Some believe a call for nationwide prayer and fasting, as recently issued by Texas Governor Rick Perry, would ignite religious revival and save America from impending doom. Would religious renewal help solve national problems? Just what kind of revival is needed?
Source: Bob Daemmrich/Polaris
On August 6, 2011, some 30,000 people gathered at a large stadium in Houston, Texas, to seek God's help in solving America's political, economic and social problems. Texas Governor Rick Perry, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, asked people to join him in prayer for "unity and righteousness—for this great state, this great nation and all mankind."
In an official proclamation, Perry stated: "Given the trials that have beset our country and world—from the global economic downturn to natural disasters, the lingering danger of terrorism and wars . . . —it seems imperative that the people of our nation should once again join together for a solemn day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation."
His call was greeted with both enthusiastic approval from many evangelicals and hostile condemnation from groups promoting separation of church and state, from secular humanists and from gay activists.
Deal Hudson, president of the Catholic Advocate in Washington D.C., responded cynically when questioned by the Dallas Morning News about attending the religious occasion:
"Yes, I would go, but I know that such an event is political down to its bones. I don't think Gov. Perry would deny the political side of the event . . . [The] event will very likely appeal stylistically only to evangelicals, and any Catholics or mainline Protestants who attend will very likely feel they are at a revival meeting."
Why does the word "revival" have a negative connotation for many people? It's because they associate a "revival meeting" with undisciplined or even undignified emotionalism. And some cringe at any publicly expressed religious devotion—especially if connected to politics.
Of course, Gov. Perry isn't the first politician to turn to prayer and fasting in times of national trouble. As his proclamation mentioned, U.S. Presidents John Adams (1797-1801) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) publicly encouraged people to pray for God's guidance and blessing on the nation.
He also mentioned that at the outbreak of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting. And in 1952 Harry Truman signed into law a resolution instituting an annual national day of prayer.
Could a national day of prayer and fasting lead to a great Christian revival in the United States? Could a spiritual revitalization help the nation find solutions to its social, economic, educational and moral problems?
The need for revival—but what kind?
Truly, the world is in trouble. The country is in trouble. You may be in trouble. You may be worried about paying your bills. Politicians seem more interested in feathering their own nest than helping solve our problems.
Students pile up huge college debt only to end up working at fast-food restaurants. The nation's infrastructure—roads, bridges, dams, levies—is deteriorating. Our educational system has fallen behind much of the rest of the world. The news is filled with violence and robberies. And to make matters worse, you may have just found out that your denomination is considering redefining marriage.
The nation has lost its way and needs a spiritual revival. Many days you yourself suffer from vague anxiety you can't define. You don't know where to look for answers, but you feel a desperate need for spiritual renewal.
Just what kind of revival could meet with any degree of success in dealing with the despair of national decline, rejection of God, poverty, child abuse, crime, drug addiction, family breakdown and a host of other problems—including your own personal struggles?
At the beginning of the 1900s there was a religious revival in Los Angeles involving participants who spoke in tongues and fell to the ground in fits of spiritual elation. That revival spawned the modern Pentecostal movement. Would that kind of religious experience turn people to God and bring about solutions to our many problems?
Tent meeting revivals were the rage during the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression. Evangelists traveled from town to town setting up large tents, calling people to believe in Jesus and be saved.
In the 1960s and 70s the "Jesus people" sprang from the hippie culture. Those involved in this movement, sometimes called "Jesus freaks," rejected traditional Christianity, which was seen as ritualistic and rigid, for a religion of free love and communal living.
What would a 21st-century Christian revival look like? Would it promote traditional mainstream Protestant views of hell and damnation? Would it espouse the New Age concept that all paths lead to God as long as we love one another? Would a religious revival be politically motivated? Which Jesus would you follow—the Democratic Jesus or the Republican Jesus?
Here's the difficult truth Christians must face: The spiritual revival you desire isn't going to happen because tens of thousands of people gather for a public day of prayer and fasting. It's not going to happen by consolidating political power through the electoral process.
This spiritual restoration won't be found in returning to the "faith of the Founding Fathers" or in promoting an ecumenical movement. A God-centered revival is going to take a lot more personal examination than making a public stand against abortion or homosexuality.
What would a biblical, God-centered, Christian revival really look like in your life—a life-changing spiritual renewal, not based on a politically tailored media event, but a personal connection between you and your Creator?
A real, biblical, God-centered revival involves a radical change in your thinking and actions. It requires a radical change in your life. It is even going to take a radical change in how you define Christianity!
Jesus' call—revival through committed discipleship
Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, came to launch the greatest religious revival in human history. He outlined the requirements when He said: "If people come to me and are not ready to abandon their fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as their own lives, they cannot be my disciples. So those who do not carry their crosses and follow me cannot be my disciples" (Luke 14:26-27, God's Word Translation).
He is not teaching that all of us should abandon or mistreat our loved ones. His point is that you must be willing to give up everything you have and everything you are to be His disciple.
A disciple is more than a student. A disciple is a person who wants to be just like the Teacher. If you are going to be more than a Christian in name only, you must live just as He lived. Christianity has enough believers in Jesus. What Jesus Christ wants are disciples.
Christ's concluding words here can be difficult to understand in our modern context: "So those who do not carry their crosses and follow me cannot be my disciples." What does it mean to carry a cross?
In Judea at the time of Jesus, the mention of carrying a cross communicated a great deal. The people of that day saw Roman soldiers whipping and prodding a person who was dragging a heavy beam through the streets. It was a sickening sight because the person was literally carrying his instrument of execution.
