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Why do churches hold revivals?

In the strictest sense, a revival is really a spiritual awakening — a stirring of repentance among God's people to a fresh obedience to God. However, in the casual sense, a revival has often been used to refer to a special series of evangelistic church meetings, conducted by an evangelist or minister, hoping to arouse renewed spiritual fervor. In recent years, it was an annual tradition for many evangelical churches to conduct one or more such meetings, which would extend nightly for a week or longer. In years past I conducted hundreds of these type meetings, however, due to the trends of our present society, prolonged revival meetings have (sadly) become unpopular and nearly obsolete in some circles.

The idea of revivalism, and special meetings devoted toward revival, emerged from the evangelistic preaching and prayer meetings of the Great Awakening of the early to mid 1700's, with such famed preachers as John Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. This was later combined with the tradition of the camp style meetings of the early 1800's, popularized by pioneer preachers such as Presbyterian, James McGready, Methodist Circuit Rider, Peter Cartwright, and evangelist Charles Finney.

It's possible to conduct a series of revival meetings anytime we wish. Such meetings would be advisable and a good idea for every church, as has been the tradition of many evangelical churches at least a couple times a year. But real revival — that is a spiritual awakening, occurs only under certain conditions. Charles Finney (1792-1875) was one of our nation's greatest revivalists, and taught on the subject later in his life. In his "Lectures on Revival," Finney wrote that there are several things that suggest when a revival is imminent: "First, when the providence of God indicates that a revival is at hand... Second, where the wickedness of the wicked grieves, humbles and distresses Christians... Third, when Christians have a spirit of prayer for revival... And lastly, when believers have a desire and anxiety to a call of repentance and to a new or fresh obedience to God."

History shows that the great revivals of times past turned the tide of our nation's morality, yielded hundreds of thousands of converts to Christ, reversed religious apathy and rekindled the spiritual fervor of churchgoers. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1764), one of God's choice instruments of the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, described his observations of the effect that revival has upon the hearts of people:

(1) "Revival brings an extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness and holiness of God so as sometimes to overwhelm soul and body, a sense of the piercing, all-seeing eye of God so as to sometimes take away the bodily strength; and an extraordinary view of the infinite terribleness of the wrath of God, together with a sense of the ineffable misery of sinners exposed to this wrath."

(2) "Revival especially brings a longing after these two things; to be more perfect in humility and adoration. The flesh and the heart seem often to cry out, lying low before God and adoring Him with greater love and humility... The person felt a great delight in singing praises to God and Jesus Christ, and longing that this present life may be as it were one continued song of praise to God. There was a longing as one person expressed it, 'to sit and sing this life away;' and an overcoming pleasure in the thought of spending an eternity in that exercise. Together with living by faith to a great degree, there was a constant and extraordinary distrust of our own strength and wisdom; a great dependence on God for His help in order to the performance of any thing to God's acceptance and being retrained from the most horrid sins."

By all means, a spiritual awakening is something desperately needed again in our nation — an objective that every Christ-devoted church should be praying for. Without exaggeration, America's widespread sin and rebellion toward God has brought our nation to the precipice of judgment and disaster.

The verse of scripture that probably best summarizes the cause and effect of revival is found in 2 Chronicles. "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 I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14).

Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity
Revival Lectures, Charles Finney
Revival, Winkie Pratney

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us.