What is needed today—as in every age—is for a greater filling of the Holy Spirit. This is an event which begins with a sovereign act of Christ Jesus in heaven and results in a faithful human response on earth.
Are Revivals Needed?
Amongst many conservative Protestants today—be they Reformed, Evangelical or even Pentecostal—the topic of “revival” has fallen out of vogue. Very few Christian pastors preach on it, and even fewer call on the Lord’s people to ask for it in prayer. One of the best, as well as most balanced, examinations of the subject is by Iain H. Murray, Pentecost – Today? The Biblical Case for Understanding Revival (Banner of Truth, 1998).
I’ve only managed to get around to reading this recently. If only I had done so earlier! Most books on the subject describe what happens during a revival without providing a biblical basis. As Murray quotes one author, “We need to think more about certain questions raised by revivals rather than read more about more revivals. What is revival? The question of definition is fundamental.” 
Murray explains how to understand revivals biblically, without resorting to certain proof texts, such as the well-known 2 Chronicles 7:14, which he believes confuses the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. The reason why Murray says this is because a) The unique ‘internal’ nature of the promised Holy Spirit (see Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 47:1-10) in the new covenant age compared to the ‘external’ influence in the Old; and b) the now defunct role of the Promised Land in the saving purposes of God. As Murray helpfully explains:
In the New Testament the church of Christ ceases to be connected in any theocratic manner with any land. Ours is ‘the Jerusalem above’, ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22). Certainly, communities and nations are often blessed because of the gospel, but that is a very different thing from making God’s promise to Solomon the grounds for believing that if Christians repent and humble themselves there will be a national healing and a national revival. Many thousands of believing Israelites were living obediently to the gospel in the first century but, far from securing for them the promise, ‘I will heal their land’, they saw the utter destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.’
God’s Sovereignty versus Human Responsibility
According to Murray, revivals are brought about first and foremost, by the divine initiative and sovereign intercession of Christ Himself in heaven. And then, flowing out of this, the humble and obedient response of His people on earth. This is because the experience of Pentecost is not a one-off event—as some people wrongly claim—but an ongoing reality for every disciple of Jesus. For while the Spirit was given permanently on the day of Pentecost, it was not with the same degree. For example, the same persons present in Acts 2:4 are said to be [again] “filled with the Holy Spirit” in Acts 4:31. What’s more, the New Testament points to believers being continually filled with a greater measure of God’s Spirit (e.g. Ephesians 1:17; Philippians 1:19; Luke 11:13).
One of the most helpful aspects of Murray’s approach to the topic though, is how he explains the biblical interplay between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Murray is aware of both the unbiblical fatalism and spiritual passivity of the so-called ‘hyper-Calvinists’, as well as the unorthodox beliefs of someone like Charles G. Finney. I’ll leave it to the interested reader to follow up on Murray’s explanation of the ‘tension’, but he dedicates at least two chapters of his book to examining the two extremes.
Why Aren’t We Experiencing Revival Today?
The really crucial question though, is why don’t we experience a greater outpouring of God’s Spirit today? One of the most important sections in Murray’s book is chapter 6, Hindering Revival: Evangelical Fanaticism. The opening paragraph is worth reproducing in full:
We have already considered what place is left for human responsibility if revivals come by the sovereign will of God. We saw that the Bible teaches both man’s total dependence upon God and the voluntary nature of his own actions. In a manner hidden from us, the divine and human agencies are conjoined in events in such a way that the will of God comes to pass while men remain fully accountable for all sin and failure. Not a single success in the kingdom of God is ever achieved without the predetermining purpose of God (Acts 15:8), yet we are confronted in Scripture with the real danger that we may hinder the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:12). This is true in general and it must remain true with regard to revival.
Often during times of revival an individual’s personal sins are confessed publicly, but here Murray urges caution. This is because we can be tempted—even in confession of our guilt in temptation—to glorify the darkness of sin rather than magnify the light of Christ’s love (cf.. Eph. 5:12). That said, Murray goes on to outline at least seven distinct ways in which followers of Christ Jesus can grieve the Holy Spirit and hence be a “potential hindrance to revival” (see Eph. 4:29-32).