Momentum is not easy to capture. I am using that word to describe a force that starts to pick up steam and for a while appears to be almost unstoppable.
In the religious world I would describe times of authentic revival as extended periods of incredible spiritual momentum.
I am aware that some people have negative feelings about the term revival. Consequently, I am attempting to use a different word to describe those occasions when the Kingdom of God is marked by truly outstanding advances, such as what is recorded in the book of Acts.
Seasoned Christian leaders—men and women who have been around for a while—talk often among themselves, and also when they are alone, they speak with the Lord about how to recapture that dynamic the New Testament church once possessed. They also study past revival-periods to see what can be learned from our more successful predecessors. How did they capture the spiritual momentum they knew? And what are we missing that hinders us from another such season of dramatic advances?
Here is a simple way to list the qualities they are interceding on behalf of without having to do an extensive study of revival history. Spiritual awakenings are ALWAYS marked by an overwhelming sense of the presence of the Lord. This is true whether describing one’s personal relationship to Christ; the awakening of a local church; revival in a large geographic area, such as a city or county; or even a vast nationwide moving of the Holy Spirit. Once again, the number-one characteristic of all such times is this palpable and powerful sense of the presence of the Lord.
“During a spiritual awakening, there is, first, an overwhelming awareness of the
Presence of God among his people.” —Ted S. Rendell, Fire in the Church
To be more specific, think of experiencing God’s presence this way. What would happen in a given congregation if Jesus Himself made His physical presence known for several months? My belief is that immediately upon recognizing Him in the Sunday service, people would get very quiet. Soon, many would drop to their knees, which is the body language of worship. Probably others would start to sing songs of praise to Him. Well, more often than not, worship is one of the earliest signs of possible revival.
“Suddenly, someone would begin to pray and praise God. As long as an hour would pass before the speaker could speak.” —C.L. Culpepper, The Shantung Revival
Even if Jesus was to do nothing more than be bodily present, very soon the importance of Christian love would permeate the Body. He wouldn’t even have to say anything. People would just know intuitively that this was expected behavior.
“The most powerful emotion of the entire meeting was love. … It was not a ‘sticky’ type of love, it was the pure love of God as described in First Corinthians 13.” —Charles K. Tarr, A New Wind Blowing
You are aware that in theory, godliness and sin don’t go together. So, special times when the presence of the Lord is experienced in a church are regularly marked by the confession of wrongdoing.
“The Spirit of God continued to work in their hearts until they found relief before God in confession often of things hidden for years.” —Alison Griffiths, Fire in the Islands!: The Act of the Holy Spirit in the Solomons
We’re considering what would probably happen Sunday after Sunday if Jesus were to make His presence known in a given church. Now to worship, love and holiness let’s add involvement in God’s service. People would be more than happy to help in His cause in any way possible.
“Laymen all over the revival area woke up to the biblical truth that they were God’s ambassadors. … Whole congregations were moved from dead center to catch a glimpse of their contribution to the Body of Christ.” —Erwin W. Lutzer, Flames of Freedom
Even if Jesus isn’t the one doing the preaching, in times when His presence is strongly felt, it brings alive the opening of the Word. Just sensing that the Lord is there listening to every word not only changes the person preaching, but also those listening.
“There is a famine … of conscience-stirring preaching, a famine of heart-breaking preaching, a famine of soul-fearing preaching, a famine of that preaching like our fathers knew which kept men awake all night lest they fall into hell.” —Leonard Ravenhill, America Is Too Young to Die
When the Spirit of Jesus is powerfully felt in the church, people covet the opportunity of speaking to Him. That’s what prayer is all about … talking to the Lord. And has there ever been a revival not marked by all aspects of prayer—confession, intercession, praise, request, thanksgiving? Not really!
“Most churches are said to fail because they do not generate their own power. … Prayer is the generator. The great London preacher Charles Spurgeon once took some people down to his Metropolitan Tabernacle basement to show them his ‘Power Plant.’ There, on their knees, were about three hundred people praying for the service!” —Armin R. Gesswein, With One Accord in One Place
I am all too quickly listing what marks churches when they experience a special sense of the Lord’s presence. In review, these times of refreshing are characterized by worship, love, holiness, service, an anointing of the preached word, prayer, and I certainly need to add, evangelism. Numerous converts are always a sign of such times.
“A church which does not go out into the world to press the claims of the Kingdom would not know revival if it came.” —Ronald E. Coleman, Dry Bones Can Live Again: Revival in the Local Church
Let’s look at one more positive observation regarding revival, and then something negative that also needs to be mentioned. Revival results in a great sense of well-being. Much like the spiritual euphoria people often experience when they first become believers, so a similar sensation is felt all through a church.
“I have witnessed many revivals of God’s people—both individuals and companies. The Holy Spirit’s working always brought a fullness of joy. Cups ran over. Worries disappeared. When Love and Joy and Peace came in at the door, Misery went up the chimney, search parties failing to locate it afterwards.” —J. Edwin Orr, Times of Refreshing: 10,000 Miles of Miracles Through Canada
All this should sound good!
