Revival's Role in Missions

« Return to Archives

Revival's Role in Missions

May 22, 2005 | Randy Smith
Acts 1:8

Revival's Role in Missions

Acts 1:8
Sunday, May 22, 2005 • (Third Annual Jersy Shore Missions Conference)
Pastor Randy Smith

The game went like this: The church hides several footballs in various homes throughout the community. The congregation is then encouraged to associate with as many unbelievers as possible in an effort to find the homes that have a football. If they are fortunate enough to hit the jackpot and bring the football back to the church, they receive a prize. Moreover, if they are able to bring the football and the homeowner to the church, they receive a greater prize. And if the homeowner can successfully kick a field goal while at church, they will be triply rewarded.

Is this how Jesus wanted us to fulfill the Great Commission?

Just prior to His earthly departure, our Lord gave a command that permits no room for misunderstanding or negotiation: He said, "Make disciples of all the nations" (Mt. 28:19). We have been entrusted with the glorious privilege to see the living God work through our proclamation of His Gospel. We are co-workers with our Creator as He draws men, women and children to Himself. We observe people, like ourselves, deserving of hell, yet given eternal and abundant life. Our divine privilege is evangelism (2 Tim. 4:5). No work should be more successful and no work should be more rewarding

But it seems today that the great mission of the church is seen by many as the great misery of the church. Believers can spend years with unsaved loved ones and never share the Gospel. Church wide evangelistic events are only attended by a handful of the people. World missions has been reduced in many churches to writing checks once a month.

The evangelical church (now there is a contradiction!) has become so weak that many feel there is nothing wrong. They don't address the problem, because they don't believe there is a problem. Participation in the Great Commission is far from their thoughts and affections. We now practice the Great Omission!

Recently I received an e-mail from a local believer who moved to a southern state. "Yesterday…I went looking for sand dollars on the beach. I feel much more relaxed and love being in an area where there are so many believers! In NJ, believers are considered to be wacky."

Many pastors would denounce an escapist mentality, but their methodology to stimulate the flock for evangelism has been questionable, often resulting in frustration for all parties. The Christians are motivated by guilt, pressure and man-centered tactics and the unbelievers are often manipulated and unloved. They feel the ends justify the means. Unfortunately the means are unbiblical and the ends are a church filled with professing, but unregenerate "Christians."

The evangelical state of the evangelical church is sad, but this was not the picture painted for us in the Book of Acts as it recorded the missionary zeal of the early church. Over and over we read of men and women who had a genuine love for lost souls. Men and women who shared the Gospel whenever possible out of joy and obedience to their Lord's command. Men and women who took offense when people were worshiping false gods when they had been created to worship the true God through Jesus Christ. Men and women, who because of their evangelist fervor turned the world upside-down (Ac. 17:6).

How do we account for their tremendous passion to share the Gospel? What made the difference? They received the same command. They spoke the same message. They functioned with the same physical body. They struggled with the same obstacles and limitations. And they even worshipped the same Lord. They even had the same Holy Spirit, but could it be that they received more of the Spirit's filling? Could it be that the key to successful evangelism is not more man-pushing, but more God-pleading? Could it be that we are trying to do too much on our own strength and not enough on His? Could it be that the greatest catalyst to propel our church toward missions is none other than God-sent, Spirit-empowered, revival?

In most circles, "revival" is often used incorrectly to describe the conversion of the lost. When multitudes are saved we attribute that to a revival. Often this "awakening" does accompany revival, but revival ultimately describes God's blessing on His church so they will be moved with greater passion to evangelize the lost.

Listen to the words of J. I Packer: "Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God's near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow (Packer, Your Father Loves You 1986, page for May 30 - emphasis added).

Do we need this type of revival today to spark our "evangelistic outflow?" Possibly you will agree with the Scottish minister John MacNaughtan who wrote in the 1800's: "When there are few conversions under the ministrations of the church, and souls are perishing around her, unpitied and unhelped…we say a revival is required" (MacNaughtan, Lectures on the Revival of Religion, ch. 13).

More recently Erroll Hulse said, "In our generation we have increasingly suffered from spiritual lethargy and powerlessness. …The missionary effort among us is feeble. The enemies of the Gospel are winning the day in almost every area of the world. Our paramount need is for heaven-sent revivals of the kind that have adorned the history of the church. Nothing less than the powerful work of the Holy Spirit on a massive scale will meet the desperate spiritual poverty of our age, and remove the gross darkness that covers the nations. Only the manifestation of God in the midst of His people can give the church victory, making her the 'praise of the earth'" (Hulse, Revival Commentary, v. 2, n. 1).

