Thirsty For The Living Water
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2008 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A. Used by permission.
Two years ago I needed and longed for renewal in my life. That longing did not come from a deep conviction of some known sin in my life. It came from the same source that many Christian leaders face today. I was tired. I love God and have attempted to serve Him with my whole heart. Yet, I found myself exhausted in the midst of a successful international ministry.
When I came to the Heart-Cry conference in 2006, I desperately wanted God to work in my heart. I came to listen and to hear from God. He spoke.
During one of the early morning prayer meetings, the leader, Crawford Loritts, said, "Let’s not take prayer requests this morning. Let’s just go to the Lord with whatever is on our hearts." That is when God spoke to me. I had complained that I was tired because of the circumstances in my life during the previous two years. My best friend had been killed in an automobile accident. The man who translates my materials into one of the Afghan languages was kidnapped and murdered. I had been hospitalized twice during that period. And a man from Portugal contacted me saying that he had evidence that we were brothers.
I felt that the traumatic events that had taken place during that time were ample reasons to be weary in serving the Lord. However, that morning God spoke so clearly to my heart from His Word. I knew deep within that His Word is true and that I had been lying to myself about my condition. His Word said, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa. 40:31).
I had fainted. I had grown weary. Yet, His promise said that would not take place in my life. I came face to face with the truth. I had not been waiting upon the Lord in a manner that He desired.
Since that day I have been with the Lord to the fountain of living water. I have drunk from the water and I have been revived. Some people who have heard me tell my story think that what happened at that time was burnout. It was not burnout. It was dehydration.
I am convinced that much of what we say in the church today about burnout is really dehydration because we have not been to the living water. We have not drunk from the rivers of the water of life. When we do not drink, we are not able to finish as winners. I have walked in revolutions and the aftermath of genocide. I have preached in war zones. We built our ministry on prayer from the very beginning, and God has been with me. But we cannot go on what God did years ago. There are seasons of life and in every season we must experience revival, allowing Him to move and to work in us. He does this by bringing us to the water.
Men Who Thirsted for God
You will find in the Scriptures that God arranges or orchestrates events and circumstances that cause men to be thirsty. When they get thirsty enough, they will find the water. Moses was such a man. He was young, strong and powerful. But God allowed events and circumstances to come into his life where he became a failure. He fled from the Pharaoh fearing for his life and spent forty years in a desert until he was thirsty – until his soul thirsted for God. One day on a mountain God came to Moses and he was never again the same. Moses was no longer afraid of the Pharaoh, but faced him in the power of God Almighty.
Another such man was Saul of Tarsus. He persecuted the church and thought he had everything right. But the Lord had a way to orchestrate circumstances to make him thirsty. He met him on that road to Damascus, and Saul, who thought he saw and understood everything, could no longer see anything. He was stricken blind until he was thirsty, and when he became thirsty God healed him.
So it has been throughout history. God makes men thirsty because He wants to pour rivers of living water into their souls that will flow forth out of their innermost being and into the world around them.
Martin Luther had circumstances orchestrated by God. Lightning struck near him and frightened him and he feared his eternal state. Not long thereafter he found himself in a monastery searching for the rivers. He was thirsty and his soul was crying out. Then he read the words "the just shall live by faith" (Heb. 10:38). Those words were like rivers of living water to his soul and a reformation was born in that monastery.
David Brainerd was a thirsty soul who found the water. Let me read to you from The Life and Diary of David Brainerd: "The Lord’s Day, October 19. In the morning I felt my soul hungering and thirsting after righteousness. In the forenoon while I was looking on the sacramental elements and thinking that Jesus Christ would soon be ‘set forth crucified before me,’ my soul was filled with light and love, so that I was almost in an ecstasy; my body was so weak, I could scarcely stand. I felt at the same time an exceeding tenderness and most fervent love towards all mankind; so that my soul and all the powers of it seemed, as it were, to melt in the softness and sweetness. But during the communion, there was some abatement of this life and fervour. This love and joy cast out fear; and my soul longed for perfect grace and glory. This frame continued till the evening, when my soul was sweetly spiritual in secret duties."
