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The Challenges of Revival

Habakkuk 3:2-3:2

HABBAKUK CH 3 V 2

INTRODUCTION

‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’
Many of you will recognise part of the text of Martin Luther King’s inspired civil right’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC on 28.8.63. It was this sort of revolutionary vision that fired the non-violent civil rights movement in the 1960’s.

Vision is vital for any movement to be successful, but for the Church of Christ the source and nature of that her vision is spiritual and heavenly. Without true vision the Church looses hope and impetus.

We’re looking at ‘Revival’ – something that the Prophet Habakkuk eagerly looked for from God in a time of imminent judgement for the Jews because of their unfaithfulness to God. It’s this hope; this vision that kept Habakkuk looking up! (verse 2) ‘LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew [or revive] them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.’

We saw in our first look at this verse that in revival God re-invigorates the life of Christians, the life of the Church, that’s grown weak and frail. That blessing then overflows to the society around. Duncan Campbell great definition of revival was: ‘A community saturated with God.’

We highlighted that revival is characterised by: Prayer power; Preaching power; Life Enhancing Power; Life Giving Power; Word Hunger; Awesome Worship; Emotional Power; Unity in the Spirit and Social Impact.

What other characteristics do revivals have?

FURTHER CHARACTERISTICS

Unity in Spirit

True unity is based on God’s Word; in the acceptance of the one great Gospel of God’s grace. The Holy Spirit won’t ever contradict Himself, so if true revival comes then the Good News of Jesus – forgiveness by His blood shed on the cross; new birth; repentance and faith alone in God’s Son - will lie at the centre of it all.

In revival all God’s true people find a unity and joy together: Stanley Griffin writing about a revival in Lowestoft in the UK noted that: ‘The Baptist minister, three Anglican clergymen, the Port Missionary, a Primitive Methodist layman and Town Councillor and Salvation Army Officer experienced remarkable oneness in the work of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone.’

This is a wonderful example of what Jesus asked for in His High Priestly prayer: ‘May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me.’ JOHN CH 17 V 23.

Miracle working power

The sovereignty of the Spirit is the key principle that comes into play here – there is a given element when it comes to miraculous happenings. We’re not in charge; God is. He chooses to do what He will do.

For example He may delivers His people from danger and harm. The English Anglican evangelist George Whitefield was preaching at Moorfields fair in 1742. As he did so stones, dirt, rotten eggs and pieces of dead cat were thrown at him from the crowd. He vividly describes a group who were intent on putting an end to his preaching: ‘…having got a large pole for their standard, [they] advanced toward us with steady and formidable steps till they came very near the skirts of our hearing, praying and almost undaunted congregation.’ Now George was earnestly praying for deliverance when something remarkable happened: ‘Just as they approached us with looks of resentment, I know not by what accident, but they quarrelled among themselves, threw down their staff and went their way.’ Gorge Whitefield reckoned that about 350 souls were saved that day and he received 1,000 notes from hearers.

Also, God reveals knowledge that otherwise would remain secret. This is illustrated from an incident during revival times in Borneo in the 1970’s: ‘You have not confessed all your sins,’ someone said to one of the men folk, ‘You have a charm hidden out in your farm hut to make sure of a good crop.’ The man denied it but the one with the gift of knowledge continued: ‘You climb the notched log and in the door post on the left of you, you will find a hole, and that hole the charms are hidden.’ The leadership investigated the claim, found the charms exactly as described and the man repented and sought forgiveness.

Again, God brings physical healing: Edward Miller tells of revival in Argentina in 1948. Two young people visited a lady whose mother was paralysed and had been in bed for 5 years. They prayed for her, and she got up and drank tea with them. Two elderly people visited a man in coma, a cripple with his liver damaged from drink. They prayed for him and he was healed.

Another way the Spirit works is to counteract attempts by the evil one to blunt the Gospel: Titus Coan recounted an event that occurred during revival in Hawaii (1835-1840). "A young man came once into our meeting to make sport slyly. Trying to make the young men around him laugh during prayer, he fell as senseless as a log upon the ground and was carried out of the house. It was sometime before his consciousness would be restored. He became sober, confessed his sins, and in due time united with the church.’’

Emotional Power. It’s a known fact that in many revivals people cried out; swooned; trembled; wept or leapt for joy and shouted out. The Reasons? The truth they saw overwhelmed them; it had such powerful effect on the mind and heart it provoked strong physical responses. You frequently see the effects on people who receive either extremely bad or extremely good news. They faint or collapse, overcome with grief and sadness, or jump and leap around unable to contain their joy and happiness. Cultural differences have to be taken into account as well.

