Several decades ago, A. W. Tozer said, “Worship is the missing jewel in the Christian Church’. In some ways things have changed since Tozer wrote those words. Over the past 25 years the Holy Spirit has been renewing his church in a remarkable way and bringing Christians everywhere a new understanding of the meaning and importance of worship. We have a way to go though, if we are to follow the words of Jesus to ‘worship the Father in spirit and in truth’.
Our primary task in life is to worship God. Deep within everyone there is an urge to worship. It was placed there by God. If we do not worship the Most High God, then we will worship ourselves, or an extension of ourselves, for we MUST worship.
Our greatest challenge is that we intellectualise God. We allow him access to the mind, but steadfastly resist any approach by God to our emotions or our bodies. Why do we find it difficult to express ourselves with our emotions and bodies in worship? When sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, so did embarrassment, self-consciousness, wrong kinds of self-awareness, lust, and so on. When Jesus died on the cross, he died for the shame which put us in bondage to self-consciousness. Only through him can we experience total freedom in our emotions and bodies.
William Temple, the great Anglican theologian, said, ‘Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose’, and I would add ‘and the surrender of our bodies to his total freedom’.
We are the ones who prevent God working in his wholeness in us. True worship can only take place when we agree to God sitting not only on his throne in the centre of the universe but on the throne that stands in the centre of our heart.
The work of Christ in redemption has one great end – it is to save humanity and restore us to the joy of knowing true worship. Adam and Eve enjoyed that when they walked with God in the cool of the Garden before the Fall. Our major problem when it comes to worship is our sinful self-centeredness. Sin consists in maintaining self in the centre of our lives, the place that God actually reserves for himself. When God no longer occupies the centre of our being, then we become the centre – we become god! And that other god is called ‘I’.
Invaded by God
Unless the central core of our being is invaded by God and maintained by him, then there can be no proper object on which to focus our worship. Many of us are caught up in an inner fight with ourselves because we never understood that to become the person God wants us to be, we must stop fighting ourselves, and surrender to God. Then he can come in, take up his rightful place in the centre of our lives, and rule and reign as Lord. Unless we surrender totally to God then the inevitable result will be inner conflict and disharmony. Our human ego functions best when it functions in harmony with God, for, left to itself it becomes a dangerous and damaging force.
What does God require? The answer is quite simple, and yet so deeply profound – self-surrender. This is the joyful exchange of an egocentric, sinful self for a God-centred self made whole. It is in fact a swap -our life for his and his life for us.
Romans 12:1 says, ‘Therefore, I urge you … in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.
We need to exercise our will in deciding to accept the freedom Jesus offers. He never makes us feel silly or proud. Satan’s insidious voice speaks to our fallen nature, the part that feels silly and proud. We need to resist him and claim our victory in Christ.
Then, when we learn to express ourselves to God, with body, emotions, mind, will and spirit, we will enjoy a continuing, freeing experience. We don’t stifle our emotions; then they don’t get bottled up inside. And we begin to gain more confidence. Our self-image benefits and we become more aware of others. Jesus takes us out of our self-awareness, and we reach out to others, to communicate with them and be more sensitive to them.
Remember that our healing starts with our personal time with the Lord. It’s there that we can be free with God alone and after spending time alone with him, we can become more free with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Both are essential to know complete healing. Worship then becomes our whole life, involving all our being.
Paul summarises this well in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, ‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The healing ministry of Jesus was always God-centred. Every life he touched he touched as an expression of worship, that is to say it honoured God. The Apostle John rarely referred to ‘miracles’, instead he used the term ‘sign’ as he recorded the ministry of Jesus. Whether it was a miracle over nature, or a life touched by healing, the purpose was the same, to glorify God. In the light of this, I believe we cannot underestimate the place of worship in the healing ministry.
The great twentieth century preacher, A. W. Tozer, is quoted as saying ‘worship acceptable To God is the missing crown jewel in evangelical Christianity’. I believe he is right. Worship is more than ritual. Worship is more than traditional liturgical patterns. Worship is experienced and it is as we experience God that our lives are touched – body and soul.
In our churches today there is growing evidence of the rediscovery of worship in its true sense – the experience of God through self giving. In my own parish at Ulverstone, Tasmania, the older folk are recovering the sense of revival that early Methodism had for them with all its ‘fire in the belly’ and praise from the heart. The younger folk are discovering for the first time some of the wonderful old hymns of the faith and realising the connection between Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby and the likes of Jack Hayford, Graham Kendrick and Chris Bowater.
Music is freeing the soul. Emotions are being touched, and ‘hearts strangely warmed’, as John Wesley put it 250 years ago. At the same time lives are being touched in physical healings. Without doubt there is a connection, for within worship we are seeing healings occur.
When we gather to adore, worship, praise and thank our God, it is not just some liturgical exercise, not is it simply an academic process. At least it should not be. It is an experience of the presence of the living God. We come into God’s presence, the presence of the creator of heaven and earth, and offer ourselves to him. I strongly believe that to enter into such worship will be life changing.
Imagine the magnitude of creation. The universe stretched out for countless light years in the vastness of space. Balance that with the tiny flower on a patch of moss, nestled at the base of a towering Mountain Ash, itself nestled at the foot of a craggy peak soaring a thousand meters above. Look a the human body, warts and all! What a work of wonder! The hand that put all this together is the One we worship. Not a carved effigy. Not hero worship of a dead Galilean carpenter. Not philosophical debate, but the Creator’s presence! I fail to see how lives cannot be changed as we worship him. My experience is that those life changing episodes can, and often do, include healing – physical, emotional, spiritual.
A number of Jesus’ miracles occurred in formal synagogue worship, such as the account of the man with a withered hand (Mt. 12:10-13) and the demon possessed man (Mark 1:23-27). In these examples, the healing was also used as a demonstration of Jesus’ power and authority.
While most of Jesus’ miraculous ministry was done outside formal worship, I see much of it being worshipful. Worship is, after all, an attitude, not just an action.
When Jesus encountered ten leprous men who cried out for help respectfully at a distance because of their condition, Jesus sent them to the priests (Luke 17:11-19). As they left the cleansing occurred. One returned, praising God and falling down to worship Jesus, offering thanks. That is worship – worship in the dust of the roadside.
The leper has shown four key worship attitudes. He had praised, and had given thanks. He also worshipped/adored Jesus, and had paid homage, throwing himself at Jesus’ feet. He was regarded with the words, ‘Rise and go, your faith has made you well.’
I see five key elements in worship that play a part in the healing ministry. These are demonstration, encouragement, excitement, evangelism and emotion.
Our God is not a theory. Our God is not an empty idol. Our God is alive. when we worship, God responds. We see the reality of what we say we believe. God’s grace is demonstrated. God’s power is seen.
During July 1991 my wife and I had the privilege of attending Brighton ’91 in England, a world gathering of leaders in evangelism and renewal. Well known author and renewal leader Canon Michael Green made a challenging observation. My record of his words is this, ‘The western church stands condemned for the preaching of an incomplete Gospel. For too long the fact that signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of the word from the time Jesus walked this earth and throughout the early church, has been ignored. We must be open to the demonstration of God’s power in our worship.’
Such activity is emerging at a phenomenal rate in many areas of the world at this time. Miracles on street corners in Romania, Hungary, and other Eastern Bloc countries. In Argentina miracles occur at most services of worship, reports Dr Omar Cabrera. On one special day dozens were healed of a myriad of disorders as the offering plate passed by. As the people gave to God, God gave to them! Hundreds of such stories emerge and, praise God, we in Australia are beginning to see it as we shake off spiritual lethargy.
People are encouraged in their faith when they see God at work in their midst, and it’s catching! I have been part of many major rally type events, and there seems to go with them a heightened expectancy within the people. Faith adds to faith, strength adds to strength, as the people pray and wait on God.
That is not to say that God needs a crowd to act. He doesn’t. But when people gather, the encouragement they give each other has been, in my experience, significant in healing.
I remember standing with a lady at a conference in Canberra. She asked for prayer for a lump in the hollow of her neck. Two or three of us prayed. Nothing happened, or so it seemed, except a couple of us had a similar vision, that of a sponge drying up and turning to dust. We confidently told the woman, ‘God will destroy the lump!’.
When we turned to sit down she said, ‘Oh, one more thing. I have cataracts. Will you pray for my eyes, for I’m going blind.’
My heart went ‘Ooh!’
Did I have faith for eyesight? Did my colleagues gathered around her have faith? We looked at each other, and at her, then at the Lord. I was encouraged by the atmosphere of the event, and by their prayers. We prayed, hands over her eyes.
We stood back and she cried, ‘Praise God! I can read the signs at the back of the auditorium.’
There was some ‘fuzziness’, but we prayed again and she went away rejoicing.
Faith linked with faith. The encouragement of being with others when we pray. But it doesn’t stop there, for each of us who prayed were encouraged to pray again when he need arose, or when it will arise again. I will never forget that day, for it remains an encouragement.
