What is Revival?

If we're going to be stirred up to pray for revival, it would probably help to know what revival is. The word can get used in all sorts of different ways by different people nowadays, that we might end up losing sight of what it's really all about. As Arthur Wallis warned 70 years ago, the word “has come to be used in relation to spiritual things so widely and so loosely that many are perplexed to know what it does mean” (In The Day of Thy Power, p.19). We shouldn't get it mixed up, Wallis warns, with “excessive emotionalism and mass hysteria,” nor with “a successful evangelistic mission.” Revival isn't an event we can organise or control. 

Revival is more than big meetings. It is more than religious excitement. Is is more than the quickening of the saints, or their being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is more than a great ingathering of souls. One may have any one of these without revival, and yet revival includes them all.
(Arthur Wallis, In The Day of Thy Power, p.20)

We must not let ourselves reduce our idea of revival to just one aspect of it. And we must certainly not allow ourselves to reduce our idea of revival to something human beings can bring about. Revival is, in fact, God's work. 

Revival is divine intervention in the normal course of spiritual things. It is God revealing Himself to man in awful holiness and irresistible power. It is such a manifest working of God that human personalities are overshadowed, and human programmes abandoned. It is man retiring into the background because God has taken the field. It is the Lord making bare His holy arm, and working in extraordinary power on saint and sinner.
(Wallis, In the Day of Thy Power, p.20)

This is what we're praying for when we pray for revival—this divine intervention. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, revival is “when the Holy Spirit does an unusual work” which results, first, in an “extraordinary enlivening of the members of the church, and, second, the conversion of masses of people who hitherto have been outside in indifference and in sin” (‘Revival: An Historical and Theological Survey’, pp.1-2)

During the Hebridean Revival, Duncan Campbell described it like this:

Revival is a going of God among His people, and an awareness of God laying hold of the community ... In revival the fear of God lays hold upon the community, moving men and women, who until then had no concern for spiritual things, to seek after God.
(Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, p.10.)

Later, he'd sum it up even more succinctly: “Revival is a community saturated with God” (Campbell, The Price and Power of Revival, p.62). 

We can get a glimpse of that in D.P. Williams’ description of the 1904 Revival in Penygroes:

God's visitation to this village was like unto a moral earthquake shaking the neighbourhood to its foundation. Sinners trembled with fear at God's Justice. Dreamers were awakened from their spiritual stupor, and lingering prejudice was dealt with at its very roots. At other times it was like thunder-clouds, bursting forth in abundance of torrential praise and exhilaration, gladness and exaltation. At other times, as the gentle dew distilling quietly, until vast congregations were melted into sobs and loud weeping. The burning heat of the Divine presence would sometimes be so intense as to engender a desire to flee away. Congregations were elevated to the heights above by the Glory of God; then they were brought down to the depths of humiliation and prostration. The mountains echoed and re-echoed the praises and acclamations of Zion's new-born sons and daughters. Homes were changed. People of various stations in life were regenerated. We witnessed the sublimest manifestations of the Holy Ghost with ‘tongues of fire’. They were days of wonderment and amazement, bearing, as they did, the impress of His Divinity.
(D.P. Williams, Souvenir Exhibiting the Movements of God in the Apostolic Church, p.9)

This is so much more than a successful evangelistic campaign or a series of good meetings. Revival isn't merely an encouragement for God's people. It's not even just a few people getting saved. Revival is an extraordinary visitation of God in His power and His grace among His people which flows out far beyond His people to wonderfully and powerfully save and add to His people. 

Revival is a visitation of the sovereign God in His grace, that goes far beyond what we imagine or expect. When revival came to Broughshane (in what's now Northern Ireland) in 1859, the minister said, “We had been praying for and expecting some such precious blessing, but were taken by surprise, so sudden, powerful, and extraordinary were the manifestations of the Spirit's presence” (Archibald Robinson, quoted in Brain Edwards, Revival, p.33). We can pray, filled with faith and expectation, but even then, when it comes, the intensity of the floods upon the dry ground will take us by surprise as the Lord rends the heavens and comes down among us. 

Let that be our prayer!