Dr. Wayne Dawes is minister at Knox's Galt Presbyterian Church, Cambridge ON. Some illustrations found here were taken from Why Revival Tarries by Leonard Ravenhill.
When I was first asked to present a study paper on the text 2 Chronicles 7:14, I thought it should be a pretty easy task. It is one of the best-known, most-loved and often-quoted portions of Scripture. Many can quote from heart, "If my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." I thought that a good start would be to look at an old sermon, but to my astonishment, I discovered I had never preached on the text. I then went to what I consider to be my rather extensive library and checked my commentaries and discovered that few of them, even the best, had more than a few brief sentences covering these verses. In a panic I raided another fine library of a fellow pastor and still came up dry. I could find none of the great pulpiteers who had preached on this text. My comment to my wife was that this study would have to be all "Dawes" because I couldn't find any material on it. Her reply was that if I prayed about it, it might be all God. Wives have a way of sending us humbly to our knees. Imagine something as radical as praying about teaching on prayer. Well, we talk about it and preach about it and write about it but do we pray?
Two reasons came to mind why there seemed to be, at least within my reach, very little information on this text. The first one was that this section of Chronicles is not found in the corresponding section in the book of Kings. It is believed by some that the chronicler imposed his views on the text and elaborated on or exaggerated the story as is found in Kings. A more plausible view is that this portion of Scripture is so incredibly challenging. Here we have the stipulation that God sets down for a nation to experience his blessing. This text does not make for comfortable preaching that you could expect a lot of "amens" from.
In its historical setting this text is a response to Solomon's prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:24-25. Solomon had built the temple. It is time to dedicate it to God. In chapter 6 we have his prayer in verses 41 and 42. When it is ended, fire comes down from heaven and consumes the burnt offering. The imagery goes back to Elijah's moment of triumph on Mount Carmel. The glory of the Lord fills the temple and all the people are witness to it. There is no special privilege for the priests but all the people see it. This was like a pentecostal experience where God pours out his Spirit upon all flesh and the people fall down and worship (7:3). As someone has said, "Prayer went up, fire came down, the Glory of God moved in — what more could you want?"
In 2 Chronicles 7:5, the king and the people dedicated the temple and offered as a sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. They held a festival for seven days, the eighth day being a solemn assembly. (There are some discrepancies as to the events and times.) Then the people are sent home.
God appears to Solomon in the night. "I have heard your prayers," he says, God confirms that he has chosen and consecrated the temple and that his presence would be there. But God's presence and blessing on the people is conditional as set down in the text in verse 14: "If my people …." If the people act in a certain way and do certain things there will be a revival. But what do we mean by revival?
Oftentimes when we speak of revival we think of a multitude of new people coming into the church as on the day of Pentecost when three thousand were converted. But is that always the case? I believe it was John Wesley who suggested that sometimes revival is simply a matter of some blessed subtractions.
A friend of mine is working on his ThD with a dissertation on revival and the first thing, of course, is to try to come to some definition. People used to hold "revival meetings," a week or longer of special services such as was held in Ottawa with Billy Graham a couple of years ago for the purpose of evangelization. Rather than holding a revival in some cases we should just let one go.
Another definition might be simply a special manifestation of God, a pouring out of God's Spirit in a significant way upon a church or churches in the area with results that affect the religious and social lives of individuals and the church. "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down" Isa. 64:1. We are talking here about a Sinai or Mount Carmel experience, a demonstration of the power of God. Not that God would literally come down. He is already here as he is everywhere. "Where can I go from your Spirit?" David asks. We sing, "Come Holy Spirit I need Thee." It is a wonderful prayer for God to manifest himself in our midst. If you were to ask the people after the day of Pentecost what had happened they would say something like, "The Lord came down among us and manifested his presence and his power in our midst."
We read about this in the revivals under Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Charles Finney, the Welsh Revival of 1904 and the Pentecostal Revival that followed. Hosea 10:12 says, "Break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you." That is revival. It is a sovereign move of God in response to the cries of his people.
Well, why do we need revival? There are two places to look. First as we look at the word of God in verses 12 and 13 of 2 Chronicles 7 we see the mention of famine and pestilence pointing to great spiritual need and the resulting judgment, Israel — God's chosen — had backslidden and committed idolatry. We look at how far our own nation has drifted away from God and the teachings of his Word. When the government restricts the use of Christian references by a Christian minister in a funeral service at Peggy's Cove our nation and the Christian witness is in big trouble. If as some would suggest that in a pluralistic society there should be many religious choices, that is fair enough. Christianity should be one of those choices. It should not be a matter of one of the other world religions or secular humanism which is in itself a religion. Christianity in Canada is fighting for its life. We need a heaven-sent revival that will have such an impact on society that people will acknowledge the true and the living God and bow down and worship him.
The second place to turn is to the church. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5 we read about the godlessness of the last days, the coldness, deadness, dullness and worldliness. "If my people …." We are not our own; we have been bought with a price. We belong to God. God directs his promise to his own people. The church is the people of God. In the book of Revelation we have the letter to the church at Laodicea. Jesus says, "I stand at the door and knock …." This is often used in evangelism to indicate that God is knocking on the door of the sinner's heart wanted to come in. The letter, however is directed to the church, a church that has grown lukewarm in its faith and experience. It is a message of judgment as Jesus indicates. He will spew us out of his mouth because we are neither hot nor cold but lukewarm in our relationship to him. This is the only time when Jesus is so disgusted. Judgment, the Bible tells us, begins at the house of God. But God also gives special promises to his people, promises of his presence and power. But what are the conditions? We often run over these quickly as of they are all the same thing.
