The Atmosphere Of Revival
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2006 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A.Revival is a divine move of the Spirit of God. The passion of my heart is that God would send a revival to our land. I believe that is what God wants to do. Our part is to prepare ourselves for revival, to get to a position to receive revival.
There are a lot of things today that are being called revival. I have a burden lest we will settle for far less than what genuine revival really is. Revival is a visitation of God Himself. It is God saturating His people with His presence. It is God moving among His people in such a way that their lives are transformed. When we have met with God, there is no way we can be the same people. Our lives and ministries will be different.
Revival is not something that can be manipulated. It is much more than a grand feeling. It is much more than physical manifestation. Revival is the presence of an awesome, holy God among His people. I am not talking about what we put on a sign in front of our churches saying, "Revival Next Week." Revival doesnít go from Sunday to Wednesday or Wednesday to Sunday. Revival is when God comes and meets with His people, and His people are changed forever because they have met a holy God.
It was in a genuine revival that took place in a small church that my ministry was born. It was in 1970. My wife and I had been married about a year and a half. We were young and on fire and loved Jesus, and we wanted others to know Him. We were in Monroe, Louisiana, and I was asked by the pastor of a small Baptist church if I would come and preach to the young people at some youth meetings of their church. That pastor, Pastor Morris, was a godly, praying man.
He said, "Son, Iíve been praying and Iíve been seeking God, and I have the sense that God is going to do something among the young people in our church. Would you come and preach?"
I was just starting off in evangelism and I wanted to preach, so I said, "Iíd love to come and preach at your church."
He said, "Would you meet with my young people? Weíre going to have a prayer meeting Wednesday night. Just meet with the young people and pray with them." I went to meet with the young people, and there were only two or three there. They certainly had no interest in revival, or in God doing anything. I thought to myself, "This is going to be a disaster."
I asked the pastor, "What kind of publicity do you have?" He said, "We donít have any publicity." I said to myself, "This is going to be embarrassing. This is no way for me to get started as a youth evangelist." I tried to convince him we shouldnít do this thing, that it was not a good idea. But he kept saying to me this one thing: "I have been praying, and God is going to do something." Every time he would say it there would be a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. So I said, "Okay, Pastor, Iíll go with you."
We started off on a Wednesday night and were supposed to go through Sunday. The first Wednesday night there were about twenty-five people present. I preached my heart out, and I gave an altar call for people to repent and give their lives to Christ. Absolutely nothing happened. I was so discouraged. I went to the pastor and I said, "PastorÖ," and I saw the twinkle in his eye, and he said, "Sammy, Iíve been praying, and Godís going to do something."
I came the next night and preached with all my heart. There was a singing group from the university there, a youth group, and after they sang I preached and gave the invitation and absolutely nothing happened again. We were about to close the service when a man came up to the pastor and said, "Pastor, I have to share something. Iím a leader of the young people in this church and I have been such a poor example." He gave some specific reasons why he had been such a poor example, and he said, "I have just knelt down and repented and asked God to cleanse me and to forgive me, and I need to stand and ask this church to forgive me, and I ask the young people to forgive me."
Before he could sit down, the leader of the singing group stood up and he said, "I have to tell you there is sin in my life," and he began to confess things in his life. I looked down at the altar and all in the singing group were on their faces before God.
God Was Present!
We came back the next night, Friday, and the church was packed. There had been no publicity; people just came. God was present in the service. God moved again and the altar was filled with people crying out to God, praying, repenting of sin, giving their hearts and their lives to Christ. The same thing happened Saturday. Sunday morning when I arrived at the church I had to park blocks away because there was not enough room anywhere near the church. God was moving in such a wonderful way.
The pastor came to me as I walked into the church, and I saw the twinkle in his eye and the smile on his face. He said, "Sammy, Iíve prayed and I believe God wants us to extend these meetings."
I said, "Okay, Pastor, whatever you say. Iím with you."
He said, "But weíve got a problem." I said, "Whatís that?" He said, "We donít have room in the church. The crowds are too big." I said, "What are we going to do?" So we moved over to the university campus, and the first night we outgrew the facility on the university campus. We had to move into another facility. Two nights later we outgrew that facility.
