What Does a Spiritual Revival Look Like?

The subject of “Revival” has always been a topic of intrigue for the Christian church. For me, the underlying mystery after 50 years as a minister of the Gospel, is the question of how it happens and what does it look like? What are the prevailing conditions that are a precursor or usher in the start of a “Revival?”

In years gone by I have spent seasons in fasting, prayer and preaching upon the subject of revival, only to find  that there is no simple formula & I can’t put God in a box. For those of you who are students of history, the internet is a great source of information about past revivals in the Christian world scene. For an overview check out the resources in this web site : www.revival-library.org homepage

A web based encyclopedia defines a “Christian revival as a specific period of increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation or many churches, either regionally or globally. Revivals are seen by leaders as the restoration of the church itself to a vital and fervent relationship with God after a period of decline.” In saying that however I am very mindful that historically there are certain things that seem to be a precursor to the ushering in of a spiritual revival.

I do not pretend to be an authority on the subject, but for what it is worth I want to share with you some of the observations I have made about revival, that I have witnessed during my life time. The first thing that I have noticed, is that a spiritual awakening or revival is usually preceded by;

1. Powerful uncompromising Bible Preaching.

I suppose the closest thing I have seen to a national spiritual awakening or revival in Australia was the Billy Graham Crusade meetings in 1959. Never have I seen such great numbers across Australia, attend a church service. Billy Graham’s powerful preaching with its uncompromising message resulted in over 147,000 people being converted to Christ in Australia during a six week period.

I was a student in Bible School at the time and had the privilege of singing in the Billy Graham Choir at the Brisbane Crusade. As a choir member and counsellor I had a platform view of the famous Evangelist, just 4 metres away from where I was seated. The Brisbane Exhibition ground had never seen such crowds attend a religious gathering in its history, with over 80,000 people crammed into the arena to hear the Gospel. The atmosphere was charged with expectation, yet the Graham Crusade organisation’s policy was to keep emotions strictly under control.

Each night as the Crusade Choir sang the Hymn ‘Just as I Am,’ thousands of people responded to the simple alter call given by Billy Graham. It seemed like a giant invisible hand was scooping up people across the arena and compelling them to go forward. It was an amazing phenomenon to witness, as the Spirit of God moved across the vast congregation. As a student I was profoundly impressed and stored away in my memory the significance of the whole event. Apart from the sovereign aspect of God’s Spirit, it was the powerful uncompromising preaching of God’s Word (Romans 1:16) that seemed to be the catalyst of those revival meetings.

The second observation I make concerning this awesome spiritual awakening of 1959 was that it embraced;

2. Christian Unity. Across Australia churches of most denominations, put aside their preferred theological bias and came together in a spirit of unity and cooperated with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Prayer Groups were started all over the country. Forty thousand people were brought together into praying groups across Australia. Counsellor Training was organised and a vast army of christian people came together in unity for the one purpose of reaching Australia with the Gospel. For your interest here is a link that will show you the extent of Billy Graham’s visit and the national unity and interest it created amongst all churches. It is worth watching.  

 

On a local church level in the 1970s I saw a wonderful move of the Spirit at the Klemzig Assembly of God in South Australia. Again it was the spirit of unity that prevailed. The ministry team of pastors were in complete unity of purpose as they worked together in harmony to see the church grow. The members of the Church Board likewise worked in unity with the Pastoral Team. As a result the blessing of the Lord was manifest upon the people. It reminds me of the scripture in Psalm 133:1-3.

The third observation I noted in the Revivals I have witnessed in my life time, is the emphasis given to the;

3. The Positive Power of  Prayer. Recently I was going through my library and came across an old video message of one of Australia’s foremost preachers – Pastor John Lewis. He was preaching on the topic of “Revival” from Haggai 1:3-11, which got me thinking of how much we as a people and nation need a spiritual revival. In his sermon he makes the striking statement Every Revival in History was Birthed in Prayer.” Could this be the clue? Indeed it seems to me that heart hunger after God is a prerequisite. “If my people…will seek My Face…..” 2 Chronicles 7:14

As a pastor & preacher, the subject of prayer has almost broken my heart. I have tried to organise, cajole and encourage people to come to prayer meetings to seek after God for revival. Prayer is not a natural passion for most people. It usually takes a catastrophe of national proportions to engender prayer of any national significance.

I recall many years ago an earthquake of 7.6 magnitude on the Richter scale, similar to the one that wrecked this city striking the area where I was living in Papua New Guinea. Instinctively people came running to the local Church and began praying en-mass, calling on God for forgiveness & repenting of their sins. A similar mass response took place in America after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001.

Millions of people filled American churches seeking answers from God. Some no doubt thought that the judgement of God was coming upon America, while others felt helpless and sought after God for some kind of security that they perceived He could give. Whatever the case, human nature has a tendency to turn to God when national disaster strikes a nation.

 

Many years ago when I was serving as a young missionary in the East Sepik Province in the early 1960s, I experienced what I could only describe as a spiritual earthquake that shook the spiritual foundations of a local village. Actually it was a spiritual visitation or awakening in a place that was far removed from a western cultural context.

It was in a village setting unfamiliar with what some would call a “Christian Revival.” It happened in the village of Malamba in the East Sepik province of Papua New Guinea. I was the resident missionary in the area and was visiting the village as was my routine to preach the gospel and to teach the Word of God to the small village congregation.

The people had gathered for the usual Sunday service in the thatch-roof village church building. The service commenced with an unusual sense of anticipation or expectation, which was surprising to me, as previously there had been very little response to the Gospel. Suddenly, and this is the fourth observation I make concerning revival. A sovereign supernatural manifestations of the Spirit took place.

4. Manifestation of Supernatural Power. Quite unexpectedly a supernatural ‘presence’ came into the building which I can only describe as a holy, supernatural, manifestation of God’s presence.

It was a powerful and awesome presence. A visitation of divine power and spiritual energy, such as I had never experienced before. The service began in an orderly controlled fashion  when I noticed a stirring in the congregation. I vividly remember wondering what I should do? When I stood up to preach the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit took over. I felt powerful yet strangely helpless. It was not an evil presence, in fact awesomely holy. I became speechless as God’s holy presence started to move amongst the congregation. When God is tangibly present, you can be sure that repentance will quickly manifest itself.

The people started to cry out and call upon God repenting of their sins, seemingly uncontrollably yet orderly.  Some began to speak in other tongues as on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:4 while others were anticipating the second coming of Jesus Christ as they physically reached up as if to try and touch Him.

The atmosphere was charged with the ‘fear of God.’ I stood behind the pulpit unable to speak. I just watched the congregation as an unseen person took over the service. I was not afraid or fearful. Some people ran out of the church building crying & throwing themselves on the ground, rolling back and forward repenting of their sin and calling on the mercy of God. I thought to myself, now I can see where the term “holy rollers” was first levelled against Pentecostals! It was the first time I had witnessed such repentance. I noticed some members of the congregation were staring at me with an intense glare of awe. I would describe it as a “fear of God” only that it seemed to be directed at me. There was an atmosphere of awesome reverence.

Actually I learned later, they were looking directly behind me at an apparition or vision of what appeared to be a tall angelic being standing directly behind me. Many in the congregation saw this. As for me I was strongly aware of the divine presence but couldn’t see anyone. Some have suggested, it was possibly a Christophany. I leave that for others to judge.

Now by nature I am not given to exaggeration, as I am generally a passive person but with an inquisitive mind. This event captivated me! As the resident missionary in the area I contemplated what I should do. I was concerned about fanaticism in a primitive society, but personally I felt a complete peace, as if God was in control. Indeed He was! After an hour or two of this intense spiritual interaction, the congregation seemed to enter into joyful singing of exuberant songs and hymns based interestingly around the theme of the Second Coming of Christ. I didn’t preach that day, I didn’t need to! The Holy Spirit supernaturally took over and the people responded. This was all spontaneous and the exuberance was palpable. Interestingly and in support of the prerequisite of prayer, four young christian women in that village had been praying for some months, that God’s convicting grace would come upon that village.

