ave you ever been part of a genuine revival?
Don’t answer too quickly. The key word in this question is genuine.
My person answer is, “Yes, on two occasions.”
The first one took place at a small interdenominational church located in a tiny North Dakota agricultural community. This congregation experienced five nights of revival services which changed lives for years to come.
Night one─47 in attendance. Night five─155 in attendance (packed into a sanctuary designed for 120 at most). And the town’s population was less than 100.
No thundering demonstrative preaching. Hymn singing accompanied with an organ. No excited exclamations of praise. But a sense of the Holy Spirit’s working in a way unfamiliar to the people, but deeply felt.
There were public commitments of faith as individuals stood at the altar indicating their desire to accept Christ. One convert was a female Sunday school teacher. The chairman of the church board and his wife came forward when the call for salvation was given.
The genuineness of this revival is seen when one knows the rest of the story.
Sunday school and worship attendance increased significantly. A youth group and a women’s Bible study were initiated, and an addition to the church was built. Also, a major outreach was held, in which over 500 people were fed a full-course turkey dinner. (I personally carved more than 160 pounds of turkey!)
Signage and media advertisements frequently contribute to misconceptions of genuine revival. One says, “Revival every night but Saturday.” Fliers invite people to a “one-day revival,” “a three day-revival,” or a “weeklong revival with Evangelist __________.”
The first misconception is the thought of being able to designate a time and length for revival. Second, and closely connected, is indicating a specific place: a four-walls mentality. A third misconception develops when revival appears to be another event scheduled as part of the church’s program. Fourth is assuming a revival needs to create a particular emotional response. Some are emotionally expressive, while others are low-key and subdued.
These misconceptions may cause us to mislabel a meeting or fail to recognize a true move of God, and then miss out on both the blessing and impact of a true revival.
Two definitions of revival deserve special attention. Leonard Ravenhill, a 20th-century British evangelist, said, “True revival is God’s coming to the aid of His sick church.”
In close harmony are the words of church historian J. Edwin Orr: “I believe in using the word revival to mean the reviving of the people of God. They must first possess life to be revived.”
Revival needs to be understood in terms of Christian renewal. Spiritually lukewarm believers are brought back to a vivacious, committed life in Christ. Former believers who have backslidden come back to an active relationship with Christ. Evangelism of unbelievers grows out of revival.
A Historical Perspective
Is revival of churches and even denominations necessary? In an ideal setting, the answer is “no.” But the reality is the tendency for churches to grow stagnant unless there is constant renewing.
Throughout the centuries, sidetracks have led to spiritual stagnation. Churches have been sidetracked by forsaken love (Rev. 2:1-7), toleration of heretical teachers (vv. 18-29), spiritual deceptions (3:14-22), materialism (focus on buildings and bank accounts), and a willingness to do business as usual instead of functioning as a spiritual body.
And there are the sinful conditions of society which easily infiltrate the church. They include loose sexual morals, dishonesty, drunkenness, and greed.
The revival known as the Second Awakening (latter 1700s and early 1800s) brought about the abolishing of the slave trade, better working conditions in factories and mines, and improved prison conditions. How different from America, where the same items were accomplished partly through violence.
This era of revival did, however, impact some areas of American society, especially the frontier, which had become whiskey-sodden. Ministers preached a definite right and wrong as it related to a person’s lifestyle. A converted person’s moral life was openly evident by not smoking, drinking, dancing, or swearing. There was no room for moderation in these particular activities. Reverend Lyman Beecher of Boston founded the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance (1826). Nine years later, there were 8,000 temperance societies scattered throughout the country.
The Welsh Revival (1904-1906) was another great spiritual awakening. For nearly two years, churches of all denominations were filled to capacity with believers and unbelievers. Services were held at noon and night, and even mid-morning and mid-afternoon. With no scheduled leaders or speakers, the people relied on the Holy Spirit for guidance. Yet, there was no confusion in the spontaneity.
In less than 24 months, more than 100,000 people were won to Christ. Prayer meetings were held on company time in the coal mines. A wave of sobriety came to the country. There was the restitution of unpaid debts and the return of stolen goods. Bible sales skyrocketed, emptying the shelves in both English and Welsh translations.
Further historical review indicates how revival impacted unregenerate ministerial students in academic institutions. Whole denominations were revitalized and experienced significant membership growth. Evangelism emphasis resulted in new missionary societies being formed for global outreach.
None of the revivals mentioned were scheduled events. They were sovereign moves of God preceded by years of fervent prayer and commitment to the truths of Scripture.
It’s vital for us to examine the revivals of past centuries from around the globe. This enables us to have a broadened view of what takes place when there is a sovereign move of God with His Spirit working through committed men and women.
A Personal Reflection
Genuine revival isn’t just an event or an experience. Rather, it is an encounter with God which brings about personal and corporate change.
That is what happened to us when, for approximately four years, the West Minot Church of God encountered God in a marvelous manner. Led by the ministry of Pastor Ray Hurt, we moved from merely going to church to an exciting expectance of God’s presence and the moving of the Holy Spirit. A strong evangelistic approach resulted in many unbelievers coming to the services and accepting Christ. Besides the regular weekly services, the teens met on Monday nights to learn more about the Holy Spirit.
There was an intentional focus on discipleship. A dying one-hour midweek service was changed to a new model of two hours. Everyone was in Bible study the first hour. The second hour included choir practice, prayer, and special youth activities.
Attendance at all three weekly services increased dramatically. A second Sunday morning service was added.
The gifts of the Spirit were regularly in operation. We didn’t rush from one song to another. There were pauses for meditation and listening to what God may want to say to us. People were changed.
We stopped putting dinner in the oven before church. Didn’t know when we would get home, and it didn’t matter. That’s significant when you are a clock watcher like me.
Space doesn’t permit sharing more about historical revivals or the West Minot experience. But consider these last two sentences. Our teenage daughter experienced the ongoing, life-changing moving of the Holy Spirit just as we, her parents, had when we were teens. It was a genuine Pentecostal revival.