The pastor came to me and said, "Sammy, Iíve been praying, and God is up to something wonderful with the young people, much more than we imagined that He wanted to do in this city. I think we ought to go and talk to the former governor of the state, who owns the television station and ask him for time on TV to tell what God is doing in the city."
I said, "Pastor, he would never let us do that," and then I saw the twinkle in his eye, and the smile on his face, and I said, "All right, Pastor."
We met with the former governor of Louisiana. The pastor began to tell him what God was doing. He sat there and listened to Pastor Morris share. The pastor said, "Tell them, Sammy. Tell them, Ray" (who was the leader of the music group), and we began to share what God was doing.
The public school system had been shut down because of racial violence between African-Americans and Anglo-Americans, and there had been fighting between the two groups. During those meetings God had moved and worked, and the leaders of the African-Americans and the Anglo-Americans who had been fighting one another got right with God and went to each other and asked forgiveness of each other, and the schools reopened without incident and with peace in the schools. Everyone was astounded.
My wife shared Christ with one of the most notorious drug addicts in the community. The woman had been arrested and was facing thirty years of prison. She came to a meeting and the presence of God was so strong that night she gave her heart to Jesus Christ. She threw all of her drugs away. That was close to forty years ago, and to this day she has never again taken drugs.
After the ex-governor heard us tell the story he said, "What is it you want?" and we said, "We want to have some time on television to tell what God is doing." He said, "Let me ask you something. You say you have outgrown the buildings. Do you think the civic center would be big enough? It holds 10,000 people." We said, "Well, we guess so." He whirled around in his chair and called the mayor and said, "Mayor, weíve got some young people that are finally doing something positive for the youth of this city. I want you to donate the civic center. If you wonít donate it, Iíll pay for it, but Iíd rather you donate it." And the mayor of the city donated the civic center.
That final night of the services thousands of young people gathered with no publicity, no advertisements. The headlines of the newspaper on the front page were about the revival that God had sent. The 6 oíclock news reported that the Spirit of God had moved in Monroe, Louisiana. The atmosphere of the meetings was interesting. There was not a lot of emotion. There was a sense of awe, a sense of the holiness of God, a sense of brokenness and a sense of repentance.
I fasted for the first time in my life. Fasting wasnít something I decided to do; I simply couldnít eat. Between the services, there was a place set aside for prayer, and you wanted to be there in the prayer meeting where there was a sense of Godís presence.
God moved at Asbury College and Seminary just a couple of months after that. There were moves of God that took place here and there throughout the nation, sovereign, divine works of the Spirit of God. That atmosphere cannot be worked up. It cannot be brought down by some dynamic preacher. It is simply a visitation from heaven.
When you read the book of Acts, you find the atmosphere of revival. After Jesus was risen, He sent His disciples back to Jerusalem to pray. He told them, as we read in Luke chapter 24, to go into all the world and proclaim the good news of forgiveness of sins and repentance, and then He told them, "Öbut tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (v. 49).
We find in Acts chapter one, the Church was in a prayer meeting. In Acts chapter two, the Church was proclaiming the Gospel. In Acts chapter three, Peter and John were going to a prayer meeting, and in Acts chapter four, the Church was praying. The great missionary movement of the Church was thrust forth in Acts chapter 13, for there were men praying and seeking the face of God.
Beginning in Acts 4:31, we read what kind of atmosphere was in that early Church: "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostlesí feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" (4:31-35).
Atmosphere of Prayer and Grace
What an atmosphere! The presence of God had filled the people of God! Notice several things that you see in this revival atmosphere created in the early Church. A spirit of prayer and courage and boldness permeated that early Church. Peter, who had denied our Savior three times, stood and boldly proclaimed the message of Christ with power and courage. The disciples witnessed to the truth of the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There was a lack of selfishness. There was a spirit of unity within the body of Christ. They loved one another. If one person had need and another had sufficiency of supply, he gave to that other person out of what was given to him. Of that spirit of love among the brothers Jesus had told them, "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love one to another" (John 13:35).
"Öand great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). As people are broken, then great grace is applied to the heart of the humble, and the contrite. This was the atmosphere of that revival. This was the visitation of the Lord. This was God present in the midst of His people. Today we have tried to reproduce revival. We cannot do it. It is God visiting His people and presenting Himself among His people.
