The Challenges of Revival
HABBAKUK CH 3 V 2
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.’
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
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.
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.’
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?
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.
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.’
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 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.’
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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!’
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
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?’
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…’
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.’
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.’
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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