The Assyrian city of Nineveh was one of the most wicked places on the face of the planet, renowned for its violence and cruelty. And despite a pretty weak message from the original chicken of the sea, the prophet Jonah, the people of Nineveh turned to the Lord en masse and repented of their sin. As a result, God spared them and extended their days.
Could God do that for the United States of America? I believe he could. Have we ever had a revival in this country before? Yes, we have. In fact, we have had a number of them.
The first Great Awakening took place in the 1700s, before the Revolutionary War. Led by such men as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, some 25,000 to 50,000 people came to Christ between 1740 and 1742. That may not seem like an impressive number, until you consider the population of that time, which was approximately 300,000.
The second Great Awakening, from the 1790s to 1840, was led by many, including Charles Finney. This was the time of the Wild West, where the law was disregarded and sexual sin was rampant. But then the camp meetings began, held in the middle of the woods and attended by thousands of people. No one was updating their Facebook pages or sending out Tweets about where these meetings were being held. Yet thousands and thousands of Americans attended them, and many came to faith.
The roots of the third Great Awakening were unique. This revival, from 1857 to 1859, started with a 48-year-old man named Jeremiah Lanphier. A businessman in New York City, Lanphier felt burdened for his city and his country. So he started a prayer meeting on Fulton Street. Initially it was attended by only a handful of people. But then the stock market crashed, and soon his meeting was overflowing with praying New Yorkers. Not much later, the city was filled with people praying every day at lunchtime. The theaters on Broadway were filled with Christians who were praying for the city and for the nation. Within six months, 10,000 people were gathering together daily for prayer in New York City.
It is reported that 50,000 New Yorkers were converted in three months. And during a single year, the number of reported conversions throughout the nation reached an average of 50,000 a week. When it was all said and done, some one million people came to faith. And it all began with Jeremiah Lanphier and his little prayer meeting. He wasn’t a preacher. He wasn’t a missionary. He was just a Christian who wanted to start praying.
I think you also could classify the Jesus Movement of the late-1960s and 1970s as a genuine American revival. And I was privileged to have a front-row seat to this one.
During the 1960s, the country was in turmoil. Some may look back on the ’60s through rose-colored granny glasses and think those were the good old days. But our country was in turmoil. Bomb drills were mandatory in classrooms. I remember getting under the desk and crouching down. This is what we were to do, they said, in case there was an atomic war.
But then, as we got older, the innocence was shattered when we saw our young president, John F. Kennedy, shot in Dallas. And then Martin Luther King was assassinated. And then Robert Kennedy also was shot and killed. The Vietnam War was raging, and young men were coming back every day in body bags. Protests were breaking out in the streets, and there was anarchy and chaos. The slogan of the day was, “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.” It was all about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
By and large, the church was ineffective in reaching this youth culture. The church didn’t know what to do. In 1966, Time magazine ran a cover story with a headline that asked, “Is God Dead?” And many liberal Protestant theologians said that indeed he was.
Enter the Jesus Movement. It was a Divine intervention that saved a generation. Time magazine did another cover story, this time with the headline, “The Jesus Revolution.” God touched a man named Chuck Smith to open up the church where he pastored to young hippie kids, who came and heard the gospel. And soon his church was overflowing. Other churches were overflowing as well, because the Jesus Movement was spreading around the globe. In the aftermath of that time, we have seen hundreds of Calvary Chapels start up around the country. Thousands and thousands of churches have been impacted by what God did during this time. For all practical purposes, contemporary Christian music was born during the Jesus Movement, along with contemporary praise and worship.
Some 40 years have passed, and a lot of those young hippie kids are grandparents now. I should know. I am one of them. We thank God for what he did in the past. And we still see the effects of it, because the Harvest Crusades are directly connected to the Jesus Movement. I came to faith during that time. And what we are doing in these crusades is really an extension of what we saw God do back then. In our crusades around the world, we have seen some 4 million people in attendance and some 400,000 people make commitments to follow Christ.
But we need another Jesus Movement today. We need another revival. The prophet Habakkuk wrote, “I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2 NLT). Habakkuk was saying he had heard about what God did in the good old days.
We need a spiritual awakening again in America, and we need to start praying for it. It won’t be exactly like it was before. The Jesus Movement wasn’t like the revival before that or the revival before that. It is not something we can organize. It is something for which we agonize in prayer. It is a sovereign work of God. And we need it in our country again.