When I was in university, I spent a lot of time in revival meetings. These meetings were always filled with lively worship and exciting prayer times. It was not unknown for someone to be slain with the Spirit, for people to speak in tongues, or for someone to receive a vision from the Lord.
And although my spiritual life now tends toward the traditional and contemplative, my years spent praying for revival have been deeply formative.
Spiritual revival has a long history in Christianity, extending all the way back to biblical times. In fact, Psalm 85 contains a specific prayer for revival. The Sons of Korah pray, “Will you not revive us, O Lord, so that your people may rejoice in you” (v. 6).
The word translated “revive” is taken from the Hebrew word “Chayah,” which means to have or sustain life. For reasons which are never fully explained, the sons of Korah call for Israel’s restoration and renewal. They long for the people to live their lives in the glory of the Lord.
How might the church today echo such a prayer? Can we cry out to the Lord to sustain and restore the life of his people?
If we wish to join in this biblical call for revival, here are three things to consider.
1. We Pray as a Community
Scripture is clear that the life of faith is to be a life in community. It would be completely nonsensical for an Israelite to see their personal faith in Yahweh outside any participation in the wider community.
To be a faithful Israelite was to participate in the rich liturgical life of the community. Similarly, the first thing Jesus did when he entered his public ministry was join people together in a community.
Not only did Jesus gather 12 disciples together, but when it was time to send them on the mission, he sent them out “two by two” (Mark 6:7). As followers of Jesus, we live out our faith in community.
The prayer for revival, therefore, is not an individual desire for personal or private restoration. Don’t get me wrong, longing for personal spiritual growth is good and healthy. Yet spiritual revival occurs in the context of community.
The Sons of Korah pen, “Would you not revive us O lord, that your people may rejoice in you.” The psalmists seek revival, not for their own personal enjoyment but for the growth and restoration of God’s people.
Praying for revival, therefore, is to pray that the community experience a supernatural infusion of the Spirit.
But we must also pray as a community. As the years went on, Israel used the Psalms as songs and hymns. The Psalms were the “worship book” of Israel; the words governed how the community prayed together.
Ultimately, this prayer for revival was not simply prayed by the sons of Korah but by all the people of faith. Any prayer for revival, therefore, is not to be prayed for by solitary individuals, alone in their prayer closets, but by the body of Christ.
The community, united in heart and mind, is to desire, and pray for, the deep and powerful presence of God.
2. We Pray in Repentance
We cannot deny that revival involves an acknowledgment of sin and a prayer of repentance. Psalm 85 shows this well.
Verses 4 and 5 read, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation. Put away your indignation toward us. Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?”
The Psalmist recognizes that Israel was not as close to God as they could be, and this understanding informs the prayer for revival. It is because Israel had erred and strayed from God’s commandments that the psalmists long for forgiveness and new life.
What about today? How do we recognize this need to be re-formed in the presence of God? Has the church today gone astray?
If we are serious about asking for revival in the church, we must be honest about the ways the church has failed to meet God’s standards and righteousness. We simply cannot deny the fact that history tells the story of sinful acts perpetrated on behalf of the church or in the name of Christ.
Residential schools, institutionalized racism, and various abuses of power have all had deep roots within the church itself. And while there are many churches today that are striving to reverse this history, we cannot ignore this checkered past.
Many people call for revival out of a desire to experience the wonderment of God’s power and the manifestations of the Spirit but do not begin with the necessary prayer of repentance.
Repentance is a key component in revival because it is the act of turning away from that which destroys our spiritual lives so that we may embrace the new life held in Jesus Christ.
Repentance, when truly understood, is not a discipline of condemnation or self-judgment but one of freedom and liberation. A prayer of repentance is rooted in the fact that God is merciful and gracious. “God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” says Psalm 103:8.
Repentance recognizes that it is within the nature of God to save, to rebuild, to restore. It is because this is God’s nature that we, as a community, can turn to the God of love and mercy and pray for renewal.
3. We Pray to Exalt the Lord
The prayer for revival is never about us. If the prayer for revival is based on a self-focused desire to experience miracles, gain popularity, or have a thriving church, then revival will never come.
Revival is never self-focused or self-concerned. Biblically, revival is based on one desire: the exaltation of the Lord.
This is why Psalm 85 begins by praising God for God’s favor and forgiveness. Furthermore, the desire to experience the restoration of the Lord is expressed as a longing that “your people may rejoice in you.”
The sons of Korah are concerned with the praise of God first and foremost. The Lord is to be exalted above every “rule, authority, power, dominion, and every name that can be named” (Ephesians 1:21).
After all, if we are not praying that God be exalted above all else, then what exactly are we praying for?
The question we must ask ourselves is: do we believe that God will send revival upon the church today? Do we believe that there is a deeper life awaiting the community of faith?
God desires us to experience and live in his loving, graceful presence. If we long for God’s glory to “fill the earth as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14), then there is hope that God will bless, revive, and restore.
Personally speaking, I don’t believe Christ is done with his church. I believe there will be beautiful and moving worship services in our future, times when we will feel God’s presence come so near that all we can do is be silent before our Lord.
I believe that in every church, there are powerful prayers just waiting to be said and that we will continue to see lives transformed by the power of the gospel.
And so, we pray, Revive us, O Lord, so that your people may rejoice in you. Amen.
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The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.