Revival—how I love the energy of this word. Revival denotes bringing back to life, awakening, and seeing fresh life poured into something that may be tired and sleepy. In the context of church, I believe revival has a deeper meaning and represents something far bigger and more powerful than we can imagine.
What does revival really look like? We can look back at many revivals throughout history to see what happens when revival breaks out.
The Welsh revival of 1904–1905
One of the revivals close to my heart is the Welsh revival that occurred in the early 1900s. It impacted an entire region, bringing about great social and economic change. But it was also controversial.
Many prayers preceded the outpouring. Among them was that of a minister who was known to pray repeatedly: “Please, God, give me Wales.” One day during his preaching, a young former miner was mightily touched by God and became God’s instrument for the revival.
The young man began to hold meetings where he talked about the love of Jesus, and people started to come. As they entered the meetings, people would fall on their knees in repentance, not moved by the words spoken but by something much deeper. They fell in love with their Saviour, and their lives were completely and radically turned around. News about the meetings spread quickly, and churches began to overflow with people. Many left pubs where they were drinking to stagger down to the churches, where they were completely transformed by what they encountered. The sound of people worshiping and singing hymns rang out through the valleys.
According to reports, the revival was all-consuming and powerful. Within five weeks, 20,000 people had joined churches in South Wales1 and within six months, 100,000 had given their lives to God and become church members.2 People quit drinking alcohol, began to show love to their wives and families, were kind to others, and would worship wherever they were—singing out beautiful hymns in adoration of their Saviour. Change also affected the largest industry in that region: the coal mines. Overwhelmed by the love of Jesus and his peace, colliers changed how they spoke. There were even stories that the coal ponies had to be retrained to respond to kind words, rather than the harsh obscenities they were used to! It was unprecedented.
The revival was also messy. Church meetings were disorganized and lacked clear leadership. They would often be closed by someone standing up and announcing the end of the meeting, and then they would spontaneously start again in worship. Worshipers often just fell to their knees in silence and let the Holy Spirit work freely.
During this time and for many years before, my great-great-grandfather was a well-known Welsh preacher. When the revival began to break out, he spoke out against it and said it could not be from God. There were things happening at the meetings that people could not explain, and it was all very new. However, his daughter (my great-grandmother) would sneak out of the window at night and attend revival meetings. She said there was an incredible pull to the meetings and she just had to be there. It is said that when he died, she confessed to him that she had been attending the meetings and he replied to her, “I know, I see the fire in your eyes.” The Welsh revival was new, scary, controversial, and powerful!
Lessons from the revival
One thing seems to be clear: God can bypass man, meetings, and structure, and come in his own way, when and how he wants. Maybe one of the important lessons we can learn from previous revivals is that we need to step out of the way and allow God to move in all of his power and glory.
Revival comes in ways that we can’t begin to imagine or predict. If we look back at different movements of God, we can see that each revival in history has been unique, having its own flavour. Each one has brought about different fruit, such as new mission organisations and newly planted churches across the world.
One aspect of studying past revivals makes me sad: eventually they die out. But even though the Welsh revival lasted only a couple of years, it changed the face of the church today, and several large movements were born out of this special time.
Revival in Japan
I hope and pray that when revival comes to Japan, we will be ready to receive what God is pouring out. I pray that we not only sustain what he is doing, but also cooperate with God to see life, energy, salvation, and joy perfuse every aspect of this society.
Japan needs revival! I have no idea what revival in Japan will look like, but I know I want to be part of it. There are so many people around us that are lonely, depressed, hurting, and in need of the Saviour’s love. They need to be loved and accepted unconditionally, to know that they are made worthy because of what Jesus did for us at the cross, and to know that Jesus is not a foreign God—he is relevant today and he loves Japan and all the people in it. God loves us so much and wants to pour out his Spirit on all flesh. When he comes in his power, he brings life, love, salvation, freedom, joy, healing, energy, peace, comfort, and hope. Oh God, pour out your Spirit on Japan!
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike” (Joel 2:28–30, NLT).
What is the church’s role in this? Are we ready as a church to receive revival, however it comes? I’m not sure, but I know I don’t want to miss out on what God is doing because I don’t fully understand it or have not seen it before. There is always fruit when the Holy Spirit is present, and that is what we are looking for. As a church, I think we need to be ready for anything and even learn to step out of the way when needed.
God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and his thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours. So let this be our prayer: “Lord, give us Japan.”
(Originally published under the title “Lessons from a Welsh revival” in the Autumn 2018 issue of Japan Harvest magazine.)
1. Goodrich, Arthur. The Story of the Welsh Revival as Told by Eyewitnesses. (New York: F.H. Revell, 1905). Extract at: http://www.revival-library.org/index.php/catalogues-menu/1904/the-story-of-the-welsh-revival
2. “The Sixth Worldwide Awakening of 1904 – The Welsh Revival” The Revival Library, Accessed September 10, 2018, http://www.revival-library.org/index.php/catalogues-menu/1904
For further reading on the Welsh revival and other revivals in history, check out this website: http://revival-library.org For information about the Welsh revival specifically, see this article: http://revival-library.org/index.php/catalogues-menu/1904/the-story-of-the-welsh-revival
Born in the UK, Rachel Sawka married a missionary kid from Japan and then came as a missionary to Japan in 1999. She is a leader at Sano Revival Center in Tochigi Prefecture and principal of Sano International School.