This week we began a month of prayer. Now some of you may wonder—why a month of prayer? Why spend extra effort praying for one month? What do we hope to accomplish? Whenever prayer is suggested, there are always some people who think of it as waste of time. They believe we should be doing something more practical, like cleaning the church, knocking on doors, or advertising. But there is nothing more practical than prayer. Nothing is more essential to the growth and health of a church than a concerted effort in prayer. Without revival, the church perishes. Without the Spirit, there is no revival. Without prayer, and the right kind of prayer, the Spirit will not come, and all our efforts to build the church ultimately come to nothing.
The Psalmist prays, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? This implies three things to be true. (1) That at more than one time in the past, God has revived His people. (2) That prayer for revival brings revival. (3) That when revival comes, the church will rejoice in God.
The Holy Spirit does not manifest Himself in the church as a steady stream, but as a succession of waves, like breakers on the seashore. Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems powerful and strong. Other times, we can hardly feel Him.
The strong times are when revival comes among God’s people. The church flourishes. These are times of great increase to the church, often accompanied by signs and wonders. But these times do not last forever. At other times the Spirit seems to barely move. These times are not outside of God’s plan, but are actually part of it. They are times of resting and organizing. These times are hard and discouraging, but they are as much of God’s plan as times of revival. But in time, when revival comes again and the church goes forward. This is the way it is, and the way it has always been.
There are seasons of the Spirit in the Old Testament. He was active in the time of Abraham and the Patriarch, but these days were followed by four hundred years of captivity. He was active in the time of Moses and Joshua, but then came the period of the Judges, when the Holy Spirit only showed sporadically. He was active in the days of King David and Solomon, but after that fell into division and apostasy.
Jesus promised the Spirit would permanently dwell with us, and so He does. He came at Pentecost, and the church was literally on fire. Then persecution scattered it, and division weakened it. Even so, the church grew, as the Holy Spirit continued to bring awakenings and revivals in various places.
Throughout history, the power and presence of the Spirit was more or less noticeable, depending upon the season. When the Spirit was manifest, the church grew. When the Spirit dimmed, the church fell. The Spirit ebbs and flows. There were great Spiritual revivals in the Fifth, Tenth, Thirteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries. But there the growth Islam, the folly of the Crusades and the inquisition, as well as wars between Christians quenched the Spirit, and the Spirit’s presence dimmed for a time.
Officially, in America there were three Great Awakenings that were mighty waves of the Spirit— one at the end of the 17th Century, one at the end of the 18th Century, and one in the middle of the 19th Century. Contrary to what some may think, America is not nor ever will it be a Christian nation. But within this nation, the Holy Spirit has moved mightily many times. This has given the American experience a uniquely Christian perspective that until very recently was part of our culture. That Christian influence is fading today, but another Great Awakening could bring it back in almost an instant.
These waves of the Spirit have struck much closer to home than we think. The ARP Church was built on revival. The activities of the Puritans in England were also a revival of the Holy Spirit, as were the preaching of the Erskines. That wave continued in America for many years, and led our Spiritual ancestors to settle this area. In 1803, Revival broke out at the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian church in Van Wyck.. More than two thousand people traveled weekly from all over this area to attend a little country church. This revival had a great effect, all denominations and people worshipped together as one. But by 1806, the revival had cooled, and factionalism prevailed. But our denomination was the product of a wave of the Holy Spirit.
The last half of the Twentieth Century saw several waves of the Holy Spirit in the 1950’s through the 1980’s. After World War II, churches were planted in large numbers. One of them was Rogers Memorial. By the 1960’s this wave of church planting had subsided, but a wave of renewal began--the charismatic. This move was (and still is) controversial, but there can be no doubt of its influence. In the 70’s and 80’s the Jesus movement grew out of the charismatic movement and thousands of idealistic young people found Christ and revolutionized the worship and music of the church. More importantly, they brought revival to youth across the country. By the 1990’s that movement disappeared, but it left behind the megachurch movement and contemporary Christian music. The styles of worship we enjoy today are the direct result of those movements of the Spirit, and many of our modern church leaders were saved during that time of revival.