He carried it until he was nailed to it. That's the level of commitment God wants from you if you want to participate in His revival. The "old time religion" isn't where it's at, and neither is the political bully pulpit.
To be a real disciple of Jesus Christ involves you surrendering your entire life to His lead. It means to be out of step with society because you must accept that our human nature is fatally flawed and that every political, economic and ecumenical solution we devise will eventually fail.
That's the bad news. The good news is that a great revival is on the horizon and you can be part of it!
Commitment to God through fasting
Whenever a call to religious renewal is made, it's usually accompanied by prayer and fasting. How can fasting help bring about personal spiritual renewal?
Let's begin by looking at what the Bible tells us about fasting. Fasting, in its simplest application, means to go without food and water for a certain period of time as a way to experience humility and repentance before God and to seek His guidance.
Fasting is an important aspect of personal Christian revival. It's a new idea even for many Christians. When someone first hears about fasting the natural question is: What is intense prayer and denying myself food supposed to produce in my relationship with God?
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave instructions on fasting: "Moreover, when [not if ] you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:16-18).
The prophet Isaiah told of a time when the people of ancient Israel prayed and fasted for God's help. To their surprise, instead of receiving God's blessing, they received a scathing rebuke! God actually rejected their fasting.
Isaiah was inspired to write God's response to their days of fasting and prayer: "They seek Me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God . . . They take delight in approaching God . . ." (Isaiah 58:2).
God noted that the people of ancient Israel appeared religious, but in their daily lives they ignored His instructions on how He was to be worshipped and how to treat their neighbors.
The religious leaders of the day asked God why He didn't respond to their days of prayer and fasting. And He answered quite bluntly! "In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed, you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high" (verses 3-4).
Think about what God is saying in this passage. God tells these religious people that He has rejected their requests because their motive for praying and fasting was an attempt to force Him to listen to their demands. They had little interest in listening to God's demands!
Fasting is not a ritual that prepares God to become attentive to your desires and actions. Fasting is a humble seeking of God that prepares you to become attentive to His desires and actions! The ultimate aim of fasting is learning to rule over our own desires and subject our lives wholly to God's greater spiritual purposes.
Christians need to be going before God in prayer and fasting, not to seek political solutions to our problems but seeking God's involvement in our lives. There is a great need for you to turn to God, confess your sins and seek His forgiveness. You must also seek His desire for your life and trust in His guidance for your life—guidance found in the Bible.
Spiritual renewal can only happen when you are willing to completely give up your life, pick up your cross, and tell God: "You are my Father. I'm your creation. Fulfill in my life what you decide is best, and I will follow." As Jesus Himself prayed to God the Father, "Not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42).
It's all about change!
Christians want to change the world, but the real question you need to ask is this: Have I really submitted to God and allowed Him to change me? This change involves more than attending church. It is a complete change of life.
It can feel "righteous" for us to publicly denounce the "big" sins like radical terrorists —that's an easy one to stand against. Or abortion, which is a terrible crime against humanity, or any number of other sins. But before we can call on society to repent, we must first humbly repent ourselves.
How can Christians really have any credibility in promoting family values when they have almost the same divorce rate as non-Christians?
How can Christians argue the importance of the Ten Commandments as the foundation of our Judeo-Christian heritage if our own lives are filled with idolatry in worshipping the almighty dollar, if we use God's name in vain, if we ignore the seventh-day Sabbath and if we dishonor our parents?
All these matters are covered in the "Big Ten." Churchgoers fight for the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places, but the moment someone says we really should obey them, that person is branded a legalist!
It's interesting to examine Lincoln's 1863 "Proclamation Appointing a National Day of Prayer." It reads in part: "And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord . . ."
Lincoln went on to state, "It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness."
When was the last time you heard anyone speak of God as "the offended Power"? A real spiritual renewal must involve your submission to God and to His law, recognizing Him as the righteous Creator you have sinned against. It is true that God loves you, but God's love isn't a free pass to disrespect His love. A personal revival requires you to get on your knees and admit that your ways don't work and to seek His desires for your life.
A national revival would involve not just a day of prayer and fasting, but crying out to God for His forgiveness of our national sins.
It would involve admitting that no political candidate or party has the real solutions to the national debt, injustice, crime or prejudice.
It would require a return to not just paying lip service to the Ten Commandments, but a commitment to obeying them.
We need God's help to radically change our personal lives and our assemblies of worship before we can expect Him to change the nation! But then He certainly would. As He proclaimed to ancient Israel: "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 Chronicles 7:14).
What does God want to do in your life?
At the beginning of His ministry on earth, Jesus Christ stood in the synagogue of Nazareth, opened the book of Isaiah, and read: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19).
While His ministry provided a preview, what He was announcing was a wonderful future to come after His second coming—when the world's inhabitants will at last be truly freed and healed under the rule of the Kingdom of God, being led into the way of God's righteousness and peace.
God wants to prepare you for the greatest revival the world has ever known. This great spiritual renaissance is more than a dream about a better future. It is a time when all humanity will receive workable solutions to political, economic and social problems.
Christ is returning to lead this revival—not through tent meetings or political movements, but by literally establishing God's Kingdom on the earth. You can take part in this spiritual renewal by submitting to Him now!
To Learn More...
Acts 17:30 tells us that God "now commands all men everywhere to repent." But just what is repentance? How does that tie in with conversion? What kind of change does God really want to see in us? Download or request your free copy of Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion . A free copy is waiting for you!