Revival: The fulfillment of evangelism through the power of the Holy Spirit - do we have any biblical connections between the two?

In the Upper Room discourse Jesus told His disciples, "When the Helper [the Holy Spirit] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also" (Jn. 15:26-27a - emphasis added).

In the Gospel of John we read of Christ's final commission to His disciples. Just before His ascension He told His disciples, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (Jn. 20:21b - emphasis added). Jesus sent His disciples into a world "white for harvest" (Jn. 4:35) to reap lost souls. The next verse in John reads, "And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 20:22 - emphasis added).

Eventually this pledge and symbolic gesture of Jesus became a reality. In Acts 1:8 we read the direct commission from Christ Himself: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (emphasis added). Within days of this promise the church at Pentecost received the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit, enjoyed the greatest revival to date, and participated in the boldest and most successful evangelist campaigns.

The church today needs the Holy Spirit to strengthen our witness. We need a revival. But how do we go about receiving it? Today's message, entitled: "Revival's Role in Missions" will seek to answer that question.


First of all, allow me to say that true revival comes only through the sovereign act of God (Jn. 3:8). There is no quick formula to guarantee revival. Revival is not the result of human plans and human efforts. Revival comes only when God chooses to send revival according to His good pleasure.

However, like most other acts of God, He uses a means to accomplish His purpose. And one of the primary means He uses to accomplish His purpose of revival is prayer. Not only are we commanded to ask God for that which we need, all true revival chronicled in the past has seen an increase in the activity of prayer (particularly group prayer) prior to the revival. There can be no doubt that prayer occupies a primary place in the advancement of the Lord's work and especially in the quest for revival.

Henry Blackaby said in Revival Commentary, "All revival begins, and continues, in the prayer meeting. Some have also called prayer the 'great fruit of revival.' In times of revival, thousands may be found on their knees for hours, lifting up their heartfelt cries, with thanksgiving, to heaven" (Blackaby, Revival Commentary, Revival Scenes, v. 1, n. 1). J. Edwin Orr a leading scholar on revivals said, "Whenever God is ready to do something new with His people, He always sets them to praying" (Quoted in: National and International Religion Report, 1992, p. 2-3, from Orr's book: The Coming Great Awakening).

The actual accounts of revivals abound with illustrations of pervasive and fervent praying:

"On New Year's Eve 1739, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and some of their friends held a "love feast" which became a watchnight of prayer to see the New Year in. At about 3 a.m., Wesley wrote, 'the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground'" (Packer, Your Father Loves You 1986, page for May 30).

"In George Whitfield's time, overwhelmed by the Presence of God, people would pray and cry out to God throughout the night. Following a young girl's prayer, a youth meeting in South Africa was filled with the Presence of God, and the young people continued to pray for hours, issuing in the greatest revival during Andrew Murray's ministry. The great Moravian revival of 1727 began in prayer, and so overwhelmed were the people with the Presence of God, they were convicted to pray 24 hours a day, 7 days a week-and this lasted over 100 years, with astounding results around the world. In the 1904 revival in Wales, prayer was deep and crushing in the coalmines, in homes, in barns, along the roads, and in almost every place where people met. In Ulster (1859), more than 100 prayer meetings began instantly, even in graveyards and gravel pits (Blackaby, Revival Commentary, Revival Scenes, v. 1, n. 1).

Jonathan Edwards who participated in the First Great Awakening, made an urgent appeal encouraging the gathering for extraordinary prayer known as "concerts of prayer." He called for specific prayer to extend the earthly kingdom of Christ through revival. The title of his book in favor of this practice is worth the price alone: An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God 's People in Extraordinary Prayer, For the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom on Earth.

"Before the Second Great Awakening (late 1850's), Jeremiah Lamphier called a prayer meeting in downtown New York. Within six months 10,000 businessmen were praying for revival, and within two years about 2,000,000 people were added to the churches" (Hulse, Revival Commentary, v. 2, n. 1). As a matter of fact, out of the Second Great Awakening came the whole modern missionary movement.

As you can see, genuine revival is always preceded by a renewed passion for the prayer meeting. How far have we removed ourselves from this today? Infrequently we learn of a local congregation somewhere that is weeping before the Lord as it seeks His face. But overall, the church seems to think we are not so bad and the solution to our evangelistic failures is one more committee or one more class or one more new and innovative program. How much worse do things need to become until we all begin to groan and cry out to God in prayer for revival?

