Is it Dangerous to Pray for Revival?

By Dr. Rick Flanders

“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13)

The promise that Jesus made in Luke 11:13 about the Father giving the Holy Spirit to them that ask him is problematic for a lot of good Christians. Yet apparently it is an important promise, reverently called “the promise of the Father” in several other scriptures (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4, Acts 2:33), and referenced whenever the book of Acts speaks of receiving the Spirit as a gift (Acts 2:38, 8:15, 19:2). Actually it is about praying for the power and influence of the Spirit in our lives, not about asking for the coming of His Person into our lives. This is clear from the Greek grammar of Luke 11:13. In the Greek, there is no article before the words “Holy Spirit.” According to Greek usage, the absence of the article before a noun phrase means that it is the quality of the thing that is emphasized rather than its identity (See any Greek grammar). In other words, Jesus was saying that God will give the quality, or the power, of the Spirit to His children if they persistently ask for it. The lesson He gave His disciples on prayer in Luke 11 (verses 1 through13) is divided into four parts: the model prayer, teaching us about prayer based on our relationship to God as our Father (vs. 2-4); the Parable of the Persistent Friend, illustrating the importance of importunity in intercession (vs. 5-8); admonitions to ask and seek and knock (vs. 9-10); and statements in regard to God’s willingness to give us the Spirit (vs. 11-13). In the rhetorical questions He posed just before stating the promise, Jesus seemed to be dealing with concerns that might come to our minds over the possibility of disappointment or even harm being experienced by those who would ask for the power of the Spirit. If a son asks his father for bread, will the father hand him a stone? If the son requests a fish, will his father give him a snake? If he asks for an egg, will the father give him a scorpion? The answers to these questions are, of course, “No” all three times. If we sinful men know how to give good things to our sons, certainly the heavenly Father will not disappoint or harm us if we persist in asking for the power of His Spirit.

Clearly the New Testament teaches that the Person of the Holy Spirit enters the life (actually the body) of the Christian the moment he believes on Jesus Christ for his salvation. Ephesians 1:13 says that “after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.” The idea of “after” in this verse is not chronological, but rather logical. The Greek indicates that the sealing of the Spirit happens simultaneously with believing in the matter of time. However it comes after faith in logical order. We must believe before we will be sealed. Ephesians 4:30 teaches that every believer has been sealed with the Spirit, and that He will not leave him until “the day of redemption,” even when the believer grieves Him by sinful acts and attitudes. Then Ephesians 5:18 commands those who have been sealed with the Spirit to “be filled with the Spirit.” This means that every believer (already sealed with the Spirit) has the opportunity and the obligation to be filled with the Spirit.

Let us now try to understand the promise of Luke 11:13. Obviously it is related to the Parable of the Persistent Friend, as well as to the admonitions to keep on asking. In the parable, Jesus used the story of a man begging his friend for some bread in order to feed another friend to emphasize the importance of persistence (”importunity”) in intercessory prayer. Even if the man with the bread were unwilling to answer his friend’s request on the basis of their friendship, he will do it just because of his persistence (note verse 8). The verbs “ask…seek…knock” in verses 9 and 10 are all in a Greek tense that expresses continuing action. They tell us to keep on asking in order to receive, to keep on seeking in order to find, and to keep on knocking until the door is opened. The Lord is teaching us to be persistent in a certain kind of prayer. What kind of prayer is that? It is prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit (vs. 11-13).