That’s how it is when people see in a really powerful way spiritual realities. During the ministry of Jonathan Edwards in 1700’s New England this scene was recorded: ‘The awful presence of God brought such a wave of conviction of sin that caused even mature Christians to feel their sinfulness, bringing groans of distress and prayers of repentance from the unconverted. Strong men were bowed under the weight of sin and cries for mercy were mingled with shouts of joy from others who had passed into life.’

But it’s not always like that; God’s power affects people in other ways too. Iain Murray writes of the revivals that occurred in Northeastern parts of America in early 1800’s: ‘...the first appearance of change was commonly the mysterious influence, ‘like the silent dew of heaven’, which took from men’s minds all save the truth they were hearing. Congregations were then awed and subdued and it was often the degree of silence and stillness, more than anything else, which showed that a new day had come.’

REVIVAL’S DANGER SIGNS

When God is at work Satan isn’t far behind. There are two extremes Christians we must avoid. We can either reject the concept of revival altogether attributing any unusual spiritual activity to human psychology or worse the devil, or we can uncritically accept anything that appears to be, or claims to be, of God. Both are wrong.

In Borneo in the 1970’s Lian Matu said: ‘Satan is very angry and upset. In Borneo he has tried usual weapons during a time of revival like this – heresy; division; spiritual pride and many others…the new believers are very spiritually sensitive and Satan at times sends his messages and signs “from God.”’ So what are the ‘tools’ that Satan uses to try and sideline revival?

Preaching is Sidelined

Revival has to be grounded in the Bible, and good Spirit empowered teaching. It’s absolutely vital that the Word of God is taught and ministered and given a central place. It’s that which keeps revival balanced. It helps guard against ‘false fire’ as we could call it, and promotes and encourages the ‘genuine fire.’

Recently there were centenary celebrations of the 1904 Welsh Revival. Brian Edwards says of this particular work of God: ‘Though thousands were saved, and the fire of revival in Wales spread all over the world, its failure to survive long, and the disproportionate number of those who fell away, was in large measure due to the fact that in many areas preaching was neglected.’

Any playing down of preaching and teaching must be resisted; anything that claims spirituality yet wants to drop Word ministry can’t originate in God. In true revival the Word is sought after so much; the people can’t get enough of it. As Dr Gary Milley puts it: ‘Revivals, which neglect the preaching of the Word, open themselves to the trick of twisted truth. Spiritual enthusiasm, which is not biblically grounded, will elevate the role of dreams, visions and special experiences.’

False Teaching/spirituality

There’s always a need to stress the unity of Bible truth and the Holy Spirit’s ministry of lighting up that truth for us. The two always work together, James Montgomery Boice wrote: ‘Without the Holy Spirit the Bible is a dead book. That is why the man “without the Spirit” cannot understand it. On the other hand, without the Word as an objective guide from God, claims to a special leading by the Holy Spirit leads to excess, error…’

In Borneo in the 1970’s one woman pronounced: ‘God has shown me that we no longer need to read the bible because He has given us His Spirit to speak directly to us.’ In her village there were extremes; divisions and an eventual turning away from God.

A great test of revival is this – is it true to the Word; the Gospel. It doesn’t have to cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ of our theology, but it must uphold Jesus Christ and the cross totally and fully.

Stanley Griffin states of the 1920’s Lowestoft revival: ‘The cross and the blood of God, as the only means of salvation, were central wherever the Gospel was preached in the revivals of 1921.’

Counterfeit Conversions

In ACTS CH 8 we have recorded for us a tremendous spiritual awakening in a city of Samaria that had been under influence of a Sorcerer named Simon. When the Gospel entered the people turned to Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Simon himself believed and was baptised. But all wasn’t well. Simon’s conversion wasn’t real; he was interested in the power he saw the Apostles had and ended up offering Peter money for it. (verse 21) ‘You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.’

There will always be people caught up in the spirit of revival, who though they appear to be saved, aren’t actually saved. The fact that after things subside, and time goes by, they return to their old way of life, doesn’t count against the genuineness of revival! There’s a lot of evidence in the Gospels of those who said they believed in Jesus, but turned out to be unreal in their faith.

Miracle Worship

We have to allow for God’s sovereignty and not demand of Him certain things. Miracles can and often do occur in revivals as we have noted already, but it’s not on tap. It’s God choosing to do something special.

In ACTS CH 3 Peter and John were on their way to the temple to pray. At the temple gate was a crippled man, begging. (verses 3-5) ‘When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention expecting to get something from them.’ What would it be – a little or a lot? How generous were they? (verse 6) ‘Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”’ The two Apostles had no idea they were going to involved in a miracle; they were going to pray. It was God who, as it were, commissioned the miracle and Paul and John responded.

Also why, if Paul had the constant power to heal, did he leave Trophimus sick at Miletus as 2 TIM CH 4 V 20 says? And why waste time dispensing advice to Timothy? 1 TIM CH 5 V 23 ‘Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.’ Why not just heal him? Because miracles are God’s sovereign choice to do or not to do.