The feeling that followed that healing stays with me. Yet, that kind of feeling flows to others also. In my parish recently, a member came seeking prayer. ‘Joan” was suffering deep arthritic pain in her hands, elbows and her shoulders. She had come to church that night almost unable to hold her handbag, and unable to lift her arms very far above waist height.
‘Joan’ is a shy person, and asked for prayer for the first time ever, so I believe. God touched her. The pain left, and she was able to raise her arms high in the air, and still can. Her excitement was contagious! She testified in church the following week, and is not backward in acknowledging Jesus as her healer.
The testimony she gave added to the excitement of those who were there when we prayed. It encouraged others to spread the word to friends both in the parish and beyond. It led directly to a small group going to pray for a non Christian who was suffering from a painful spinal condition. As we offered prayer, there was an immediate release from pain in that person too. More excitement! There was immediate praise and thanksgiving to God. Worship flows from healing.
Time after time the pages of Scripture leap out at us with the evidence of growth in the church as a result of the demonstration, the encouragement, and the excitement of healing. It leads to conversion. It leads to salvation. It leads to more people becoming aware of the truth of God’s love as expressed through Jesus. Thus, evangelism is aided by healing.
I see evangelism as an act of worship. The offering of lives as living sacrifices to our God is a most wonderful thing, and the lives made whole by God’s grace are even more wonderful.
At the Brighton ’91 conference, we heard stories of miracles on street corners as the word was preached. This led to thousands of people coming to hear and see the word within the following days as football stadiums, halls and meeting rooms overflowed with people seeking God after years of communist rule. The word of God was preached in word and action. God was worshipped. Lives were changed. Healing of body and soul occurred in the presence of the living God.
In our western mind set, worship services rarely take on such proportions. We seem locked into traditional patterns. Anything outside the ‘norm’ is judged improper or untidy or uncomfortable, and so we fail to see what the world around us is seeing. But more than that, our churches are emptying as a church of words, words, and more words, fails to lead a searching people any nearer To God.
I believe that our churches would see dramatic increases in numbers of people and signs of the Spirit of God if we would open our hearts and really worship. This would also return the church’s healing ministry to its biblical pattern of being a ‘normal’ part of the life and witness of the church.
A criticism of some Pentecostal expression and ministry is that it is too emotional, or it is emotionalism rather than a true and whole expression of emotion. I interpret emotionalism as being ‘manufactured’ hype that has been generated by particular preaching styles or music presentations. That is very different from allowing our emotions to be involved in our worship.
Can you imagine Moses meeting with God and not being emotionally affected? Can you imagine the woman who had bled for years not feeling emotion when she touched Jesus’ garment and was healed? Emotion is part of our human nature and it is right that, when we come into the presence of the Lord, our whole being is involved. Emotion, as I see it, has a lot to do with the healing process, for so much of our human frailty and weakness, so much illness and infirmity, is centred in our emotions. If we can be freed from that which binds us emotionally, we can be free indeed.
Repentance involves emotional release; guilt floods away as we are forgiven. Anger is an emotional disease; peace comes and we feel the blessed release wash over us. Hate is an emotion; but with God’s help we learn to forgive and to love, and inner turmoil ceases. All of this is made easier, the process is enhanced, when we are at worship.
The Apostle Paul, both in Romans 12:1-8 and 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, writes of the transforming presence of God as we offer ourselves as a ‘living sacrifice’ (Romans), and the freedom experienced as we step into God’s presence ‘with unveiled faces’ (Corinthians). We open ourselves to the experience. As Graham Kendrick puts it, ‘to worship is to be changed’. I believe part of the healing process, whether rapid or more lengthy, is enhanced in the emotion-charged encounter with God. We encounter God as we worship.
Does this worship need to be corporate, or can it be a private devotion? No, it does not need to be corporate worship, and yes, it can be more private. But the Body of Christ coming together brings great benefits. Here, as the church gathers, praise rises to our God. We find a sense of oneness with each other and with Jesus our risen Lord, and the power of the Spirit flows more freely. Even in the midst of our corporate worship, one can commune at the private level with God, yet still be aided by the surrounding atmosphere of praise and adoration.
Corporate worship makes a public statement of faith. This honours God. The people publicly declare their love, and God rejoices in the love offered to him. The worship act builds up the Body, and in corporate worship the gifts of the Spirit will be more likely to be evident. As Paul so clearly wrote to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 12-14), the gifts are to edify the whole body, each bringing their gifts to join with others. Thus the gift of healing may need discernment, knowledge, or wisdom to direct it. Corporate worship allows this to happen.
In addition, the healing ministry, both its benefit and its witness, is shared widely and thus again the Body is enhanced. Scripture is clear that Jesus’ ministry was a testimony to God. From the beginning of his ministry ‘news about him spread throughout the whole countryside’ (Luke 4:14). Jesus’ ministry was, with a few minor examples, a public ministry. This is a key we must learn from. God is glorified when his grace is seen and acknowledged. Public, corporate worship is such an acknowledgment.
Anointing and Eucharist
Within the worship environment, two rites hold a special place in regard to the healing ministry. These are anointing and the Eucharist (thanksgiving – communion). Whilst neither need be a part of the healing ministry in worship, both can be.
The writer of James directs us, ‘Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven’ (James 5:14-15, NIV). Obviously this allows for the elders to go to the sick, but it also allows for the rite of anointing to be administered by appropriate people within worship.
Recently in our own parish, such an event occurred. ‘David’ spoke to me during the serving of communion. He was an elder assisting. Indicating a personal need, persistent and distressing asthma, he asked for prayer ‘whenever I felt it appropriate in the service’. We completed communion and then I had ‘David’ take a seat in view of the people. I explained the teaching of James, and then asked two other elders to join me. We anointed ‘David’s’ brow and prayed for his healing. He spent the next two weeks helping in a house construction project with all the dust and dirt associated with that and was totally free of any asthma trouble, to which he later testified. This was, as detailed above, a demonstration of God’s love which encouraged the whole congregation. It was exciting to hear the testimony and see the raised level of anticipation in the people.
I am becoming more aware of the power of the Eucharist in healing, especially in the areas of emotional spiritual healing. The Table of the Lord is a meeting place of grace. The symbols of his broken body and shed blood take on new meaning when you approach them in pain. As the old hymn goes, ‘There is power … wonder working power in the blood of the Lamb’.
The greatest need in many people today is freedom from guilt – the need for forgiveness. The nature of God is to love, to accept, to forgive. The Table of the Lord states that more clearly than a thousand words. Here before us are simple elements that speak of a most profound truth – a powerful truth. They speak of healing.
When is it most appropriate to pray for healing during the communion service? That depends on the situation. Some people feel unable to take such a holy step feeling dirty or unclean from their past. If this is the case, pray for the healing before they receive the elements. Thus the Table for them becomes a seal on the healing grace. For others, the very act of coming to the Table will convict them of the need for prayer, and so healing prayer following the taking of the elements in quite in order. It gives a final blessing.
Another alternative is during the serving. If, as is usually the case, a minister is being assisted by lay helpers, the prayer can be offered after receiving the bread and before taking the cup. In early church history and following the pattern of the Passover meal, there was often a break between bread and wine. The cup came later in the meal. The cup used by Jesus was the Passover ‘Cup of Blessing’, and so to receive the bread as a symbol of the forgiving grace of God, then to receive prayer for healing and finally to take the Cup of Blessing is often very appropriate. Local needs will, of course, dictate the use and place of such prayer.
The relationship between Eucharist and emotional and spiritual healing is clear. Recently a young woman came to our church for the first time. The invitation for communion was given and, as is our practice, the people came forward to receive the elements. She came with the first group, but quickly dissolved into tears, and moved to one side. I directed an elder to assist her. After a few moments outside, she was able to join the last group around the Table. I met with her later for more prayer, and then accompanied her to her nearby home where we prayed. She had experienced an occult or supernatural phenomenon the night before. It had frightened her. When she first came forward, something seemed to try and wrench her away from the Table. The prayers both during and after communion as well as at her home brought peace, and there has been no recurrence of this episode. The young lady said that she just knew she had to come for communion after the event. It was needed for cleansing power.
To some church people, the anointing with oil or prayer for healing during the Eucharist may seem strange or an intrusion on the usual way things are done. With appropriate teaching, they can be quickly put at ease.
The famous Smith Wigglesworth has a thought provoking comment on anointing and it place in worship. He says, ‘I believe that we can all see that the church cannot play with this business. If any turn away from these clear instructions (James 5:15), they are in a place of tremendous danger. Those who refuse to obey do so at their unspeakable loss.’
Dynamic of the Holy Spirit
Within worship the dynamic of the Holy Spirit is most prevalent. Our own insignificance and feeble faith are supported, picked up, and strengthened by those around us.
Just as an individual stick can be bent or broken when taken on its own and snapped over a knee, so the more sticks held together the harder it is to break even the weakest in the bundle. The more Christians who gather, the stronger the faith level seems to be. The more people praying, the stronger the prayers seem to be. The more spiritual gifts that surround us, the more confident the weak seem to become.
