A stirring account by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) of the revival that took place in Northampton, Massachusetts in the 1730s
“This seems to have been a very extraordinary dispensation of providence; God has in many respects gone out of, and much beyond, his usual and ordinary way,” Edwards wrote in his “Narrative of Surprising Conversions.”
“The work in this town, and others about us, has been extraordinary on account of the universality of it, affecting all sorts, sober and vicious, high and low, rich and poor, wise and unwise.” Edwards rarely saw dramatic spiritual change in everyday life except from the young. But during revival, even older church members professed newfound vitality. His sermons marshaled the same old arguments, but they suddenly gained traction, and people understood what had previously escaped them. It seemed like almost overnight the town changed unmistakably. Overcome either by distress from sin or by the greatness of God, people talked of nothing but revival. Those yet untouched by the awakening pleaded for God to revive them. Every day felt like Sunday, and everyone seemed to look forward to the Sunday meeting.”
“Our public assemblies were then beautiful: the congregation was alive in God’s service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth; the assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the Word was preached: some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors.”
We spend our lives in busy activism, instead of pausing to realize the possibilities. The inevitable and constant preliminary to revival has always been a thirst for God, a thirst, a living thirst for a knowledge of the living God, and a longing and a burning desire to see him acting…
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord… – Acts 3:19
In Acts 3 we learn that a time of refreshing is the immediate comfort we can expect when we repent and accept Christ as our Savior. Where does this sense of refreshing come from? It comes from being in the presence of the Lord; from the Holy Spirit. Our sins are wiped out and we receive a refreshing from the Lord? This is beautiful and powerful exchange for our sin.
Does this mean we repent once and that sense of refreshing is always present? No. In our human nature, we want our actions to follow a genuine heart to change but we will fail. It is crucial for us to continually turn back to God, remember all that He has done for us, and hold onto the anchor of His hope.
One way we can do this is to praise God regardless of how we feel emotionally, by bringing what the book of Hebrews calls a ‘sacrifice of praise’ (Hebrews 13:15). As revivalist Thomas Charles of Bala, wrote in 1791 ‘those who have struck the deepest note of penitence can reach the highest note of praise.’
Take a moment to remember when you first met Jesus and the sense of ‘refreshing’ that came with finding joy in the Lord in the midst your circumstances, past failures and hurt.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. – Hebrews 11:1-2
One can not study the revivals of history without being struck by stories of great faith – men and women with a Hebrews 11:1 kind of faith who were confident in what they hoped for and assured of what they did not see.
Phoebe Palmer, for example, was a bold evangelist and writer in the 1800s and was considered one of the founders of the Holiness Revival in America and the United Kingdom. Greatly criticised for speaking publicly as a woman and for addressing mixed crowds, she was so assured of her calling and confident in relying on God, that she was not shaken from her hard work and persistence. As a result, thousands of men and women came to know Christ under her teaching.
If faith comes from hearing the message of Christ (Romans 10:17) and faith without good works is dead (James 2:17), then let us today take God at His Word and do something.
Write down the name of someone who you would like to share the message of Jesus with. What other areas in your life are you believing God for breakthrough?
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. – Acts 4:31
Christine Caine, founder of the anti-human trafficking campaign, A21, describes how she prayed for hours whilst they were building the stadiums for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, ‘I used to sit on the edge where the deep holes were dug to pour in the foundations and my tears would drip into the cement.’
Christine prayed that God’s glory would be revealed through the gathering of His people in one place, under one accord, with one heart singing praises to His Name. This site is now Allphones Arena, where thousands gather every year under the name of Jesus in Australia’s largest annual conference.
In 1904, Wales saw more than 100,000 people come to know Christ in under six months in a revival characterised by prayer, praise, joy, victory and the re-discovery of the Holy Spirit. The leader of this Revival, Evan Roberts, was a man known for his intense, fervent prayer who had believed for over 10 years to see the people of Wales come to know Jesus.
As we continue this study, let’s allow God to awaken us to the conversation of prayer. With the example of the early church and great leaders like Evan Roberts inspiring us, let us intercede for our families and friends and believe for the salvation of those who do not yet know Christ.
ACTS 11:20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
In this passage the people becoming Jesus followers in Antioch were deeply pagan people – some of the least likely to accept Jesus as Lord. The same grace that had touched the likely had touched the outsider. Though Revival is primarily about the church coming back to life, a sign of God’s accelerated work is that outsiders are being drawn to Jesus.
When we are in tune with God, saturated in God’s presence and power – we radiate the love and beauty of God to all people. At Sanctuary our hope is to see the least likely become followers… and so we pray.
REVIVAL STORY, The Hebrides, Scotland
One who came into saving and covenant relationship with Jesus Christ spoke on the following evening to a young man. Suddenly conviction grips him, and he begins to tremble and try to shake it off; he goes to the town of Stornoway and enters the tavern to get away from this overwhelming sense of the presence of God, and when he enters the tavern he finds there men speaking about their lost and ruined state. He says, “This is no place for a man anxious to shake this off; I will go to a dance.” That night he went to a dance, and was not in the hall five minutes when a young woman came to him and said, “Oh, where would Eternity find us if God struck us dead now?” The sense of God was everywhere. That evening that young man found the Savior; he could not escape God.
1 THESSALONIANS 1:4-5 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.
May we seek God’s hand, God’s power that “a great number” in our city would turn to the way of life.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Ephesians 6:18
All of history’s great revivals have one attribute in common – people fervently prayed for them. In November 1949 in the Hebrides Islands, two elderly women in their 80’s were troubled at the state of their parish – not one young person attended church. These two women were moved to action and decided to pray about it. They met twice a week and prayed from 10pm – 3am. The women invited the church leaders and elders to pray with them.
A few weeks later Scottish preacher Duncan Campbell visited the island to preach. These women had a clear vision that he was supposed to stay and lead. During his time on Lewis Island, revival broke out and hundreds of people came to know Christ. On the first day of the revival, 122 young people were saved.
What situation(s) do you need to entrust to God?
Is there a daily activity you could use to remind you to pray?
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12
If we are honest, most of us will admit that we have experienced seasons when the moments, days and weeks seemed to slip away without us noticing. Perhaps we were absorbed by the busyness of everyday routines, or by a difficult season when mere survival was challenge enough. Regardless, we often look back on these seasons with a sense of regret and the feeling that moments were ‘wasted.’
The book of Psalms (always a great place to start when facing the shortfalls of our humanity and refocusing on God) gives expression to this tendency in a prayer by Moses. He asks God to arrest his impulse to drift through the days, saying:
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12 (NIV)
Easy to learn, this verse has been the prayer of countless Christians wanting to awaken to each moment they have been graced with. Perhaps today, it can become your prayer, too.
As we begin this study of revival, let’s resolve to be aware of what God is doing. From the outset, let us number the days, tune our ear heavenward and determine that this season will not slip away. That we might have our eyes wide open to see that the Lord is present and active.