There can come an unhealthy pre-occupation with miracles as we see with Simon in ACTS CH 8 V 13 ‘He followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.’ The key is to let God be God.

The Emotion Trip

We are very emotional beings, and the mind has depths that we don’t fully understand. The devil can get us to focus on great emotions, or strange sensations.

I recall certain meetings that I attended when a very young Christian, where the work of God was supposed to be going on. In crowds sympathy of emotion is very strong. You only have to be in a delirious soccer crowd, or at a big music festival, and you will experience very strong feelings and sensations. And it happens in religious festivals too, where hysteria is common, and devotees are overcome. Some leaders and speakers are experts at manipulating crowds and whipping up emotion.

Del Fehsenfeld Jnr. says the: ‘…big danger is that anything that’s noisy enough, and exciting enough and which sits up our emotions enough, is of God. Revival is not just evangelism, excitement, or emotionalism. It is the extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit!’

This doesn’t mean that emotion hasn’t any part to play – we saw in the first message that it certainly does. Who can see the glory of God and not have a strong emotional reaction to it? Who can receive Jesus’ amazing love and not feel hugely humbled and thankful? But it’s when the focus is put on feelings and emotions; when they are put first before the truth that problems arise and they take over.

OH) A NEW THING

God’s Judgment

Habakkuk knew God’s anger was on Israel, and He pleaded that in the midst of anger God would be merciful. (2) ‘…in wrath remember mercy.’ Our politicians, social programmers, scientists, even some of our religious establishments see our nation’s problems in terms of economics; politics; mutant genes, behavioural problems etc, but none in terms of the truly spiritual.

Francis Schaeffer said in the 1960’s: ‘We are not only losing the church, but our entire culture as well. We live in a post Christian world which is under the judgment of God…I believe that we of Northern Europe since the Reformation have had such light as few others have ever possessed. We have stamped on that light in our culture. Our cinemas, our novels, our art museums scream out as they stamp on that light. And worst of all, modern theology screams out as it stamps upon that light. Do you think God will not judge our countries simply because they are our countries?’

In view of this biblical assessment we’re to be like the men of Issachar who joined David’s cause before he became Israel’s King. They were those who: ‘…understood the times and knew what Israel should do…’

God’s mercy

The prophet Daniel read in Jeremiah’s prophecy that God had promised after 70 years the Jews would return to their homeland. Realising the 70 years were about up he pleaded with God to fulfil his promise: ‘Give ear, O God and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.’ DANIEL CH 9 V18

Edward J Young commenting on this prayer says: ‘When Daniel looks at his own and the people’s righteousness, he realises that there is no hope. He appeals, therefore, to the only source of hope, the mercy of God.’

If God ever sent revival to His people in Great Britain or anywhere else in the world it wouldn’t ever be because we were righteous! Everything weighs in the balances against us – we deserve God’s judgement. It would only ever be on the basis of God’s rich and unique mercy. That’s why I said in the first message that God can restore us at any time, no matter how bad the times because it’s in mercy alone that He acts. So we can pray like Habbakuk: (2) ‘…in wrath remember mercy.’

A clear vision

That great woman Helen Keller who was deaf, blind and dumb wrote: ‘Worse than being blind would be, to be able to see but not have any vision.’ If you and I try to make sense of the world without God, we’ll be confused and won’t know where we stand. God says we should stand together in awe of Him; read His word; remember His deeds; and see the world and our country from a heavenly viewpoint. Then we’ll call on Him in prayer to revive His Church again. ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’

No revival is a copycat of others that have gone before. Each has a personality of its own, touching as it does different societies and cultures at various times. As Michael Haykin explains: ‘Movements of spiritual renewal never occur in a historical vacuum. There are distinct cultural, social and economic factors that influence these revivals, and thus help to make each of them a unique work of God.’

So what would happen if revival came today? Who can tell? But what we can grasp is that God will never contradict His Word and the unchanging truths of the Gospel of His Grace. The Spirit and the Word will never clash.

True biblical vision tells us that true revival will bring an incredible awareness of the true and living God, His awesome holiness and majesty; a genuine and heart-felt conviction of our sin and rebellion against God; Jesus Christ will be exalted as the One true Lord and Saviour of sinners, who laid down His life to pay the price of sin; people will be born anew, their lives changed: desire for God; great love for Jesus, a hunger for God’s word; a lift in personal morality, honesty and right living; a powerful surge in evangelism at home and missionary support and activity abroad.

God never minds small churches but small-minded churches. Let’s think, act and pray big, as big as the Bible gives us licence. Get down on our knees next to Habakkuk and ask God to send His Power!


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