In January of 1994 a revival broke out in Toronto, Ontario, Canada which came to be known as the “Toronto Blessing.” Some of the primary features of the revival included “holy laughter”, falling out in the Spirit, and people roaring like lions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Blessing). This is not the only recent revival with extraordinary manifestations. Another revival of the 1990’s was the Brownsville revival in Pensacola, Florida. The Brownsville Revival lasted five years (1995-2000) and featured phenomenon such as physical healings and people being “slain in the Spirit” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownsville_Revival). While these manifestations do seem extraordinary they are not all unique considering the history of revival. Records of past revivals have recorded similar happenings such as shouting and exuberant worship, shouts of fear and cries for God’s mercy, physical healings, and people convulsing or lying in a comma like state for several hours. These phenomenon are even true of past revivals in the Wesleyan/Holiness movement of which I am a member. While these unique features of revival get lots of attention I do not believe that they are necessarily the marks of true revival. I believe the test of a true revival is found in the message and the results of the revival. So, what are the marks of a true revival? I am not a revival historian, but in the revivals that I have studied these seven features always emerge.
1. An Awareness of God
First and foremost, revival is characterized by an awareness of God. In his sermon entitled, When God Stepped Down From Heaven, Duncan Campbell, leader of the Hebrides Revival (1949-1953), defines revival as “becoming aware of God.” He goes on to say that revival is becoming aware of the holiness of God. Noted theologian J.I. Packer corroborates Campbell’s definition in his article, Marks of Revival. He states, “The first and fundamental feature in revival is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy, and might… It is with this searching, scorching manifestation of God’s presence that revival begins, and by its continuance that revival is sustained.” The prophet Isaiah had this exact experience in his own life when he became aware of the “searching and scorching” holiness of God (see Isaiah 6). This awareness of God always leads to a humble spirit of seeking and searching, confessing and repenting among God’s people (see also Nehemiah 1).
2. A Recommitment to the Authority of God’s Word
Every true outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival has also featured the faithful proclamation of the Word of God, as well as the reestablishment of the authority of his Word in the lives of his people. In Exodus 24:7 we see this dual commitment to the Word of God- “Then [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.'” The need for revival always stems from the neglect of God’s people to walk in obedience to his Word. Rather than trusting God’s holy commandments his people doubt and manipulate them to suit their sinful fancies. In revival, God’s Word is reestablished as authoritative for life and doctrine. As J.I. Packer says, “The sense of God’s presence (the awareness of God) imparts new authority to his truth” (Marks of Revival).
3. A Focus on Holiness of Heart and Life
God’s call to his people is that they must be holy, as he is holy (Leviticus 11:44). Duncan Campbell recounts a rather comical story in his message, When God Stepped Down From Heaven, where he was receiving strong opposition from those unfriendly to the revival because he was preaching holiness and sanctification. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 the Apostle Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification….” The chief end of Christ’s death and resurrection is not just to forgive sins, but to make born again believers holy. Those who are in Christ are “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and are now called upon to “pursue… holiness, without which no one will see the Lord…” (Hebrews 12:14). God desires to impart a full salvation to his people. In revival, the pursuit of holiness in heart and life becomes a primary focus.
4. Unity Among Believers
One of the features that is so wonderful about revival is the unity that emerges among believers. Doctrinal and denominational barriers fall away, and believers of all backgrounds begin to seek the Lord with a united heart. In 1857 a concerned Dutch Reformed pastor by the name of Jeremiah Lamphier opened his church for a noon time prayer meeting for businessmen in downtown New York City. He was concerned for the spiritual condition of the city and the lost. He sent out a simple invitation for businessmen to meet for prayer over the lunch hour in his church, the North Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street. Within a few weeks the prayer meeting was filled to capacity. God was blessing the meetings. Soon prayer meetings opened in other churches around the city; and, within three months prayer meetings had sprung up all across the country. In an article commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Fulton Street Noontime Prayer Meeting the Reformed Church of America published an article recounting how God used the prayer meeting to bring nationwide revival. One of the noted features of the revival was that “leaders came from every evangelical faith: Baptists, Brethren, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Friends, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Reformed” (Fulton Street Noontime Prayer Meeting: 150th Anniversary Celebration). A unity of heart and purpose pervades God’s people in times of spiritual renewal.
5. Evangelization of the Lost
Another feature of the Fulton Street prayer meeting was a concern for the lost. Prayer for the salvation of the lost was one of the primary items of prayer (see above link). Also, in the 1904 revival in Wales, Evan Roberts, the leader of the revival was overcome with a burden for the salvation of 100,000 souls. Historians say that by the end of the revival 100,000 conversions were recorded (Revival Fire. Wesley Duewel. 186). These were not just people who had filled out a “decision card.” Several years after the revival, research was conducted and found that 80% of those who professed salvation during the revival of 1904 were still serving the Lord (ibid, 202). Revival is not true revival if it does not stir the church to reach the lost. As Duewel says, “Revival begets evangelism” (ibid, 192). “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
6. The Call of Laborers
From the fire of true revival always comes a band of workers going out to fields of harvest. Their cry is that of Isaiah’s- “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Duncan Campbell recounts how on one occasion several young men who were notorious sinners were converted and immediately committed their lives to ministry (When God Stepped Down From Heaven). This same scenario has been repeated over and over again through out revival history. Revivals bring a surge of Christian workers.
7. Social Reform
Finally, real revival effects social reforms wherever it spreads. Countless tales of revival tell how mass social reform swept towns and cities as the Holy Spirit moved in power. Duewel says of the Evan Roberts, “[He] did not preach against gambling, dishonesty, injustice, or immorality. He pointed people to Christ the Savior. Yet the social impact of the revival was profound, and many of these sins for a period almost disappeared from Wales” (ibid, 201).
Not only does revival bring social reforms to communities, but it motivates social action among God’s people. The history of the Methodist revival in England is full of social action. In his biography of John Wesley, Kenneth Collins says, “For Wesley… it was not sufficient simply to send money to the poor. Instead, one must actually visit the poor and be among them.” He then goes on to quote Wesley as saying, “These little labours of love will pave your way to things of greater importance. Having shown that you have [concern] for their bodies you may proceed to inquire concerning their souls.”
Knowing How to Pray for Revival
Being that these seven marks emerge in every true revival they give us a specific points by which to discern a true move of God. They also give us specific points of prayer and action. I pray that God will give us true revival!
What are some additional marks of revival? Leave your comments below.
Never miss a blog posting! Subscribe to email updates in the upper left-hand column of this page.
If you have enjoyed this content please help spread the word by sharing it on your favorite social network.
All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.