29th March, 2006
One of the most recent genuine revivals that has occurred in the western world was on the island of Lewis, northwest of Scotland. It happened in 1949.
In a village named Barvas, a group of church leaders began to pray for revival. They prayed for four months. Two elderly women, Peggy and Christine Smith, also prayed for God to do a work in the village. Peggy was eighty-four, and blind, while Christine was eighty-two, and suffered severely from arthritis. They prayed day and night in their cottage. Unaware of Peggy and Christine’s petitions, a group of seven young men in Barvas also began to pray for revival. They met in a barn for prayer, three nights each week.
One morning, Peggy Smith had a vision of churches crowded with people. She sent a message to the Reverend that God had revealed He was going to send a revival. He and the church leaders prayed collectively for several months. They invited a preacher from Edinburgh, Duncan Campbell, to preach a series of messages in their village. He originally planned to stay for two weeks, but ended up staying two years.
Upon arriving, Campbell preached for two nights on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. After one of the meetings, a crowd of people gathered outside the church, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Other local people had joined them. Many were in distress. Duncan Campbell called the whole group to come into the church. Once inside, some of the unsaved began to groan and pray, and a number were saved.
The next night, busloads of people arrived in Barvas. They wanted to see what was happening. Then revival soon spread to other villages. Visitors who came to the island commented on the sense of God’s presence. There was a strong sense of conviction of sin in the meetings. In one service, a man called out “I am lost, really lost! There is nothing but hell for me!” (1) A Christian bus driver pulled his bus over and pleaded with the passengers to repent. Not one responded. After the bus arrived at it’s destination, one of the passengers was suddenly killed before the return trip.
The revival fire in Barvas sparked similar fires in other areas. Duncan Campbell recalled, “News of what was happening in Barvas spread faster than the speed of gossip… Within a matter of days the whole neighbourhood was powerfully awakened to eternal realities. Work was largely set aside as people became concerned about their own salvation, or the salvation of friends and neighbours. In homes, barns and loom-sheds, by the roadside or the peatstack, men could be found calling upon God.” (2)
Duncan Campbell’s method of preaching would be disapproved of by many Christians today. He would preach on sin, condemnation, and hell, and not present the way of salvation. After the meetings, he would share the gospel with those who came seeking salvation. He did not share the gospel with people who were uninterested. He would wait until they were under conviction of sin, then point them to Christ.
The work that God did during this revival can only be described as remarkable. The revival brought with it a strong sense of God’s presence. One person said “It seemed as if the very air was electrified with the Spirit of God.” (3) This “presence” was felt both in and outside of churches. People were often converted during song services. Others would sit near the door of the church so they could leave early, but many were still saved.
Unsaved people would arrive at churches asking where they could find God. This powerful conviction of sin, which led to people calling on the Lord, is reminiscent of Acts chapter two, where people were “cut to the heart” as Peter preached the word. After the Hebrides revival, Duncan Campbell commented, “I have no hesitation in saying that this awareness of God is the crying need of the church today.” (4)
An eyewitness of the revival commented, “You cannot explain revival to those who have never experienced it. In revival God is completely in control, and the whole community is aware of that.” (5) Those affected by the revival became spiritually minded and were taken up with the things of God. One said, “It didn’t matter what you were doing, you were just longing for the prayer meeting.” (6) In at least two villages, church services would continue to as late as three o’clock in the morning.
Several years after the Hebrides revival, Duncan Campbell returned to one of the villages where God had been at work. One of the elders showed him a house that was boarded up. “That,” the elder commented, “was the drinking house and it has never been opened since the revival. Last night fourteen men who frequented that building were praying in the church prayer meeting.” (7) Many lives had been transformed.
God did an awesome work in Lewis, Scotland, in 1949. But a study of revivals reveals that this was just one of many manifestations of God’s power. There have been similar revivals in Wales, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, the Solomon Islands, Indonesia, the United States, and other countries. God is willing to bring revival at any place at any time. He has laid down the conditions of revival in His Word – repentance and prayer. (8)
Repentance involves a deep awareness that things are not as they should be. It causes us to cry out to God for change. There is also a recognition that we have been part of the problem. When Nehemiah and Ezra called upon God, they identified with the peoples’ sins and took their share of responsibility.
The type of prayer that moves God’s to send revival is fervent, persistent prayer. A casual two-minute prayer for revival will not change anything. History teaches us that revivals were preceded by continuous, collective prayer. Groups of Christians began to cry out to God to do a work in their church or town. On some occasions these prayers went on for months, even years, before revival came. In the early 1900′s, missionaries in Pyongyang, Korea, began praying for revival. Revival came after five months of daily prayer. The Shantung revival in northern China, in 1932, was born out of prayer meetings. Some of these had begun seven years earlier.
Are we prepared to set ourselves for the long haul of persistent prayer? That is the cost of revival. No doubt, many Christians would like to witness a powerful revival. But there can be no revival without labouring in prayer. May we count the cost and give ourselves to fervent prayer, eagerly anticipating the great work that God will do.
(1) Duewel, W. Revival Fire, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995) p310
(2) Edwards, B. Revival! (Evangelical Press, Durham, 1990) p44
(3) Ibid p256.
(4) Ibid p136.
(5) Ibid p257.
(6) Ibid p256.
(7) Ibid p257.
(8) For example: 2 Chronicles 7:13-15, Joel 1&2 (esp. 1:13-16, 2:12-32), James 2:6-10