Publication: Pastoral Letter, June 2009
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray you are doing well. This is my third and final letter on the topic of “Real Revival,” and this month, we are focusing on “Real Results.”
I have described revival as a Sovereign move of the Holy Spirit that affects the Church to affect the culture. Revival is an extraordinary event that raises the level of ordinary living. This could also be called a “visitation” or “awakening”. The Charismatic Revival was often described as a “renewal”. Whatever a revival is, it is measured by its longevity and its breadth of impact upon surrounding culture. We read in Acts, “Those that have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).
The purpose of revival goes beyond having a “religious experience”. It goes beyond building the local church. The purpose is to revive the whole Church to accomplish its mission. When the Church is in spiritual lethargy, the mission goes unattended. When the Church is truly revived, believers are motivated to obey the Lord and extend His Kingdom.
I truly believe that there is another great revival ahead. I believe that because the conditions warrant it, believers are being called by God to pray for it, and because in some areas it is already happening. The Scriptures speak about a victorious Church, not one that declines in the end.
SIGNS OF CESSATION
If we believe that a great awakening is coming, is it proper to speak about what happens when a revival is over? Yes, because only then can we really assess its value and authenticity. If we do not understand that revivals end, we will do the wrong things when they do – and they all do. I have never read or heard a teaching on what to do when they end. But having witnessed visitations and read about them, I know that usually there is little preparation for cessation.
When the Holy Spirit begins to lift the intensity of revival, our own misunderstanding of what He is doing can lead to burn out, disappointment, and burned over fields. How do we know that the Lord is saying the revival season is over? Here are some signs:
- Real Revival usually comes suddenly in power and spontaneity. When that electric sense of spontaneity ceases or subsides and attendance at special gatherings declines, it’s over.
- Real Revival brings dramatic testimonies. When testimonies are more forced and less significant, it’s over.
- When leaders have to work harder to get a response, it’s over.
- When leaders try to export or duplicate the experience, it is probably over.
- When leaders fail to exercise discernment and allow obvious moral problems, excessive displays, or unbiblical error, it will soon be over.
RESPONDING TO CESSATION
My experience is that revival is tremendous in what it accomplishes, but it is not the normal Christian life. Some people, especially those who are blessed in it, may not be able to accept that something special is over and that the Holy Spirit willed it. He has another season for them.
People will often lament the close of Real Revival because their lives become built around it. They may want to blame someone, and lose focus on God’s intent from the beginning. I refer those people to Ecclesiastes 7 which tells us “The end is better than the beginning.” “The patient in Spirit is better than the proud in Spirit.” “Do not say where are the former days that were better than these (Ecclesiastes 7:8-10). Or I refer those who may be disappointed to Proverbs 4:18. “The path of the just is like a bright and shining light that shines more and more unto the perfect day.”
There were great revivals in biblical times, when these revivals were completed, new leaders had been established, and the Lord led the former leaders to other areas. The Kingdom had expanded.
In the 1970s,I was part of an exciting season in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We were conducting large teaching conferences and thousands were coming from everywhere. Many people were being saved, filled, healed, and delivered. I remember one evening we were discussing the future of those conferences when Bob Mumford said, “Let’s offer to God a healthy lamb.” In other words, “Let us close this down while it is still real.” We did. What happened? The conferences spread across the world. We didn’t allow Ft. Lauderdale to become our ideal. Leaders who are truly interested in God’s glory and not their own will know when it is time to give God a healthy lamb.
It is difficult to put a glorious time to rest and move on to God’s original purpose. I have seen things in revival that I have never seen again. I would love to see God move that way once more, I believe I will see that. Meanwhile, God did it and if it is to be again – He will do it. I don’t want a lamb that has been to the taxidermist!
What should we do when revival concludes? I am writing this because there will be revivals and they will conclude; what should we do? Here’s my counsel:
- Thank God for what he did_some people have never seen what you have seen.
- You can assess the wonderful results: how many were saved, filled, healed, delivered, and prospered?
- How many families were healed?
- How many outside the church were effected?
- How has giving increased?
- How many new ministries were begun?
