Revival In The Race
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2011 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A. Used by permission.
Some of us have been blessed at different times in our lives to experience personal and corporate revival. But we cannot live on past revivals. We need God today and our churches need God today. Our families and our nations need God today. We must have a fresh move of God’s Spirit.
Five years ago in a prayer meeting at a Heart-Cry conference, the Lord began to burn into my heart Isaiah 40:31, "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." In the year before that, I had gone through a series of tragedies, and I was tired and burdened with much sadness and heartache. The Lord began to convict me that I had not trusted Him to renew my strength. I confessed this in that prayer meeting and in the next conference session, and that was the beginning of a revival in my life.
One year later in 2007 I was diagnosed with cancer and the doctor told me to lose weight and build endurance. In a time alone with the Lord and His Word, I read Hebrews 12:1, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." The Lord spoke to my heart and told me to run. So after my cancer surgery, I began to train and God began to renew me physically and spiritually. In keeping with the Isaiah passage that He had burned into my heart the year before, the Lord began to renew my strength!
Running Imagery in Paul’s Writings
In November 2008 I was able to run the original Greek marathon. The Lord then began to speak to my heart through some of the teachings of Paul about running. In Paul’s day, the Greek games were very popular, and he drew from running and athletic terminology in his letters. For example, he wrote to Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race…" (2 Tim. 4:7).
Paul also uses this terminology in this exhortation to the Corinthians: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
There were two major events at the Greek games – the boxing/wrestling events and the running events. The games were basically individual sports, and Paul says that "all the runners run, but only one receives the prize…so run that you may obtain it." Is he saying that we are in competition with one another? No, he is saying that you have been given a race to run in life and you need to run like a winner. And if you run like a champion, you will have at the end of the race a crown that you will be able to present at the very feet of Jesus Christ, giving Him the glory, honor and praise. So run in a way to win.
Look to Jesus
Let me say to you, there is only one champion in this race, and that is Jesus Christ. He is our pursuit. We are to look to Him. He is the One calling us to run this race. We will be winners as we look to Him and set our hearts on following Him and becoming more like Him. That is what revival is. Revival is getting a fresh glimpse of Jesus for who He is in His holiness, in His purity, in His love, in His compassion – in all that He is and all that He wants us to be – and running like a champion in pursuit of Him and His likeness.
Paul had run his race like a champion. He knew how to finish the race and to finish well. He had kept his eyes on Jesus, and said, "…It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…" (Gal. 2:20). Imagine near the end of his life when he is in prison and only Luke is with him. Here is a warrior, a man with scars on his back, a faithful man full of surrender and commitment to Jesus. He is being poured out as a drink offering and the time for his departure has come. He has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. And a crown of righteousness is laid up for him, a crown that the Lord will award to him on that Day (2 Tim. 4:6-8). And perhaps he is especially looking forward to placing that crown at the feet of his Savior Jesus Christ.
An Explosive Start
There are three parts of a race, and I believe there is need for revival in all three parts. The first part is the start of the race. A race can be won or lost at the start. A year and a half ago at a track event I saw a man break the American record in the 400 meters for his age division. When he came out of the starting blocks I knew that he was a winner. He shot out of those blocks with mighty, explosive power. Before he reached the first curve, he was already well ahead.
Consider the explosive start of the church. The Book of Acts shows us that the church began on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon those men and women. In the Old Testament, it was God for us; in the Gospels, God with us; and beginning in the Book of Acts, God in us. Jesus had said in advance, "You will receive power…" (Acts 1:8). The word "power" is from the Greek word dynamis from which we get our word "dynamite" or explosive power. We will not be able to run the race God has called us to unless we know the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must be filled. "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18). This is not an option. The fullness of the Holy Spirit empowers us to become like Christ. We are to live and to minister in His power, not our power.
Jesus told His disciples to go and preach the Gospel to all nations, but first He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. "And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). They gathered in prayer and they waited, and waited, and then on the day of Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. We read again and again in the Book of Acts about them being filled with the Holy Spirit: "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31); "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52).
I know the issue of being filled with the Holy Spirit is divisive in many circles, but the truth remains that we cannot live the Christian life without the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot run the race unless we are endued with power from on high.
Very early in my ministry I confessed to another brother that I was a defeated Christian. He shared with me about sin and repentance, and about dying to self and being alive in Christ. We prayed through the whole night and I confessed sin, and God cleansed me of sin. That night I took everything and spiritually (not physically) put it all in a casket in a grave. I took my car, my clothes, my money, and all my material possessions and placed all of these things into that casket in a grave. I took my ambition to be a well-known preacher, and I took my future dreams and aspirations and put them in that casket in the grave. I took my wife and placed her in that casket in the grave. Then I too crawled in and died spiritually.
