Spiritual revival, or the renewal of our relationship with God, does not merely happen by chance, nor does it descend from heaven without our awareness. Both Scripture and history attest to the fact that certain conditions need to be met before we are spiritually resuscitated. We do not slip and “fall” into revival, but we prepare for it.
Thankfully, revival never feels very systematic, but if we were to analyze it, there are certain factors that are absolutely necessary for revival. By that I mean that true, long-lasting revival cannot occur without these factors being present. I have identified several of these, along with quotations from famous revivalists.
1. Passion for God’s Word. Our faith grows when we hear God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), and it is essential for spiritual renewal. George Whitefield, one of the great preachers during the Great Awakening, explained that “The reason why congregations have been so dead is because dead men preach to them.” Often this passion begins with the preacher’s heart, but it must eventually make its way to the listener. We cannot claim to seek after God if we do not listen to His voice. (Jn. 10:27)
2. Desperation for God. If we are content with life as usual, there is little reason to search for anything else. John Wesley observed this danger and said, “I fear that wherever riches have increased the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion… for religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality.” Often we need to lose our “riches” (or what we hold dear) before we recognize how desperately we need a Savior. In a sense, we need to be dissatisfied with our current spiritual condition.
3. Communication with God. As with any healthy relationship, there must be dialogue, an expectation to hear and be heard. Unless there is an effort to communicate with God, renewal is impossible. As Edwin Orr notes, “History is silent about revivals that did not begin with prayer.” In other words, we cannot change ourselves by merely talking to each other.
4. Rejection of Godlessness. It is impossible to seek God and not-God at the same time. Men and women who experience revival decide to give up their old life and follow after God with their entire self. “Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God,” observed Charles Finney. “It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility.” Our lives either move toward God or away from Him.
These factors are usually interconnected, but it is helpful to distinguish them, so that we can see where we may be missing the mark. We can prepare ourselves for spiritual renewal when we desire God’s Word, seek God with desperation, dialogue with Him, and reject what is the opposing to Him.