The human heart, known to stray and decay, is in constant need of revival—a returning to God and His ways and outpouring of His power and grace. Scripture documents this. It records periods of revival followed by sin and its devastation that ultimately led to another revival, as explained in this video from The Bible Project.
Patrick Morley writes that our nation has followed a similar cycle, with each wave of renewed faith seeming just as short-lived as the one before, leaving many to cry out, “Do it again, Lord! Ignite our hearts and Your church.”
Many today are saying this same prayer, hoping to see a wave of revival once again sweep through. But this will only occur when we shift our focus off our circumstances or even the state of our schools or nation and onto ourselves.
God rarely does something through us that He first hasn’t done to us.
What Is Revival?
When God’s power is unleashed in and through ordinary people, it awakens the hunger for God in others. This stems from a heart so filled with love for Christ, we’re able to respond with ever-progressing honesty, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
You may be familiar with this verse, penned by an ancient church planter named Paul. He wrote this declaration while under house arrest awaiting a trial that could easily lead to execution.
This was an incredibly dark time in world history where evil was celebrated, Christians were the minority, and paganism ruled. But this was a gloriously bright period as well when God’s kingdom rapidly expanded and lives were changed for all eternity. The church that began in Jerusalem as a ragtag, frightened group hiding out in an upper room exploded to the ends of the earth.
Just as Jesus had predicted in Matthew 13.
One day, a large crowd had gathered around Him, likely looking to experience something spectacular, miraculous: The Jews liberated from Rome, Caesar overthrown, poverty eradicated, or injustice stopped. Maybe God would rain manna from the sky or His breath would sweep over them in a wave of healing.
Isn’t that what we want as well—for God to pour out His Spirit upon our land with a whoosh, similar to the day of Pentecost? But history, and Christ’s words to the crowd that pressed in on Him thousands of years ago, remind us the most powerful and enduring movements often start small.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field,” He said. “It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32, NLT).
Imagine standing in the center of a large plot of untamed and unshaded land watching defenseless robins circle overhead as hot and thirsty children roam below. Perhaps you prayed, “Lord, please overpower the weeds with healthy vegetation that block the sun and brings life where death now reigns.”
Imagine if He responded by dropping a one-millimeter seed into the palm of your hand. That wouldn’t have been the answer you’d hoped for. You might even have tossed the seed out. Had you viewed the situation through the eyes of faith, however, you would’ve realized, in that tiny seed, God provided the beginnings of an eternal, thriving, and ever-expanding kingdom as His plans and power are unleashed through us.
In His parable of the mustard seed, Jesus demonstrated that the most powerful revivals begin not in a sanctuary or tented pavilion but in a quietly bowed heart that yields completely to God within. Our role is to seek, listen, and respond. The Holy Spirit’s role is to ignite, guide, teach, strengthen, and to grow. He’s our only source of love and the One able to draw us into an ever-deepening relationship with Christ.
How Does Revival Happen?
Spiritual vitality and its results come from God and God alone. Apart from Him, we and our best wrought plans are dead and lead to death. Paul put it this way: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering … The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:2-6).
In other words, nothing good exists within us or can be created apart from Christ. When we seek after Him or bow our heads to pray, this too is initiated by Him.
Paul expanded on this principle in Philippians 2:13: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” he said, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”
Paul wasn’t telling believers to earn their salvation nor was he warning them they might lose it. Instead, he was encouraging his readers to yield to the Holy Spirit within out of respect and reverence for God. This would result in completion or Christian maturity. But notice, their growth came not from striving but from responding to God who was already at work within them.
What Does the Bible Say about Revival?
We must prioritize our time with Christ and ask Him to ignite His power within. “I am the vine,” Jesus said. The source of all life, nourishment, and strength. “If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Jesus spoke those words to His disciples prior to giving them the greatest assignment in all of Christendom—to launch His church. True, they’d walked closely with Him during His time on earth. They’d learned so much about the things of God and the things of man. They’d seen miracles performed, religious leaders silenced by the right questions asked at the right moments, and crowds of people stirred to praise.
