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Seven Marks of True Revival

Article by Ajith Fernando

Revival means many things to many people. I mean it to describe a situation where large numbers of people are fired up to seek God fully, yearn for obedience, confess sin in their life, and experience the joy and freedom of walking with God.

History shows us that there is no exact prescription for revival. It is an act of the sovereign God, and we can’t dictate what he should do and when he should do it. I have been praying for revival in Sri Lanka since 1975. Only once, while attending a conference, have I seen something close to revival. But I continue to pray that, in my lifetime or after, the Lord would send his showers of blessing upon our people through revival.

Seven Marks of Revival

While we cannot dictate to God what he will do, history shows us that there are some things that happen before and when revival comes that are worth noting.

1. Faithful Preaching

As all the revivals in the history of the church show, the preaching of God’s word is a key ingredient. The Holy Spirit often lights the flames of revival when pastors systematically and faithfully preach the word. Often, pre-revival preaching is characterized by a call to total commitment to God, repentance, and the extolling of the beauty of holiness.

2. Unceasing Prayer

The great historian of revival J. Edwin Orr has made famous the statement, “No great spiritual awakening has begun anywhere in the world apart from united prayer — Christians persistently praying for revival.” This is what the disciples of Christ did before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). People with a burden recognize others with a similar burden, so they join in and pray. Many of the great revivals were preceded by united, persevering prayer by people who shared a similar burden for revival.

3. Precious Unity

Unity is often the trigger for revival, and sometimes the result of revival. Once, when Ugandan Bishop Festo Kivengere was preaching in South India, his interpreter, Samuel Ganesh, felt convicted of the need to make peace with a person in the audience. He took leave from the preacher, went to the audience, and made peace. This triggered a process of person after person making peace with each other. Revival had come; there was no need to complete the sermon. Bishop Festo left room for the Spirit to do his work.

The Bible speaks of the urgency of believers being united (John 17:21, 23; Ephesians 4:1–3). One of the most important callings of leaders is to yearn and pray for unity and do all they can to facilitate it. The Holy Spirit can use a leader’s yearning to trigger revival. Those who pray for revival should make sure that they have done all to be at peace with others.

4. Earnest Seeking

The famous revival prayer, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6) suggests a tone of earnest desire. Revival is preceded by people seeking God with all their heart and wanting to see God’s glory among his people.

My favorite example of such praying is the students at Pandita Ramabai’s school in India. The students prayed fervently, and God answered by reviving them and many others through them. The young Evan Roberts, whose ministry triggered the Welsh Revival, often prayed, “Bend me, O God.” We are open to whatever it takes for God to be totally in control of our lives!

5. Pervasive Repentance

Some so-called revivals have been characterized by exotic experiences without much emphasis on repentance. People go like tourists to such places to see what is happening. I wonder whether we could call that revival. After the revival at Asbury College and Seminary in 1971, many students came to the bookstore to return things that they had taken without paying. That is a powerful sign that they had become right with God.

Preaching against sin before the revival often contributes to revival and influences what sins are confessed. In the history of the church, there were times when some sins were neglected in revival preaching — like sexual impurity; exploitation; and race, class, and caste prejudice. This has resulted in revived churches perpetuating sins that the revival should have addressed. In other revivals, like the eighteenth century Wesleyan revival in the UK, revival helped influence social reform and attack injustice.

For Marks 6 and 7…

“You never have to advertise a fire. Everyone comes running when there’s a fire. Likewise, if your church is on fire, you will not have to advertise it. The community will already know it.”

~ Leonard Ravenhill

Or do we long for and pray for the extraordinary?

…revival is not the ordinary result of ordinary work. Revival is always extraordinary! 

Richard Owen RobertsRevival18. 

Is revival…

  • Scheduled Meetings? No
  • Mass evangelism? No
  • Emotional extravaganza? No
  • Church Growth? No

Then what is revival? According to Richard Owen Roberts, revival is “an extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit producing extraordinary results” (Richard Owen RobertsRevival16-17).  

Fire in My Bones, by J. Lee Grady

The people of Uganda call it Balokole. In the Luganda language it means “the saved ones,” but the word became synonymous with the East African Revival—one of the most significant Christian movements in modern history.

This revival had humble beginnings in September 1929, just before America’s Great Depression. Historians trace it to a prayer meeting on Namirembe Hill in Kampala, Uganda, where a missionary to Rwanda, Joe Church, prayed and read the Bible for two days with his friend Simeoni Nsibambi. They felt God had showed them that the African church was powerless because of a lack of personal holiness.

“We must have a spiritual awakening, or we die. Political engineering, economic policies, government bailouts and stimulus packages will not save us.”

It is impossible to explain exactly what happened after this prayer meeting or how the resulting spiritual fervor spread. When God comes, unusual things happen. Within weeks after the Rev. Church returned to Gahini, Rwanda, Christians gathered to pray and confess their sins openly. A heavy spirit of conviction fell on the people. Whenever they repented for their sins and failures they would weep uncontrollably, ask others to forgive them and pledge to make restitution.

The weeping spread to farmlands and open fields. Unbelievers who visited these gatherings were converted after they witnessed the sincerity of the Christians. Repentance went deep. Husbands publicly apologized for adultery and farmers repented for stealing cows from each other. Eventually, as the revival spread from Rwanda to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, even the centuries-old tradition of polygamy (which was still common among professing Christians) was unraveled in some areas.

Balokole changed African Christianity forever. In a 1986 article for Christian History, Michael Harper writes of the revival: “It’s effects have been more lasting than almost any other revival in history, so that today there is hardly a single Protestant leader in East Africa who has not been touched by it in some way.”

I spent the past two weeks ministering in Uganda and Kenya, and everywhere I went I met people who still talk about the East African Revival—80 years after it began. It breathed resurrection power into dead, traditional churches and triggered aggressive church-planting movements that affected a variety of denominations.

For the rest of the post…

Father,

On this Lord’s Day, January 20th 2013, we pray that genuine revival will descend on the American Church. This being the Sanctity of Human Life, we confess that 55 million unborn babies have been aborted and killed since January 22, 1973. We are in great need of your abundant mercy and forgiveness!

Come Lord Jesus Come!

May 2020
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