Exactly What Is a Spiritual Revival and Awakening?
Everywhere you turn today, you can find pastor and lay groups and individuals praying for our gracious and loving God to send spiritual revival, renewal, and awakening to their families, churches, cities, seminaries, nations, and world.
When we pray for revival and awakening, just exacting what is it that we’re praying for?
America has a deep, rich history of revivals and awakenings. In December, 1734, the first American revival of historic significance broke out in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a young Jonathan Edwards was pastor of the colony’s second most influential church.
After months of fruitless labor, he reported five or six people had been converted. He was particularly surprised at the conversion of a young woman. He wrote, “(She) had been one of the greatest company-keepers in the whole town.”1 In fact, he was afraid her conversion would douse the flame, but quite the opposite happened.
The news about her, as Edwards put it, “seemed almost like a flash of lightning, upon the hearts of young people, all over the town, and upon many others.”2 A revival and awakening broke out. 300 souls converted in six months-in a town of only 1,100 people! 3 The news spread like wildfire throughout the Colonies, and similar revivals broke out in over 100 towns.4 The First Great Awakening was under way.
In describing what happened, Jonathan Edwards said, “It pleased God…to display his free and sovereign mercy in the conversion of a great multitude of souls in a short space of time, turning them from a formal, cold, and careless profession of Christianity, to the lively exercise of every Christian grace, and the powerful practice of our holy religion.”5
That’s about as clear a definition as we’ll ever get!
Revivals usually follow times of moral decline and spiritual apathy.6 They are always preceded by intense, repentant prayer.7 They often last for days or weeks, and unusual efforts are made to reach the unconverted.8 People sense the presence of God powerfully; conviction, despair, contrition, repentance, and prayer come easily; people thirst for God’s word; many authentic conversions occur and backsliders are renewed.
Revival and awakening are, generally, synonyms. The larger the geography a revival covers, the greater the tendency to call it an awakening.9 10
The normal progress of the gospel-if there is such a thing-tends to be slow, like baking a cake. Revival is more like fireworks on the 4th of July.
When you and I pray for revival, let’s beg our Father for the fireworks.
Yours for changed lives,
1Jonathan Edwards, “A Narrative of Surprising Conversions,” Jonathan Edwards on Revival, Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, first published in 1736, p. 12.
2Edwards, p. 12.
3Frank Grenville Beardsley. A History of American Revivals. New York: American Tract Society, 1912, pps. 25-27.
4Beardsley, pps. 28-31.
5Edwards, p. 2.
6Richard M. Riss. A Survey of 20th Century Revival Movements in North America. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1988, p. 5.
7Beardsley, p. 342.
8 Beardsley, p. 1.
9Keith J. Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney 1792-1875, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987, p. 9.
10Beardsley. p. 20.