The following is an adjusted excerpt from my book Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission.
Revival is always preceded by a growing movement of prayer. It is the clear pattern seen historically and biblically. The pattern is set in Judges and seen throughout scripture: God’s people sin, God brings judgment upon them, God’s people confess their sins and cry out in prayer, and God responds by bringing renewal.
This pattern is seen repeatedly throughout the period of the kings of Israel and Judah when times of awakening preceded by prayer were led by such kings as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Samuel, Nehemiah, and Ezra were all leaders God used to lead their people in prayer and repentance, resulting in awakening.
The prophets called for it throughout scripture (Hosea 5:15–6:3 and Joel 2:12–17). Even the birth of the Church at Pentecost was preceded by prayer, as the followers of Jesus were in the upper room praying before the Holy Spirit filled them. They continued to pray together every day, and the gospel advanced through their united prayers. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31).
Extra-Biblical Prayer and Revival
Scripture sets the precedent through both stories and commands. Prayer always precedes revival. This can be seen in extra-biblical history as well. These extra-biblical stories were the ones that first captured my heart and imagination. I remember hearing about Samuel Mills at Williams College in Massachusetts.
In 1806, he and some friends had begun meeting to pray for the nations and to dream about how they could mobilize students to go out as missionaries. The group called themselves the Society of Brethren. Though they began as a secret society on campus, many more joined their prayer movement, and student groups from other campuses took on the same name and purpose.
Soon revival broke out on campuses across America. Within a few years, they had formed the first missions-sending agency in the history of our country. Samuel Mills and the Society of Brethren had a huge impact on another group of students 80 years later who gathered in 1886 at the Mt. Hermon Conference of college students.
A small group of students were praying for revival, asking specifically for God to renew in students a heart for the nations. The last night of the conference, July 24, 1886, God showed up and 100 students committed themselves, God willing, to go to the foreign mission field. Students left the conference and began to travel to campuses, sharing their vision for revival and world missions.
Thus began the Student Volunteer Movement, the largest missions-sending movement in our country’s history, sending more than 20,000 graduates overseas. These stories began in prayer, as did the First and Second Great Awakenings, the Laymen’s Prayer Movement, the Welsh Revival, and the stories being written today — like the stories of Almolonga, Guatamala; Cali, Colombia; Fiji Islands; and Kampala, Uganda — that are documented in the Sentinel Group’s Transformations videos.
Prayer Is Revival
There is never awakening without a growing prayer movement. In fact, it could be argued that prayer is revival. Prayer is, after all, a significant way to measure our hunger for God and the size of our vision. If we’re trusting God to do something bigger than we could possibly do ourselves, then we’re going to have to pray. If we want more of God than what we currently experience, then we need to pray.
When students get up early or stay up late to seek God together, when hundreds are coming to united gatherings to pray and repent, when ministry leaders are setting aside time to meet once a week or more, when many students are fasting from food and entertainment, then we will know that revival is coming. It may already be here.