A number of church historians have marveled at the eighteenth century Great Awakening in England and America, which swept hundreds of thousands into God’s kingdom. Many of these historians have focused their attention primarily on John Wesley, and rightly so, as he was the most prominent figure during that great revival.
But is it not possible that in focusing so much on Wesley, the preacher, these historians overlooked the impact the eighteenth-century prayer movement had on him and consequently on this revival that altered the course of history? Charles Finney once said “there are two means necessary to promote a revival, the one is to influence men, the other is to influence God. The truth is to influence men, and prayer to influence God.” But in order to influence men, we must first influence God. “Truth, by itself,” as Finney points out, “will never produce the revival without the Spirit of God, and the Spirit is given in answer to prayer.”
Apparently, God chose John Wesley and others to trumpet forth His word at a time in history when the corruption of Christianity and the social decadence in the western world had reached crisis proportion and God’s judgment appeared imminent. But let us not overlook the fact that church leaders who were concerned about imminent judgment, felt that it was expedient to access God’s divine grace through prayer; and many of them led the way to the throne of grace, crying “mightily unto God, both in ordinary and extraordinary manner that He would be pleased to rain down righteousness upon the land.” And rain it did.
Today, as in the eighteenth century, the nations, overwhelmed by the corrupting influence of sin, are again at a crossroads; and faced with the ineffectiveness of the Church in stemming the tide of this overwhelming evil, many Christians are again calling for the kind of revival that transformed eighteenth-century America. Many are also responding well to the call to prayer. But as I follow the revival movement today, I cannot help wondering whether we have yet come close to another such great revival.
Firstly, many Christians today are not yet prepared to make the kind of sacrifice which produced that revival. Many today, are hoping to see the righteousness of God rain down on the nations as it rained here in America in the eighteenth century, however, they do not recognize that it requires a form of commitment to prayer for world evangelism, specifically to reach those, in Zinzendorf’s words, “for whom no one cared.” Only a deeper revelation of God’s love will enable many of us today to make such commitment to prayer possible. Many Christians are far too self-centered and materialistic to see beyond their noses and see a dying world.
Secondly, there is a lack of the type of preaching that makes revival possible. Not only have modernism and liberalism in our pulpits so watered down the gospel to render it ineffective on sinners, but the reality is that many of our preachers today, even those who consider themselves conservative evangelicals, attempt to impart God’s truth without being engaged in prayer. This is unfortunate, for as Finney says, “unless they have the spirit of prayer, the truth by itself will do nothing but harden men in impenitence.”
How important is it that we pray earnestly for our preachers? It is only as we have preachers who lead lives in total commitment to prayer and the study of God's Words. Only then will we have revival in our churches.