PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “We have not seen the last of the best!”
Revivals have been a big part of my life for over six decades. I was saved in September of 1968. My parents were saved the next fall, November 1969, during a revival with Gerald Thompson as the Evangelist at the Salem Baptist Church of Decatur. Later, after God had called me into the ministry, my very first ministry was being a bus Pastor. But that was soon followed in 1969 with opportunities to preach youth revivals in Central Illinois. I preached 25 youth revivals during the years of 1969-1971 averaging nearly 10 per year. The focus of most of those revivals was for Christian youth to surrender their lives to Jesus, and witness and bring friends to the youth meetings. Many young people came to faith in those days as the sixties welcomed the seventies! I began pastoring my first Church in May of 1971 at the age of 17. Every Church that I have pastored over the years has had one to two revivals per year. Over nearly 50 years of ministry I have participated in over 250 revivals, counting the ones I hosted as a Pastor of a Baptist Church, and the one I personally preached as an Evangelist. In the eighties I averaged preaching about 8-10 revivals per year-all over Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and South Carolina, and Tennessee. I have had the joy of witnessing revivals transform Churches collectively, and Christians individually. I can honestly say my life was touched by every one of them. As a young person I made it a habit to attend revivals at sister Baptist Churches, and also several other denominations-Methodist, Church of God, Assembly of God, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Bible Churches, etc. Even though there are many that feel that revivals are a thing of the past that no longer impacts American Culture today…I strongly disagree. Even though most revivals today reach fewer non-Christians than they used to; they still impact the people of God. When the Church is revived…the community that surrounds it is impacted for Christ.
I want to share a few famous Christian quotes that help us understand the role that revival plays in the life of a local Church, and in the lives of the individual Christians who are identified with the Church. J.I. Packer defines a revival as “a visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have fallen asleep spiritually, and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. All this ushers in a vivid sense of sin and profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and with an evangelistic overflow”. Stephan Olford writes, “Revival is that strange, sovereign work of God in which He visits the people-restoring, reanimating, and releasing them into the fullness of His blessing. Such a divine intervention will issue in evangelism, though, in the first instance, it is a work of God in the Church and among individual believers”. Charles Finney, the revivalist of the early nineteenth century, defined revival concisely as “a new beginning of obedience”. Simply put a new closeness to God; a new passion for Christ; A new love for God; A new holiness in life; A new filling and refreshing of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite descriptions of revival is from John Wesley. He wrote, “We need to storm the throne of Grace and persevere therein, and mercy will come down. I continue to dream and to pray about revival…in our day, that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community, in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit, to fulfill God’s intentions!” Probably the best quote I have been influenced by on revivals is by Andrew Bonar. He wrote, “Revivals begin with God’s own people, The Holy Spirit touches their hearts anew, and gives them a new fervor, and compassion, and zeal, new light and life, and after He has come to the Church, He next goes to the Valley of Dry Bones…Oh what responsibility this lays upon the Church of God. If you grieve Him away or hinder His visit-the poor perishing world suffers sorely!” The responsibility for the condition of America and the World may just be related to the fact that we have neglected the continual need of revival in the life of the Church to keep God’s people passionate and productive in our ministries to that very world!
One of the complaints I often heard about revivals was that the same people came forward revival after revival to re-dedicate their lives anew and afresh to the Lord Jesus Christ! My response has always been– “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH THAT! PERHAPS THAT IS WHAT HAD KEPT THE CHURCH ON THE CUTTING EDGE”. Like the Hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing says, “Prone to Wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love!” If rededication, at a minimum of once per year, kept us vitally functioning as Christians individually, and Churches collectively…then Praise The Lord. We could use a few rededications right now! I came across an interesting story the other day. It was the story of a man of God that felt the call to be a missionary to Formosa. Formosa was the Portuguese name for Taiwan. The Chinese country in the Far East, recently given back to mainland China. Thomas Barclay answered the call to go as a missionary to Formosa, and ministered there for over 60 years. He translated the entire Bible into their language. Behind that life of service lay a covenant with God that he wrote when he was sixteen, and which he renewed every year for the rest of his life! (I would call that a re-dedication). It read, in part, “This day do I, with the utmost solemnity, surrender myself to Thee. I renounce all former lords that have had dominion over me, and I consecrate to Thee all that I have: the faculties of my mind, the members of my body, my worldly possessions, my time, and my influence over others; to be all used entirely for Thy glory, and resolutely employed in obedience to Thy commands, as long as Thou continuest me in this life; with ardent desire and humble resolution to continue Thine through all the ages of eternity; ever holding myself in an attentive position to observe, with zeal and joy, to the immediate execution of it. To Thy direction also I resign myself, and all that I am and have, to be disposed of by Thee in such a manner as Thou in Thine infinite wisdom shall judge most subservient to the purposes of Thy glory. To Thee I leave the management of all events, and say without reserve, ‘Not my will, but Thine, be done!’ “Renewing that annually brought about 60 plus years of faithful service. I would, without hesitation, define that as an on-going REVIVAL!
When we usually talk about revivals we refer to Great Awakenings of the Past. It has been so long that they are now viewed as “Ancient History!” No one expects to see them ever come again. Shame on us. God has not changed! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! One of my favorite quotes speaks to this very subject. It is a quote from the great Scottish Preacher and Theologian-James Stewart. He wrote, “It is God’s way to go beyond the best that He has done before; therefore a living faith will always have in it a certain element of surprise and tension and discovery; that what we have seen and learned of God up to the present is not to be the end of our seeing, nor the sum total of our learning; that whatever we have found in Christ is only a fraction of what we can still find; that the spiritual force which in the great days of the past vitalized the Church and shaped the course of history has not exhausted its energies or fallen into abeyance but is liable to burst out anew and take control. God is promising wonders that He has never done before so that there will be more jubilant doxologies, more exultant hallelujahs. For there is no limit to the love of God, no end to the redeeming Grace of Christ, and NO EXHAUSTION OF THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”. (“Expect Great Things From God”-The River of Life: Sermons of James S. Stewart-1972). My prayer is– “God Do It Again!” “Do it as you have never done it before!” “Lord send a revival-let it begin in me-in us-and spread like wild-fire”. WE HAVE NOT SEEN THE LAST OF HIS BEST! BELIEVE IT!