John MacNaughtan, whom I quoted earlier said, "(Prayer is) generally neglected; just as if the clear statements of Scripture regarding the potency, the almost miraculous efficacy of prayer, were designed as a pillow on which the church might slumber, rather than as a mighty stimulus to rouse to heroic achievements and urge on to glorious efforts in the cause of the Redeemer (MacNaughtan, Lectures on the Revival of Religion, ch. 13).

I already mentioned that Pentecost was the greatest known revival in the history of the church. But did this revival follow the pattern of other revivals? Do we have any evidence that corporate prayer preceded the revival?

In Acts 1:4, Jesus commanded the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the fulfillment of the Father's "promise." The promise is clearly articulated in verse 5. "For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." The primary purpose of the Spirit's coming is delineated in verse 8. Jesus in His final words made it clear that His church was to be a missionary church through the power of the Holy Spirit. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Then immediately in verses 9-11 we read about the earthly departure of Jesus.

The disciples were alone. They were given a grand promise regarding the Holy Spirit. They were left with a daunting task regarding the evangelization of the whole world. So what did they do?

Beginning in the next verse (verse 12) we read, "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers" (Ac. 1:12-14 - emphasis added).

After the selection of a new Apostle, only 13 verses later, after 10 days of intense prayer and exceptional unity, we read about the group together once again (Ac. 2:1) and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Ac. 2:1-4), revival!


Once God sends revival (as we move to the second point) His people come under an extreme conviction and consciousness of sin. The radical pursuit of holiness is the greatest evidence of genuine revival.

In one account recorded in church history, "The Presence and holiness of God…(was) so overwhelming at times that people were afraid to open their mouths lest they utter words that would bring upon them the judgments of God. Sinners, overwhelmed by the Divine Presence, would fall helplessly, crying for mercy. Under the crushing gravity of even the smallest sins, people may be found for hours groaning and in awful distress, weeping bitterly and uncontrollably, sighing and sobbing anxiously and painfully. Entire congregations deal face-to-face with God about their sins, in open brokenness and contrition, with urgent prayers of repentance, pleading to God for mercy. Under deep conviction, missionaries, pastors, elders, and evangelists are found publicly confessing their sins" (Blackaby, Henry, Revival Scenes, Revival Commentary, v.1, n. 1).

A missionary in Korea in 1907 wrote: "As the prayer continued, a spirit of heaviness and sorrow for sin came upon the audience. On one side, someone began to weep, and in a moment the whole audience was weeping. Man after man would rise, confess his sins, break down and weep, and then throw himself down on the floor and beat the floor with his fists in perfect agony of conviction."

And don't we also see this in the book of Acts following Pentecost? Don't we see bold preaching that began with "repent each one of you" (Ac. 2:38) and "repent and return" (Ac. 3:19) and "repent of this wickedness of yours" (Ac. 8:22)? Don't we see a church that was "continually (devoted) to the apostles' teaching…and to prayer" (Ac. 2:42)? Don't we see a church that was so steadfast on honoring the Lord Jesus Christ that they willingly risked their lives in the process (cf. Ac. 5:40; 7:58. etc.)? Don't we see a church committed to holy living?

Far from this holy living being a bad thing, people come to realize that this conviction of sin is solely the work of God in their midst. The revelation of their sin leads to a revelation of God's forgiveness. Therefore the Gospel is loved as never before. People develop a profound awareness of the peace and joy they have received through Christ's substitionary work on the cross.

The cycle goes like this: God gives people an overwhelming sense of His nearness. God's holy presence is then witnessed like never before. This gives us an overwhelming sense of our own sins and sinfulness. Confession and repentance are then produced and the cleansing power of Christ's blood is greatly appreciated.

Therefore, a desire to obey God by evangelizing and also in an inward sincere love for the Gospel, propels us into the world to delightfully share the 'Good News" of Christ crucified for sinners.

This leads us to our final point: "Eager Evangelism."


Do we see this demonstrated in the book of Acts? The fullness of the Holy Spirit fell from heaven. The people fell in love with the Gospel. And men, once timid and afraid became courageous and zealous preachers of the Truth. As a matter of fact, every time we read about the Apostles being "filled with the Spirit", it is always followed by a bold proclamation of the Gospel (Ac. 2:4; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9, 52). And as we know from the numbers recorded in the Bible that God chose to save thousands of people during this period - 3,000, and then 5,000 after one sermon (Ac. 2:41; 4:4)!