The Greek grammar of verse thirteen, as we have seen, eliminates the theological problem most of us have with the concept of asking for the Holy Spirit. In the original language, the words for “Holy Spirit” are not preceded by the article. In English, two kinds of articles are used before nouns, the definite article (”the”) or the indefinite article (”a” or “an”). In the Greek language a noun may either be written with the article or without it. There is no definite or indefinite article in Greek. The distinction is between using the article or not using it. As we said before, grammarians say that when the article is used the emphasis is put on the identity of the noun. Without the article, the emphasis is on the quality of the noun. When Jesus says in Luke 11:13 that the Father is willing to give “Holy Spirit” to those who persist in asking, He is speaking of the ministry and power of the Spirit. Ephesians 1 and 4 tell us that we were sealed with the Holy Spirit when we believed on Christ. Romans 8:9 makes it clear that every true believer has the Holy Spirit in Him. I Corinthians 6:19 says that the body of the Christian is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Without a doubt, every believer has the Holy Spirit living in him. But when Ephesians 5:18 commands those who have been sealed with the Spirit to be “filled with the Spirit,” it means that every saved person should seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit’s power and ministry. That is what Jesus meant in Luke 11:13. Those who persist in praying for the power and fullness of the Spirit will find the Father willing to grant them. Now the power of the Spirit is represented in the parable by the bread the persistent friend wants to borrow. He wants the bread so that he can feed a hungry traveler. He has nothing of his own to set before this needy friend. The power of the Spirit is sought therefore in order to meet the need of another. We Christians must have this power in order to meet the need of lost souls for salvation, and so we should persist in begging God to grant it. This kind of praying is intercession, and it is also revival praying. When believers pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit, they are praying for revival. The Lord Jesus assures us that our Father is willing to give revival to Christians who persistently beseech Him for it. The relation between the heavenly Father and the reluctant friend of the parable is one of both comparison and one of contrast. He has the bread we need, and we must be persistent in asking for it, but he is not stubborn or reluctant to give it to us. “How much more,” Jesus said, “shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” If a grouchy, stubborn, unwilling friend can be persuaded by persistence, how much more can we expect the loving and generous Father in Heaven to grant our petition for Holy Spirit power if we are persistent in our praying. The requirement of persistence is not because of God’s reluctance, but rather because of our need for preparation. Most of the time most of us are not ready to be filled with the Spirit. Sins must be confessed, hearts must be cleansed, lives must be surrendered, and our faith must become steadfast (Look up James 1:6-8 and 4:8-10). These things happen during the long seasons of beseeching God for the fullness of His Spirit. He will help us in the quest for empowerment in the work of the Gospel, but we must persist single-mindedly in seeking the blessing.

Some, however, express concern over an emphasis on praying for revival. Cannot this kind of expectant, fervent praying be harmful to those who engage in it too much? Might not some of them be drawn into a false doctrine? Could not they be hurt psychologically? Won’t many of them be disappointed and thus harmed spiritually? These are the concerns Jesus addressed when He asked the questions about what fathers do when their children ask for good things. They do not respond to a request for food by giving a child something nobody can eat. They do not give their children bad things when they are asking for good things. Let the Lord Jesus answer your own questions about revival praying.

1. He will not give us a stone for bread.

The daily bread in the model prayer is physical, literal bread to meet the need of the body. We can expect God to supply our physical needs in answer to prayers offered on the basis of our Father-son relationship to Him. The bread in the parable means the power of the Spirit, granted in answer to persistent, beseeching prayer. God is not reluctant to give us His power to bring men to Christ, but He requires us to be persistent in order that He can change us so that we are ready to receive this power. In long, earnest praying, we learn to surrender all and to trust in God’s promise. All of the requirements for being filled with the Spirit are met as we wait before the Lord in beseeching prayer. The question Jesus asks is, “Will God disappoint you if you pray long and hard, surrender your life without reservation, and keep on believing His promise? Will He let you down?” What if nothing happens; what if the power never comes? The Lord’s answer is that your heavenly Father wouldn’t do that. Sinful human fathers wouldn’t deliberately let their children down in this way, and break plainly-stated promises like this. To think that it might happen is the product of gross and perverse unbelief. Christian friend, God will not let us down. He will keep the promise of Luke 11:13. When His children come clean with Him, confess their sins, surrender their lives, submit to the command to spread the Gospel to every creature, and pray to be endued with power from on high, eventually the power they seek to evangelize effectively does come. When they ask for bread, the Father will not give them a stone. The question for everybody to answer is not, “Will revival praying be for naught?,” but rather it is, “Will God keep His promises?” And of course He will. The prophet Joel spoke for God when he wrote twice, “My people shall never be ashamed” (Joel 2:26-27). The word “ashamed” in the authorized English Bible does not mean embarrassed. It means “put to shame” or “disappointed” or “let down.” God told Israel that He would never let them down. Their faith would be tried, but ultimately, God would come through and keep His promise. “And ye shall … be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.” Incidentally, these encouraging words come just before the famous promise of the Spirit in the Book of Joel. So let us claim the promise and ask of Him the revival power we need in these days.

