(Excerpted from the book, From Holy Laughter to Holy Fire, chapter fourteen)
By Dr. Michael L. Brown
What is revival? It is God “stepping down from heaven” and baring His holy arm. He comes and acts and speaks. There is a holy presence and a word on fire. God is in the midst of His people. The Lord is shaking the world. That is revival! It is a time of visitation.
If it is confined to one church it is not revival. If it is confined to the meetings themselves it is not revival. If it can all be traced to the efforts of man it is not revival. If it does not ultimately affect the society it is not revival.
When Jesus was on the earth, He explained to His disciples that it was better for Him to go away so that the Holy Spirit could come. Jesus could only be in one place at one time, but the Holy Spirit could be everywhere. Jesus could directly touch only those who heard and saw Him, but the Holy Spirit could directly touch people anywhere at anytime — even if they were resisting and running. He transcends all human agency!
In revival, the Holy Spirit moves deeply and widely, supernaturally and powerfully. He goes into the homes and schools, into the places of business and the places of sin, and He brings the sense of the reality of God. He brings conviction! It is impossible to flee from God during revival.
The words of the Lord in Jeremiah 23 and the words of the psalmist in Psalm 139 are always true, but their reality is fully sensed during times of revival:
“Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD, “and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD. (Jer 23:23-24)
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. (Psa 139:7-12)
During the Welsh Revival, it was commonly reported that men would go into the bars to drink, not wanting to go to their homes, because they knew their wives were praying and the presence of God was there. But they couldn’t escape Him in the bars! As they would take the drink in their hands, an unseen Hand would stop them, and they would run from that place to their homes and get saved.
As the Spirit converted many of the profane, ungodly coal miners, His presence went with them to work, and they would start their days with prayer and worship. It was said that you could feel His presence in the coal mines as much as you could in church!
Once, some visitors were asking for directions to the meetings in one part of Wales. They were told to take the train to such and such a place and get out there. “But how we will know when we are there?” they asked. “You’ll feel it!” was the reply. And they did! After getting out from the train, they asked for further directions. They were told to walk to a certain place and turn there. Again they asked, “But how we will know where to turn?” “You’ll feel it!” was the answer again. And they did!
That holy presence is not geographically limited, as Arthur Wallis documented:
Ships as they drew near the American ports [in 1858] came within a definite zone of heavenly influence. Ship after ship arrived with the same tale of sudden conviction and conversion. In one ship a captain and the entire crew of thirty men found Christ out at sea and entered the harbour rejoicing. Revival broke out on the battleship “North Carolina” through four Christian men who had been meeting in the bowels of the ship for prayer. One evening they were filled with the Spirit and burst into song. Ungodly shipmates who came down to mock were gripped by the power of God, and the laugh of the scornful was soon changed into the cry of the penitent. Many were smitten down, and a gracious work broke out that continued night after night, till they had to send ashore for ministers to help, and the battleship became a Bethel.
I heard a story about a man here in the States who had witnessed to his unsaved friend and prayed for him for years. One day, that friend came over to borrow a tool but no one was home. So he went to the tool shed to find what he was looking for when, suddenly, the presence of God overtook him. He was convicted of his sins and broke down, putting his faith in Jesus at that very moment.
When he told his Christian friend what had happened to him he found out there was a simple explanation: That faithful believer had prayed with tears for his salvation for a period of years, making intercession for his soul in that very shed. The Holy Spirit was there!
Now, multiply that picture a thousand times over and spread it across cities, counties, states, and even nations, and you have a glorious picture of revival.
After the night of prayer in the Hebrides when the house literally shook with the presence of the Lord, Duncan Campbell relates that:
The following day when we came to the church we found that the meeting house was already crowded out. A stream of buses had come from the four quarters of the island. Who had told them of the services? I have no way of knowing; God has His own manner of working when men are praying in faith. A butcher’s van brought seven men from a distance of seventeen miles.
We gathered in the church, and I spoke for about an hour. The Spirit of God was at work. All over the building men and women were crying for mercy. And on the road outside, I could hear the strong cries of weeping men. I saw both men and women swooning, some falling into trances. Many were crying, “Oh, God, is there mercy for me?”
A young man beneath the pulpit prayed, “Oh, God, hell is too good for me.”
The seven men who came in the butcher’s van were all gloriously converted that night.
In the field of evangelism today, the desperate need is for conviction of sin — conviction that will bring men on their faces before God.
When the service was about to end and the last people were leaving, the young man by the pulpit, himself a new convert, began to pray, and his prayer lasted for 45 minutes. Somehow, word got out that the meetings were to be held all night! People began to return from all over, packing the church. The service lasted until 4:00 AM! But the story doesn’t end there. At 4:00 AM Campbell received a message:
Mr. Campbell, people are gathered at the Police Station, from the other end of the parish. They are in great distress. Can anyone here come along and pray with them?