- How is the community better off
In a real awakening, it is almost impossible to calculate the answer to these questions, but it moves us to praise. The first Great Awakening paved the way for the founding of America. The second Great Awakening paved the way for the cessation of slavery. The impact of real revival is history-making.
I want to emphasize that revivals do produce great experiences, but to make experience the goal is a great error and will produce sad results. Revivals will produce emotional “highs”, but emotional high is not a goal. So why does out Sovereign Lord pour out the Holy Spirit?
Let’s go back to the first revival of followers of Jesus – Acts 2.They were “tarrying” as Jesus commanded and suddenly the Holy Spirit came, dramatically, in wind and fire. They began to speak in languages that they did not know. They were accused of being drunk. Now that is a “high”!
Soon, a great crowd gathered…what happened? Peter did not say “come in here and you can have an experience.” He preached repentance, faith, and baptism. Thousands received Jesus as the Christ, were baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. He went on to say that the same promise was to as many as the Lord would call. The same Gospel and same results moved across nations. The emotional highs were followed by preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The power of God is always linked to the mission of God. Power is not an end, nor is experience – but mission is: The Great Commission. If it rained all the time, farmers could never plant and never harvest. Rain is not an end, it is a means to God’s purpose (see James 5:7). So, if we have had a revival, the proof of its legitimacy will be the laborers and the harvest (see Matthew 9:37-38).
We should be grateful for revival, even after it has diminished; we should rejoice in the truth and get on with renewed energy and purpose into the harvest. Something else very wonderful happens in revival that is most useful as we move forward: we learn to hear the Holy Spirit more clearly – we become sensitive to Him. If so, we can stay open and flexible to His guidance into new adventures.
One of the worst things that can happen and often does, is the crystallizing of our experience and methods that the Lord formerly used, but may not next time. We can turn revival into a form of religion. In fact, most denominations came from a revival and often turned it into a form. Revival can produce forms, but forms cannot produce revival.
We should not turn experience into habit. Our experience came through hearing God. Once we become habitual, we become deaf. The next move of the Holy Spirit may look quite different from the last. That has always been the case. Looking backward or preserving the past through habit will cause us to miss the next move of the Holy Spirit.
Is revival given to preserve the past or prepare for the future? The answer to that is very important. Josiah led Judah in a great revival, but he was killed because he misunderstood God’s purpose(see 2 Kings 23). Looking back over great revivals, they prepared people for what was to come. That should give us pause to think as we pray for revival.
When the Holy Spirit comes, He comes to convict and comfort, to wound and heal, to tear down and build up, to bring despair and hope, to judge and redeem. He afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted. He gets our attention, because he loves us and does not want to see us destroyed. He wants us to change our hearts and our ways, and bring us into the glorious will of God, our Redeemer.
What He asks of us now is to lay down our agenda and seek Him. Let the One who knows the end from the beginning set our course. We are safe in His hands, whether before, during, or after the revival.
REVIVAL TO COME
I have written to you in these recent months so that we might know what we are asking of God – real revival that affects our nation. In this letter, I have focused on what we should do when revivals cease, and they will cease. We should not lament or look back, but understand God’s purpose (see Romans 8:28).
I would also encourage you to study great revivals. If you desire our assistance in that, let me know; there are plenty of resources in bookstores and online. Pray with us here, and with friends, for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and don’t stop. It could take years, but it will come and be worth it at all costs. Be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is saying to you now.
Read the Bible regarding the subject, especially 2 Chronicles 6:37-38 and 2 Chronicles 7:12-15. Let me also encourage you to read Joshua 24:13-15. May God bless as you seek Him!
P.S. Would you please prayerfully consider a special gift to support the ministry of CSM this month? I know this is a time of year when many of our supporters take a much-deserved season of vacation and relaxation, and that is a good thing. But the needs and opportunities for ministry do not take a vacation. If you will keep us in your prayers and in your budget, we will do all we can to be good stewards of these resources so that the Christ’s Kingdom may be extended, bringing transformation among the nations.
Scripture Reference: Acts, Ecclesiastes, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles