Signs of Revival

Byron Paulus
Wed, Sep 1, 2004
Signs of Revival

"If you are content to live without revival, you will."

When I heard Leonard Ravenhill issue this passionate plea for revival, I had no idea that just a short time later a young seminary graduate would be lying prostrate on the floor of my office crying out to God, "Lord, I want revival more than I want to breathe."

Something inside of me couldn't escape the radical, holy desire of these two men. It was as if God Himself were issuing a purpose statement for my life, and for all those who love His glory. These encounters, plus one other, set in motion how I would spend the rest of my life.

The other experience is difficult to describe -- almost too wonderful to put into words. All I can say is that I tasted revival. In a little town in Indiana, I smelled the fire. I heard the wind. I witnessed churches transformed. I watched lives dramatically, instantaneously change. I caught a glimpse of God's glory. Unmistakably, God came to town. And the town came to God. And I will never be the same. (You can read an account of this revival here.) The manifest presence of God drew me like a magnet to surrender my life to something I could no longer live without: genuine revival.

Of course, personal experiences alone are insufficient to determine how anyone should spend a lifetime. But the Scripture is all about the presence of God. Beginning in Genesis 1:2 with the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters and ending in Revelation 22:20 with our Lord's promise, "I am coming soon," Scripture is clear about God's desire for us to dwell in His presence.

The patriarchs, the prophets, the disciples, the apostles, and the early church fathers were always seeking a greater measure of the "coming of God." They realized that without God's manifest presence, little of eternal significance would transpire. Knowing how desperately they needed God, they were set on seeking Him. And, historically, great men and women of God have realized their great need for God's presence to do His great work, and thus, the pursuit of revival and spiritual awakening became their passion.

During the U.S. general election eight years ago, I went to Northampton, Massachusetts, the hometown of Jonathan Edwards whom God used so powerfully in the First Great Awakening. I spent the day praying, "Lord, do it again." Realizing that the answer to the evil so rampant in our society did not lie in the political arena but in the spiritual realm, I asked God to manifest His presence again in the church.

As I was praying, I reflected on one report which indicated that at the height of revival in Northampton, it would have been difficult to find one unbelieving adult left in the city. Virtually everyone had come to Christ. What if that were to happen in your hometown?

In nearby Boston, George Whitefield came to preach. Although the population was only 12,000, 15,000 people flooded the city to hear the gospel even though there had been no promotion or advertising other than word of mouth. That's 125% of the population! What if this were to occur in the city nearest you? In Chicago, that would be 10 million people gathering to hear a preacher without marketing or hype.

This special edition of Spirit of Revival coincides with the centennial of the 1904-5 nationwide revival which began in Wales. The outstanding feature of those days was the inescapable sense of the presence of God that spilled out of the church and onto the streets. Places of amusement became places of holy awe. Beneath the ground, the miners gathered for worship and Bible study. Even children in the schools came under the conviction of God.

The effects of the revival in Wales were astonishing. The people had new interests. Theaters and saloons closed down from lack of patronage. Soccer matches, a national obsession, were forgotten by both players and fans. The famous singing festivals of Welsh culture died out. The trained professional vocalists of Wales came forth now with hymns. Political meetings were cancelled as the political leaders abandoned themselves to the revival meetings.

Man-made denominational barriers collapsed as believers and pastors of all denominations worshipped together. Thousands of new converts paid their outstanding debts, and restitution was the order of the day. Families were reunited, long-severed friendships were reconciled, feuds and differences were forgotten, offended church members were restored, and peace and harmony took the place of discord and enmity.

The life of the coal pits was transformed. Workers and management engaged in prayer meetings together, and Bible texts were chalked upon ventilating doors. Cursing and profanity were so diminished that several slowdowns were reported in the coal mines because the pit ponies dragging the coal trucks could no longer understand what was being said to them!

Thousands of sinners were converted. Lists of converts were sent to the newspapers, leaving a record of over 70,000 professed conversions by December 1904 -- just two months after the revival began. The mighty fire which engulfed the nation of Wales soon spread all over the world.

Revival is like a prairie fire which carries all before it. Many a town and district in England, Scotland, and Ireland shared in the blessing. Mission fields in Africa and Asia were also touched. Moreover, in the United States and Canada, there were very definite stirrings of the Spirit.

In Philadelphia, the Methodists claimed 10,000 converts. In Atlanta, 1000 busnessmen united for prayer, asking for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On November 2, stores, factories, and offices closed for prayer.

In Louisville, the largest retailers shut down for mid-day prayer. They signed a covenant assuring they wouldn't cheat on each other. Henry Clay Morrison reported, "The whole city is breathing a spiritual atmosphere . . . everywhere in shop and store, in the mill and on the street, salvation is the one topic of conversation."

That was one hundred years ago.

What about today? Is there any evidence of God moving in our nation like He did in previous centuries? What about your church? Are you seeing signs of true revival? Are marriages being restored? Is there weeping for lost souls? Are people being unexplainably drawn to Christ? Are the prayer meetings filled to overflowing? Are people hungry for the Word of God? Is restitution commonplace?

Is the spirit of this age waning in influence? Has adultery, materialism, pornography, and envy markedly subsided? Are people giving hilariously? Do you have more volunteers for vocational missions work than you can process? Are programs, buildings, and budgets of little or no importance? Would people rather be in church worshiping the Lord than participating in their favorite sport? Is there an increasing sense that His will is being done on earth, as it is in heaven?

Though the Spirit has moved periodically in limited ways, we clearly lack any indications of a major outpouring of God in America. Our soldiers' recent treatment of Iraqi prisoners is a reflection of our morally deteriorating culture, not an aberration of it. The very acts they performed are seen every day in American entertainment. Like so many other moral issues, why are we shocked when the things we tolerate privately are played out in real life in excess?

We cannot expect social changes until we have spiritual changes. God changes us from the inside out. And so with the Psalmist we cry, "How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?" (Ps. 13:1, ESV). And with Habakkuk we exclaim, "Revive Thy work in the midst of the years" (Hab. 3:2, NASB).

G. Campbell Morgan once said, "We cannot send revival, but we can set our sails to catch the wind when God chooses to blow upon His people." The purpose of this issue of Spirit of Revival is to help us, as God's people, to set our sails. Oh, that we might all be actively hoisting the sails, raising the anchors, and waiting with great faith, hope, and anticipation for the wind to blow across our land!

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!