Who drew them there? Who convicted them? Many of these people had been strongly opposed to the gospel right up to that very day. What was happening? The Spirit was at work! This is a true picture of revival:
We went to the Police Station and I shall never forget the scene that met our eyes. Under a starlit sky, with the moon gazing down upon us — and angels, too, I believe, looking over the battlements of glory — were scores of men and women under deep conviction of sin. On the road, by the cottage side, behind a peat stack, they were crying to God for mercy. Yes, the revival had come!
For five weeks this went on. We preached in one church at seven o’clock [in the evening], in another at ten, in a third at twelve, back to the first church at three o’clock [in the morning], then home between five and six, tired, but glad to have found ourselves in the midst of this Heaven-sent movement of the Holy Spirit.
Remarkably, in the first parish where revival hit, Campbell reports that 75% of the converts were born again before they arrived at the meeting place! There was also an amazing revival among the young people. In those days, not a single young person attended any public worship services in any of the churches, but the very first evening — without announcement or advertisement — the awareness of God in the dance hall at midnight became so great that all the young people left there and crowded into the church! And so the revival continued, spreading in like manner to the neighboring counties.
Why can’t we believe God for similar outpourings in our day? Why cheapen revival by dragging it down to the feeble level of our unbelief-ridden, flesh-dependent expectations? Why not ask God for the real thing? And here’s a good check-point for Pentecostals and Charismatics: With all our emphasis on the power of God and miracles, another sign of revival for us will be true, frequent New Testament healings in our midst. They will not be the exception to the rule but they will be the norm. Such things cannot be fabricated! But as long as our healing ministers reach multiplied millions of sick people through TV, radio, book, tape, and magazine, yet continue to have relatively meager results, we have little to boast about. All the more should we cry out for a real visitation that will not disappoint!
In 1922, when Smith Wigglesworth was ministering in Wellington, New Zealand, he called for a special prayer meeting with a group of eleven leaders. After each of them had prayed, Wigglesworth rose to seek the Lord, and the presence of God began to fill the room. Soon the glory of God became terrible. The light became too bright, the heat too intense. The other men couldn’t take it any longer. Every one of them left the room! Only Wigglesworth could continue in the midst of the Shekinah.
Another minister heard what had happened and determined at the next gathering, no matter how strong the presence of God became, he would stay until the end. Once again the scene repeated itself: Wigglesworth began to pray, the holy presence of God filled the room, and the glory became unbearable. Everyone left, except this one leader. He would not be overcome and driven out by the manifest presence of the Lord. But it was too much. Wigglesworth was caught up in the Spirit, radiant with holy fire, and even the determined minister couldn’t stand the intensity. Soon enough he was gone too!
That is the presence of God that comes with revival. It becomes unbearably intense. Its light breaks through the darkness. Its heat raises the temperature all around! It cannot be localized or confined. By its very nature, it must make an impact on its surroundings, otherwise it is not true revival. And while it will not completely change the world, it will make a radical impact. It will drive sin out!
With this in mind, we can speak quite clearly about “revival” in America today: As long as homosexuals march brazenly down our streets and serve in leading positions in our governments; as long as abortion clinics and pornography theaters thrive; as long as “Christian” young people watch MTV and “Christian” adults watch HBO; as long as the jails have too many prisoners and the mission fields have too few laborers; as long as greed and materialism rule most of the world and much of the church; as long as humanists, new agers, and atheists dominate our college faculties; as long as these things are at the forefront of our society — we are not experiencing revival! Sweeping revival in America would mean upheaval. The holy presence would change the complexion of our nation dramatically.
And what if all of America does not experience revival? Then its powerful impact will be felt in select towns, cities, or states. And even with these limitations, the far reaching effects of revival will be experienced well beyond local church walls. The divine “invasion” — actually, to most Americans, a return to New Testament reality would be as abrupt and shocking as an “invasion” — will cause a shake down and a shake up.
Of course, we praise God for the refreshing that He is now bringing to many of His people. We thank Him for the joy and encouragement. Yet we can roll on the floor and laugh every night until three in the morning, but if the world around us remains unchanged that is not revival.
If the way we live outside the building does not become characterized by holiness and sacrificial love for the Lord and the lost, that is not revival. And if everything that happens in our “revival” meetings comes through the hands of human vessels — without the supernatural visitations outside the church, without the abiding Presence, without the clear evidence that God Himself has “stepped down from heaven” in power – that is not revival.
