In this lesson we discover all the elements of a true biblical revival.
The headline and sub-heads of The Denver Post, dated January 20, 1905, read as follows: “Entire city pauses for prayer at the high tide of business as the soul rises above sordid thoughts: remarkable outbursts of gospel sentiment provoked by revival. Evangelist Chapman and his associates cause a hush to spread over the populace while the noonday meetings draw congregations unprecedented in numbers.”
The opening paragraphs of the lead article describe the situation in the city: “For two hours at midday, all Denver was held in a spell. The stores were deserted between noon and two o’clock this afternoon and all worldly affairs were forgotten and the entire city was given over to meditation of higher things. The Spirit of Almighty pervaded every nook. Going to and coming from the great meetings, the thousands of men and women radiated this spirit which filled them, and the clear Colorado sunshine was made brighter by the reflected glow of the light of God shining from happy faces. Seldom has such a remarkable sight been witnessed: an entire city in the middle of a busy week bowing before the throne of heaven and asking and receiving the blessing of the King of the universe.”
Have you ever attended an event that you might classify as a “revival”?
That actually happened in our country in 1905 in the city of Denver, Colorado. There was a true biblical revival in Denver that year. Though it was not on the same scale as the revival that occurred in Nineveh under Jonah’s preaching, it was every bit as genuine. When true revival comes, it impacts everything and everyone. I have been in the ministry for 30 years and I have never witnessed a revival. To be sure, I have been in church events called “Revival Meetings,” but never in a true revival. Revival doesn’t come because we schedule two weeks for it. Revival comes when certain things happen in the hearts of people.
Some key components of what categorizes a classic revival:
- A revival is not scheduled
- The length of time a revival lasts is not predetermined
- The number of people affected is not determined
- Revivals impact more than the attenders; the community; leaders
How did your revival experience line up with the above characteristics? What was missing?
When Jonah went to Nineveh, a real revival took place:
The people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. – Jonah 3:5
We will look at the characteristics of this revival to see what constitutes true biblical revival.
God-Appointed Prayer for Revival
There is never such a thing as revival that does not start with prayer. God had worked in Jonah’s heart to bring him to a place of confession and preparation for ministry, evidenced by his heartfelt prayer (Jonah 2:1–9). Whenever we see revival in history, we see that it always comes out of prayer. The great revival under Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth century began with his famous call to prayer.
Corporate Prayer for Revival – Jonathan Edwards
The marvelous work of grace among the New England Indians under David Brainerd had its origin in the days and nights that Brainerd spent before God in prayer. A remarkable and widespread display of God’s reviving power broke out in Rochester, New York, under the labors of Charles Finney. It not only spread through New England, but to Great Britain as well. And Mr. Finney attributed the power of this work to the spirit of prayer that prevailed. The Great Revival of 1859 in the United States began in prayer, and was carried on by prayer more than anything else.
A great revival in the Outer Hebrides Islands should perhaps be attributed more than anything else to the prayers of Peggy and Christine Smith. Peggy was blind, and her sister Christine was crippled with arthritis. Though unable to leave their cottage even to attend church, these two godly elderly women sought God unceasingly until He brought revival to their islands, More than two centuries earlier, a little-known pastor in Epworth, England, knelt in his study and pleaded with God to send revival to his nation. Little did Samuel Wesley know that two of his sons, John and Charles, would be the answer to his prayers. A true awakening, a true revival, always begins with prayer.
God-Appointed Preacher for Revival
The second characteristic of revival is a God-appointed preacher. Revival comes through the preaching of the Word of God. If you did not think the revival in Nineveh was that big a deal, check out how Jesus uses it to refer to the evil crowds gathering around him:
29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. – Luke 11:29-32 ESV
It is noteworthy that Jesus Christ mentions that Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, and calls Jonah a “sign to the Ninevites” just as the Son of Man was to be to His generation. What makes a preacher a sign to repent?
Have you ever heard or been around someone and you just felt like they were appointed by God? That maybe not now, but sometime, this person is going to make God waves?
As Jonah preached, the people of Nineveh probably marveled at his courage. Here was their number one enemy, a Jew, preaching that they had 40 days before the judgment of God was going to fall on them. Jonah was either crazy or he was a God-called servant of repentance and revival. As he walked through the city, he was God’s preacher with God’s message. Whenever you have renewal or revival, you always have a man of God. In Nineveh, that man was Jonah.
God-Appointed Preaching for Revival
Not only was Jonah the right man; he came with the right message. And there is only one way that the message can be “right”: Is it God’s message?
Those who have seen their own sin are often the most able to lead others to revival. Describe a time in your spiritual life when you had to grapple with your own sinfulness in a deep way.
Did the realization of your sin move you toward God or away from Him? Why?
How has God used your experience as an encouragement for another believer?
How willing are you to be used by the Lord to help bring about revival and change? Or are you a by-standard? If so, why do you think a by-standard is feasible?
In Jonah’s case, the message for Nineveh was simple and to the point:
Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown! – Jonah 3:4 ESV
Jonah’s message was a harsh message of judgment. It was a message you seldom hear in pulpits today: that God is going to judge sin. Many preachers today seem to be so afraid they are going to offend somebody that they never preach about the judgment of God. They never say there is a place called hell. If we can offend someone into heaven—and keep them out of hell—by preaching on hell, then we should. They will be far more offended if they get to hell and no one told them there is such a place.
One of the ways we should preach that message today (in addition to the way Jonah preached it) is to declare that the judgment of God has already come, and that judgment was leveled upon Christ as He hung upon the cross. Because he was judged, we don’t have to be. That’s the message of the Gospel.