The first thing is humility. "If my people will humble themselves…." We are instructed in Scripture not to think more of ourselves than we ought. We all have our petty conceits, the way we look or the way we perform certain tasks, even the way we preach. And it is always appropriate to have a good self-image. C.S. Lewis has said that, "Humility is not thinking lowly of ourselves. It is not thinking of ourselves at all." So here we turn from living lives of proud self-centredness to acknowledging our need of God. In the Hebrew, humility means to bend the knee, to bow down, to be in subjection to, to realize how poor and needy we are. Again in the letter to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:17 it says, "You say I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." Well the church certainly is rich. It never had such beautiful buildings and such modern equipment. Jesus says we are poor for never had we less enduement of power. We believe we have need of nothing and yet we lack almost everything the early church had. Someone has said, "If any other organization needed as much raw material to come up with such a small finished product it would be bankrupt." There is an old story about Thomas Aquinas when he was summoned by the Pope to come to Rome. The pontiff showed him the glory of Rome and said, "Look Thomas, we can no longer say, 'silver and gold have I none.'" Thomas replied, "Yes, your holiness, but neither can we say, 'Rise up and walk.'" In spite of our fine buildings, educated clergy and progressive programs we are spiritually poor. Until we bow humbly before God and recognize our need God can't work in our lives.
Prayer is the second condition. This simply means to intercede, to make supplication. Do we pray? We do almost anything but pray. We say during a time of trial, "All we can do is pray." It is as if prayer was a last resort rather than the first thing we would do. All the major revivals have come because of a handful of people who were serious enough to cry out to God in prayer. As Dr. A.T. Pierson has said, "From the day of Pentecost, there has been not one great spiritual awakening in any land which has not, begun in a union of prayer, though only among two or three, no such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meeting declined." We can't just wish for revival or work it up in some way. We must pray.
A third ingredient is to seek the face of God. This seems to indicate serious prayer. To ask, beg, beseech or make a request. James tells us that it is the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person that avails much. It is to be serious about prayer as Hannah was when she cried, "Give me children or I die." Or John Knox, who exclaimed "Give me Scotland or I die." Are we serious about prayer? Look at some of the great men of prayer:
- Charles Simeon, a devout Anglican of the last century, devoted the hours from four to eight in the morning to God;
- John Wesley spent two hours daily in prayer. He began at four in the morning;
- John Fletcher, who followed him, often prayed all night;
- Martin Luther said, "If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer;
- Bishop Asbury said, "I propose to rise at four o'clock as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation;
- Samuel Rutherford, the seventeenth-century Scottish theologian, rose at three in the morning to meet God in prayer;
- Joseph Alleyne, the English Presbyterian, arose at four o'clock for prayer and was distressed if tradesmen were plying their business before he was at his;
- John Welch, the holy and wonderful Scottish preacher, thought the day ill-spent if he did not spend eight or ten hours in prayer;
- David Brainerd, who died at such an early age, prayed so fervently in knee-deep snow that the snow around him melted;
- Bishop Andrews, who was involved in the translation of the King James Version of the Bible of 1611, spent the greatest part of five hours every day in prayer and devotion; and,
- Adoniram Judson, the famous missionary to Burma, encourages us with the words, "Arrange thy affairs, if possible, so that thou canst leisurely devote two or three hours every day not merely to devotional exercises but to the very act of secret prayer and communion with God."
Have we lost the desire and the art of praying and seeking the face of God? The last condition is repentance, which simply is to turn around, to make an about-face to stop doing what you are doing that displeases God and start doing what is right. When we read Joel 2:15-17 we realize that the church is not right with God. As Leonard Ravenhill points out, "The church began with these men in the 'upper room' agonizing and today is ending with men in the supper-room organizing. The church began in revival; we are ending in ritual. We started virile, we are ending sterile. Charter members of the church were men of heat and no degrees, today we hold degrees, but have no heat." If Saul had only met a preacher and heard a sermon on the road to Damascus he might never have been heard of again. But he met Christ and his life was transformed. The church is not a parade ground where we strut our medals in the presence of the Almighty. It is more like a MASH unit where we heal the broken-hearted and bind up the wounded and send them out into the world to be the church. We can't do that unless we have that same power the church had years ago when they turned the world upside down. We might need to repent of our coldness toward the things of God. Are we serious about desiring God's blessing for renewal and revival?
Finally, let me end on a positive note. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we also have God's promise "Then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land." Dr. R.A Torrey makes the claim, "I have a theory, and I believe it to be true, that there is not a church, chapel or mission on earth where you cannot have revival, provided there is a little nucleus of faithful people who will hold on to God until it comes." Someone asked the famous revivalist Gypsy Smith how we get revival. He simply said, "Draw a circle on the ground. Sit in the circle and pray that God will start a revival in me." May God give us the desire to do that very thing.