This past week I had the privilege of visiting some “awakening” cites in Kentucky and Tennessee. If you’re not familiar with the word awakening, it is frequently used in Methodist circles to remember moments where God’s Spirit meets with a group of people in such a profound way that it opens their eyes to God’s activity in the world, renews their sense of purpose, and marks their lives forever. One of these awakenings happened on the campus of Asbury College in 1970. It was reported that the gathering continued without interruption for 185 hours because the presence of God was so evident that people didn’t want to leave.
Renewals or revivals are not only marked by the Holy Spirit’s activity in a gathering, but by the ripple effect of confession, reconciliation, charity, and justice that happen in the surrounding areas long after the gathering ends.
Stories of awakening remind me of the rich history of God renewing his people. The Bible is full of stories like 2 Kings 22 where God’s people literally rediscover Scripture and it starts a revival, or Acts 2 where God’s Spirit invades a prayer meeting and gives birth to an unstoppable movement.
What is interesting about these awakening, renewal moments is that they are so frequently connected to a certain type of desperate prayer that many call travailing prayer. To travail means to labor or give deep and often painful effort. Paul describes this kind of effort in Galatians 4:19 when he says,
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.
Paul understood the persistent labor of prayer. Prayer is certainly the place where God takes away the heavy things that weigh on us, but it is also a place where God gives us new, holy weights to carry—the burdens of carrying God’s heart for a world that needs awakening. This is the same kind of weight that the prophet Isaiah carried when he said,
You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth. Isaiah 62:6b-7
This is the same kind of weight that the prophet Jeremiah carried when he said,
Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the Lord brought on me… Lamentations 1:12b
This is the same kind of weight that Jesus carried when Luke 22:44 says,
…being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
I’ve heard it said that the first blood of atonement were the drops of blood Jesus shed in prayer. May his Spirit wake us up to the great needs around us and give us zeal, persistence and the singular focus to contend for God’s Spirit to fill our homes, churches, cities, and world.
What would it look like to write songs of travailing prayer?
How could a community use worship to contend together for an awakening?