Is it possible to bring about a revival?

My attention to this topic was most recently drawn by a weekend magazine headline from a leading newspaper, saying ‘She’s turned the tide’, referring to someone’s reported achievement in helping to change the rules of television.

The headline caught my attention because I am busy writing a book about major revivals in the UK, and the matter of tides turning is in the intended title. We also live near the sea with all its vagaries, so changing tides are near at hand. The point about tides turning is that humans cannot achieve such a feat, though we can look out for changes of the tide, act according to what the tide is doing and maybe even help channel a very little part of some tidal flow.

There is a spectrum of Christian opinion out there between whether you can make a revival happen, or whether it is such a sacred and sovereign matter that you had better not be found trying. Actually, the difference of opinion is generally more considered and not quite as polarised as that.

Charles Finney, the American revivalist, in his Lectures on revivals of religion said that ‘a revival is a right use of the appropriate means’. According to his view, you can plan for a revival just like you can plan for a crop, where both are still ultimately dependent on God’s blessing. The difference of opinion between godly people is more around the question of whether there can be ‘a right use of the appropriate means’ to help bring in a revival.

I have found in my reading about UK revivals that those who expected them the most prayed for them the most, and they were the ones who experienced them the most. This has happened most especially in some of the western islands of Scotland. We might ask a Christian from there, “Do you still have any people who remember the Hebridean revival?” They might reply, ‘Which Hebridean revival are you referring to?”

I have seen too in my reading that Christians who were most spiritually awake needed little rousing when revival arrived around them. Being awake, alert and watchful has always been a Christian virtue and is a primary part of our being ready for the second coming of Jesus.

There have been some who prayed for years for revival without seeing it happen, and then suddenly it did. They needed no rousing at all. It was more a case of jumping in with both feet. Evan Roberts did like that in the Welsh Revival. We know some who have travelled to places in the world where revival has been reported, to see what they can learn.

Conversely, I have been struck by the fact that when Christians were in no state of preparedness for revival, the main torrent of revival passed them by. The Great Awakening of 1859 swept through the United Kingdom. Revival came to Southampton in 1862, but not so powerfully as it might have done because of limited co-operation by disunited local Christians. Thankfully, there was more preparedness for revival in 1905.

Arthur Wallis, dearly remembered by some of us, was a great man of God who looked forward much to revival. He is famous for his book on revival In the day of Thy power. Arthur was once being taken to task by a highly critical Christian for his style of ministry. After failing in his winsome way to persuade the man, Arthur finally said words to the effect, “You know, I think I prefer what I am doing to what you’re not doing.”

For myself, I would like to be found among the doers and preparers who seek God most earnestly for this country’s revival.

Nigel Paterson