One of the reasons why revival will have a hard time coming to America the way it is now is because rarely will anyone preach repentance and judgment. People are told to be better, but we never tell them that before you can get better, you must deal with sin through repentance. In every revival in history there has always been the message of repentance.
When was the most recent time that you heard a sermon or Biblical teaching on: Revival, Repentance, Holiness, Hell, Sin?
How do you personally receive such messages?
What would be the effect on the church if these subjects were preached on more often?
Why do you think such messages are not preached more often?
God-Appointed Place for Revival
Of all places an Israelite like Jonah would not have expected a revival, Nineveh was it. We have already mentioned the no-holds-barred wickedness of this people. Jonah still wrestled with why God would bring revival to such a wicked place, not realizing that it was just such a wicked place that needed repentance and revival the most! Jonah 3:10 records that when God saw they turned from their evil ways, He relented from the disaster He had said He would bring upon them. They had dispensed evil, and God dispensed mercy. In fact, it is God’s mercy that allows a sinful people to see their sin.
Without God’s intervening mercy and grace, sinful eyes remain blind to sin.
It is the places that are the most overwhelmed with sin, and the personal and societal ills that spring from sin, that are the ripest for revival. The key is to pray for God’s mercy to open blind eyes, and for God’s preacher and preaching to clearly illuminate the way to the cross.
Can you share a breakthrough moment where you were holding on or trying to manage your sin, but God had a bigger plan?
God-Appointed Period of Time for Revival
The place may be right for a revival, but if it is not the right time—God’s time—revival will not come. Interestingly, Jonah’s was actually the fourth and final warning to the city of Nineveh. A serious plague had swept through the city of Nineveh in 765 B.C. That was followed by a total eclipse of the sun on June 15, 763 B.C., and another plague in 759 B.C. People in ancient cultures reacted differently to disasters and heavenly happenings than Western cultures do today. They were not secular in their worldview. They believed that the “gods” were intimately involved in their daily lives. If there was a disaster, they thought they were being punished. If there was an eclipse in the heavens, the sun and moon gods were at odds with one another. Whether they were right or wrong, they took signs seriously. So when a prophet appeared in their city (following two epidemics and an eclipse), they were ready to listen.
Is it possible that through some of the events we witness in our culture today, God is preparing us to hear the Word of the Lord? The onset of AIDS, tragedies that spark news all over the world, continued violence, the breakdown of the family, assassinations of leaders, terrorist attacks, school shootings—all of these things should be awakening us to the fact that we desperately need to hear the voice of God.
The revival in Nineveh happened at a time orchestrated by God so that when the message came, it would find hearing among the people. It was a God-appointed time for a revival in Nineveh.
If you had an awakening moment in your life, when you bumped into Jesus and professed Him Lord; and surrendered; what were the events leading up to the moment? Were things going good? Were you going down? Were you challenged? Were you defeated? Were you winning and excelling.
God-Appointed Power for Revival
the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. – Jonah 3:5 ESV
The Bible says the people of Nineveh believed God. The power of God’s preached message changed a city of hundreds of thousands of people. How did that happen? It happened by the power of God. He empowered the preacher and gave him exactly the message to preach. When the people heard the Word of God, the Scripture says they believed God. Their belief and their faith in God began to change them. Here is the evidence of the power of God: The king sent a decree throughout the city saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? – Jonah 3:7–9
Everything about the city was changed because when the preaching of the Word of God was laid out in front of them in the power of the Holy Spirit, they heard and they believed. The Bible says that from the top to the bottom, from the greatest to the least, they all believed in God and were changed. That is why this goes down in history as perhaps the greatest awakening ever recorded in the annals of religion.
We have to note, it was all of God. It was God-appointed prayer, a God-appointed preacher, and God-appointed preaching. A God-appointed place, a God-appointed period of time, and God-appointed power. When all those things come together, we should not be surprised to discover that a revival is taking place. God is anxious to do that today if we will preach the message He has given us to preach, and if we will go in the power of His Holy Spirit, but most of all, if we pray.
God-Anointed Passage for Revival
Based on the structure and wording of Jonah’s prayer that we read last week (Jonah 2:2–9), we have noted that he must have been familiar with the psalms of Israel. Psalm 85 seems like one that aligns with the actions of Jonah’s life, a passage that records a cry for revival:
Restore us, O God of our salvation, and cause Your anger toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, LORD, and grant us Your salvation. – Psalm 85:4-7 ESV
I wonder sometimes how many Christians would want God to revive them, to change them, to have His way with them. Does that thought ever cross your mind? “I like my church, and I like my friends. You don’t want me to be serious about all this, do you? I mean, after all, if we have revival, I would have to change some of the things I do. My lifestyle would be different than it is. I wouldn’t be just a Christian then. I would be a sold-out, committed Christian.” Yes, you would, and that’s exactly what God wants! When revival comes, everything that is not central to our faith in Christ is put on the periphery, and our focus becomes totally Him and His work and His purpose for us on this earth. As I talk with Christians all over, I find a kind of comfortable apathy about these things. But until we are willing to come and pray the prayer of Psalm 85,
“O God, restore us again, revive us again,” we will just float along in our comfortable Christianity and never see the moving of the Spirit of God upon us.
It is easy for us to study revival, to think how exciting it was what God did in the Book of Jonah. But true revival starts in us, in our heart.
Did you know?
There was a Nineveh-type revival in Northampton, Massachusetts, beginning in 1735. Jonathan Edwards, the leader of the revival, wrote, “There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.… Souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ.… the town seemed to be full of the presence of God” (from A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God by Jonathan Edwards).
Jeremiah, D. (1998). The runaway prophet: jonah (Study guide) (pp. 82–87). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.