That is what the Apostle Paul had said: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). To be filled with the Spirit means to come to the end of yourself, your aspirations, your dreams, your ministry, your future, your hope, your money and your possessions. That night it became "no longer I…but Christ who lives in me." In that moment, I experienced the fullness of the Spirit.
Now I had to learn to walk in that fullness by dying daily. "Not I, but Christ." Every day I have to say, "Lord, there is no good thing that dwells in the flesh. I cannot live the Christian life, but You can. Fill me with Your Spirit. I need Christ." And as I do, something happens and the fruit of the Holy Spirit – "…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22) – grows in me exponentially, and I become more and more like Christ. Many of us are trying to live the Christian life in our own power. We are trying to do the right thing, trying to serve God in ministry and trying to help, but we cannot do it. We must come to the end of ourselves. Revival is a new beginning, and anytime there is a new beginning there is a new empowerment.
A Good Pace
There is also the middle part of the race. Ephesians 3:14-16 says, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being." This is in full agreement with what we have been talking about – we need to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being.
Now look at the next part of the passage: "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (vv. 17-19). What is the reason why God strengthens you with power through His Spirit in your inner being? It is "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." According to some scholars, this phrase can be translated "until Christ feels at home in your heart." In other words, in the day in and day out of your life, Christ is comfortable living in you.
One of the things I learned about running a 400 meter race is that you start fast, but then you need to get into your pace. It needs to be natural and comfortable so that you can make it all the way around the track. There is only one way to make that happen, and that is through training.
You cannot finish the Christian race just by saying, "Now I am filled with the Holy Spirit." The purpose is not just a good start, but that Christ may dwell in you and be comfortable dwelling in you as you go about your day-to-day business. We need training so that we can set a pace to help us run the entire race. So how does this happen? Paul tells us in Philippians 3:10: "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death."
Building Strength through Suffering
The American church knows little about suffering and the purpose of suffering. God leads us into dark and difficult places, and it is in those places that we encounter Christ. I have met Jesus in the difficult places more often than I have met Him on the mountain tops. More of His character has been built into my life climbing hills than running in the valleys. Strength is built when you run the hills. There was One who climbed a hill 2,000 years ago and was obedient to the point of death. All strength and character are found in Him. In Him is all that we need and all that we hope to be. All of our completeness is in Him. And it is what He did on the Cross that makes it possible for us to become all that God wants us to be.
Five years ago when I sat here at this conference, God had me running hills. One of my best friends had been killed in an accident, I had been hospitalized twice, the man translating my materials in Pakistan was kidnapped and murdered. I was tired, and God said, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…." A year later I was diagnosed with cancer, but God began to renew my strength physically and spiritually. I was running and was no longer tired. And that kind of running comes only through "the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." God has hills, and I can guarantee that some of you are going to face hills that you never dreamed were out there, and they are going to be hard. But remember this – they will make you strong. If the power of His Spirit is within your inner man strengthening you, you will become more like Jesus!
A Strong Finish
The final part of the race is a good finish. In a 400 meter race you can have a good start and can run well for 300 meters, but the last part of the race is very difficult and requires determination. This is where the idea of "striving" comes in.
Paul uses the athletic terminology of "striving" to describe different aspects of the Christian race. The Greek word that means "to strive" is agonizomai. Notice the word "agony" in the first part of that word. There is agony involved in the race that God has called us to run, and we must strive to finish well.
For example, Paul writes, "…let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel" (Phil. 1:27). What does he mean "striving side by side"? When you run with someone, they pull potential out of you that you cannot reach on your own. In the race of life we need others. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not competitors against each other, but we are striving with each other. We are in this race together. The harder one runs, the harder the other runs, and we both become better. Each of us needs to find another believer and "run" with him/her.
Not only are we striving with one another, but Paul uses the same terminology in Colossians 4:12 to talk about striving in prayer. "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God." The word "struggling" ("striving") is the same word "agony" used in the context of the Greek games. Paul uses the same word in Romans 15:30: "I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf." There is a place of striving in prayer. We are not talking about striving in the flesh, but through the Spirit. We may think that revival is going to come without any tears, without any struggle. But I can tell you that revival is not going to come except through struggle. So in prayer do not give up no matter how impossible it may seem, no matter how tired you may be. Even if you do not see the answer coming to pass, do not give up!
The Lord wants to renew and revive you. He wants to bring you to a new level of intimacy with Him, a new level in your walk with Him and in the race set before you. Do not give up, but strive and give it everything you have. You may not see how it can happen, but trust the Lord. Trust Him to strengthen and revive you by the power of His Spirit within you.