For many ministers, that’s frustrating. We like to do it ourselves! If revival is truly a heavenly visitation, that means that we can’t manufacture it or produce it. We are utterly dependent on God. But that’s the best place to be! He wants to bring revival more than we want to see it. He wants to bless more than we want to be blessed. He has invested far more into this dying world than we have, and He has far more at stake. What better place to be than at the feet of the Lord in fervent prayer, crying out: “Revive Your people O God!”
And when He comes in power He will not only act. He will speak! Revival is characterized by the Word of God on fire. It is not simply a matter of making time in every service for teaching and preaching. It is not just giving the Word its proper place. We’ve had our fill of lifeless pulpits that “honor the Word,” and many believers today are “taught to death.” No, it is a matter of the Word on fire, a matter of holy unction, a matter of hearing the urgent message of the hour.
The effects of the Welsh Revival at the beginning of this century were far reaching and world wide. Clearly, these were days owned by the Lord. But the revival was not perfect, and many believe that it could have had an even greater and more lasting impact — especially in Wales itself — if there had been a deeper, more consistent ministry of the Word of God.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the fervor of revival, in the excitement of the manifestations, that we forget about something critical: God wants the heart, and through the Word of God, He probes the heart and changes the heart. The excitement will pass and the manifestations will wane. But if the trumpet has been sounded, if the awakening cry has been raised, if the burden of the Lord has been delivered, if the radical call to follow Jesus in a radical way has gone forth — that will determine just how deeply individuals will be changed. The Word is the road map for the revival’s future.
Trivial, non-challenging messages will not lead the way. Those who were nourished by lightweight meals will falter during the hard times. They will find themselves swerving and veering, lacking clear direction. Soon enough, they will rebuild the walls that revival tore down and revert to the habits from which revival delivered them. Within a few years, they will be living on memories and trying to perpetuate those memories through now-dead forms. If only there had been a prophetic, piercing, challenging, truthful proclamation of the Word! If only there had not been so much entertainment and frivolity!
Matthew records that:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (Matt 4:23)
Do we know better than Jesus? He gave Himself to teaching and preaching as well as healing — and He taught without compromise. (His words are so disturbing!) He taught with authority. What better time than during true revival to bring the uncompromising, prophetic call? What better time to preach the cross than during times of renewal when Jesus is seen in His glory?
Even in the intensity of the spiritual outpouring in the Book of Acts, the anointed Word was still central:
Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. . . . So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. (Acts 18:4-5, 11)
Do we know better than Paul?
But someone will say: “Oh, in our current ‘revival’ meetings, there is always time devoted to the Word of God” — especially before the offerings, I might add! But putting that aside, when the Word is preached, what is the substance? One prominent leader has asked some questions about the current preaching emphasis. Does it exalt Jesus? Does it produce a real burden for the lost? Does it present the wrath of God along with the love of God? Does it challenge and convict?
God used Charles Finney mightily in the first half of the nineteenth century. But his words still speak today! His sermons on revival preached in New York City in 1832 were subsequently published as Lectures on the Revival of Religion, and these messages have gone around the world in multiple languages. Through the anointed word, the revival lives on. At the turn of this century, Jonathan Goforth, the Canadian missionary to China and Manchuria, began to get reports about the Welsh Revival. At the same time he began reading Finney’s Revival Lectures and he put into practice what he read. A move of God swept the cities where he ministered!
The Great Awakening and the Methodist Revival ended more than 200 years ago. But the messages of Edwards and Wesley still challenge us today. They being dead yet speak. Their words still burn and set our hearts aflame.
Now look for a moment at the compromised worldly church of America. We know almost nothing of the dedication, sacrifice, fervor, or faith lived out daily by our brothers and sisters around the world. We know almost nothing of the gospel of martyrdom. We have little understanding of the cross. What does the Spirit want to say to us? Do we need froth or fire? What is the divine prescription for the sick patient? Do we need surface manifestations or serious movings, frivolity or fervor, glitz or glory? Enough with all the fluff!
We must never forget: Revival is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (not the “Happy Spirit” — although He brings great joy; not the “Hollow Spirit” — in spite of the impression given by some of our empty meetings; and not the “Hollywood Spirit” — in spite of our superstar preachers. He is the Holy Spirit). I have heard Him described as “wild,” “exciting,” and “creative.” But have we forgotten that He is HOLY? His manifest presence is holy and His work is to make us holy. Peter wrote that we
have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood. (1 Pet 1:2)
The Spirit is not a showman; He is a Sanctifier. He may cause us to weep or laugh or stagger or fall. But His goal is holiness. His goal is separation. His goal is to make us like the Son, shining in His glory and radiance.
What is holiness? According to Samuel Logan Brengle, “holiness is pure love.” Holiness is beautiful, not binding, and wonderful, not wearisome. Holiness is being like God — in character and inner nature, in heart and soul. What a blessed state! It is marked by Christlikeness instead of corruption, by divine attributes instead of devilish attitudes, by loyalty instead of lust, by generosity instead of greed, by devotion instead of drunkenness. Holiness is perfect goodness. Holiness is purity of life.
But holiness will not be attained by spiritual excitement alone. It is not an abstract, nebulous “something” existing “somewhere,” no more than God Himself is just an abstract “something” existing “somewhere.” Holiness does not float in and skip out. Holiness means definite, concrete, radical change. It means a whole new way of living. And it is grounded in the Word of God.
Without a clear call to holiness, revival will run amuck. If the standards of the Lord are not clearly lifted up, the people will soon fall down (and I don’t mean in the Spirit). If their experience is not grounded in the Scriptures, they will have the long term stability of a feather blowing in the wind. When the shouting dies down, disappointment will set in. Some will even turn against their initial, transforming experience. Why? It didn’t last. It had no solid foundation!
Revivals have been famous for their revival preachers, and true revival preaching — not emotional ranting and raving or pseudo-spiritual rambling — must become central once again. Otherwise we will quickly lose our bearings. Otherwise we will drift!
There are at least six things the Holy Spirit will commonly do in times of revival: He will sanctify (Heb 9:13-14); convict (John 16:8-11); glorify Jesus (John 16:14); deliver and heal (Acts 10:38); empower (Acts 1:8); and refresh (Acts 3:19). He can do all these things by means of His inner, secret work on our hearts. But just think of how much more effective the working would be if it was coupled with His voice!
The Holy Spirit was upon Jesus to preach the Good News and to liberate the captives (Luke 4:16-18). In fact, it was through His anointed Word that the captives were set free. The Spirit does not contradict the Word, compete with the Word, or confine the Word. He confirms the Word (Heb 2:1-4).
Seven times in Revelation 2-3 Jesus addressed His Church. Seven times John recorded the Lord’s exact words. And all seven times He ended by saying:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7, etc.)
Jesus speaks to His people by His Spirit! Are we hearing His voice today? The Spirit speaks His words. During revival, those words thunder forth. The message has not changed; we have changed. We need to get back to the Word! (Of course, most of our churches boast about their faithfulness to the Word, and some are even called “Word” churches — yet there’s a lot more to the Word than what you may hear in some of these places.) We need truly anointed, holy pulpits and truly anointed, holy preachers. This generation is crying for a fresh word from above. As Leonard Ravenhill expressed:
Evangelistic preaching is often a heart massage. Revival preaching is heart surgery. We have had varieties of evangelistic preaching — million dollar gospel crusades, charismatic healing evangelism. It is now time for confrontational preaching of holiness unto the Lord. Evangelism touches the emotions. Revival preaching touches the conscience.
Although the Welsh Revival did not have an emphasis on public preaching or teaching, it began with a message of immediate repentance and instant obedience. That remained as the foundation of the Spirit’s work. The Azusa Street outpouring was known far and wide for its Pentecostal manifestations, and some of its leaders strayed into strange doctrines like British Israelitism. But if you look at the doctrinal statement they drew up you will see something very clearly. It put repentance first, second, third, fourth, and fifth — leading to a holy, Spirit-baptized life.
Has that become passe? Is such a message no longer needed in this hour? Have we advanced beyond repentance and holiness? Has the Lord finally decided to look the other way? Is He choosing to ignore the fact the most of the American “Spirit-filled” (or, as I have said many times before, “Spirit-frilled”) church is hardly distinguishable from the world?
I think back to the fire-baptized preachers of past generations — to the Whitefield’s and Tennent’s, to the Savonarola’s and Fox’s, to the Finney’s and Campbell’s — and I long to see a new breed of no-compromise leaders arise in our day. I think back to their heart-rending messages, their challenging calls to get right with God, their tearful offers of the mercy of the Lord, their fearless proclamation of the cross, their devastating descriptions of the state of the lost and their wonderful promises of the glory to come — and I can only shudder when I compare this to most of our contemporary North American “revival” preaching.
Do the people of God today need a master surgeon or a circus master? Do we need to be provoked or primped? Do we need our leaders to tell us the truth or to tell us a joke?
The world is self-destructing without God. The harvest is more ripe than it has ever been. The need for holy laborers is absolutely pressing. The time to go for it without reserve is now. What are we waiting for?
Implore the Lord of harvest to raise up spokesmen who will bring His prophetic message. Ask Him to bring to the fore those who will “cry out and spare not” (Isa 58). Beseech Him to speak clearly and directly to His people. We cannot afford a shallow revival. We cannot afford a spurious work.
Pray for the Word on fire that will set us on fire so we can go and set the world on fire — for the glory of God. The time is short. The potential is breathtaking. Let’s not miss the opportunity of a lifetime. NOW — not never.