Over the course of our nation’s history, we have had four Great Awakenings in the United States. The first Great Awakening was in the 1700s when our country was still in formation and was led by such people as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. During just two years of this revival, from 1740 to 1742, between 25,000 and 50,000 people were added to New England churches. That may not seem like very many, but our nation’s population was only around 300,000 at that time.
The Second Great Awakening occurred from about 1790 to 1840, with Charles Finney as one of its leaders. This was during the time of the Wild West, when law was disregarded and sexual sin was rampant. Crowds of as many as 15,000 people would gather for several days for camp meetings. Thousands of people on the frontier would come and hear the gospel being preached. A lanky young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln was known to have attended some of those meetings and had his life impacted by them.
The Third Great Awakening in American history took place from 1857 to 1859 and began when a 48-year-old businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier started a prayer meeting on Fulton Street in New York City. It began slowly but soon exploded, due to the crash of the stock market. Prayer meetings were being held everywhere in New York, filling theaters on Broadway. Within six months, 10,000 people gathered daily for prayer throughout New York City. There were 10,000 weekly additions to church membership during this time. One of the men who came out of this revival was the great evangelist D. L. Moody. What is amazing about this Great Awakening is that it started with a prayer meeting, which turned into a wave that rolled across the nation.
In my opinion, the Fourth Great Awakening was the Jesus Movement of the mid-1960s and 1970s. Our country was in turmoil. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of a nuclear confrontation with Russia, and not long after that came the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, followed by the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Then Martin Luther King was assassinated as well. The Vietnam War raged, with no end in sight. Kids rebelled against society, living by one of the slogans of the time to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” John Lennon made the controversial statement around this time that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, and in some ways, he probably was right.
Then, inexplicably and supernaturally, God began to work. Young kids were coming to Christ by the hundreds, and soon by the thousands. They showed up in churches that were very conservative. There wasn’t contemporary Christian music or casual dress in church services back then. But when the hippie kids starting showing up, the churches that welcomed them experienced revival.
One such church was Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. At first, Senior Pastor Chuck Smith didn’t like the hippies. He thought they all needed to get a haircut and go to work. But his wife, Kay, had a different view, and she was praying for them. Then one day, a genuine, living, breathing hippie showed up at their house. Chuck Smith let him start preaching at Calvary Chapel, and the place exploded. Soon, a lot of Christian bands were performing there, and a new genre of music developed known as Contemporary Christian. I witnessed all of this happening because I became a Christian in 1970. And while the Jesus Movement did not start at Calvary Chapel, it blew through there as it did in many other places.
But that was some four decades ago. It’s a glorious history, but it’s history nonetheless. We can’t live in the past, but we can learn from it. And we need to pray that God will do it again. We need another Jesus Movement. We need another spiritual awakening. We need another revival in America today.
What is revival? Revival is something that God does for us; we don’t do it for him. We can’t create a revival or organize one. But we can pray for a revival. The psalmist asked God, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6 NKJV) The prophet Habakkuk prayed, “O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).
A.W. Tozer defined revival as “that which changes the moral climate of the community. Revival is nothing more or less than a new beginning of obedience to God.”
We have a new generation now that needs their own revival, their own awakening. We should pray that God will send another one.
We know from history that every nation’s days are numbered. Every nation has a moment when it is born and a moment when it effectively dies – or at least is diminished dramatically. That is true for the United States of America. We know that judgment is coming; it is only a matter of time.
My prayer is that God would send at least one more spiritual awakening to America before the judgment comes. That is what we all should be praying for. If God could bring a mighty revival to ancient Nineveh, with no better representative than Jonah and no more gospel than he preached in their streets, then certainly God could do the same for the United States.