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Should We Pray for Revival, Pentecost, and More of the Spirit?


Pentecote by Jean II Restout (1732)
Should Christians pray for revival, a repeated Pentecost, and more of the Holy Spirit? 

The Anglican pastor and hymn writer Augustus Toplady, best known as the author of "Rock of Ages," thought so. Among his many hymns and poems are a selection of poetic prayers specifically addressed to the Holy Spirit. 

For example, in one of his poems, he asks to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and to experience a personal Pentecost.
Baptize me with the Holy Ghost 
Make this the day of Pentecost 
Wherein my soul may prove 
Thy spirit’s sweet renewing power 
And shew me, in this happy hour 
The riches of his love. 
(Poem XXXVI. For Pardon of Sin. The Works of Augustus Toplady p. 893)
But is it right for Christians to pray like this? Is Pentecost a repeatable event? Should we ask to be baptized with the Spirit? There’s been considerable debate about this over the years, even among Reformed leaders. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for example, delivered a whole series of sermons urging Christians to seek the baptism with the Spirit, along with spiritual gifts. The sermons, published first in two volumes as Joy Unspeakable and The Sovereign Spirit: Discerning His Gifts and then together as The Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit are quite stirring. (These sermons, by the way, predated the charismatic movement of the 1970’s, which means readers should be careful about reading the sermons anachronistically.) 

But while I found Lloyd-Jones’ sermons to be edifying reading, his exegesis was probably wrong at some points. John Stott challenged Lloyd-Jones’ interpretation in Baptism And Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today and I think won the point, as far as the exegesis of specific texts is concerned. He cogently and convincingly argues that Christians today are baptized with the Spirit just once, upon conversion, but then experience repeated fillings. One baptism, many fillings. 

Nevertheless, Lloyd-Jones was on to something true and important, namely that believers can experience greater measures of the Spirit’s presence and power, and that this is something for which we should seek. This is essentially the meaning of revival. 

So, how does this relate to Pentecost? Wasn’t Pentecost a one-time, definitive, unrepeatable event? Sinclair Ferguson is right on the mark in saying,
Pentecost is not 'repeated' any more than the death or resurrection of Christ is a repeatable event. Rather, we enter into it in such a way that the Spirit is poured out into our hearts through faith in Christ (cf. Rom. 5:5). Each one thus drinks of the Spirit for himself or herself (1 Cor. 12:13)….The events of the Day of Pentecost are the public expressions of the hidden reality that Christ has been exalted as the Lord of glory and that his messianic request for the Spirit, made as Mediator on our behalf, has been granted….The coming of the Spirit is, therefore, the evidence of the enthronement of Christ, just as the resurrection is the evidence of the efficacy of the death of Christ as atonement (Rom. 4:24) . . . . Pentecost is the epicenter; but the earthquake gives forth further after-shocks. Those rumbles continue through the ages. Pentecost itself is not repeated; but a theology of the Spirit which did not give rise to prayer for his coming in power would not be a theology of ruach! (The Holy Spirit pp. 86-87, 91)
I find the analogy of earthquake and aftershocks helpful. Ferguson also applies this to revival.
In some respects, Pentecost may be viewed as the inaugural revival of the New Testament epic. Certainly the description of the conviction of sin experienced, the 'sense of awe' (Acts 2:43) which was evoked, and the detailed model of what church life ought to be (Acts 2:44-47) point in that direction. This is what revival is. To develop the metaphor of the flow of water, we might say that revival is the unstopping of the pent-up energies of the Spirit of God breaking down the dams which have been erected against his convicting and converting ministry in whole communities of individuals, as happened at Pentecost and in the 'awakenings' which have followed. (The Holy Spirit p. 90)
This seems to get the right balance, safeguarding the distinctiveness of Pentecost as a redemptive-historical event, while acknowledging the ongoing extraordinary work of the Spirit in revivals and awakenings. And, if this is so, then surely it’s something for which we should pray.

And Scripture certainly points in this direction. To cite just two post-Pentecost examples, consider Paul’s prayers recorded in his letter to the Ephesians:

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:15-23,NIV)

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

Full exposition of these prayers is far beyond the scope of this post, but just note that both prayers are for people who are already believers, both ask for something that comes by or through the Holy Spirit, and both end with a focus on the church and the fullness of God (which should then inform how we view the command of Ephesians 5:18 to not be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Spirit.)

No, Paul doesn’t use the language of Pentecost or revival. But isn't revival just this: the Spirit given in greater measure so that we will know God better, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened to better perceive eternal realities and the things of Christ, and our inner beings strengthened with the Spirit’s power so as to experience a greater measure of Christ’s fullness and love? 

And isn’t this something that we should also ask God to give to us? 

So, while I don't think we should pray precisely for another Pentecost, I would argue that we should ask God for more of the illuminating and strengthening work of the Holy Spirit. 

We can all join Toplady in another of his hymns, earnestly praying,
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire 
And warm with uncreated fire! 
Thou the anointing Spirit art, 
Who doth thy sevenfold gift impart: 
Thy blessed unction from above 
Is comfort, life, and fire of love. 
(Hymn I. To the Holy Spirit,  The Works of Augustus Toplady p. 908) 

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