‘Persecution leads to revival.’ It’s a phrase you might have heard before from other Christians, but we need to be careful when making simple statements like that. In the past we see some amazing examples of revival emerging where persecution took place. In North Korea (1907) and China (1980s onwards) there are definite movements where God opened many peoples eyes. But revival is by no means an automatic result of persecution. Islam has since swamped North Africa, the very place where Tertullian once said ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ It might be more accurate to say ‘Revival leads to persecution’.
Revival comes as God brings it, and we see through history when it does come that people are renewed in faith and become passionate about mission as a result.
Revival is not something we can conjure up by getting the right Church programme in place, or reading the right book or belonging to a particular Church. Revival comes as God brings it, and we see through history when it does come that people are renewed in faith and become passionate about mission as a result.
While we should be cautious about the link between persecution and revival, what we do know is that there is a very strong link between prayer and revival.
In Ephesians Paul writes to persecuted believers about what the revived life looks like. Revival is where people realise they are lavished by God’s grace (1:7-8) and are longing for God’s glory (1:11-12). Paul wants the Christians there to experience the fruits of a revived life and so in Ephesians 3:12-21 he prays four things into their lives, he asks that they will be:
Strengthened by God’s power 3:16-17
The word used for ‘dwell’ highlights God being ‘a resident’ rather than ‘a lodger’, a permanent indwelling that leads to a life of perseverance under pressure. So living with perseverance is really about living out of God’s power with a resolve that keeps us going in the face of pain, pressure and persecution.
Secure in God’s love 3:17-18
Paul wants these Christians to both know God’s love and show God’s love. A deep reassurance of God’s love releases us from insecurity and helps us to relate to others with compassion and care – rather than be caught up with conflict, anger, suspicion, antagonism, bitterness and unforgiveness.
Living in God’s fullness 3:19
Persecution may not necessarily lead to numerical growth but when we hear stories from the persecuted church we often see that it leads to spiritual growth. In Ephesians ‘fullness’ is about growth – so individual Christians are to grow into God’s fullness (5:18) and the Church which is described as the fullness of Christ (1:23) is also to grow up until it reaches fullness (4:13-16).
While avoiding turning persecuted believers into saints we have much to glean from their faith, their prayer and their attempts to rely on God rather than on themselves – this is what living in God’s fullness is about.
Motivated by God’s Glory 3:2-21
These words are a prayer for revival in the Church, but part of the answer to this specific prayer is a growing prayerfulness among God’s people. Prayer seeks God’s glory to come in a fresh way and if we want to catch every prompting of God’s Spirit then the best thing we can do is to prayerfully ask for his glory to be revealed.
If you’re looking for revival in your own life, in your church, town or school we know there is no simple formula, but we can say that praying through these four areas is definitely a good place to start. And whilst there isn’t always a natural line from persecution to revival, we do know that those that persevere and keep going with God when all around is falling tend to shine His love brightest. So, if you want to see God move how about trying to pray through these four areas and see where it takes you!