Revivals in times past have come at some of history’s darkest hours. Though we might be tempted to credit our petitions to God, revival is not brought down from heaven by any particular action or righteousness of humans. In fact, revival is God pouring out His Holy Spirit when all hope seems otherwise lost. On the other hand, prayer is our preparation to see God move supernaturally. Revival is God’s work; nonetheless through prayer, we are permitted to participate in His power.
What kinds of prayers do we offer in preparation for revival? As time permits, we’ll discuss confession and repentance; spiritual warfare, intercession, and prayers for boldness. Nonetheless, I believe the most difficult petition to get right, by far, is confession and repentance. Self-righteousness is a trap that drives us to confess every sin imaginable, but our own.
This week on the radio I heard a prominent pastor lead a corporate supplication for revival. He was suitably eloquent and dynamic. His prayer moved through a litany of the sins of our country. It would be difficult to dispute most any of the iniquities he mentioned. The list was as you might expect; it contained only the “favorite” national sins of an evangelical pastor. I was saddened and turned off the radio.
The Prayer of Confession
Every effective prayer for revival must begin in front of a mirror. There are no exceptions to this rule. I must always start with my acute need for God’s mercy and grace in my life. Jesus taught,
“How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Luke 7:4-5 NLT).
I learn several things from this passage. First of all, I have a log in my eye; my brother has a speck in his. By comparison of scale, it’s simple to see that Jesus is stating that my faults are likely much worse than my brother’s shortcomings. Secondly, I can’t overlook my responsibility; I am indeed instructed to help my brother… but only after I first deal with my own sin. Thirdly, and most subtly, sin must be dealt with up-close, personally, gently, and lovingly. After all, if I just had a log removed from my eye, I’m going to be very compassionate while removing a speck from someone else’s eye. The eye is one of the most sensitive areas of the body. At the very least, I want to treat others the way I would like to be treated. In Galatians we read,
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1 NASB).
We have no Holy Spirit-empowered New Testament license, whatsoever, to deal with sin by standing at a distance and condemning either the transgression or the transgressor. When did Jesus ever do that, except with the Pharisees and their self-righteousness?
Confession for the Nation?
Based on a handful of Old Testament narratives of the nation of Israel, it’s popular to repent of the sins of our nation, as a whole. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament brings conviction and repentance to an individual level. Well-meaning Old Testament admonitions are often supported by the following scripture:
“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14-15).
God’s people are commanded to humble themselves and pray, seek God’s face and turn away from sin. As God’s people, we can’t turn from someone else’s error; we can only turn from our own. When we come to the point of understanding and acknowledging our personal need, God promises that He will hear, forgive our sin, and heal our land.
When we consider prayers of public repentance for the nation, we see a peculiar pattern. The individual leading the prayer confesses transgressions of which he or she is obviously not guilty. Immediately, I’m reminded of one of Jesus’ parables.
“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NASB).
The Real Road to Revival
I received a copy of a national evangelical magazine this week. There were calls for national repentance and political activism. Personally, I’ve had my fill of “family values” politicians. Don’t get me wrong; as citizens we have a right and responsibility to be involved in our government. However, creating revival by legislating and enforcing morality is a fool’s errand. Count me as a spiritually conservative Christian dissenter. The answer in the New Testament is not “righteousness as a nation.” The answer is transformation as individuals through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Praying for revival in the 21st Century begins with humility, transparency and confession of our own need for mercy before God. If we are each in a right place before God personally, the spiritual health of the nation will follow.
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