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Praying for national revival in 2024

The right way for Christians to mark the new year

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Praying for national revival in 2024
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For American Christians who remain committed to orthodox theology and ethics, these are difficult days. Our decadent culture consistently tolerates, and too often celebrates, various forms of sexual perversion. Religious liberty is under constant threat, especially the freedom to advocate for Biblical understandings of contested ethical issues. Abortion remains legal, despite the overturning of Roe v. Wade, because a combination of progressive voters and activist courts are committed to preserving the diabolical status quo of the culture of death. Many of the most influential cultural spheres are captive to anti-Christian worldviews, faddish theories, and draconian responses to both real and contrived social evils.

More generally, the Judeo-Christian tradition is less central to our national self-identity than it has been in past generations, leading to an increasingly post-Christian public square. Church membership is declining across the board, including among theologically conservative traditions that have proven historically to be far more resilient than their progressive counterparts. Though scholars and other thoughtful observers debate the details and causes of the decline, and not all traditions are declining at the same rate, nobody disputes that the “nones” are gaining ground at the expense of professing Christians.

Christians are also divided over how best to respond to many of the same issues that divide Americans in general, regardless of one’s religion. We are enduring a struggling economy that disproportionately impacts the middle class and traps lower classes in a cycle of poverty. Too many of our political leaders lack integrity, which is the wrong sort of bipartisan issue. The crisis at the southern border is escalating and is too complicated for simple solutions. We are plagued by mass shootings and other forms of violence. There are wars in Ukraine and Israel, as well as rumors of wars in the Far East. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, while other forms of racism remain persistent.

Amid all this chaos, some believers might understandably be tempted to despair. But that would be the wrong response. Instead, as we begin this new year, we should pray for revival.

Our nation has experienced periodic revivals, from the colonial era to recent history. Under the leadership of men such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, the First Great Awakening resulted in tens of thousands of conversions and hundreds of spiritually vibrant churches up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The Second Great Awakening brought spiritual renewal to stagnant denominations, fueled the rise of the modern missions movement, led to large numbers of African Americans (many of them still enslaved) embracing Christianity, and transformed the previously pagan Deep South into the nation’s Bible Belt. These two significant revivals bookended over a century of spiritual awakening that developed off and on between the 1720s and 1840s.

Things may look bad, but the Lord may yet be gracious and visit our nation with revival in 2024.

The Great Awakenings did not mark the end of revivals in America. The so-called Businessman’s Revival of 1857–1858 resulted in over a million new converts and impacted both North America and the British Isles, which led to further revivals among both the Union and Confederate armies during the American Civil War. The postwar evangelical awakening of the 1940s and 1950s, which is closely identified with leaders such as Billy Graham and Carl F. H. Henry, contributed to record church membership and birthed numerous strategic ministries. The Jesus Movement of the early 1970s resulted in hundreds of thousands of young people coming to faith in Christ, many of whom had previously been enamored with the youth counterculture of that era. More recently, many first- and second-generation immigrant movements in the United States have experienced significant growth, often flying under the radar of pollsters and other observers who focus only on predominantly white or African American expressions of Christianity.

When we think of revival, we understandably think first about individual conversions and the numeric growth of churches. But we sometimes neglect to remember that revivals also often result in cultural renewal. The First Great Awakening helped give birth to significant academic institutions such as Princeton, Rutgers, Brown, and Dartmouth, in addition to helping cultivate a common American identity in the generation before the colonists declared their independence from Great Britain. The Second Great Awakening also resulted in new institutions, especially colleges and hospitals, but also birthed reform movements dedicated to the abolition of slavery, prison reform, temperance, women’s suffrage, mental institutions, and public schools. The postwar evangelical awakening helped unite Americans against communism, cultivated a thriving ecosystem of parachurch ministries, and motivated believers to become more active in the public square.

In recent years, it has become common to mock believers who respond to crises by praying for those affected. Implicit is the assumption that prayer is less strategic than more hands-on forms of engagement. While it might be the case that some believers treat prayer as an alternative to action, when we pray for revival, we are praying for the transformation of individuals, churches, communities, and even our nation. So don’t give in to despair. Things may look bad, but the Lord may yet be gracious and visit our nation with revival in 2024. May we pray to that end, even as we continue to labor to push back against the darkness and promote authentic human flourishing amid a culture that seems hell-bent on its own decline. In that profound sense, Happy New Year.

Nathan A. Finn

Nathan is a professor of faith and culture and directs the Institute for Transformational Leadership at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. He is a research fellow for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and is senior editor for Integration: A Journal of Faith and Learning. He also serves as teaching pastor at the First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C.

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