How Come They Got to Experience Revival?

by Major Philip Lloyd, DSL

With the recent events surrounding what has become known as the Asbury Revival of 2023 and subsequent events emerging on college campuses around the country, I rejoice that the Lord is responding to his people! These events have caused me to return to some revivalist writings of the 18th and 19th Centuries, and I have been drawn again to Charles Finney and his Lectures on Revivals.

It’s interesting as I have begun to study Finney’s writings again. I recognize that he writes in an almost prescriptive manner. Meaning, at times, he seems tempted to, and at least alludes to the idea that there is a method to revival. I understand that as I write this, some may be tempted to resist this statement because it seems to take away from the mighty work of God in and through a revival. However, as I read Finney, he suggests that revival has more to do with God’s response to his people than an unexpected mysterious, and miraculous moving of His power.

Revival comes when God’s people repent and seek him. Finney was so convicted that this is the case; he falls just short of calling it a Law of Revival (my words, not his). At the very least, repentance and seeking are the antecedents for revival. I want to unpack this prescription of repentance and seeking.

What does it mean for God’s people to repent? Repentance begins on a personal level. It occurs when believers recognize an area where they have usurped God’s authority and placed something else as the center of their devotion, worship, and adoration. At times this can be an overt sin, and other times it can be self. What does this mean? It is an aspect of our lives that is not entirely submitted to God’s will, rule, and authority. These days we don’t often talk like this. It sounds too legalistic, too ultra-conservative.

However, God has not changed. In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, He desires that we live lives of complete devotion and dependence on Him.  Is this not the life Jesus called the rich young ruler to?

Either way, once recognized, the believer can do nothing but repent. Refusal to repent only leads a believer farther away from God. Unrepentant sin becomes a wedge in the relationship between the believer and God. Repentance does the exact opposite, and it draws the believer closer to God in a position in which they are open to receiving the work God wants to do through a revival.

The Church is also called to corporate repentance. Again this may be for specific carnal sins. Still, it may also be the sins of the Seven Churches of Revelation: Forgetting their first love, fear or timidity, false or water down teachings, tolerance of sin, division, allowing the fire of the Spirit to wane, becoming complacent or other sins. In the same way, as we do individually, we must allow the Holy Spirit to convict us corporately of sin and repent.

Finally, revival comes when God’s people call others to repentance. This is a tough one today. Presently, we may not be comfortable with this idea. The Gospel has been watered down to God’s universal undying love. However, a real experience with the love of God brings about change and repentance. We cannot come into the presence of God without recognizing our sinful condition. Isaiah was confronted with his sinful state when he stood in the Temple before the presence of the Lord. The question arises, how can we share the Gospel? How can we call unbelievers to repentance if we cannot talk about the issue of sin?

Repentance is vital to revival, but there must also be an earnest seeking of it. Finney wrote of individuals who sought and anguished for revival, some for years before. Their seeking was a genuine, persistent desire to experience God in a new powerful way. Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven was like a treasure hidden in a field or a merchant looking for fine pearls (Matthew 13). In both these short parables, there is an allusion to finding something only after a great deal of time and effort went into searching for them.

There is also an implication that a sense of desperation drives their search. In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus describes the earnest persistence of those asking and seeking. Jesus speaks of a friend asking for three loaves from his neighbor, who is persistent through the night until he gets what he is desperate for. And the familiar teaching of asking, seeking, and knocking implies a continued action until the request is answered.

This brings us to the role prayer plays in revival. Prayer is the vehicle through which repentance and seeking God occurs. As elementary as it sounds, I fear that we make the mistake of waiting for God to provide revival miraculously and even arbitrarily on unsuspecting believers as if they had won a spiritual lottery. This cannot be the case.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that if we earnestly seek him, God will respond to His children. I am reminded of God’s promise to the Prophet Jeremiah, “. . . Call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13).