The worship environment assists greatly in taking us out of the influence and distraction of the world and bringing us into the holy and therapeutic realm of the Spirit. The hymns of praise, the songs of adoration and worship, the prayers and the Word of God read and preached, focus our thoughts on him whom we call Lord. We leave the world behind. We enter the Holy Place, and await the touch of God upon our broken, damaged and imperfect lives, and the transformation begins.
The more we grow in our understanding of the power, the beauty, the richness of true spiritual worship, the more we will understand the healing ministry. The power of God to heal is undoubted. Even in my limited experience I have sen too much evidence to believe otherwise. That the presence of God is touching the lives of very significant numbers of church people across the nation is new and rich ways is also undeniable.
The renewal movement has added a new dimension to worship, and while much can be said about the various expressions of worship available across the spectrum of churches in Australia, I believe that those places of worship, irrespective of denominational label, which allow the Spirit the freedom to move in music, song, prayer and giftings are also the churches where healing ministries are growing as part of worship.
The link is there. Worship and healing – the Spirit of the risen Christ touching body and soul, to the glory of God.
Reproduced with permission from Healing in the Now, edited by John Blacker (1995), Australian Renewal Ministries, 1 Maxwell Court, Blackburn South, Victoria3130.
Dr Dorothy Mathieson’s ministry has included being a Baptist pastor and the Australian Coordinator of Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor. With her husband George she counsels people in need of help and healing.
The worship was so polished. Meticulous musical precision. There was the lighter beginning, then the ‘moving into a time of real worship’. Hands were raised, some were singing in tongues. The harmony was impeccable. The enthusiasm infectious. A couple gave ‘words of prophecy’ we are loved, we are emerging into freedom and joy like butterlies out of the cocoon of restriction and fear. Applause. ‘God is pleased with our worship,’ the pastor assured. More applause.
A suburban congregation, it could have been anywhere in Australia. Mostly middle class, well dressed, car in the carpark. Good people relieved to be in a ‘live’ church after labouring through stodgy ones.
‘We come for the worship,’ said one couple. ‘You can endure a poor sermon if you have good worship.’
The short request in the bulletin from a local welfare agency for homes for rebellious teenagers drew no response. Another, asking for volunteers to care for people with AIDS, didn’t even reach the bulletin.
The message was clear: worship was for soothing, comforting. Some refreshment for the weary. For the anxious, an assurance that things would be OK. We are right after all, secure from upheaval. God is biased in our favour.
It is nothing new for congregations to use worship to soothe. People did this in the days of Amos the prophet, eight centuries before Jesus came. In some ways modern worship songs have not changed since the songs of those days. The prophet recorded three popular hymns (4:13; 5:89; 9:56).
In these ancient hymns they too celebrated a God who:
* powerfully moulds the mountains as easily as a potter;
* creates the wind;
* reveals his very thoughts to us (4:13);
* faithfully upholds the proper order in creation: planets, day and night, tides (5:8);
* authoritatively invades all of his creation: heavens, earth, seas (9:56).
This is the wonderful Lord we also worship today: all the powerful, sovereign, majestic one. ‘The Lord (Yahweh) is his name’ is the declaration after all three of Amos’ hymns. With the ancients, we join in applause.
But there are some aspects of the hymns of Amos’ day which are rarely part of current worship in renewal churches. In these ancient hymns, God also:
* terrifyingly turns dawn into darkness;
* deliberately overpowers (‘treads’) all human attempts at arrogant independence (‘high places’ or ‘strongholds’ in Amos refer to prestigious fortresslike homes of the wealthy, the systems of selfindulgent and idolatrous worship at shrines at Bethel and Gilgal, the exploitative social, economic and political systems 4:13);
* reverses the natural order of creation so that it becomes a destructive power;
* shatters all seemingly impregnable and unjust systems (strongholds again) of the powerful (5:89);
* uses his glorious creative power to judge the earth so that it convulses like river tides;
* lets no one escape his consuming authority and power (9:56).
These things are difficult to sing about! This God is the mighty warrior, the purifying Lord, the indomitable creator. Few modern songs or hymns celebrate these aspects of our God. They would hardly fit into upbeat tempo or rousing worship. Worshippers would be hesitant to applaud certain judgement for ignoring the practice of justice.
Why then are the hymns of our day so soothing, so undisturbing. In this ‘Age of Anxiety’, as sociologist Hugh McKay (1993) labels contemporary times in Austrlia, we long for reassurance that things are alright, that our future will only get better.
But we will be secure, won’t we? God is on our side. We have his promises. Our churches are streamlined. Our clergy have improving credentials and are friends of the wealthy and powerful. We go abroad to plant our kind of churches and export our kind of Christianity. We have so much to offer. We have hundreds of fully computerized plans to complete the Great Commission by the year 2000. Our nation is forging its independent destiny. Trading blocks are in place, hopefully to favour our market. The people of God are the righteous ones. Multiple prophecies have assured that out ministries will be extensive and commanding.
This is exactly what the Israelites of Amos’ day thought. They assumed their political security perpetual, with neighbouring nations squabbling among themselves. Trading was increasingly to their advantage. Spiritually smug, they boasted increasing attendances at the shrines, with religious leaders having the ear of even the king. But they had domesticated God.
They had turned a loving relationship into a weapon of manipulation. Enjoying unexamined lives, enthusiastic worshippers were also supporters of a social, economic and political system which exploited the poor. They amassed wealth, storing it up in their strongholds for a brighter future, but they did not share with the needy.
Most of their resources were spent on themselves. Their righteousness had become a privatized ethic rather than a renewing spiritual energy directed towards creating an alternative community of love and dignity for all.
Amos longed for ‘rivers of justice’ (5:24). He saw only trickles of selfeffort, channelled into maintaining the Israelites’ status quo. Triumphalistic prophecy fascinated them. Weren’t they the people of God, with his covenant and his promises?
It sounds so hauntingly modern. Are the contemporary people of God, even those of us committed to renewal, so very different? ‘The contemporary church,’ says Walter Brueggemann (1978:11), ‘is so enculturated to the ethos of consumerism that it has little power to believe or act.’ Further he claims, ‘if we gather around a static God who only guards the interests of the “haves”, oppression cannot be far behind’ (1978:18).
There can be no real worship, says Amos, without a commitment to justice for the poor. True worship must be expressed at the bleeding points of the world. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, rather than shutting out the world, leads us into discovering his heart for the despised, the exploited, the outcast. Even with the right words in their hymns the ancients missed it. They were not doing the justice they were singing about.
Many critics say these three hymns in Amos are out of place in his prophecy, perhaps later glosses interrupting the flow of his thought. At the heart of these challenges are not only the complications of textual analysis but also the misnomer of the purpose of worship. Worship is meant to disturb by renewing the fullness of our faith heritage, critiquing our present manipulations, and energizing to reembrace radical hope for the future.
Scholars are not alone in missing the point of worship in Amos and beyond Amos. In the so called discovery of worship in modern renewal, these vital elements have been largely over looked. Who wants to be disturbed? In the weariness of modern life, who wants to be energized to create something new?
Like Moses before him, Amos ‘dismantles the religion of static triumphalism’ (Brueggemann 1978:16). The freedom of the majestic God cannot be manipulated even by enthusiastic worship. Worship is not the flamboyant parading of self concerns, or of musical or oratorial abilities. ‘You go to church to sin,’ says Amos (4:4).
The songs of Amos are disturbingly in place. Prophecy cannot be separated from doxology. Worship is an act of freedom and justice. It is meant to disturb as well as energize. This is why Amos deliberately used popular hymns as part of his prophecy.
Let’s look at these hymns in their context.
(1) ‘This is the God you must prepare to meet,’ says Amos (4:12), using the usual peistly call to worship before the first hymn (4:1314). They had ignored his acts of judgement which were supposed to restore them to loving relationships. The setting of this first hymn is of holy war. In worship, they come face to face with the God of such power and majesty that he is easily able to also judge even his own people. Worship truly, or prepare for combat with the Lord Almighty, says Amos. Enthusiastic worship offers no immunity.
(2) What is true worship? The second hymn of Amos (5:89) says it is responding to the God who acts in righteousness, even with his estranged people. ‘We are zealous in our religion,’ the people objected. ‘But your own religious system allows you to turn justice into bitterness, to throw righteousness on the ground like refuse,’ was Amos’ reply (5:7). ‘If God’s covenant relationship relationship meant anything to you, it would be reflected in your lives of loving concern for others. That’s worship. How can you sing this song and tamper (‘turn’) with God’s plan of justice and righteousness for creation?’
‘Look what I turn’, says Yahweh. ‘Darkness to dawn. I create. You destroy. But I also can destroy, particularly the exploitative systems of the powerful. Turn to me in true worship,’ says the Lord. ‘Then you won’t trample on the poor, justify your indulgences as your needs (5:11), or remain quiet against injustice. Seek me, not your own systems. Your life depends on it,’ says God (5″14).
