I bumped into Greg, one of my pastor friends, and his wife yesterday in an along-the-interstate Starbucks about 80 miles from home. We were both on our way out of town and for different reasons. Barbara and I were on our way to celebrate a granddaughter’s birthday—a very important thing! Greg and his wife were on their way to a retreat, which would be followed by something we don’t seem to hear much about anymore.
“After the retreat,” Greg told me, “I’m preaching a revival.” We each allowed as how we remembered a time when the word revival
was commonplace, especially in the “Bible belt” Southland. Revival
meant that once a year or so, a guest preacher would be invited to come in for several days and call the local saints and sinners to new life, or to a recharged old life, in Christ. Usually such a revival was preceded by a time of focused prayer in a local congregation. Some revivals
were joint efforts that involved local congregations coming together to join forces. Often the success of a revival was gauged by how many attended and how many responded to the invitation to come forward, but the big hope was that the longer-lasting result would be some changed lives and a long-term rekindling of the fire of the Spirit in the congregation and its community.
I’ve been privileged to preach a number of revivals like that over the years, but not for a while now. One preacher told me about visiting a church in Alabama and finding a stirring, red-lettered banner on the church wall. “Come Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!” it declared in words printed under a picture of a fire burning. The preacher observed that directly underneath the banner was another sign that said: “Fire extinguisher.” So much for that parish’s commitment to spiritual renewal!
It seems we’ve grown cold toward that kind of preaching mission. Maybe we’re too sophisticated for that anymore.
Yet biblical revival takes a lot more than a guest preacher’s best sermons. The late J. Edwin Orr, then the world’s foremost authority, once told me that Evan Roberts prayed for 11 years before the Welsh Revival broke out. Roberts’ ministry during that time broke him physically, but more than 100,000 people responded to Christ’s call to “Come and follow Me” during the Welsh Revival.
Another amazing revival broke loose in my own hometown of Belfast in the 1920s under the preaching of W.P. Nicholson. As I grew up I heard many times the story of how at the Belfast shipyard of Harland & Wolff, a shed, named “the Nicholson shed,” had to be erected to house stolen tools that newly converted shipyard employees returned as a result of the revival. Finally, Harland and Wolff declared an amnesty, forgiving all who had stolen tools and materials because there was nowhere else to store them.
Neither the Welsh revival nor the Belfast revival was the result of manufactured meetings. True revival comes when people get serious about doing business with God under God’s terms of absolute surrender.
The church and our nation both desperately need revival, but it is not going to come by quick and easy methods, and it will take more than a preacher. Stephen Olford described a revival as, “An invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God.” Vance Havner said, “Revival is the church falling in love with Jesus all over again.”
“Do you really want to see a revival begin?” Gypsy Smith used to ask his
audiences. When they nodded their affirmation, Gypsy added, “Then go back to your home and draw a circle three feet around in your bedroom. Then get down on your knees in the middle of it and ask God to convert everybody inside that circle. When you do that, you are experiencing the start of revival.”
Let’s have a revival; not for a week or two but a real revival—a revival that costs something and that calls for truly changed lives. Let it begin as we pastors start drawing circles on our bedroom floors and pray, “God, give me Thyself!” Nothing less will ever be enough.