D. L. Moody’s Thirst for God
D.L. Moody was a thirsty man. R.A. Torrey, who followed Mr. Moody, wrote in his book Why God Used D.L. Moody: "In his early days he was a great hustler; he had a tremendous desire to do something, but he had no real power. He worked very largely in the energy of the flesh. But there were two humble Free Methodist women who used to come over to his meetings in the YMCA. One was ‘Auntie Cook’ and the other, Mrs. Snow. …These two women would come to Mr. Moody at the close of his meetings and say, ‘We are praying for you.’ Finally, Mr. Moody became somewhat nettled and said to them one night: ‘Why are you praying for me? Why don’t you pray for the unsaved?’ They replied: ‘We are praying that you may get the power.’ Mr. Moody did not know what that meant, but he got to thinking about it, and then went to these women and said: ‘I wish you would tell me what you mean’; and they told him about the definite baptism with the Holy Ghost. Then he asked that he might pray with them and not they merely pray for him.
"Auntie Cook once told me of the intense fervor with which Mr. Moody prayed on that occasion. She told me in words that I scarcely dare repeat, though I have never forgotten them. And he not only prayed with them, but he also prayed alone. Not long after, one day on his way to England, he was walking up Wall Street in New York; (Mr. Moody very seldom told this and I almost hesitate to tell it) and in the midst of the bustle and hurry of that city his prayer was answered; the power of God fell upon him as he walked up the street and he had to hurry off to the house of a friend and ask that he might have a room by himself, and in that room he stayed alone for hours; and the Holy Ghost came upon him, filling his soul with such joy that at last he had to ask God to withhold His hand, lest he die on the spot from very joy. He went out from that place with the power of the Holy Ghost upon him, and when he got to London…the power of God wrought through him mightily in North London, and hundreds were added to the churches; and that was what led to his being invited over to the wonderful campaign that followed in later years."
These were thirsty men and women who found the rivers and drank from the water. I submit to you the reason we do not have revival is because we do not have thirsty men and women. I submit to you that God will orchestrate the events of your life and my life if we want Him more than we want anything else in such a way that it will cause us that we have no other place to go but to the water to drink.
Driven to the Water
The things that happened in those two years in my life were God driving me to the water. After that conference prayer meeting two years ago, God spoke to me clearly. My ministry has been built on prayer. I have a place that I have gone for twenty years to pray – under the trees in San Antonio, Texas. But Crawford came up to me and said, "Sammy, I just went back to my room and I prayed. I feel like the Lord is saying He wants to bring you to a new level of work in your ministry and in order to do that He has to bring you to a new level of prayer."
If we are to go to a new level of revival in this nation, we have to go to a new level of prayer. As much as I believe in and pray for corporate revival and great awakenings, every awakening is rooted in personal revival which means God has to bring each of us personally to a new place of intimacy with Him.
Revival began in my life two years ago when the bottom began to fall out. I gritted my teeth and said, "I am going to make it through this." God said, "No, you are not. You cannot take what I’ll lay on you. You cannot make it through the desert into which I am going to lead you." He placed me in a desert and told me to come to that conference two years ago. I knew that He had me there because He wanted to do something that was going to change my life and change my ministry. I am here to say to you, "He did it!" But not in one experience.
Actually the turning point began when I had three best friends die. One of the reasons it was so hard was because as an evangelist itinerate it is not easy to make friends. You travel in and out so people cannot keep up with you. It seems like when I would make a best friend, he would be killed. When my friend Billy died and I came to this conference, I was searching for God and asking what He was saying. He gave me a word that morning.
I also discovered that I was not the white man I thought I was. I come from a people that are tri-racial: Native American, English and African. Now, that may not mean anything to you, but for a southern boy it is pretty shocking. As I began to learn that my family background was not what I had always thought, I told my pastor, "I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who my family is. I don’t know what my race is. I don’t know who I am." My pastor looked at me, pointed his finger and said, "Sammy, you know who you are. You are in Jesus and Jesus is in you. You are a follower of Jesus Christ. You are a pioneer of the Gospel. That is who you are." And I knew that, but God brought me to a new place where everything else was stripped away. That was the beginning of revival. The rock from which revival comes is knowing who you are. I am in Christ and Christ in me. That is who I am.