2. He will not give us a serpent for a fish.

When Jesus used a serpent in His illustration, He introduced the influence of Satan into the equation of revival praying. Remember His words recorded in Luke 10:19. “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power if the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” These words came in response to the report of seventy of His followers that “even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:18). Can Satan get involved in revival praying? The answer is, “Yes.” Many doctrines of devils have been sold to God’s people when they have been seeking to know the fullness of the Spirit. The Charismatic movement represents a Satanic deception which has detoured many who were on the road to real revival. Satan does this by offering substitutes for soul-winning power to deter us from persisting in seeking it until we have it. Notice that the Lord speaks of a son who is asking for a fish. In Luke 5, a fisherman among the disciples of Jesus is told that because he had learned a vital lesson about humility and faith, “from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (Read verses 1-11). When the goal of revival praying remains the catching of men for God, the Lord keeps His servants from devilish detours. In other words, when we keep asking for a fish (the salvation of a man or men), He will see that we don’t get a serpent! When the goal changes to getting a feeling or a strange experience or a counterfeit of a spiritual gift, our praying will be fraught with danger. Real revival praying with an evangelistic object will not lead to fanaticism or false doctrine. If we are asking for fish, we won’t get a serpent.

3. He will not give us a scorpion for an egg.

An egg is something to eat. A scorpion is something than can hurt you. The egg is a virtually universal symbol of life. The scorpion is an agent of pain and even death (See Revelation 9:10). Can revival praying hurt you? There are examples in history of people who seemed to have been hurt through their involvement in the work of revival. The great spiritual movement that we call the Welsh Revival had a young man named Evan Roberts as its most prominent human participant. Roberts was both a product and a promoter of the revival, which held the principality of Wales in its grip from 1904 to 1906. Under the influence of an evangelist, Evan Roberts fully surrendered to Christ at the end of September of 1904, and by the end of the year, his name was known all over the world. Thousands of people came to the Lord through his humble but powerful preaching of the cross. However, early in 1905, he began to struggle with emotional problems that would put him out of active ministry for periods of time, and eventually sent him into seclusion for years. Although we cannot know all of the inner workings of this man’s heart and mind, we do learn many things from his writings in later years. An oversimplified evaluation of his problem would be that Roberts focused too much on the remarkable supernatural experiences in his revival ministry so that when they failed to occur or occurred less frequently or less dramatically, he feared that the Lord had left him. The problem hurt him, without a doubt, but what really was the problem? Did God give him a scorpion when he asked for an egg? The truth is that when we elevate experience over Bible doctrine, we will get into trouble. God does do remarkable and supernatural things to help the cause of evangelism when His people are revived. See this at the end of Mark 16 and in the account of the awakening in Ephesus given in Acts 19. However, these incidents of divine assistance come as God chooses and wills. See this in I Corinthians 12:8-11 and Hebrews 2:3-4. When we have a scriptural understanding of what God does and why He does it, revival praying cannot hurt us. Remember that the Lord is not impressed with His own miraculous power. He uses it to assist us in the work of evangelism. If He chooses not to do obviously miraculous things, it is because they are not needed or particularly helpful. Remember that John the Baptist “did no miracle” (John 10:39-42). When our emotions are caught up in the miraculous aspects of a revival, they are in danger of harm. But when we keep our noses in our Bibles, and expect what the scripture says we should expect, we will be fine. There are both essentials and incidentals in revival. The fullness of the Spirit and the empowered evangelism it produced were the essentials of Pentecost, but the sound of wind and the gift of tongues were incidentals. A Biblical viewpoint will prevent the one praying for life from getting any harm.

Brothers and sisters, it is time for the separated people of God to seek in earnest for the filling of the Holy Spirit. We must not be discouraged or distracted by unreasonable fears of revival praying. The Devil knows the importance of believers experiencing the fullness of God, and he will fight against us seeking it in prayer. Don’t let the objections of others cool your desire to have what your Father offers and what we need in order to meet the needs of the world. Let us pray for revival and for the Spirit of revival Who will equip us to be witnesses for Christ in this dark hour.

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Comments (2)

paulrem 'jun' donguines April 1st, 2011 at 5:11 am    

Thanks pastor Rick. Im happy to met you. God bless you more. Take care. its me JUN.

Anthony July 5th, 2011 at 9:49 pm    

Thank you for this post. It was very helpful to me!

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