(3) Later in Amos’ prophecy comes the third hymn (9:56) after the disturbing threat that the awful stare of God, the warrior, is focussed on his people, for evil, not good (9:4). How could Amos call the people to sing after this? Again, as in the other two hymns, their worship is inappropriate. Worship can never fit with unexamined lives of privatized morality, bearing no responsibilities for the evils of their society. The message of this hymn becomes hauntingly clearer. Their God is now their warrior. He will judge his own people. When he touches the land, the awesome convulsions bring great misery (9:5). Nothing in earth or heaven can stand before him or hide from him. His control is complete. ‘When you sing this hymn,’ says Amos, ‘you are singing about your own judgement, not only about the judgement of others.’
True worship disturbs. Modern songs mainly reassure and coddle complacencies.
Avoidance of the real issue of injustice is still ingrained in the church. The poor are suffering. On the basis of God’s covenant, his relationship of love, they can rightfully expect his people, the righteous, to hear and respond to their cries (Proverbs 29:7). When God’s people do this, they can truly worship.
Worship energizes us to be partners in kingdom truth, love, righteousness and justice. Worship renews loving relationship with our God who must be true to his character, unimpeded by our constrictions. Worship leads us to act for justice for the poor. Together we then celebrate the one in whom all rivers of justice are birthed.
Brueggemann, Walter (1978) The Prophteic Imagination. Fortress.
Have you ever wondered how Paul and Silas could sing praises in a Philippian gaol after being stripped, flogged and clamped in the stocks? Or how Jesus could sing a hymn on the eve of his arrest, knowing everything that was about to happen to him? Or how Paul could describe worship with the spine-tingling phrase ‘living sacrifice’?
It was because their worship was not based on what they liked. It was based on who they loved.
There is an explosion of worship in the church today. The buzz word is ‘contemporary’ and the aim is to ‘enter into God’s presence’ and enjoy a sense of closeness with him. The music, the setting, the lyrics must all help create a fulfilling worship ‘experience’.
But I am absolutely convinced that it’s not the worship that God wants us to enjoy. It’s him.
Christians have often felt that worship has to suit their tastes. Many times churches have been built based on people’s preferences in worship style. We want to choose how we will worship.
We’ve made worship self-centred instead of God-centred. We lobby for what we want: ‘I don’t like the songs’, ‘I don’t like the volume’. It’s as if we’re worshipping worship instead of worshipping God.
Imagine conducting your relationship with your spouse on the basis of only relating to them in certain circumstances. In marriage you can’t love demanding an answer; you have to love selflessly. You don’t say, ‘As long as I get everything I want out of this relationship I’ll commit myself.’ But that’s the attitude we often have to worship. We say: ‘You musicians, singers and pastors do your tricks, then we’ll be happy.’
Worship is not a musical experience. Musicians, singers and worship leaders can no more create a worship experience than an evangelist can create a salvation experience. Both worship and salvation are decisions – decisions that only individuals can make.
When we allow someone else to take responsibility for our decisions we place human interests in front of God’s. If my worship depends on others creating an atmosphere, I am allowing them to make my decision to worship for me.
Worship is not a result of how good the music is or whether my favourite songs are sung. It is not a consequence of whether I stand or sit, lift my hands or kneel. My worship must be an expression of my relationship with God – in song, in shouts and whispers, sitting, walking, or driving the car. Worship is my response to God.
If worship is a decision, then the greatest worship happens when someone who doesn’t like a church’s music or liturgical style prays, ‘Not my will but yours be done, God – I’ll worship you in spite of it.’
Your gifts aren’t the issue
There’s another way in which we worship worship instead of worshipping God. Let me come at it by a round-about route.
Consider two ways of understanding why the church exists. The first is that it exists to equip the saints for the work of ministry. So part of our teaching and worship must be aimed at equipping the saints.
But there is a danger in this first perspective. It could lead us to think that people are in a church so that the church can release their individual gifts and ministries. This is back-to-front. People are actually in a church with their gifts to release the ministry of the church.
It’s far more important to know where you are called than what you are called to do.
Let me give a practical example. My hands write songs by accident; they just happen to be attached to the rest of my body and I’m a songwriter. In the same way, I’m a songwriter at Hills Christian Life Centre more because I’m ‘attached’ to a worshipping, song-writing church than because Hills Christian Life Centre has a songwriter who writes songs. The call is on the church, and my talent as a songwriter helps the church fulfil its call.
This is a the second way to understand the church’s existence: It exists to fulfil God’s call on its life. To live out God’s vision. And the people in a church don’t so much need to own that vision as to be owned by it. Once that happens, the various facets of its life are given shape according to what God has called the church to be and do.
This has a profound effect on worship. It takes the focus away from what we want and replaces it with what is needed to fulfil the vision. It really doesn’t matter whether we like the worship style or not; it’s whether the style is consistent with the call and vision. Unless we think this way, we’re in danger of creating our own entertainment – and hence of worshipping worship again.
Worship and the will of God
In other words, for our worship to be a response to God, an expression of our love and devotion, it must be a reflection of his will in and through our lives. For me to express my love for my wife Janine, I must do more than say ‘I love you”. I must mow the lawn, pick up my socks, wash the car, share her dreams and visions and goals – I must be a partner to her, working to be a team that expresses mutual love to each other selflessly.
In this I discover that the best intimacy is the intimacy that forces you to get up in the morning after making love with your wife the night before and go and mow the lawns, fix the kitchen door, paint the shed – to do those things that are produced out of love.
It’s the same in our relationship with God. I can’t sing, ‘I love you, Lord’, ‘I’ll worship you’, ‘Be exalted’ without being a partner in his will and vision.
What is God’s vision, his expectations? Is it that we hold nice, comfortable worship services with three praise songs, two worship songs, one prophecy, one offering, one message, two altar calls and a closing hymn? Is his expectation our comfort, our enjoyment, our tradition?
No. God’s vision is that the world will know his Son. The Lord’s expectation of us is crystal clear in Matthew 28:19-20: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
God has called us into his contemporary world to make disciples. Our worship central in our decision to meet this commission.
Of course we must sing and dance and praise the Lord. But if while we sing and dance and praise we either ignore God’s commission or create a culture that alienates those whom God has called us to reach, are we really worshipping God at all? Or are we, yet again, worshiping the worship instead of him?
Communication is more than words
The church I’m part of is a middle-income, yuppie, contemporary church of baby boomers and their children. That’s who we are, and that’s whom God has called us to reach. So that’s what we look and sound like. Other churches have different calls – perhaps to the elderly. In that case people will have to get used to singing hymns.
If every church became ‘modern contemporary’ in music and we all played Crowded House and Dire Straits, what would happen to churches in Vaucluse in Sydney or St Kilda in Melbourne, which need a totally different touch?
To put it in marketing terms, once we understand our mission (to make disciples), we need to find our market place (the people that God want us to reach). That will then give us our methodology.
We have to find and use the language of our market place. At Youth Alive rallies, for example, where 10-12,000 people cram into the Sydney Entertainment Centre, we know that ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ aren’t going to work with some 15-year-old home boy with his cap on backwards who’s into the basketball culture. So we sing songs like ‘Jump into the Jam with the Great I Am’ – songs that reflect our passion for Jesus and our love and vitality for life in their language. In this way we reclaim their music to glorify God and open a window to Christian experience in language they can understand.
When I say ‘language’ I don’t just mean terminology, words. People can go to a Madonna concert in Japan and not understand a word she says but still feel part of what she’s doing because they understand the whole language – the visual communication, the sound, the music.
We need to speak people’s language – not just in our music but in our newsletters and graphics and decor and preaching and dress.
When the church forgets this and loses sight of its mission and market place, it locks itself into its own culture. Anyone who comes in from outside has to undergo a cultural revolution, before they can get to our answer. In the end the only people we reach are ourselves. That’s scandalous. We’re called to be light in darkness, not light in light.
I’m not saying that all worship must be directed toward attracting non-believers – far from it. Worship is an individual’s adoration of God. Our worship attention must be on intimacy with God led by the Spirit. So we must not make it so relevant that we lose the intimacy.
You won’t reach your marketplace until you equip the saints, and you won’t equip the saints by just speaking the language of the marketplace. You have to teach them to speak the language of the marketplace. There’s a transition. So there must be a balance between equipping the saints and reaching the marketplace.
Sometimes, however, the saints bet lost in enjoying the ‘showers of blessings’ that come through their relationship with God. When we go to church to stand under the shower of blessings, our worship involves that experience.
But life is more than standing under the shower. Life is also getting dressed and going to work. Our worship should translate into the outcome of our lives.
For the believer, an effect of worship is like a remedial massage at half-time to get us back on the field. It’s healing for injuries so we can keep playing. It’s the coach at half-time saying toa tired team, ‘You can win’ – and sending them out to turn the game around.
Worship, then, is refocussing. It’s re-equipping. It’s realigning yourself with the passion of God and realising that you have to say, ‘Not my will but yours be done’.
Worship doesn’t end with ‘I exalt you’. It goes on to say, ‘I must go out and take the experience to others.’ I believe that God is changing the face of Christian worship today because he is trying to align us again with him and his vision.
We can’t worship God truly and remain unchanged. When we worship, we push into God’s heart. Older married couples can sometimes sit in a room together for an hour and a half and not speak to each other and yet communicate, because they’ve grown together and they understand each other’s heart. It’s like that with God. As we worship him we come to understand his heart, and we start to share his passion. Then his vision comes our vision.