Call to More Prayer
At the last conference the Lord spoke to my heart that I needed to take three hours a day for the next seven days after the conference and spend with Him – three hours every day. The first thing I had to do was look at my calendar and say, "What in here is important and what in here is not important?" This was a critical moment for me and I did not realize how critical it was because God was getting me ready for what He was about to do that was so big in my life.
I discovered in life and in ministry we pick up time-consuming things that are good things but not important things. All of a sudden we find ourselves having to lessen our time alone with God because we have this to do and that to do. Since we are doing these things for God, we believe He will not mind. But God began to show me things in my calendar that were not so important. When I started dropping off some of those things, three hours was no big deal to get with God. We talk about all these things we have to do and the truth is we are just not thirsty enough. I want to tell you that God has a way of orchestrating events to make you thirsty for Him.
A little over a year ago I started walking and exercising. The Lord began to speak to my heart about my body being the temple of the Holy Spirit and that I had not kept my body for Him. If I was going to run the race to the end, I needed to treat His temple better (1 Cor. 3:16-17). So I started walking and jogging.
Not long after this I discovered that I had cancer. I needed surgery and there was a surgeon in town who was one of the finest in the country and from a Hindu background. The day that I went into surgery I told my wife that this was going to be a new adventure. The last thing I remember was holding this surgeon’s hand and my wife’s hand and praying for the surgeon. I was in the hospital for two days and then went home.
Many friends had given me materials to watch and read during my recovery time, but the Lord said, "No, this time is for Me." The first night I went to bed and I had a dream. There were two Indians sitting on a hill and looking out at the distance, and I heard two words: "wounded deer." I woke up the next morning and those words and that scene were in my heart and mind. I asked, "God, what does this mean?" The Scripture came to me: "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God" (Psa. 42:1). I thought, "God, I am thirsty. God, I am thirsty for You. God, I want You. I want You."
I had never been eight days in one house my whole life. During my recovery I would walk as long as I could singing, "As the deer pants for the water...." I wore a trail across from the living room to the bedroom going back and forth singing and worshipping Jesus. I would get tired and get in my bed. I would open my Bible and read the Word of God. Oh, the presence of the Lord! The rivers that flowed from the throne of God were so wonderful! They were so rich! I tell you that God came and met with me! Those moments of worship turned into hours of worship. Those hours of worship turned into days of worship. Those days of worship turned into weeks of worship. Those weeks of worship turned into three months of worship. For three months I met God.
I thank God for the events that drove me to the water. I do not know what it will take to drive you to the water, but I want to tell you, it is good at the water. I am a revived man! That is my experience of revival. Now I want to tell you about five things God has given me in this season of revival. I believe He wants to do these in each of our lives.
Fresh Intimacy with Christ
First of all, He has given me fresh intimacy with Christ. My times in the Word and my times in prayer have been so good, and God has spoken to my heart. I am like a wounded deer and I do not want to ever forget that is who I am – that my life is in the living water. I cannot do anything until I have been to the water. The only place of life for me is at the water. I dare not stand in this pulpit or any other pulpit unless I have been to the water. Fresh intimacy with Christ, I do not want to lose that. I am ready to lose my ministry, but I do not want to lose that intimacy with Christ.
Fresh Power in Ministry
Secondly, He has given me fresh power in ministry. There have been two other times in my life where I have experienced such a revival, though perhaps not as deep as this one. A few years after I first became a Christian I heard the great truth, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20). In that truth God worked in my heart to show me that I could not live the Christian life. The only person who could live the Christian life was Christ in me and that brought great revival to my life. The second time was when I became a pastor for the first time in Germany and God sent revival to my marriage. What I really believe is that God brings us through seasons of life, and with every season we need revival.
The Lord is at work in our ministry through this third season of revival. Already this year we have seen thousands of people come to Christ in very difficult nations, and I believe that we will have one of the richest years of harvest. Also, during those seven days of special prayer following the last conference, God put in my heart to write a book on praying for your family and also a workbook to help people get in the Word themselves. We did this, and as I have traveled I discovered that all over the world the family is hurting. God has opened up a whole new ministry and the material has already been translated into seven languages. God is giving fresh power in ministry. He will do more when we have been with Him.