Barriers to a Revival Atmosphere
There are several reasons why we cannot produce revival. First of all, there are barriers to that kind of atmosphere in our world today. The first barrier is the cultural barrier. We live in a world that is totally opposed to real, genuine, God-sent revival. We cannot but see the immorality and the sinfulness and the lack of moral standards in the culture, all of which are totally opposed to the presence of a holy God. There are other things that are much more subtle in our culture that are totally opposed to any kind of revival. And many times what you see in the culture you see also in the Church. The Church is more conformed to the world than it is conformed to Christ.
There is a great hindrance to revival in our culture because we live in a culture of busyness, and busyness is a hindrance to revival. The Lord says, "Be still, and know that I am God, for I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in all the earth" (Psa. 46:10). Iím convinced that weíve not seen revival because we have not been quiet; we have not stood quietly in the presence of an Almighty God to behold Him for who He is, to see what He wants to do, to hear from heaven. Weíre so busy telling Him what He ought to do and going here and there and running to and fro that God has not sent revival because we have not sat down to listen to what He wants to do in us. Busyness has stolen revival. Itís a barrier in the culture in which we live.
And I am convinced that anger is a barrier. Broken homes and broken families contribute to a culture that is filled with anger. There are others who might be angry at one another, such as conservatives Ė liberals; Christians Ė non-Christians.
When people become Christians and come into the Church, if they do not deal with the anger in their hearts, that anger comes into the Church. I am embarrassed sometimes by the way pastors and church people deal with one another. Our God is a holy God; He is a God of amazing grace, wonderful grace, and yet many in the Church are filled with anger.
I could name other things in our worldís culture, like darkness. We live in a day of darkness that is unprecedented in this country. So this is the culture in the world in which we live today Ė a culture of busyness, a culture of anger, a culture where it seems so much is opposed to things that are pure, holy, good, of good report and lovely.
Not only are there barriers in the culture of the world, but there are barriers in the Churchís culture. We have developed an evangelical culture that is counter-productive to revival. We have all kinds of leadership seminars. They help us to develop ourselves and to make ourselves the best persons we can be intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and in every way. But it is not our resources that are going to bring revival. In our church conferences and in the various meetings we have, what we are teaching our people is how to be great chief executive officers. You can learn how to lead an organization, but that will not teach you how to have revival.
Church growth in the United States and church growth in other parts of the world are two different kinds of church growth. Weíve got all kinds of methods and ideas and some of them are contrary to Scripture. People of a particular group will grow if they are with their group. The problem with that is that it is contrary to heaven. I grew up in the South where black people could not come into the church of the whites though it might be a great and a fast-growing, evangelistic church. That was contrary to revival. When revival comes, those things fall to the wayside. Revival looks more like heaven than it looks like our culture. The only thing that is going to change the world and change our culture is God Himself Ė God among His people.
A third barrier to revival is the philosophy that we can do it in our own power. We have become very skilled in what we do and in our oratory. Often conferences at which I am asked to speak are almost like preaching conventions. Revival does not come by the strong arm of the flesh. We have thought that we could produce revival, that we could work it up or preach it down. It is that very idea that is the barrier to revival itself. What we need to do is to humble ourselves and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways. It is then and only then that God will hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land.
You may be saying that this is a negative message. Iím supposed to be talking about the atmosphere of revival and Iím telling us all the reasons we canít have revival. But weíll never see revival until we see the impossibility of our doing it ourselves. We face too many barriers. It is impossible for us humans to bring revival. God Himself must bring revival!
Where Is God at Work?
Once you understand the impossibility of man bringing revival, let me tell you the possibility of revival. "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). I see some possibilities that I am excited about. When we see God is at work, we need to take notice, and we need to be a part of it. We need to fan that flame and to pray and to seek the face of God where He is at work.
The first thing I see is that God is doing something among young people. Many of the revivals of the past in our country started on university campuses. Today you can sense somewhat the presence of God at work among university students. There is a seeking and a passion. Young people are tired of business as usual. They want to seek the Lord passionately. There are indications that God is doing something in our universities and schools today. We need to be praying for a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit on college campuses across this nation and across Canada. I believe God will do it! There is a great possibility of revival on our university campuses.
