burning tree

“Why Revival Tarries” by Leonard Ravenhill


Let me begin by confessing that this is not going to be an academic book review. I have very little interest in entering into a critical examination of every point at which I agree or disagree with this little gem from Leonard Ravenhill. Suffice it to say that I do have disagreements with some of his points and reasoning, but I think he would agree with me on this at least: such an examination is missing the forest for the trees. With that said, allow me to express some of my thoughts after reading “Why Revival Tarries.”

We “reformed” folk can be a little too hard-nosed at times. We are often guilty of turning our doctrine into dogma, of carrying things a bit too far. Ravenhill was not a “reformed” man, not even a Calvinist (gasp!). But do not let that dissuade you from a careful and prayerful reading of this book. The theme of this book is simple: why has revival tarried? Why do not see a great movement of God in the Western world? Ravenhill wrote this book in 1958, and for nearly 70 years the question remains: why have we not seen a revival?

Placing the Blame

The answer to Ravenhill’s question was simple, yet profound: there is a palpable lack of preachers with Holy Spirit fire. This is true even to this day. The average pulpit is commanded by men who hold many degrees, but who have no unction of the Holy Ghost. They have no message from the Lord, only messages that they learned in seminary.

Yet, we must look deeper as well. Cold preachers breed dead churches, churches with no zeal, who are neither hot nor cold, but are only lukewarm. A lukewarm church is a dead church. How many people who call themselves Christian have any experience of the soul-travail (a Ravenhill term) for the lost? How many people who fill up the pews have any experience of wrestling with God, of not letting go until he has blessed them?

In preparing for a devotional for my church’s weekly prayer meeting, I stumbled across this horrifying statistic: “A majority of those who attend Protestant church at least once a month (56%) say they pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus at least once a week, according to a Lifeway Research study, with 23% praying for such moments daily. Yet, a similar percentage (55%) say they have not shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months.”

This means the majority of people who claim the name of Christ have no concern for the vast millions of men, women, and children who are going to spend an eternity of torment in the fires of hell. What does this really mean? It means that the majority of people who think they are Christians are really not Christians at all.

What We Need: Prayer for Revival

“Dear believers, listen. The world is not waiting for a new definition of the Gospel, but for a new demonstration of the power of the Gospel. In these days of acute political helplessness, moral lawlessness, and spiritual helplessness, where are the men not of doctrine, but of faith?”

Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, 32

Where are the men not of doctrine, but of faith? How this question is penetratingly relevant to our day! Men only of doctrine fill the public square. Where are the men of prayer? I’ll tell you. The pastor down in Mississippi whose name is virtually unknown by “The Reformed Club” who weeps with longing for the revival that he knows must come! The missionary whose plans keep getting ruined but still has joy because he doesn’t care where God sends him as long as God sees fit to use him!

Do I have that mind in myself? Do we have it as a church? What are you praying for? Are you praying for a more comfortable life, for the fires of affliction to be put out? Think on this: gold must be purified by fire. If the fire goes out, the gold will not be purified. If we ask God to put out the flame of affliction, are we not asking him to cease from the work of purifying us?

Soul-Travail for the Lost

Ravenhill uses a stunning illustration of how we ought to be in travail for the lost. That word “travail” means the pain that a woman experiences not only in the act of childbirth, but in the long months leading up to it. Do we have this travail over the lost, longing for the new birth to come upon them?

Put plainly, do you weep over the unrepentant sinners? Do you pray for them? I have family members on their way to eternal hell. I must confess that such a thought does not always bring tears to my eyes. But as Ravenhill said, “Is a man human at all who can say with no tears, ‘You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings’?” (Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, 19)

Are we even really Christians if we have no experience of this kind of soul-travail? Not just for the openly rebellious, but also for the millions of people who think they are saved and yet are not. This pain only comes from real intercessory prayer. It only comes when we truly believe the Gospel. If we really believe that all who are in Christ are saved and all who are not in Christ are damned, that will necessarily set a fire in our breasts to preach Christ to every creature.

Gospel Fire for Revival

Where is the Gospel fire? Where is the flame of the Holy Spirit in our churches today? There is only one way to get this flame rekindled in our lives: taking prayer seriously. All the doctrinal learning in the world will count for nothing without serious, painful, travailing prayer. I will close with two quotes from Ravenhill’s “Why Revival Tarries.”

“Paul calls the Holy Ghost as a witness that he could wish himself ‘accursed’ for his brethren (Rom. 9:3). Madam Guyon prayed almost an identical prayer. Brainerd and John Knox were ‘men of like passions.’ When, brother, (or where), did we ever hear such a prayer offered in a prayer meeting? We cannot have big results from our small praying. The law of prayer is the law of harvest: sow sparingly in prayer, reap sparingly; sow bountifully in prayer, reap bountifully. The trouble is we are trying to get from our efforts what we have never put into them.” (119)

“Though Communism may conquer the world (terrible and unimaginable as that might be), to the true child of God there is a greater horror — eternity for the unrepentant in an endless hell. Perhaps we should get near Patrick Henry’s language this way: ‘Is life’s span so dear and are home comforts so engrossing as to be purchased with my unfaithfulness and dry-eyed prayerlessness? At the final bar of God, shall the perishing millions accuse me of materialism coated with a few Scripture verses? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, GIVE ME REVIVAL in my soul and in my church and in my nation–or GIVE ME DEATH.'” (166)