Fresh Insights into Revival
The third thing He has given is fresh insights into revival. Through all this process I have had to come to grips with who I am – who I am in Christ. I have discovered that based on my DNA and genealogical records, as far as race is concerned, I am all mixed up. Do you know what I learned about race? I am of the human race and my father, Adam, got in a lot of trouble because of sin. But there was another man named Jesus who redeemed me. That is why what my pastor told me was so true. I am a joint-heir with Christ. I have all the riches of glory through Christ Jesus. Do not ever look down on a man because of his color. You are the same race he is. America, our churches need to repent of this! We need to go before the throne of God and say, "It is Jesus and we are one in Him."
Fresh Vision for the World
Fourth, God gives fresh vision for the world. A little over a year ago my son and I began to meet once a week and the Lord began to speak to me through him. My son has had a revival and he has described the revival to me. He stayed up one night weeping the whole night. He was broken over what was happening in Darfur in Sudan. He was broken over people dying of AIDS in Africa. He was broken over those that nobody else cares about – the outcasts of society. Through this brokenness for the world the Lord began to stir in my heart that we needed to have a fuller approach in our ministry. God put on my heart to go into Liberia, a war-torn country, and rebuild a community in every way: spiritually, socially and economically – to take the power of the Word of God and the power of Christian love and transform that community for the glory of Jesus Christ.
God has given me a fresh vision to reach the world not only overseas in Liberia, but He has orchestrated some circumstances where tomorrow when we leave here, my wife and I are going to a rural town in South Carolina from where my grandfathers came. We will meet with the tribal chief there. The people are very poor and the young people have no motivation. We are going to see what we can do to reach them with the message of Christ and lift them up and minister to their needs socially, economically, educationally and in every way that we can.
Fresh Strength to Run the Race
Finally, God gives fresh strength to run the race. God has given us a race to run. My first friend that was killed was an attorney I met during my pastorate in Germany. He and I would run together and memorize Scripture as we ran. And we dreamed together about what I am doing today, about revival in America, and about reaching the world for Jesus. On our runs we would talk about the possible things that God could do. Then he got this crazy idea and we started dreaming about running the Greek Marathon. When we came back to the States, he was getting out of the military and was to be on the Board of Directors for our ministry. But on his way home during his last tour of duty he was killed. I preached his funeral.
When I was diagnosed with cancer I took a real hard look at my life. God has been so good to me, and I have seen every dream that I have had fulfilled except one – running the Greek Marathon. The Lord put it on my heart to run the Greek Marathon. In the midst of what seemed impossible, I went back to the Word and the Lord said to me, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa. 40:31). I knew that God was speaking to me about running as much as anything. I put my hand on that verse and said, "God, I will wait on You, but I am going to trust You that Your Word is true." So I started walking, then jogging, and then running, and this past December was able to finish a mini-marathon, and hope to run in the Greek Marathon later this year.
God has given me fresh strength to finish the race, and I am not talking about the Greek Marathon. I was so tired, but I am renewed! I am revived! So I tell you, do not neglect the water.
When I had the health to begin traveling again after cancer surgery, I flew to Canada, and then had to drive to the town where I was to speak. I started driving and I saw a sign for a waterfall. I thought, "Water." I pulled off, took my Bible, hiked back to the waterfall and spent a couple of wonderful hours just worshiping Jesus Christ. I started down the highway again and saw a place where two rivers came together. I said, "I am stopping at the water." So I stopped and went down to the rivers and worshipped Jesus Christ. I was there maybe for an hour, then started driving again, and came to a lake nestled in the mountains. I said, "More water." And I spent some time with the Lord there. When I finally arrived at the conference to speak, I spoke from the overflow. The problem is most of us are speaking from dry wells.
Are you thirsty? What will it take to make you thirsty enough to look at your schedule and start clearing some things out and say, "I am going to throw away some baggage. I am going to make room to meet with God"? That is where revival begins – in the secret place of prayer, in the quiet place where you can get alone and meet with Him. Are you thirsty?