The Role Of Prayer In Revival
By Dave Butts
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in November 2009 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A. Used by permission.
When it comes to the issue of revival, prayer is ultimately where it begins. We cannot make revival happen, but we can ask for it. Most people operate on the assumption that prayer must take place before God moves.
Many authors down through the years have said that. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "The main reason we should be praying about revival is that we are anxious to see God’s name vindicated and His glory manifested. We should be anxious to see something happening that will arrest the nations, all the peoples, and cause them to stop and think again."
C. H. Spurgeon wrote this: "Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival – men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here as in the times of former generations."
John R. Mott said: "If added power attends united prayer of two or three, what mighty triumphs there will be when hundreds of thousands of consistent members of the church are with one accord day by day making intercession for the extension of Christ’s kingdom."
We could multiply by the thousands quotations of men and women of God through the years who have understood the role of prayer in a great move of God. If we are to see God move in our day it will be because at least some will have given themselves to asking Him to fulfill the desire of His heart to awaken His people.
A Time of Revival in Judah
I am going to use as a text Second Chronicles chapters 14 through 20. These chapters are basically the story of sixty-five years in the life of the nation of Judah in which there were seasons of revival. During these years, Asa and his son Jehoshaphat were seeking God and doing some things that God used to bring awakening to Judah.
Judah desperately needed awakening. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom had divided into the southern kingdom (Judah) and the northern kingdom (Israel). Rehoboam as Solomon’s son was king of Judah, and Jeroboam and others went into the northern kingdom of Israel. For the rest of the history of Israel, there were no godly kings. But through the history of Judah, again and again God would raise up a godly king who would draw Judah, the people of God, back to Himself. After Rehoboam died, he was followed as king of Judah by his son Abijah, who was an ungodly king. But when Abijah’s son, Asa, became king, he was committed to following God: "Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers..." (2 Chr. 14:2-4). Asa had ten long years of peace and devoted his energy to turning Judah back to God.
Then ten years into his reign there came a sudden invasion, and Asa prayed a godly prayer that God used to bring victory to the people of God. About five years later there came a time of great celebration. Revival literally broke out among the people of God as they sought Him with all their heart. They offered great sacrifices to Him. It was a time of great rejoicing.
This lasted for a number of years in the life of Judah. Asa did not end well, however, and the revival ended in the last years of his life. A crisis had developed in the nation as Israel to the north gathered forces to attack Judah. This time instead of depending on the Lord in faith as Asa had done earlier, he used some of the temple treasury to bribe a pagan king to attack Israel to keep them from coming against Judah. It ended in victory for Judah, but it was not the way God wanted them to gain the victory. The Lord’s prophet came and rebuked Asa, but Asa did not receive it well, and he threw the prophet into jail.
During the rest of his life Asa did not seek God fully. At one point he had a severe disease in his feet, yet even then he did not seek the Lord. Asa died with a shadow over the end of his life.
But his son Jehoshaphat picked up the best characteristics of his father and became one of the greatest kings of Judah. His heart was fully set on the Lord. He, too, worked hard at removing all the remaining idols from the land. The Scripture says that the nations around Jehoshaphat gave them peace on every side and a fear of God was on the other nations because they saw that God was with Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat did something amazing. He commissioned and trained others to go among the people and teach the Word of God. There is even suggestion in Scripture that King Jehoshaphat himself went out and began to teach others the Word of God, and he commanded them to seek the Lord their God.
Then there came once again a great battle, when an alliance of three kings came against Jehoshaphat. Most of Judah had to hide behind the walls of Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat led his people in a time of prayer that released the power of God and caused one of the most amazing victories that Judah ever saw. Once again revival broke out among the people of God.
Off and on for sixty-five years, God moved in the life of His people. And what you see here in Asa and Jehoshaphat is that prayer preceded revival, prayer pervaded revival (it was all through the midst of it) and prayer propelled revival (expanded it, took it to new places). What happened in their life can happen in ours!
Prayer Principles from Asa’s Prayer
There are two prayers in these chapters of Second Chronicles. One is from Asa, the other from Jehoshaphat. Asa’s prayer is found in Second Chronicles 14:11. There are principles for praying for revival found in this prayer. Beginning in verse nine, the situation is described: "Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with a vast army and three hundred chariots, and came as far as Mareshah. Asa went out to meet him, and they took up battle positions in the Valley of Zephathah near Mareshah. Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, ‘Lord, there is no one like You to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on You, and in Your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You’" (vv. 9-11).
The first principle is that Asa humbled himself before God. He called upon God "to help the powerless against the mighty." Who were the powerless in this situation? Asa and Judah. There was a much mightier army coming against them. The king of Judah was standing in front of his people with his army behind him and he humbled himself in the sight of all the people. He said in effect, "God, You are the powerful One. You are the One who hears prayer and we are coming as the powerless to You. We desperately need Your help!" As we pray for revival one of the great needs is the prayer of humility.
