bringing the church to its knees in order to draw the world to his heart!
Knowing that God alone—no preacher, no politician, no one else—can bring American Christians to our knees; isn’t it time we allow him to do so? Oh, how I love the vision of seeing our beloved America being drawn to Christ’s heart!
It’s surely worth our humbly, honestly, and hungrily devoting ourselves to praying this to pass.
Jim Tharp with prayer partner, Dr. Jim Diehl, General Superintendent Emeritus, Church of the Nazarene. Photo taken February 2013 in Nady, Arkansas, where Dr. Diehl was conducting a revival in Jim’s native community—the setting for his recent book, ESTELLE, a story of the unusual spiritual awakening in Arkansas County.