Reprinted with permission from the February 1995 issue of On Being magazine, 2 Denham Street, Hawthorn, Victoria, 3122.
Worship, the act of freely giving love to God, forms and informs every activity of the Christian’s life.
Many people who visit Vineyard Christian Fellowships remark on the depth and richness of our worship. This has not come about by chance: we have a well-thought-out philosophy that guides why and how we worship God. In this article I will communicate that philosophy.
To understand how we worship God, it is helpful to learn about our fellowship’s history, which goes back to 1977. At that time my wife, Carol, was leading a small group of people in a home meeting that evolved into the Anaheim Vineyard. I’ll let her describe what happened during that time.
‘We began worship with nothing but a sense of calling from the Lord to a deeper relationship with him. Before we started meeting in a small home church setting in 1977, the Holy Spirit had been working in my heart, creating a tremendous hunger for God. One day as I was praying, the word worship appeared in my mind like a newspaper headline. I had never thought much about that word before. As an evangelical Christian I had always assumed the entire Sunday morning gathering was “worship” – and, in a sense, I was correct. But in a different sense there were particular elements of the service that were especially devoted to worship and not to teaching, announcements, musical presentations, and all the other activities that are part of a typical Sunday morning gathering. I had to admit that I wasn’t sure which part of the service was supposed to be worship.
‘After we started to meet in our home gathering, I noticed times during the meeting – usually when we sang – in which I experienced God deeply. We sang many songs, but mostly songs about worship or testimonies from one Christian to another. But occasionally we sang a song personally and intimately to Jesus, with lyrics like “Jesus I love you”. Those types of songs both stirred and fed the hunger for God within me.
‘About this time I began asking our music leader why some songs seemed to spark something in us and others didn’t. As we talked about worship, we realised that often we would sing about worship yet we never actually worshipped – except when we accidentally stumbled onto intimate songs like “I love you Lord”, and “I lift my voice”. Thus we began to see a difference between songs about Jesus and songs to Jesus.
‘Now, during this time when we were stumbling around corporately in worship, many of us were also worshipping at home alone. During these solitary times we were not necessarily singing, but we were bowing down, kneeling, lifting hands, and praying spontaneously in the Spirit – sometimes with spoken prayers, sometimes with non-verbalised prayers, and even prayers without words at all. We noticed that as our individual worship life deepened, when we came together there was a greater hunger toward God. So we learned that what happens when we are alone with the Lord determines how intimate and deep the worship will be when we come together.
‘About that time we realised our worship blessed God, that it was for God alone and not just a vehicle of preparation for the pastor’s sermon. This was an exciting revelation. After leaning about the central place of worship in our meetings, there were many instances in which all we did was worship God for an hour or two.
‘At this time we also discovered that singing was not the only way to worship God. Because the word worship means literally to bow down, it is important that our bodies are involved in what our spirits are saying. In Scripture this is accomplished through bowing heads, lifting hands, kneeling, and even lying prostrate before God.
‘A result of our worshipping and blessing God is being blessed by him. We don’t worship God in order to get blessed, but we are blessed as we worship him. He visits his people with manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
‘Thus worship has a two-fold aspect: communication with God through the basic means of singing and praying, and communication from God through teaching and preaching the word, prophecy, exhortation, etc. We lift him up and exalt him, and as a result are drawn into his presence where he speaks to us.’
Definition of worship
Probably the most significant lesson that Carol and the early Vineyard Fellowship learned was that worship is the act of freely giving love to God. Indeed, in Psalm 18:1 we read, ‘I love you, O Lord, my strength.’ Worship is also an expression of awe, submission, and respect toward God (see Ps. 95:1-2; 96:1-3).
Our heart’s desire should be to worship God; we have been designed by God for this purpose. If we don’t worship God, we’ll worship something or someone else.
But how should we worship God? There are various ways described in the Old and New Testaments:
l Confession: the acknowledgment of sin and guilt to a holy and righteous God.
l Thanksgiving: giving thanks to god for what he has done, specially for his works of creation and salvation.
l Adoration: praising God simply for who he is – Lord of the universe.
As Carol pointed out, worship involves not only our thought and intellect, but also our body. Seen through the Bible are such forms of prayer and praise as singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, kneeling, bowing down, lifting hands, and so on.
Phases in the heart
Not only is it helpful to understand why and how we worship God, it is also helpful to understand what happens when we worship God. In the Vineyard we see five basic phases of worship, phases through which leaders attempt to lead the congregation. Understanding these phases is helpful in our experience of God. Keep in mind that as we pass through these phases we are headed toward one goal: intimacy with God. I define intimacy as belonging to or revealing one’s deepest nature to another (in this case to God), and it is marked by close association, presence, and contact. I will describe these phases as they apply to corporate worship, but they may just as easily be applied to our private practice of worship.
1. The first phase is the call to worship, which is a message directed toward the people. It is an invitation to worship. This might be accomplished through a song like, ‘Come let us Worship and Bow Down’. Or it may be jubilant, such as through the song, ‘Don’t you Know it’s Time to Praise the Lord?’
The underlying thought of the call to worship is ‘Let’s do it; let’s worship now.’ Song selection for the call to worship is quite important, for this sets the tone for the gathering and directs people to God. Is it the first night of a conference when many people may be unfamiliar with the songs and with others in attendance? Or is it the last night, after momentum has been building all week? If this is a Sunday morning worship time, has the church been doing the works of God all week? Or has the church been in the doldrums? If the church has been doing well, Sunday worship rides on the crest of a wave. All these thoughts are reflected in the call to worship. The ideal is that each member of the congregation be conscious of these concerns, and pray that the appropriate tone be set in the call to worship.
2. The second phase is the engagement, which is the electrifying dynamic of connection to God and to each other. Expressions of love, adoration, praise, jubilation, intercession, petition – all the dynamics of prayer are interlocked with worship – come forth from one’s heart. In the engagement phase we praise God for who he is through music as well as prayer. An individual may have moments like these in his or her private worship at home, but when the church comes together the manifest presence of God is magnified and multiplied.
Expressing God’s love
As we move further in the engagement phase, we move more and more into loving and intimate language. Being in God’s presence excites our heart and minds and we want to praise him for the deeds he has done, for how he has moved in history, for his character and attributes. Jubilation is that heart swell within us in which we want to exalt him. The heart of worship is to be united with our Creator and with the church universal and historic. Remember, worship is going on all the time in heaven, and when we worship we are joining that which is already happening, what has been called the communion of saints. Thus there is a powerful corporate dynamic.
Often this intimacy causes us to meditate, even as we are singing, on our relationship with the Lord. Sometimes we recall vows we have made before our God. God might call to our mind disharmony or failure in our life, thus confession of sin is involved. Tears may flow as we see our disharmony but his harmony; our limitations but his unlimited possibilities. This phase in which we have been wakened to his presence is called expression.
Physical and emotional expression in worship can result in dance and body movement. This is an appropriate response to God if the church is on that crest. It is inappropriate if it is whipped up or if the focal point is on the dance rather than on true jubilation in the Lord.
Expression then moves to a zenith, a climatic point, not unlike physical lovemaking (doesn’t Solomon use the same analogy in the Song of Songs?). We have expressed what is in our hearts and minds and bodies, and now it is time to wait for God to respond. Stop talking and wait for him to speak, to move. I call this, the fourth phase, visitation: The almighty God visits his people.
This visitation is a by product of worship. We don’t worship in order to gain his presence. He is worthy to be worshipped whether or not he visits us. But God ‘dwells in the praises of his people’. So we should always come to worship prepared for an audience with the King. And we should expect the Spirit of God to work among us. He moves in different ways- sometimes for salvation, sometimes for deliverances, sometimes for sanctification or healings. God also visits us through he prophetic gifts.
The fifth phase of worship is the giving of substance. The church knows so little about giving, yet the Bible exhorts us to give to God. It is pathetic to see people preparing for ministry who don’t know how to give. That is like an athlete entering a race, yet he doesn’t know how to run. If we haven’t learned to give money, we haven’t learned anything. Ministry is a life of giving. We give our whole life; God should have ownership of everything. Remember, whatever we give God control of he can multiply and bless, not so we can amass goods, but so we can be more involved in his enterprise.
Whatever I need to give, God inevitably first calls me to give it when I don’t have any of it – whether it is money, love, hospitality, or information. Whatever God wants to give through us he first has to do to us. We are the first partakers of the fruit. But we are not to eat the seed, we are to sow it, to give it away. The underlying premise is that whatever we are is multiplied, for good or for bad. Whatever we have on our tree is what we are going to get in our orchard.
As we experience these phases of worship we experience intimacy with God, the highest and most fulfilling calling men and women may know.
Many books examine the place of Signs and Wonders in the church today.
John White’s When the Spirit Comes with Power: Signs and Wonders among God’s People, Hodder & Stoughton, revised 1992, gives many current accounts and helpful comments.
John Wimber’s classics written with Kevin Springer, Power Evangelism (revised 1993) and Power Healing (1986), both Hodder & Stoughton, are well known and give detailed examples and principles.
