Although the apathy of some Christians and the wickedness of society are discouraging, we should pray and remain confident. William Wilberforce was a great Christian philanthropist and vigorous opponent of the slave trade in England during the early 1800s. As he surveyed the terrible moral and spiritual climate of his day, he did not lose hope. He wrote, "My own solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her navies or armies, nor on the wisdom of her rulers, nor on the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion that she still contains many who love and obey the gospel of Christ. I believe that their prayers may yet prevail." Within a few years after he made this statement, the country he loved experienced one of the greatest revivals in modern times, bringing salvation to thousands and producing widespread social changes.
Those who are students of revival are encouraged because hey see a divine pattern repeating itself. Robert Coleman of the Association of Church Missions Committees noted in a recent interview that he feels we are on the threshold of revival due to three developments: (1) the increase of citywide concerts of prayer; (2) the gathering together of pastors in concerted prayer; and (3) the growing concern for revival among our young people.
On this last point, David McKenna, president of Asbury (KY) Seminary, reached a positive assessment of the future based on his study of what God has done and is doing among young people. His conclusion is found in the title of his latest book, The Coming Great Awakening, J. Edwin Orr summarized for me in one sentence his 60 years of study on prayer and spiritual awakening when he wrote: "Whenever God is ready to do something new with His people, He always sets them to praying." This was certainly true during the First Great Awakening.
In 1746, Jonathan Edwards published a book on "concerts of prayer"&md;a term used in his day and repeated in subsequent prayer movements over the last 250 years. Well aware from biblical and historical accounts that united prayer was the only way to sustain the spiritual awakening that already had begun in the colonies, Edwards called for Christians on both sides of the Atlantic to pray for revival. The title of his book summarizes what is happening throughout the Body of Christ at this hour in the growth of the prayer movement: "An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer, for the Revival of the Church and the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom on Earth." Edwards' book, along with such classic texts as Andrew Murray's "Key to the Missionary Problem" and Timothy Smith's "Revivalism and Social Reform," suggest there usually are five phases in every historic revival:
1. Intercession&md;God's people begin to unite in prayer for revival;
2. Revelation&md;God answers prayer by pouring out a fresh new manifestation of the person of Christ; (
3. Consecration&md;as a result, God's people consecrate themselves to Him, and each other, and to the work of Christ in the world;
4. Revitalization&md;ministries are purified and rejuvenated and become more fruitful, both locally, nationally, and beyond;
5. Expansion&md;out of revival the gospel is advanced further, the church makes a greater impact upon the surrounding culture, and a general spiritual awakening takes place on many levels.