After all they’d experienced and such intense training, one might assume they were as prepared for ministry as a person could get. But they weren’t. In fact, they were woefully ill-prepared. A key ingredient was missing—the power of the Holy Spirit. Quoting Scripture, Jesus told them they’d proclaim repentance in His name, but first they were to “stay in the city until [they had] been clothed with power on high” (Luke 24:49).
On the day of Pentecost, they received that power with a roar from heaven. “Flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability” (Acts 2:3-4).
Then and only then were they prepared to launch God’s church. They needed to experience God’s power within before they could live it out. This is true for us as well.
What Are the Benefits of Revival?
All living systems, left on their own tend toward entropy. Passion fades, determination weakens, and the world’s chaos can dilute our desire to live for Christ.
Here’s how: Perhaps we began our faith journey with amazement, ready to surrender all for Jesus. We remembered how dark and hopeless life felt apart from Him and were filled with joy we never thought possible. We wanted to tell everyone about God’s love and grace and maybe even contemplate oversea missions.
But then legalism, distraction, or plain busyness seeps in, and the monotony of religion overshadows our first love. We trade God’s presence for programs and listening to His voice for rule following. Unless we combat this life-stealing progression, we’ll find ourselves drifting slowly but steadily into spiritual apathy.
The solution: praying for a fresh igniting of God’s Spirit. We can follow the example David, ancient Israel’s second king, set in Psalm 51.
Here’s what King David did:
1. He approached God with humility, recognizing who he was in light of who God was.
After being confronted for his sexual sin, David repented. He asked for God’s mercy according to His unfailing love (Psalm 51:1-2). This demonstrated his complete dependency on God and his understanding that he wasn’t worthy to stand in God’s presence. He did so based on God’s love and grace alone. He needed and asked for God’s mercy, which was based on His love.
2. He acknowledged the condition of his heart and asked for cleansing.
“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin,” he prayed. “For I know my transgression, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:2-4).
Sin hardens our hearts, dulls our spiritual sensitivity, and mutes God’s voice. It distances us from Him, but confession draws us near.
David understood this. Moreover, he recognized mankind’s pull toward self-deception and invited God to go deep, to bring light to hidden areas of darkness. “Search me, God, and know my heart,” he prayed. “Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
That’s such a frightening yet freeing request! To intentionally lay our hearts bare before our Savior, trusting Him to reveal then purge everything ugly and diseased so what is true and right can flourish. So that we can experience the full to overflowing life Christ promised in John 10:10. So we can live in the freedom of being fully known and deeply loved.
Psalm 32:1-2, also written by David, says, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” (NLT).
I love that phrase: whose lives are lived in complete honesty. No more hiding or pretending to be someone we’re not, someone more religious or better behaved or maybe one who’s memorized more Scripture. Simply coming to God as we are, admitting what He already knows to be true, and receiving in return grace upon grace. A grace that inspires a personal revival that quickly becomes contagious and creates a movement of transformation and healing.
3. He asked for spiritual rejuvenation.
This is my favorite part of David’s prayer and are words I love to say often:
“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (v. 12).
Do you remember the first moment you not only recognized the depth of your sin but also God’s pardon for it? The peace of knowing that every wrong you ever had or would commit was washed clean? That you were completely and eternally absolved?
Nothing could compare or compete with the love you experienced in Christ. Nothing could hold you back from pursuing the One who had so earnestly pursued you. You didn’t need a revival. You had just been revived.
When your heart begins to harden, ask God to bring you to that place again. Ask Him to restore the joy you experienced the moment you first believed. But don’t stop there. Knowing how easily spiritual fervor can fade with time, pray the second half of that verse as well: “Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.”
We cannot live for Christ in our own strength. We need to stay connected to the vine, yielding to His Spirit and continually asking Him to purge everything within that threatens to pull us from Him. This is how one experiences a fresh wave of God again and again.
Like I said earlier, revival isn’t an event or a moment. It’s a spark within the heart that explodes until everyone and everything we encounter becomes engulfed in God’s love. We need this type of personal revival. Our churches and nation need us to experience this as well, because we must experience God’s power within if we want to live it out. That is true revival, and that type of revival changes us and everyone we encounter.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Hannah Busing
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Hometown Healing and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team love to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event, and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE to learn of her future appearances, projects, and releases.