Praying for revival seems like an exercise in futility. Especially when one makes it clear that what we are praying for is not simply for a few people to come into the church and get saved, but that God might visit us with power and reshape our nation and culture. Most outside the church would scoff at any such hope, and I fear there are many within the church that feel that this sort of hope and expectation is a bridge too far.
We met in December for the first of these prayer meetings. I came into it with great expectations. I had invited other churches to join us, we had talked about it at Bible Study and I had waxed eloquent on the practice of praying for revival from the pulpit. I had read reports of these sorts of prayer meetings in biographies and in the history of the church - and so I came with high hopes that this would be a triumphant hour of prayer.
When the evening arrived I had endured a difficult and distracted day - despite my attempts to prepare myself to spend an hour praying for revival. One of my fellow pastors, who had been keen to attend had called me early in the morning and left a message wondering where everyone was (he had mistakenly thought that we were meeting at 7 AM instead of 7 PM). As I stood at the door waiting I greeted a number of people from my own congregation (and for that I was grateful), but in the end, only one other pastor from the invited churches arrived.
Sixteen of us settled in to pray for revival for one hour. We were separated into 3 tables with five to six praying at each table; and it felt like work. Whoever wrote 'Sweet Hour of Prayer' didn't attend the prayer meeting I was at. After praying for what felt like an eternity I peeked at the time and discovered that we were only 40 minutes into the time determined. (I realize how unspiritual it sounds to write this - but this is honesty.) So I put my head down and prayed some more.
At the end of the time we sang a hymn together and headed for home. I had a headache - literally. It had been my hope that this hour of prayer would have felt more victorious - instead it felt small and insignificant. I had originally planned to set these prayer meetings on the first Monday of each month - but I was very tempted to drop back to quarterly - or maybe annually... or maybe just pack the whole thing in.
And then I considered the Word of God.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)
As I reflected on my experience on this first night of prayer, I realized that I was expecting my adversary to roll over and tap out just because I had stepped onto the wrestling mat.
Instead I had been fed a big dose of discouragement - and it had almost worked - I had almost decided to give up after a single attempt because it seemed hard and unrewarding. (Interestingly, the devil's first recourse is not always to send open hostility - that might signal too much success - instead he sends someone to laugh at your efforts and make them seem silly and small. See Nehemiah 4:1-4.)
Imagine if the English had decided that fighting the Nazi's was hard and unrewarding after the defeat at Dunkirk?
Did not God lead the Israelites out of 400 years of captivity in Egypt? But it didn't happen the first time Moses demanded that Pharoah 'Let my people go.' No, there was a great spiritual struggle that ended with God being glorified before his people and the Egyptians. (Exodus 5:1-9)
Did not God restore his people to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile in Babylon and Persia? Yes, but there were many days between the time that Daniel and Nehemiah began to pray and the time when the walls were rebuilt and the temple completed. (Daniel 9:1-2, 10:10-13; Nehemiah 1:1-2:8)
Did not God send a great awakening upon England and America in the 18th Century? Indeed he did, but I am now certain that there were many nights of prayer that felt like hard work with little reward that preceded that move.
So I offer you this invitation: We are praying again this Monday night for revival. We're going to ask God to glorify himself before the nations and to awaken our churches and culture in ways that defy the imagination. And I expect it will feel like work again, and that the day will be besieged with discouragement and difficulty.
I invite you to join me for the hour. To lay hold of this weak and little thing of prayer - with the knowledge that it is our most powerful weapon against the adversary. Come and join us as we call on our Father to pour out His Spirit upon our world again.
And even if I pray alone - you can expect to find me again in February inviting you to join me in praying again.