Now, let’s look at this church. Rogers Memorial was the center of a move of the Holy Spirit in the period of 2001-2005, when the Pointe ministry was going strong. This church was instrumental in bringing hundreds of decisions for Christ. The size of the church more than doubled in that time. This was not the result of good planning, talented leadership or bold planning, but was a true move of the Spirit. The success of the Pointe and the power of the Pointe was not in how it was organized or the talent of the people involved. It was in the power of the Spirit, and how God used them.
But like all movements of the Spirit, it was a wave, not a tide. Now in 2016, three quarters of those involved have left the church and gone elsewhere. Half left before 2009, and another half of those left before I began preaching here in 2012. Once it seemed that everything here was growing, now for four years we have struggled to survive.
It is human, I suppose, to seek to understand what may have happened from a human perspective. Certainly there is enough blame to go around for everyone, just as there is credit to be given out for our successes. But when we do either, we miss the overall pattern, and we frankly offend God. God is in charge. He is the bringer of revival. The waves of the Spirit not a work of the flesh, but part of God’s appointed time.
The revival you once experienced did not happen because of your efforts. It was a wave of the Spirit, and it crested and fell, like all waves. When a wave comes, we should enjoy it, but we should also not fool ourselves into thinking that we can hold the wave forever. When it comes, our sand castles crumble, and we must start again.
Is there any way of predicting when a wave of revival will come? Predicting revival is like predicting earthquakes. We cannot know for sure, but we can observe the conditions that bring it. Revival comes when we are desperate for it. He doesn’t send revival when we are happy and content, or when everything is going our way. God sends revival when we are burned out, fed up, and tired.
I have read that when a tsunami is coming, the first thing anyone on the shore notices is that the water begins to recede from the shore. The beach is exposed for hundreds of feet. People can sometimes be fooled by this into walking out father on the exposed shore line. Then when the giant wave appears, it drowns them. So it is with revival. Before revival comes dissatisfaction. People wonder—where did the Spirit go? Often, they start to blame each other. Little divisions get big as the Spirit seems to recede. The Devil seems to have a field day, planting doubt and discouragement in our hearts. Things seem to be falling apart.
This time of dissatisfaction is followed by a season of prayer, repentance, and confession, as people humble themselves before God. All our plans for self-revival have failed. The programs that once sustained us seems to have fallen apart. It’s time to quit trying to fix ourselves and to recognize we need God in our lives. 2 Chronicles 7: 14 says, “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land.” There is no revival without sincere, honest repentance and humbling.
The voice of pride says, “I know how to fix this!” The voice of humility says, “God, You have to fix this!” As long as we cling to the lie that we know what is best, the Spirit will not come. Only when we humble ourselves before God will He make things right. The leaders of the church must begin this by setting an example.
That’s where we are today. We have been in a desert place for a long, long time. But there is a whiff in the air of water. It may be that another revival is coming. All my life I have prayed to be there when a great wave of the Spirit comes. We can do nothing to straighten out the church, but this one thing we can do--we can humble ourselves and pray.
There are those who argue again that we should be giving ourselves to advertising or programs, that we should be trying to adjust this or that, to clean up the church and rebuild old programs, and so we should. But that’s just building barrels to catch the rainwater when the floods come. We don’t need more barrels, we need rain. We don’t need the superficial work of people, but the mighty work of the Spirit.
This church has been blessed by revival in the past, and we need it again. But it doesn’t come from better music or bigger programs. It must be revived by the power of the Spirit.
I ask you to join me this month in the one activity that can prepare the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit, joining together in prayer. Prayer works when it is from the heart and full of passion. Prayer can bring revival.
In the church where I was ordained, there was an old farmer named John Creel. There was drought that lasted for several months. The church held a special prayer meeting for rain. John came, and brought his umbrella. When they left that prayer meeting, it was raining. Only John was prepared.Let us prepare for revival today, by humbling ourselves and seeking the power of the Spirit. We need to pray for revival in our church and in our country. Not only do we need to pray but we also should bring our umbrellas. Only by the grace of God can we receive.