Charles Kraft’s Christianity with Power: Experiencing the Supernatural, Marshall Pickering, 1990, examines cultural concerns such as worldview as it affects our understanding of the Bible, and offers helpful ministry guidelines.
Biblical holism: where God, People and Deeds Connect is a Christian Interactive Video Workshop – a Journey Towards Understanding – prepared by John Steward, the Development Services Manager of World Vision in Australia. World Vision has a brochure that introduces this resource. The workshop is for small groups who work through, with the help of a 3 hour video, a study on the Lordship of Christ over every area of life. This foundation leads to studies on the application of the biblical material to Christian life and service.
Of particular interest to the theme of Signs and Wonders, one section of the study shows how these are part of the divine activity in the world that often leads to questions which open the way for the word of witness. Brian Hathaway shares how God led the Te Atatu Church in New Zealand into this awareness. A case study shows the critical importance of Signs and Wonders among Folk religions.
For a free introductory video about the workshop, write to World Vision Australia Book Shop, GPO Box 399C, Melbourne, Victoria 3001. Ph. (03) 287 2297; Fax (03) 287 2427.
In the summer of 1985 I was leading a four week Youth With A Mission (YWAM) training school for some fifty students in Holland. I had quit my job as a civil engineer and joined YWAM in 1977. A friend, and former YWAMer, Paul Piller from the Philippines, contacted me and offered to speak for a few days when he visited Holland.
I consented, although I wasn’t thrilled about his subject: healing. I knew one had to watch out for people who only wanted to talk about healing, faith, miracles, and demons.
I trusted Paul, but you never know what can happen to someone who has spent five years in the U.S. Paul had brought some others along: young fellows in T-shirts, blue jeans, and sneakers. I wondered why they had come. Were they going to sing or perform a drama?
As Paul began speaking, I relaxed. No screaming, no emotionalism. After the lecture, he and the young fellows moved around the group praying without saying much. One word stood out: ‘more’.
‘More of you Lord!’ They seemed unperturbed as certain things I was unfamiliar with started happening. Someone started weeping, others collapsed on their chairs, someone else stood shaking. After three days the place was turned upside down. People were filled with joy, received healing, delivered from demons, released from grief. I had hundreds of questions! I had tasted the new wine and I wanted more.
Paul suggested I go to a conference in Sheffield, England, led by a man named John Wimber. Off we went, with a number of YWAMers. I was ready for anything. My ‘holy frustration’ had reached a point where I was willing to let God do whatever he wanted.
I had been warned to get ready for change. God had spoken to me through the story in the second chapter of John’s Gospel – the wedding in Cana – where Jesus performed his first miracle of changing water into wine. Interestingly, the servants at the wedding were allowed to participate, because they filled the jars and took the newly transformed wine to the leader of the feast. Somewhere between the jar and the lips of that man, the water changed into wine.
The application for me of that story is that God is looking for people who want to co-operate with him in bringing this about. I had run out of wine, and now I wanted to see the Lord bring out his best vintage. I wanted God to restore my joy, and fill me with the Holy Spirit.
The conference was life-changing, even though I didn’t have any spine-tingling personal experiences or visions of ecstasy. Nevertheless God gave me a deep inner peace and an affirmation that the teaching I heard, and the ministry I was observing was from his hand.
Giving the Holy Spirit room
My wife and I and others returned home with a clear sense of purpose. Like the servants at the wedding in Cana, our part was to obediently draw out the water and faithfully carry it to others. God would change it into wine.
During the following months, I discovered how exciting life becomes when we give more room to the Holy Spirit! I tried to cultivate a greater sensitivity to God’s voice. My goal was to listen better to what he was saying, and act upon that in faith.
As John Wimber likes to point out, another way to spell faith is R-I-S-K. This new openness to the promptings of the Spirit led to some powerful times of ministry. My emphasis during individual counselling changed to less talk and more prayer. We also learned that demons are for real, but we have been given authority to drive them out (Matthew 10:8).
Though this new realm of ministry was exhilarating, we needed people from outside to help, advise, and direct us further. We invited people like Barry Kissel from the Anglican church in Chorleywood, England. He imparted to us much in the way of ministry skills.
At a certain stage in this new development I sensed the Lord said: ‘It’s time for you to begin modelling the ministry, like I did.’ After much hesitation, I announced we were going to start a training class with worship, teaching, and practical application. For the first lecture I had John Wimber on video. I led the practicum. The Holy Spirit ministered in a lovely way to a great many of the sixty who showed up. Some received comfort; others were healed. We decided to have a whole Saturday every month with those ingredients: worship, teaching, and ministry.
By word of mouth alone the group grew to about 350 after eight months. The team working with me had grown to about 30 persons. After each training day we evaluated, prayed, and discussed. I had learned the importance of multiplication. Your team can’t be big enough!
Passage to India
For the first two years of our marriage, my wife Marianne and I had worked with YWAM in Nepal, a country located between China and India, astride the Himalaya Mountains. For some time we had felt God was leading us back to that part of the world. In early 1989 we left for India with our three children. We ended up living in Bombay for almost four years. From the start I knew I was to invest myself in people. I constantly asked myself, ‘How can I give away what God has given me?’
I itinerated as a teacher in the discipleship training schools (DTS) which YWAM runs in different parts of the country. The theme that developed in my teaching was: ‘How to minister like Jesus.’ The teaching was simple, with lots of examples of how we should pray. After the lecture phase of the DTS, the students would go out for three months of outreach, usually involving evangelism and church planting. They came back with some amazing stories. For example:
The students were sent … to five different villages. At the end of two months they had established three fellowships in three different villages. Half the village where they stayed is ready to follow Jesus as Lord. Within the next three weeks 68 believers will be baptised. Despite all religious strongholds, barriers, Hindu militants and oppositions, God showed his mighty power through healings, and signs and wonders. Some people saw visions of Jesus hanging on the cross and showing them how much he loves them.
In that area the crops suffered from a disease. The farmers came and asked the team to pray to Jesus. The very next morning the people went to the field and discovered the disease had been totally wiped out. They came with great joy to confess their belief in Jesus since he had heard their prayers.
Once, while I was leading a small seminar, a local pastor named Garry walked in while I was praying for someone in front of the class. He left thinking, ‘I can do that.’
The first person he prayed for when he got home was his Hindu brother-in-law. For many years severe back pain had cost him many sleepless nights. The next day the brother-in-law returned, declaring the Lord Jesus had healed his back. He had slept through the night without waking up once.
Garry, who later became a good friend, had been having discussions with a strong Muslim about the Bible and the Koran. The argument always stopped where one would say ‘The Bible is the word of God’ and the other ‘The Koran is the word of God’. This time Garry took a different approach.
‘Can I pray for you?’ he asked, when he met the man again. Because Indians are among the most religious people on earth, this man, like almost everyone in India, was glad to receive prayer. As Garry put his hand on the man’s head and started praying the Muslim fell down and stayed on the floor for quite a while. Garry was puzzled! What next?
When the man got back on his feet, he shared what happened. While he was lying on the floor, he clearly heard a voice saying, ‘The Bible is the word of God!’ He went home with a Bible in his pocket.
Garry was on a roll. Wherever he went he prayed for people: in church, in the home groups, and especially in the streets while evangelising. In the time we worked together, several churches took root in the slums. People came mainly because they saw Jesus was more powerful than their own gods. Now Garry is going around equipping others to ‘minister like Jesus’.
‘Will this work?’
More and more I began to see the power of multiplication: invest yourself in a few people next to you and then let them go and do the same thing to others. You may never know the result until heaven, but it could be more powerful than the biggest healing crusade!
After a three week course, 25 YWAMers went back to their bases in different parts of the country. God had meet with us in special ways during those weeks, as we met together or as we went out to visit people and pray for them.
As two brothers went back to Varanasi, the holy city of the Hindus, they wondered, ‘Will this work back home?’ The first time they went into a Hindu village after their return, they started to worship Jesus. They intended to start a church there. Immediately the Holy Spirit started to come on people; demons manifested and were driven out. People saw the power of God and wanted to know more, providing an excellent opening to preach the Word of God.
While walking along the bank of the Ganges River, one of the brothers began talking to a Hindu priest. After a while, the Brahman complained about his headaches. Again, being highly religious, he was willing to receive prayer, even if it was offered in the name of Jesus. Under the power of God he fell down and after he got back up, his headache was completely gone. He sure wanted to know more about this powerful God!
Respect for God
India is more a continent than a country, with almost 900 million people who speak 1,600 different languages. Patrick Johnstone, in Operation World, estimates evangelical Christians comprise one per cent of the population, but the number is growing. Two thousand people groups have not been reached with the gospel yet. India must be reached by the spiritually equipped Indian church, but for a while non-Indian partners can help train and support Indian workers.
In YWAM, we have mixed teams of Indians and foreigners who plant churches, evangelise, and minister to the poor in various ways. Hindus and Muslims have great respect for God. The Hindus have millions of gods. Most Indians, especially the poor, are open to spiritual reality, and exercise great faith, upon hearing about a loving God who sent his Son to this world. In evangelism, miracles happen quickly and open many doors to preach the gospel.