Asa humbled himself and made a very simple request: "Help us…." He did not try to tell God what to do. Sometimes our prayers simply need to be, "God, revive us!" This is what we need.
When Asa prayed for the Lord’s help, he prayed for the right reasons. He was concerned for the Lord’s honor and not simply the preservation of his life and the life of his people. At the end of this prayer he prayed, "Lord our God…we rely on You, and in Your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You." The reason he asked for help was ultimately for the honor and glory of God. He said, "Do not let man prevail against You."
We need to understand that most of the people of Asa’s day had a tribal deity, a god. These gods were demons masquerading as gods, but nonetheless the tribes all identified with a particular god. There was always the idea that if our god is stronger than your god, then we will win. Earlier in Israel’s history, because of their sin Israel was conquered by the Philistines and the ark of the covenant was captured. The Philistines took the ark of the covenant into the temple of their god, Dagon, because they thought the god Dagon had defeated the God of Israel. In their mind their god was now greater. Of course, it was dismaying to them the next morning when they found that Dagon had fallen before Jehovah and the ark of the covenant. (See First Samuel 5:1-4.)
In the context of the pagan world around him, Asa prayed something like this: "O God, they are coming against us and they are much mightier and more powerful than we are, and we cannot begin to beat them. God, do not let them beat You! Do not let their god receive glory when You are the One that needs to receive the glory!" When we are praying for revival, the purpose is ultimately about Christ and His glory, about His receiving honor.
Prayer Principles from the Prayer of Jehoshaphat
In Second Chronicles 20 we see Asa’s son Jehoshaphat praying correctly in a time of crisis. Three nations had allied together to come and to destroy Judah. Here is how Jehoshaphat prayed as he stood in front of the assembly of all the people: "O Lord, God of our fathers, are You not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can withstand You. O our God, did You not drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham Your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for Your Name, saying, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in Your presence before this temple that bears Your Name and will cry out to You in our distress, and You will hear us and save us.’
"But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory You would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession You gave us as an inheritance. O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" (2 Chr. 20:5-12).
Jehoshaphat affirmed the Lord’s power over the nations. Even though he saw that from a human perspective Judah was much weaker and had no ability to handle what was coming at them, the prayer began by saying in effect, "God, You are over the nations. They do not know it but You are in charge of them." I think today as we look at what is going on around us there are times for us to say, "Lord, the evil ruler of _________ does not know it, but You are in charge. The president of ________ does not know it, but You are in charge. That terrorist organization does not understand Your position, but You rule the nations." It is important for us to have that proper perspective as we come in prayer. Sometimes these nations, these situations look to be so big, so huge. Jehoshaphat prayed with this correct understanding of who God is and how He relates to the nations.
Then he affirms Judah’s right to pray. He goes back and quotes his great-great-grandfather Solomon who as he was dedicating the temple, spoke to God saying that when they find themselves in times of trouble they are going to come here to the temple and are going to pray to ask Him to intervene. God spoke to Solomon and said, "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chr. 7:14).
So Jehoshaphat based his prayer not just on what he wanted, but on what God’s Word said. This is how we pray with boldness and effectiveness – we learn to pray the Word of God. That is where the power is in prayer. It is no longer us trying to talk God into giving us something we want, but it is coming to God who has already placed within our hearts what He desires to happen. We begin to pray His heart, His agenda, His will.
It is also a prayer of humility. He calls out to God, "…we have no power to face this vast army…. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You." One thing that makes this prayer so amazing is who prayed it. This is a king in a time of crisis, praying this prayer not in the privacy of his own chambers, but in front of all the people. This situation was not so different than what we face today. We want our leaders to know the answers. A nation wants someone to lead. Jehoshaphat performs this act of humility where the leader of the people stands up and prays something like this: "God, I do not know what to do. Here is what I do know; I am going to keep my eyes fixed on You."
Imagine what would happen in a nation if the president stood up and said, "The crises around us are great. I have been praying and I have been reading Scripture, and I have to tell you, I do not know what to do. But here is what I am going to do: I am going to keep my eyes fixed on the Lord." We need to pray for those in leadership that God would grip their hearts and that they would begin to pray like Jehoshaphat when faced with these kinds of crises.
Prayer Precedes Revival
In each of these cases prayer preceded revival. Before God poured out His Spirit, before everything took place, prayer took place. You can see that in all revivals down through history. There was a movement of prayer in anticipation of the work of God.
What kind of prayers precede revival? There may be others, but there are two kinds of prayers that take place that need to happen right now. First is the prayer of repentance. In Second Chronicles 14 when Asa commanded Judah to seek the Lord, immediately they began to tear down all of the foreign altars. Those are acts of repentance, acts based on their prayers in which they sought the Lord and they realized they could not seek the Lord and have idols. We need to focus more of our teaching on repentance.