Even though it has been a long time since America has known a movement of such magnitude, God’s Church in other parts of our world has truly been experiencing momentum factor. In my lifetime, this has certainly been true regarding the believers in China. Many nations in the continent of Africa have shown amazing Christian renewal. Significant regions in South America can also be cited where this new wine is being tasted. A vibrant indigenous church is emerging in the Indian subcontinent. For this, I certainly praise the Lord. Unfortunately, forward movements like these, which I am referencing, are always met by stiff opposition on the part of our spiritual enemy.
The truth be known, seasoned Christian leaders expect dramatic advances in the battle of the kingdoms to be met with fierce and foul counterattacks. Allow me to repeat that: Seasoned Christian leaders expect dramatic advances in the battle of the kingdoms to be met with fierce and foul counterattacks. Veteran spiritual heads aren’t surprised by Satan’s tactics. They agree with the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “We are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11).
From the book of Acts alone, long-time Bible students know that the evil cunning of the devil included:
- lies, bribes, threats, hiring of false witnesses …
- spying, intimidations (like issuing dire warnings) …
- muggings, staging riots, mass arrests and jailings …
- whippings, beatings, stoning and, yes, murders!
That’s why spiritual leaders who have been around the block a time or two understand that remarkable church growth can be problematic. It has its pluses, but there are also minuses. Included on the “bad” side of the ledger is that the enemy will now pay more attention to what’s happening and realign his forces accordingly. So he lays sexual entrapments for the unwary. He attempts to separate long-time friends and coworkers in the cause. He preys on the jealousy of those who feel they aren’t being recognized as much as they believe they deserve.
Satan spreads gossip, hoping it will be picked up by any who are tempted to feed on such morsels. He tries to bully with threats of physical harm any who are working to plant a new Christ Kingdom flag over long-held enemy territory. In a way, it’s the Acts story enacted again and again in generation after generation.
Experienced church men and women wrestle with matters like these. For example, they know that social media can be used to quickly spread rumors and falsehoods; bloggers can use their platforms to “spin” incredible hearsay into credible sounding concerns; a trumped-up lawsuit can be easily filed against a trusted Christian to disparage their reputation; unscrupulous lawyers can entice newspapers to pick up on such an accusation and put it on Page One, even before a trial date has been scheduled; TV coverage can be influenced by simply giving exposure to innuendo, to rigged-up charges; a man or woman’s reputation can be tarnished before he or she has even had a chance to defend himself or herself in court. If eventually his or her total innocence is proven, that victory will get nowhere near the coverage the accusation did. More likely, it will never be reported on.
Those who have been in the arena for a while are aware that spiritual warfare all too often has victims, just like those in military encounters become wounded warriors. Even more amazing, as seen all through the book of Acts, is that those you have to be careful to keep a watchful eye on are more than often a part of organized religion. I wish someone had made this clear to me so many years ago when I was a young pastor up to my ears in inner-city ministry. It would have better prepared me for the enemy ambush I walked into.
Seasoned Christian leaders know that a man or woman who has experienced a glorious time of spiritual revival will eventually be attacked. The predator will first go after the easy targets—the young believers or those wounded in one way or another. The devil is biding his time, waiting until circumstances are to his liking.
Maybe I’m a slow learner, but later in life, during my most productive middle-years when I was the director of a nation-wide media and publishing ministry and at a time when we were starting to see some real Kingdom momentum involving thousands of churches working together in concert, it happened again. To be honest, the false accusations took me totally by surprise. I believed that my wife and I were Kingdom favorites! Why was God allowing this to happen to us? Couldn’t He just make it all go away?
You see, I naïvely thought spiritual warfare was a sermon series one preached, not a series of seemingly unending attacks that would destroy your ministry and from which you would barely escape unscathed. How naïve I was! What blinders I wore when I preached through the book of Acts. I almost missed the cost to those early advancing Kingdom commandos. I was blind to their shed blood … and I overlooked the bravery displayed by the early disciples.
The Scriptures read that when the opposition “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished…” (See Acts 4:13.) These were not the kind of religious leaders the scribes and the Pharisees were used to dealing with. “…and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Jesus … who knew there was a cost involved in things in the world were going to change. And He was prepared to pay that cost with His life.
In my time of serving Christ and His kingdom, have I been bold and fearless? What’s the opposite of being bold? Fearful? Faint-hearted? I’m afraid that’s more of who I was when I encountered enemy opposition. But not one elder that I recall sounded a warning that moving aggressively forward on a spiritual front could stir up an enemy hornets’ nest.
Sure, I preached about revival and I earnestly prayed for it. I made it a lifetime study. But when our ministry started to experience it, the enemy counterattacked, and I screamed bloody murder. Looking back, I don’t think I was bold. I would describe my response as more one of great surprise and shock.
I write these words with deep feelings because the battle for Christ and His kingdom here in America and around the world is not going to be won by spiritual dandies or people playing at Christianity. It’s going to take a new breed of church leaders if our nation, America, is going to be saved. It’s going to require pastors and prophets and evangelists who are aware, up-front, that such service quite often involves real (real, not symbolic) victims.
I hold a conviction in regard to the ongoing spiritual battle in our land between the forces of good and evil, light and darkness, God and Satan. Be warned. Be informed. Make yourselves ready. Stand fast. My dear friends, this is a real battle, a battle that begins among the unseen, but then involves real men and women on planet earth.
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