These extraordinary numbers of awakened souls are not isolated to Pentecost alone. History reveals "during true revival, thousands of lost people are suddenly swept into the Kingdom of God. Scenes of the lost coming to the Savior in great, and unprecedented numbers, are common. In the eastern states, during the revivals of 1858, conversions and baptisms quadrupled. During the Great Awakening in New England in the 1700s, between 25,000 and 30,000 were converted. When God visited Wales in 1859, it is estimated that 110,000 were added to the churches. In Korea between 1906 and 1910 the net gain of all the churches was nearly 80,000" (Blackaby, Henry, Revival Scenes, Revival Commentary, v.1, n. 1).

Now in this sermon, I am not saying that a bigger church is a better church. We are not to worship numbers. But I am saying that nothing should bring us greater joy than seeing God save sinners. I am not saying that there are multiple baptisms of the Holy Spirit. We are all baptized by the same Spirit the moment we trust Christ. But I am saying that those indwelt with the Holy Spirit can experience a difference in His manifestation, His filling, His power. I am not saying that prayer and bold preaching guarantee revival. There are two components necessary at all times for a God-honoring church whether we are in a season of revival or not. But I am saying that when God chooses to send revival, He usually (possibly always) does it on the heels of these disciplines.

The outline this morning is prayer, holiness and evangelism. I believe these three come together first and foremost in the Person of Jesus Christ. Many other Bible characters to a much lesser degree also come to mind: Moses, Isaiah, Peter, John and Paul. But listen to the testimony of one of my heroes: David Brainerd.

Brainerd, an evangelist, began his ministry with the American Indians at Crossweeksung and Cranberry, New Jersey. He started in 1743 and was cut short in 1747 when he died of tuberculosis in the home of Jonathan Edwards at the young age of 29. Brainerd was a fragile man who was mightily used by God during the "First Great Awakening."

Prayer, Holiness and Evangelism. Brainerd was a man of prayer - He frequently set aside days for prayer and fasting. One author said, "Prayer became Brainerd's priority and it was his joy to spend two hours at a time in secret communion with Christ. He would rise early in the morning and get alone with God to enjoy His presence. He thirsted for God, the living God and he was not disappointed" (Author Unknown). His journal is filled with one account after another of sweet and extended and frequent periods of prayer.

Brainerd was a man of holiness - In his diary he wrote, "Thirsting desires and longings possessed my soul after perfect holiness. God was so precious to my soul that the world with all its enjoyments appeared vile. I had no more value for the favor of men than for pebbles."

Brainerd was a man of evangelism - Though he admits that when his hopes were at their very lowest, the Holy Spirit fell upon him and awakened the Indians. His prayers were answered. Entire camps of Indians were converted by the power of God as he proclaimed a message of repentance and grace. Brainerd once wrote in his diary, "I longed to be a flame of fire continually glowing in the divine service and building up of Christ's kingdom to my last and dying breath." It is estimated that he traveled 15,000 miles on horseback and braved many dangers to get the Gospel to the lost.

In summarizing all three, David Smithers in his biography of David Brainerd said, "He prayed with sacrificial passion, pursued perfect holiness and called sinners to repentance; all because he fervently loved the Lord Jesus Christ" (Smithers, David Brainerd, Revival Resource Center - emphasis added).

If we really want to see God raise up more David Brainerd's, if we really want to have a passion for the lost, if we really want to observe the effectiveness of our outreach, if we really want to extend the glory of God, we must be praying together for the Holy Spirit to fall like fire from heaven and revive the church.


1 Spirit-filled sermons concerning sin, Christ and the cross penetrate the hearts of the saved and lost alike with the realities of eternity" (Blackaby, Revival Scenes, Revival Commentary, v. 1, n. 1).

2 Dr. J. Edwin Orr gives an excellent definition of extraordinary prayer. "What do we mean by extraordinary prayer? We share ordinary prayer in regular worship services, before meals, and the like. But when people are found getting up at six in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight, or giving up their lunchtime to pray at noonday prayer meetings, that is extraordinary prayer. It must be united and concerted" (Orr, Prayer and Revival).

3 Just some noted examples:
Wednesday, April 21 - "And God again enabled me to wrestle for numbers of souls, and had much fervency in the sweet duty of intercession."
Lord's Day, April 25 - "This morning I spent about two hours in secret duties and was enabled more than ordinarily to agonize for immortal souls. Though it was early in the morning and the sun scarcely shined at all, yet my body was quite wet with sweat."
Saturday, December 15 - "Spent much time in prayer in the woods and seemed raised above the things of this world."
Monday, March 14 - "In the morning was almost continually engaged in ejaculatory prayer."
Thursday, August 4 - "Was enabled to pray much, through the whole day."
Thursday, November 3 - "Spent this day in secret fasting, and prayer, from morning till night."

Series Information

Other sermons in the series