I first experienced this in Bhopal, a city where some eight years ago a gas leak at the chemical plant killed at least 2,000 people. Today many still suffer the effects: eye problems, mouth sores and breathing difficulties. With a small team we visited the site where the calamity took place.
As some people gathered, one of us shared briefly who we were and our purpose for coming. One person was prayed for and got healed. More people came who wanted prayer. Some invited us to enter their huts to see those too sick to come out. We were busy for the next two hours to bless, comfort, and encourage. Many people received physical healing, saw visions of Jesus, were blessed with peace. We left many friends in this mainly Muslim community.
Of course, the nature of kingdom warfare is ‘attack – counter-attack’. The gospel does meet with opposition. Militant Hinduism is experiencing a revival. The north of India is hostile toward the gospel and to Western influence. To make one convert there is like making a hundred in the south.
An Indian friend of mine desired to work in Bihar, a state in the north, also known as ‘the graveyard of missionaries’. He had worked with me for sometime and learned more about how to minister in power evangelism. In Bihar, near the border of Nepal, he rented a home where he invited people. He shared with them, prayed for them and taught them how to pray for others. Many were blessed, healed, delivered, and came to salvation. A small church was established.
Across the border in Nepal, the spiritual atmosphere was different. Tremendous openings existed. Within a year almost a hundred people attended the newly started church! Approximately 50 churches have been planted in India by YWAM-trained workers through power evangelism.
More than eight years have passed since the visit of Paul Piller and since the conference with John Wimber in Sheffield. I have seen thousands of people who ran out of wine partake of ‘the best wine’ as I willingly brought them what I have: just plain water.
We have been enjoying a ‘season of refreshment’ from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19) in Ontario during the past twelve months. We are calling it renewal, a precursor to revival. It began when John Arnott, pastor of the Toronto Airport Vineyard invited Randy Clark, Pastor of a Vineyard church in St. Louis, to come and conduct four nights of meetings in Toronto, commencing on 20 January, 1994. (Randy Clark had been prayed for by Rodney Howard-Browne several months previously.) The Lord surprised everyone by coming in power! Toronto Airport continues to run nightly meetings, except Mondays.
Conservative estimates are that at least 75,000 different people have attended from around the world, of which 10,000 are pastors. Many of these leaders have been significantly touched, refreshed and are consequently seeing their churches renewed.
Randy Clark and John and Carol Arnott came to our church, Jubilee Vineyard Christian Fellowship, the first weekend in February, 1994, to lead meetings with us. Many of us had already been touched by the services in Toronto, but the presence and power of the Holy Spirit were dramatically manifested in our midst on this weekend. As pastor of this church of about 275 people, it was overwhelming for me to see the auditorium floor strewn with bodies like the slain upon a battlefield!
All the strange phenomena that have often accompanied revivals of the past were happening right before my eyes with adults, teens, and children alike – falling, shaking, jerking, visions, prophecies, healings, laughter and tears! On the one hand I was thrilled; I knew this was of God. Yet I was stressed out because a pastor likes to have a good handle on what is happening with those in his flock. I personally have been refreshed and touched by the Spirit of God time and time again in this fresh move of God and in ways never experienced before. The same goes for my wife and three children. In fact my kids often beg to go to the meetings! They love to see God move.
In February we ran nightly meetings for three weeks, then went to only Thursday nights. Christians from many other churches in the area have come and been touched and now good things are happening in their churches.
I am thrilled to see much good fruit in our people in all this. We have observed that God is presently refreshing his people as well as empowering them for service. For example, the shaking is often an impartation of prophetic and/or intercessory gifts. In the first few weeks we saw about a dozen converts, a couple of dozen prodigals return to the Lord, an increase in hunger for the reading of God’s word, worship and passion for Jesus, more prayer activity, physical and emotional healings, demonic bondages broken, repentance, and reconciliation in relationships.
We are seeing God raising up an army of intercessors, worshippers, prophetic people and teams to go out and minister elsewhere. We are finding the principle true: ‘freely receive, freely give’. We get to keep what we are willing to give away!
This move is not about us, not about the Vineyard. It is about God and his grace and sovereignty. And we are believing God for more waves of his Spirit to come – not just to refresh and renew the church but to powerfully touch our neighbourhoods, our cities, and the nations with full blown revival.
Let us continue to embrace the cross, submit to Scripture, and also ‘keep in step with the Spirit’. ‘The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power’ (1 Corinthians 4:20).
‘Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation’ (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Preparing for revival
Winkie Pratney (1994:8,9) suggests we try this little survey with Christians:
How many of you know we need a revival?
How many of you want a revival?
How many of you know what a revival is?
How many of you have ever experienced a true revival?
Most would raise their hands to the first two questions. In fact, according to George Gallup, Jr., in the eighties, 80% of U.S.A. wanted a revival – including the lost! But very few would have an idea as to what a genuine revival really is, let alone ever experienced one.
It is imperative at this time in history that we get a better handle on this thing called revival. Hopefully this paper (used as seminar notes on the subject) can be of some help in this need for understanding by responding to the following six questions:
1. What is revival?
2. Why is revival needed?
3. When has revival occurred before?
4. Should we expect to see revival again soon?
5. What hinders revival?
6. How can we promote revival?
1. What is revival?
The term revival is not technically found in the Bible. Neither is Trinity for that matter, yet both concepts are found throughout the Bible.
Various forms of the verb revive are frequently used as well as such words as restore, renew, awaken, and refresh, for example:
Psalm 85:6 – ‘Will you not revive us again that your people may rejoice in you’ (prayer request).
Isaiah 57:15 – ‘I revive the spirit of the humble and revive the heart of the contrite’ (promise of God).
The theme of revival is described at times in such terms as an outpouring of the Spirit (like rain or fire falling or wind blowing), the renewing of God’s mighty deeds (Habakkuk 3:2), the glory of the Lord returning to his temple (Malachi 3:1), God healing the land (2 Chronicles 7:14) and the time of God’s visitation with his manifest presence (Micah 7:4; Luke 19:44).
(a) Definitions and descriptions of revival
* To revive is ‘to live again’ (1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 13:21).
* ‘When God comes down [Isaiah 64:1,2], God’s Word comes home [Nehemiah 8-9; Acts 2:37], God’s purity comes through, God’s people come alive [Acts 2, overflow of joy and vitality], and outsiders come in’ [Acts 2:41, 47; 1 Corinthians 14:25 ‘God is really among you’] (Packer 1984:244-245; Scriptures added).
* ‘The inrush of the Spirit into a body that threatens to become a corpse’ (D. M. Panton, cited in Wallis 1956:46).
* ‘Revival is man retiring into the background because God has taken the field. It is the Lord making bare his holy arm and working in extraordinary power on saint and sinner’ (Wallis 1956:20).
* ‘Revival is divine military strategy; first to counteract spiritual decline, and then to create spiritual momentum’ (Wallis 1956:45).
* ‘Revival is like a rocket ship that gets us back up into the orbit of New Testament Christianity’ (Charles Simpson, sermon 27 May 1994).
Revival is usually comprised of two stages: internal revival or ‘renewal’ (the church is set on fire and prodigals begin to come home) followed by external revival (conversion of those outside on a mass scale).
‘True revival is marked by widespread repentance both within the church and among unbelievers’ (Wimber 1994:4).
This repentance is the result of God coming in power, revealing his holiness and our sinfulness. One comes into the agonising grip of a holy God and is brought under awesome conviction. This manifested presence of God creates a divine ‘radiation zone’.
Here are two examples:
During the 1859 revival, no town in Ulster was more deeply stirred than Coleraine. A schoolboy in class became so troubled about his soul that the schoolmaster sent him home. An older boy, a Christian, went with him and before they had gone far, led him to Christ. Returning at once to school, this new convert testified to his teacher: ‘Oh, I am so happy! I have the Lord Jesus in my heart.’ These artless words had an astonishing effect; boy after boy rose and silently left the room. Going outside the teacher found these boys all on their knees, ranged along the wall of the playground. Very soon their silent prayer became a bitter cry; it was heard by another class inside and pierced their hearts. They fell on their knees, and their cry for mercy was heard in turn by a girls’ class above. In a few moments, the whole school was on their knees! Neighbours and passers-by came flocking in and all as they crossed the threshold came under the same convicting power. ‘Every room was filled with men, women, and children seeking God’ …
During the same 1859 revival in America, ships entered a definite zone of heavenly influence as they drew near port. Ship after ship arrived with the same talk of sudden conviction and conversion. A captain and an entire crew of thirty men found Christ at sea and arrived at port rejoicing. This overwhelming sense of God bringing deep conviction of sin is perhaps the outstanding feature of true revival. Its manifestation is not always the same; to cleansed hearts it is heaven; to convicted hearts it is hell (Pratney 1994:24-25).
