In addition to measured and responsible action against social ills comes the change of society by the power of God. ‘Revival’ has been felt in many nations for short time periods throughout history. In our own nation, this has occurred many times, including in Melbourne. This has happened on a significant scale several times, one being in the stunningly impacting Billy Graham visit in 1959 in which tens of thousands of people committed their lives to Christ and were powerfully changed. Another dates back to 1902 when over eight and a half thousand converts were recorded – over 1.5% of greater Melbourne (which would be 71,000 people today, but still a far cry from the 10% or so in the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival). How this happened is inspiring.
Answering a petition by over 15,000 to have the elderly D.L. Moody come to Melbourne, his widely-travelled 46-year-old successor R.A. Torrey came instead due to Moody’s death. The key to the success of his visit (which continued across Australia and other nations) was a concerted campaign of lead-up prayer meetings. There were a staggering 16,800 such meetings involving almost a quarter of Melbourne’s population in fifty regions of the city, but with Torrey himself personally corresponding with 5000 people back in the USA who were also praying. Thirty large tents and the largest public halls available hosted services in the two weeks prior to Torrey’s visit and involved 214 congregations – imagine that kind of cooperation today!
In the Exhibition Centre meetings with Torrey, 2500 registered as prayer-line counsellors and the choir involved an incredible 1200 members nightly. Daily meetings were held in the Town Hall but the major evening services held eight thousand, with a similar number either waiting outside or turned away. One woman who attended was the daughter of Pandita Ramabai who had sent her to capture the revival spirit in Melbourne and bring it back to India where a two-year revival began in 1905, accompanied by healings, prophecy and speaking in tongues.
Similar cooperative organisation and the build-up of momentum was seen in the Graham visit. Would people have the stamina and desire to develop such initiatives today? If so, would it be as easy in an increasingly secular Australia? Nevertheless, many would reject the notion that this could be classified as revival, since many see genuine revival as a sovereign move of God, one that virtually falls from the sky. However, the investment of prayer and human initiative cannot be underestimated as key steps of faith that demonstrate confident belief in what God can do. No large-scale social change like ‘revival’ just happens without the cooperation of willing people who lend their effort but, importantly, pray that God will impact others through it. In the end, New Testament Spirit-filled Christians can bring revival to their world everyday, anyway, by simply being the church that God enables and empowers to do His work!