Pastor Greg Laurie, the lead pastor at Harvest Church in Riverside, Calif., shared this past weekend about four spiritual awakenings America has seen in its history, and reasoned whether America can have another revival in our time, based on the message of the Book of Jonah.
The Book of Jonah is "a story about one of the largest spiritual awakenings in human history… a story of the revival of one of the wickedest cities ever, the city of Nineveh," Laurie said on Sunday as he began his message titled, "Revival in our time?"
The people of Nineveh were "legendary for their cruelty," the pastor said. They were known for being very savage, they would take boys and girls and burn them alive, they would torture adults, and they would behead people.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, which had ruled the world for 200 years and had the strongest military power at the time, he said. However, a greater military power, Babylon, was about to take over.
"The days of this nation were numbered," Laurie said, adding that the days of every nation are numbered. And that's true also for the United States of America.
"We know the judgment is coming. We cannot say we will pray a prayer that will avert the judgment of God." We know that the U.S. will no longer be the superpower, he said. But let's wish we have one more spiritual awakening for the United States of America, "or maybe two or three" before that happens. And that should be our prayer, the pastor said.
"If God can bring a mighty revival in Nineveh with no better representative than Jonah, and no more Gospel than he preached, certainly God can do the same for the United States," he underlined.
Revival starts with you; "it starts with me," Laurie said. "Nothing can happen through me until it happens to me."
Laurie marvelled that the people of Nineveh turned to God through a simple sermon by Jonah, who merely said, "Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!" (Jonah 3:4)
This shows "no one is beyond the reach of God," not even those we think are "super-sinners," Laurie told the congregation. Start praying for people by name, and God will save them. "We need to attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God."
Can God bring spiritual awakening to America? "I believe He can... and I pray He will," the pastor said.
We have seen four awakenings in America's history, Laurie said.
The first awakening was in the 1700s, when our country was still in formation, he said. It was led by people like Jonathan Edward and George Whitefield. Between 1740 and 1742 alone, 25,000 to 50,000 people were added to the New England churches.
The second awakening was from 1790 to 1840, when the Wild West was prevalent, love was disregarded, and sexual sin was rampant. This was the time when people like Charles Grandison Finney were preaching, and thousands would come to faith, the pastor said. In camp meetings, about 15,000 would gather for days. Between 1800 and 1803, more than 10,000 came to Christ in Kentucky alone, he said. A lanky young lawyer was also known to attend Christian meetings at the time, and we know him by the name of Abraham Lincoln.
The third awakening was from 1857 to 1859, Laurie said. It started after a 48-year-old businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, started a prayer meeting in New York City. They started small, but the meeting exploded after the crash of the stock market. Prayer meetings started everywhere in New York. Within six months, 10,000 people gathered for daily prayer. It is reported that 10,000 New Yorkers converted between March and May. Nationally, about 50,000 people were coming to Christ a week for a couple of years. About 1 million people came to Christ during the period of the third awakening. One of the men who came to Christ was D.L. Moody, Laurie said.
"The fourth great awakening, in my opinion, was the Jesus movement" in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when our country was in turmoil, there were tensions with Russia, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, followed by his brother, and then Martin Luther King, the Vietnam war was underway with no end in sight, kids were rebelling against society, it was a time of drugs, sex and rock n' roll, Laurie said.
John Lennon made a controversial statement at the time that Beatles were more popular than Jesus. But in some ways, he was right, the pastor said. "And then inexplicably, supernaturally, God began to work." Young people were coming Christ by the hundreds and then by the thousands, although some of the churches of the time were very conservative, he added.
Laurie said he also came to the Lord around that time, in 1970. "Our church was born during that time."
The Jesus movement began on the West Coast and spread primarily through North America and Europe. It was the major Christian element within the hippie counterculture, as also the major hippie element within some strands of Protestantism.
But that was 40 years ago, that's history, Laurie stressed. "We need to pray, 'Lord do it again...' We need another revival in America."
Laurie quoted Psalm 85:6, which says, "Won't you revive us again...?" Then he read from Habakkuk 3:2, "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..."
"We have a whole new generation here that needs a whole new revival," the pastor said.
But what is revival? "Revival is something that God does for us. We don't do it for God," Laurie said. "You can't create revival, you cannot organize revival, but you can agonize for revival in prayer." Someone defined revival as "a community saturated with God," he added. "Revival is nothing more or less than a new beginning of obedience to God… it is to get back to the original position God wants me to be."
Revival is for believers only; evangelism is for non-believers, Laurie clarified.
The pastor also underlined the need for evangelism in America. Our country is filled with "almost Christians," he said. We need to go and preach, but regrettably, older believers do not seem to be excited about evangelism, he added. "Between 80 and 90 percent of the people who have the Gospel shared with them hear it from a person who has known the Lord for two years or less."
Laurie ended the sermon by encouraging believers to go and preach the Gospel, as Nineveh did.