The Reality of Revival; an Example, Working Definition, and Features of a Revival

Taken and adapted from, “From Pentecost to the Present, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever”
Written by, Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter


But there have been certain seasons called revivals—when God has “poured His Spirit out on His people.” These times—also called awakenings— occurred when the presence of God is experienced in powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit. 
                                                                                  –J. Edwin Orr

The Reality of Revival

The evening prayer meeting had been over for about an hour. Students of Liberty University and members of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, were milling around the front of the sanctuary. It was late—10:30 on a Wednesday night—so most of the ushers and pastors had gone home.

Suddenly a lone student rose and walked to the pulpit, weeping, to confess sins. The microphone and pulpit lights were off, but God was there. That student’s passionate repentance captured the attention of those who were still in the auditorium.

Someone began singing. Someone else ran to play the piano—softly, so as not to interrupt the sacred sound of tears. People dropped to their knees beside the altar and front pews.

Shortly, another broken person approached the pulpit to confess sins. Soon there were others. After two hours, frantic phone calls went out to the pastor and deacons: “Revival’s hit the church!”

Church members, awakened in the middle of the night, dressed hurriedly and drove through the dark streets of Lynchburg. All came back to the church building expecting to experience God. No neckties … no Sunday morning dresses … just believers eager for a divine touch. Soon the glory of the Lord flooded the church auditorium.

People stayed at the church from Wednesday night until Saturday morning. All normal activities in their lives shut down. Classes were canceled. Most of those involved didn’t leave for work; some didn’t eat. When drowsiness couldn’t be fought off, students slept in the pews in the back of the auditorium, or even under the pews.

No one wanted to leave the sanctuary, because when they left the building, they were leaving an almost tangible presence of God. They didn’t want to miss anything that God was doing.

Like the tide that ebbs and flows, the intensity of the experience came in waves. There were louder times when people were publicly confessing their sins, then quieter times of soft weeping and private prayer around the altar.

How did the revival end?

Early Saturday morning one student rose to confess his sins, but he seemed to be bragging about what he had done when he had sinned; there was no shame, no brokenness. The Holy Spirit—who knows the heart—departed the meeting.

Within one hour, everyone knew the revival was over. They left, went home, and went back to their daily activities.

What Is a Revival?

The eternal human quest is to know and experience God.

Some want God to split open the heavens and descend to earth so they can see him. Others want God to write his message in the sky or on a mountain so they can see it and know for sure what to do. Still others want to hear the voice of God shouting like thunder. And still others want God to “zap ‘em” so they’ll quiver on the floor or jump like a kangaroo. Though most won’t admit it, in one way or another they want God to quit playing hide and seek, to come show himself, to visit his people.

True believers want God to intervene in their humdrum experiences. But for most, God can’t be felt or touched. Many feel that God isn’t with them.

A Working Definition

One way God responds to this basic human longing is to manifest himself in a revival. But what exactly do we mean by that term? A variety of definitions have been offered by pastors, theologians, and historians, but we would describe it this way: An evangelical revival is an extraordinary work of God in which Christians repent of their sins as they become intensely aware of his presence in their midst, and they manifest a positive response to God in renewed obedience to the known will of God, resulting in both a deepening of their individual and corporate experience with God, and an increased concern to win others to Christ.

This view of revival recognizes several distinctives, common to historic revivals, that we should keep in mind as we study them:

  • An extraordinary work of God should be distinguished from the more ordinary work of God in the life of the believer.
  • The realization of the unique presence of God during times of revival is consistently reported in the testimonies of the revived.
  • Revivals naturally lead to a significant evangelistic outreach and harvest of souls in the community touched by the revived church.

While there may be isolated exceptions, these are the manifestations connected with the normal experience of a Holy Spirit outpouring as we read about examples of it in Scripture.

Nine “Faces” of Revival

All people have the same basic facial features, yet these features are arranged differently. In a similar way, revivals display the same essential features as they reflect God’s presence, yet they have different “faces”; that is, revival is expressed in different ways. The nine “faces” of revival have been described in an earlier book, Rivers of Revival (written by Elmer Towns with Neil Anderson, Regal Books, 1998; see pp. 116-17). That list of revival types, each with its characteristic focus, is worth repeating here:

  • The repentance revival emphasizes a moral cleansing of individual lives and of society as a whole.
  • The evangelism revival focuses on winning souls to Christ.
  • The worship revival centers on magnifying God.
  • The deeper life revival emphasizes the experience of God’s indwelling.
  • The spiritual warfare revival devotes its energies to battling Satan and the other demons.
  • The Holy Spirit revival is characterized by extensive manifestations of the Spirit.
  • The reconciliation revival leads to the removal of barriers to racial and ethnic harmony.
  • The liberation revival focuses on gaining freedom from corporate and personal bondage to sin.
  • The prayer revival displays considerable efforts at intercession and other forms of prayer.

Though any given revival may manifest several of these characteristics, most revivals tend to display one trait more prominently than the others. Just as the face of a child often reflects a blending of the faces of both parents (and grandparents), so the “face” of a particular revival often reflects a blending of two or more of the revival types listed above.

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