Was this revival? Some would say it was but I would describe it as a spiritual awakening, because it happened in a primitive and newly evangelised community that had not been preconditioning by the western church. It was a sovereign visitation of grace & power upon an unsuspecting people who embraced the manifest presence of God. Which begs the question. how does a church invoke the presence of God for revival? The answer of course is as Ps. John Lewis said “every revival in history was birthed in prayer.” The Scripture says; 2 Chronicles 7:14

Another “Revival” experience on my journey of life, took me to the USA where I saw first hand the power of a spiritual revival in a modern western context. Brownsville Assembly of God was experiencing a remarkable spiritual revival which was called the “Pensacola Revival.” It was here that I saw a heart hunger after God that was contagious. Herein lies another symptom of revival;

5. A Heightened Expectation and Desire to Seek after God

The news of this event spread across the christian world like wild fire. I was intrigued, desiring if possible to see for myself and perhaps bring some element of the revival back to the church I was overseeing in Australia. Remarkably a generous gift by one of my parishioners who had witnessed some elements of a similar revival in Toronto Canada, enabled me to travel to Pensacola to see first hand the effects of the revival.

To attend these meetings I had to line up in the church car park along with thousands of other visitors for the 7pm revival service. From 9am in the morning I chatted with people in the car park queue waiting patiently for the evening service to begin. Such was the expectation and desire to attend these meetings that time seemed to fly. The video below will perhaps demonstrate the intense hunger and desire in prayer to get right with God which was a characteristic of these revival services that continued for three years.

Such was the convicting power of the presence of the Holy Spirit in those meetings that I was overwhelmed in prayer for the many sins of ignorance hidden within my personal life. I cried, I wept, I called out to God in repentance and pleaded for His grace which of course He gave freely. The effect was a feeling of supernatural cleansing and restoration, along with an empowering to share the experience with others.

What I observed in those meeting was the immense hunger of people after God. For three or four nights each week hundreds & hundreds of people from across America and around the world came especially to touch God for themselves and be in His presence. How does one engage in such prolonged prayer & hunger? The answer is a willingness to open ones heart on a daily basis in prayer to a Sovereign God who knows our heart, that by His grace He may pour out His Spirit upon us and a passion to know Him more dearly. Acts 2:17

Sitting in your office or home listening to this video may make some feel a little uncomfortable but when you are in the service, its a different matter! The powerful presence of the Holy Spirit transcends any natural fear  and weeping and crying out is an appropriate response to a Holy God.

I know, I was there and felt the tangible manifest presence of God to convict , save and transform human lives.

At the beginning of this article I made the comment that “you can’t put God in a box.” In other words God does as He wills! However for what its worth I suggest to you, that when revival comes, not if but when, you can expect to see:

1 Uncompromising Preaching of the Word of God.

2 Churches coming together in a spirit of Unity.

3 Corporate Prayer being implemented on a wide scale.

4 Sovereign Supernatural Manifestations of the Spirit.

5 A Heightened Expectation & Desire to know God.

In Conclusion, if there is such a thing as a process in Revival and again I emphasise you cant put God in a box. I have observed that, as in the Charismatic renewal, what I describe as a “wave of joy” will engulf the church as it celebrates its freedom in Christ. 

The Video below is an example of what I call “Revival Joy” at the Jubilee Celebrations at Maprik in Papua New Guinea 1998. Thousands of people experienced the manifest presence of God’s joy,  motivating  them to dance and sing for hours “The Fire is Burning Again” and “Holi Spirit Kukim.” Missionary Kevin Hovey commentates explaining it’s significance upon the culture of the people.

Inhibitions were lost in the ‘all consuming’ presence of God. I was there and took this shaky video of the occasion. Even the conservative missionaries joined in the dance of thanksgiving, praise, abundant joy and freedom in the Holy Ghost. There’s nothing like it!

In this twenty first century, with secularism and modern technology consuming our western world, I don’t know what Christian leaders will call it, but this one thing is for sure, we need a Spiritual Awakening, an Encounter with God, a Renewal of Faith or simple an old fashioned Revival. May God be gracious unto us and help us!

 



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