A second reason I am optimistic about the possibility of revival is that something is happening in the ethnic community. This nation was born out of people who came because they were being persecuted for their faith. God moved among them and sent revival. We had the Great Awakening, when George Whitefield came from Britain to this nation (18th century). He thundered the Word of God out and entire communities would come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. People repented and gave their hearts to Christ. Weíre living in a day in which those of us in this land who are products of that great revival have walked away from our history.
Godly missionaries, who were the outgrowth of the Great Awakening, went to places around the world and proclaimed the Word of God. Wherever they went, they planted in the hearts of praying people the seed of the revival that had moved them. Now God in His sovereignty is bringing people from these lands back to America. I see hope in this.
I co-pastored a Southern Baptist church in Seattle, Washington, some twenty years ago. It was then the largest Southern Baptist church around. Do you know what the largest Southern Baptist churches in Washington are now? Theyíre Korean churches. I spoke at a Korean student meeting that I think was the most awesome meeting I have spoken at here in the United States. Nancy Leigh DeMoss spoke the first night. Until six oíclock the next morning, thousands were still in that auditorium praying, repenting, and getting right with God.
The next night I was the speaker. A young Korean lawyer from New York City introduced me. That night there was a mighty move of God. I heard someone crying so loudly over his sins, "God, have mercy on me!" He was confessing specific sins and repenting and was so broken. It was the young lawyer from New York City. I havenít seen that brokenness in our churches. One of the speakers said: "If you Anglo-Americans will not go back to your heritage and take this nation back for God, then we will!" I believe God has sent a new wave of immigrants to this country that have hot hearts that are aflame for God and that want to see God work and move and send revival. I believe that in Canada, too, one of the great opportunities today is in the ethnic community.
Seek Genuine Revival
Our passion is to see a true revival, where the atmosphere is filled with the anointed preaching of the Word of God, where the great truths of the death and burial and resurrection of Christ are given with great power, causing brokenness and repentance in the hearts and lives of the people. Furthermore, we are passionate to see that prayer is permeating the atmosphere and passionate to see a Church saturated with God, a Church that is in awe of the sovereignty of God, in awe of the holiness of God, a Church that sees Him for who He is, which bows before Him and loves Him and proclaims Him for who He is! If we are going to see that atmosphere in the Church, there is only one way we can prepare ourselves and that is to go on our faces before God and pray.
As we pray, the Spirit of God will move people, and He will show us sins in our lives. We must pray and not lose heart, as we are told in Luke 18:1: "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint." If we will do that and persistently ask and keep on asking, and seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking, the doors of heaven and the windows of heaven will be open, and God will pour out upon us a revival in the Spirit that we cannot even imagine that He could do. God can do more in one divine moment than we could do in a lifetime. The thing we need to do is to get into a position where revival will come, and that is a position of humility, of brokenness, of repentance. As we go before the Lord and seek Him for who He is and cry out to Him and pray for revival, God will send revival in His time, in His choosing and in His way.
There are times and seasons in which God moves. You donít know when that is. You donít know where the wind comes from; you donít know where it goes to. But when He comes, He ministers, and there are times of openness in peoplesí hearts that there have never been before. There is a great harvest that takes place. The greatest evangelistic harvests always take place in times of revival.
Seasons of revival have always been preceded by great seasons of prayer. We have prayed and prayed for such a revival in America. If we never see it with our own eyes, we have that blessed assurance that it is coming, for "faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:12). Whether we see it or whether we do not see it, we will pray and we will seek the face of God until revival comes or until Jesus comes for us. I believe that when we have such a heart, we are preparing the soil, because the soil of revival has always been prepared by the prayers of Godís people.
Pray for nothing less than a genuine God-sent, Holy Spirit revival! We cannot create an atmosphere of revival, but we can be silent before the Lord. Whatever He speaks to your heart, let Him do in your life. If there is something you need to repent of, if there is sin you need to confess and turn away from, if youíve become discouraged and grown weary in your prayer life, you need to come back to God and be still, and find a place and a time to be with Him and seek Him. Let that time be now.