There is also the prayer of desperation. Jehoshaphat in a sense prayed that kind of prayer: "God, I have no Plan B. There is only Plan A and it is whatever You are going to do. We are desperate, Lord, for You to move." In the life of the church today in America we have not yet come to the point of desperation. We still have plans and programs; we are still going to this conference and that conference trying to find the right sort of thing that will get our people going again. We have not yet reached a place of desperation. Prayers of repentance and desperation are the sort of prayers that precede revival.
Prayer Pervades Revival
But when revival begins, prayer does not end. In fact, when the prayer ends, the revival ends. One of the marks of revival is continued prayer, day and night prayer. Whole cities become like prayer meetings as people are praying on the street corners. What kind of prayer pervades revival? It is a prayer of humility – a prayer like Asa prayed in Second Chronicles 14:11: "O God, help us!" That kind of prayer of humility is what will continue revival because one of the things that will stop revival is pride. If suddenly our churches are filled, if suddenly things are moving, there is a tendency for us to begin to take credit, to feel like we have accomplished something. To continue to have prayer pervade revival we must be praying prayers of humility, recognizing that what we have comes from God, that it is not by our own effort, but it is what He has done.
I believe also the prayers of worship and thankfulness are needed. These are two different things, but I bring them together because you see them together in the lives of Asa and Jehoshaphat: prayers of worship, adoring God, recognizing Him for who He is, but also prayers of thankfulness, of gratitude.
As I travel I find there are not very many praying churches. There are frustrated pastors and prayer leaders who would love their churches to be praying churches, but there is not much going on. They get discouraged when they have a prayer meeting and just a handful of people come. But God has a remnant He is working through. Those people need to stick with it, and they need to not give up. It is that remnant that continues to grow and build and develop, and to humble themselves before God. That is what God is looking for to spark revival. Then there will come a day when our prayer meetings will be full. People will come to prayer meetings because that is where they experience the presence of Christ in a fresh, new way. Prayer pervades revival.
Prayer Propels Revival
Prayer propels revival. It expands it, takes it to new places. Biblically and historically when revival took place, it went outward and spread to other places. The people of God experiencing the presence of God could not contain it. They began to pray different sorts of prayers, prayers that took the revival to different places. They began to pray evangelistic and transformational types of prayers. Jehoshaphat is a great example of one whose heart was "devoted to the ways of the Lord" (2 Chr. 17:6). But then he took what God was doing in his life out to the nation. He himself, as well as others that he trained, took the Word of God and went to the people to teach them to seek the Lord and to obey the Lord in all ways. Prayers of transformation and evangelism, lifestyle type praying is the sort of thing I believe that God is calling the church to when revival takes place, and it is to be expanded and to be propelled in other places. The Holy Spirit is the spark that ignites revival and causes it to be propelled.
In Heaven’s Throne Room
I want to invite you into the throne room. In Hebrews 4:16, the writer of that book commands us, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." The Bible teaches us that somehow when we turn our thoughts toward heaven, when we begin to pray, in a way beyond our comprehension, we come into the throne room of heaven. Have you ever thought about that, about what really happens when you pray? The Bible says that we go to the throne room. Have you thought about the throne room?
John in the Book of Revelation has difficulty describing the magnificence of the throne room. There is the great white throne of the Father on the sea like glass; then to His right hand the throne of Jesus Christ His Son; and around the throne of the Father and the Son are four living creatures whose sole task is to cry out for all eternity, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty…." And around those four are twenty-four elders all with crowns of gold and they are on their own thrones and they are continually taking their crowns and casting them at the feet of Jesus and worshiping Him. And if that were not enough, the Bible tells us that the throne room of heaven is filled with a myriad of angels who are gathered together in joyful assembly. (See Revelation 4-5.)
I always picture at the back of the great throne room this little door, and when we begin to pray that door opens and we walk in right down the center of the throne room, right up to the throne of grace. And we begin to pray…short, fast, then we turn to leave. I can imagine the angels saying, "That’s it? That’s all he is going to ask for? He had the attention of the eternal Father, and he muttered a few phrases and left?"
God is calling us to the throne room. We are even now seated with Christ in the heavenly places. This is where we belong. And in the throne room come all these other scenes that you see in the Book of Revelation of the glory of the Lamb of God who is also the Lion. We begin to catch a glimpse of the passionate heart of God for the rule of Christ over all the earth. And He is waiting on us to ask Him to do what He wants to do on planet earth today. Come to the throne room!
Father, surrounded by Your glory and majesty, comforted by Your grace and love, we bow before You and worship You. Forgive us of our prayerlessness, for thinking that somehow by our words and our wisdom we can do it. As we humble ourselves before You, help us to stay in Your presence. Teach us to pray according to Your will and purpose that Christ will be exalted in the midst of Your people. Teach us to pray in a way that releases Your power, that we might see Your purpose accomplished to the ends of the earth. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.