2. Why is revival needed?
Throughout biblical history and church history the hearts of God’s people perpetually cool off and harden towards him, creating the need for revival. Nehemiah 9:25-28 describes this cycle or pattern of spiritual decline and renewal which involves six stages (Lovelace 1979:62-80):
1. God’s people are alive and in love with him.
2. Spiritual decline – hearts are subtly cooling off.
3. Hearts of stone.
4. The Lord disciplines those he loves (for example, Israelites were taken into exile).
5. Cry for mercy – intercession and repentance.
6. God pours out his Spirit and revives his people.
Where in this cycle is the church in this country today?
3. When has revival occurred before?
The Bible records at least a dozen revivals within its history (Kaiser 1986:12-13) and many movements of renewal and revival took place prior to and including the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and the Puritan and Pietist movements of the 17th century. Here I will focus upon the major revivals of Europe and North America of the last 250 years.
Note that the intensity of a revival may last only a few years, but the effects are felt in the church and society for decades to come.
The First Awakening (1727-80)
1727-80 (approximate dates) in Germany: Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, with unity, prayer (their 24 hour prayer vigil lasted over 100 years!), and missions. Their motto was ‘To win for the Lamb that was slain the reward of his suffering.’
1734-60 in North America’s 13 colonies: Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, with prayer and preaching.
1740-80 in Great Britain: John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield with outdoor preaching and class meetings (home cells).
Revival brought many social reforms including the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. Some historians believe this revival saved England from a bloody revolution like the one in France.
Then came a gradual spiritual slide. By 1794 moral conditions had reached their worst. For example, John Marshall, Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, a concerned believer, wrote his assessment to Methodist Bishop Madison of Virginia stating, ‘The church is too far gone to ever be redeemed’. The famous agnostic Voltaire declared, ‘Christianity will be forgotten in 30 years’. Later Voltaire’s home became the headquarters for the Geneva Bible Society (Relfe 1988:26).
The Second Awakening (1792-1842)
1792 in England: William Carey, ‘Father of the modern missionary movement’ took as his motto, ‘Expect great things from God, attempt great thing for God.’
By about 1800 revival fires were burning once again in the U. S. A. In the East, Timothy Dwight was used in the college setting. On the Western frontier, James McGready, Barton Stone and Peter Cartwright gave leadership.
In 1821 Charles Finney, a lawyer, was converted and became an evangelist and social reformer. This revival was characterised by evangelistic camp meetings, social reforms and missions. Finney’s ministry overlapped the second and third awakenings.
The Third Awakening (1857-59)
1857 in North America: Called ‘the Prayer Revival’ it began when Dr Walter and Phoebe Palmer from New York City went to Hamilton, Ontario in early October. Revival broke out, then went south of the border.
Jeremiah Lanphier, a business man, began noon prayer meetings in New York City in September 1857. Within 6 months, up to 10,000 business men were praying daily for revival.
J. Edwin Orr states that ‘revival went up the Hudson and down the Mohawk. The Baptists had so many people to baptise they could not get them in the churches. They went down to the river, cut a square hole in the ice and baptised them. When Baptists do that, they really are on fire!’ (Relfe 1988:48). The revival spread from New York to Philadelphia and throughout the country. The emphasis was on prayer.
Revival spread to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well.
The fruit of this revival was 2 million converts (1 million within the church, 1 million from without) and in the following years slavery was abolished, and there were reforms in prisons, labour, education, and medical care.
Fourth Awakening (1904-7)
1904-5 in Wales: Youth and children featured in the Welsh revival. The key leader was Evan Roberts, aged 26 (and his brother Dan, aged 20, and his sister Mary, aged 16). Leaders came from around the world and were humbled to see how God used teens and children. Evan and others were not eloquent preachers but good followers of the Holy Spirit.
Their motto was ‘Bend the church and save the world’. Evan Roberts’ vision of seeing 100,000 converted in Wales was fulfilled in less than one year. People got converted just reading about the revival in the newspapers!
Crime dropped off to the point where many courtrooms and jails were empty and judges and police had very little to do. Horses in the coal mines were accustomed to obeying commands that involved yelling and cursing. Since the vast majority of miners were converted, the horses were confused with commands that were humane and wholesome, so the horses needed retraining!
Prior to the revival Wales was in a frenzy over their favourite sport, soccer. With the revival, the stadiums stood empty. No-one preached against soccer. The players and fans had simply become so captivated with the Lord that they were no longer interested in the game (Joyner 1993:51).
The fire spread throughout Great Britain, Scandinavia, Europe, Africa, India, Korea, as well as the U.S.A. The pastors of Atlantic City, New Jersey, reported only 50 adults not converted in a population of 50,000! The First Baptist Church in Paducoh, Kentucky, had 1,000 converts in two months and the elderly pastor, Dr J. J. Cheek, died of exhaustion (Krupp 1988:22).
In California, Bartleman, Seymore, and Smale were impacted by the reports and booklets on the revival in Wales in 1905 as well as from letters of encouragement from Evan Roberts. Shortly thereafter the Azusa Street Revival erupted into the great Pentecostal Revival that saw 5 million converts from 1905-7 and continues to impact millions of lives to this day.
The twentieth century has been called by some ‘The Century of the Holy Spirit’. Although we have not witnessed a major revival since the turn of the century, since 1947 God has been bringing smaller scaled revivals and renewal movements such as:
1947-53 – the Latter Rain movement in western Canada and the U.S.A.
1949 – Hebrides Islands, Scotland.
Here is a wonderful example of how a revival causes a geographical area to become a divine ‘radiation zone’ of conviction and repentance.
Duncan Campbell, en evangelist, came to the Island of Lewis in the Hebrides Islands. On the first night of his arrival, he preached in a church building. When he left the building at 11 p.m. he found 600 gathered outside, 100 from the nearby dance hall, the other 500 who had been awakened, got out of bed, and felt compelled to walk to this place. Campbell preached the gospel to them till 4 a.m., at which time he was requested to come to the police station where 400 people were gathered, baffled as to why they were there. On his way to the station he came across other people along the road who were crying out to God for mercy! Revival continued for 3 years with 75% of the converts coming to Jesus outside of church buildings (Krupp 1988:26-7).
The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of the charismatic renewal movement, including the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the ‘Third Wave’ movement’ or the ‘signs and wonders’ movement and the ‘prophetic’ movement. Peter Wagner describes three waves of the Holy Spirit in this century, each continuing to be used by God: the Pentecostal movement, the charismatic movement (largely in the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches), and the ‘Third Wave’ movement which is primarily impacting the evangelical churches.
4. Should we expect to see revival again soon?
Many ‘third world’ countries in Africa, and Central and South America, as well as China and Korea, have been experiencing revival fires for a number of years.
Why should we expect to see revival again soon?
a. Biblical texts that create such expectation include:
Habakkuk 2:14 – ‘for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ (Reinhard Bonnke, evangelist in Africa, says, ‘not one spot stays dry at the bottom of the sea.’)
Joel 2:23 – ‘He sends you abundant showers, both autumn (early) and spring (latter) rains.’ Early rains soften the ground, making it suitable for ploughing and sowing. With the approach of harvest, heavy rain (latter) returns to swell and mature grain and fruit in preparation for the time of reaping. Pentecost marked the beginning of former rains. After the Reformation, outpourings became more distinct and significant. Latter rain is in preparation for the day of harvest.
Joel 2:28, 31 – ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people … before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.’
Acts 2 – Pentecost, a partial fulfilment of Joel.
Acts 3:19,20 – ‘repent, turn to God, …..
John 14:12 – ‘will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these’ (miracles). Not fulfilled yet!
John 17 – In his priestly prayer, Jesus prays for Christian unity. This prayer has not been fulfilled yet. Of all the prayers the Father answers, would not his Son’s be answered? Rick Joyner says, ‘ Jesus is coming back for a bride, not a harem.’
Ephesians 5:26,27 – Jesus is preparing the bride to be presented to himself as pure, holy and radiant.
b. Based on previous patterns, revival usually occurs in a day of deep moral and spiritual bankruptcy. ‘Before a great awakening, there must come a rude awakening’ (Murillo 1985:11). The worst of times, in other words, precipitates the best of times. Who could deny the desperate need for a mighty revival in our day? Famine, poverty, pollution, war, crime, abortion, drug abuse, massive economic instability, and such like, stare us in the face. Nate Krupp (1988:34) argues that ‘we are at a point in history where it is either world revival or world destruction.’
c. Church historians, theologians and church leaders are predicting it. Many leaders have discerned that God is up to something big! He’s preparing new wineskins for the new wine, a fireplace for the fire, and barns for the harvest. Many even say that previous revivals are but a rehearsal for the big ones to come. ‘Our study of awakening movements only turns up what appear to be rehearsals for some final revelation of the full splendour of God’s kingdom… It is hard to believe that God will not grant the church some greater experience of wholeness and vitality than has yet appeared in the stumbling record of her history’ (Lovelace 1979:425).
d. Many prophets of our day in unison are expecting it in the 1990s and beyond. These include Mike Bickle, Paul Cain, Rick Joyner, and John Paul Jackson.
e. The growing emphasis on prayer. Prayer mobilisation today is unprecedented in history. Examples include men’s prayer movements, women’s intercessory groups, youth in schools, Marches for Jesus, ’10-40 Window’ prayer project, city wide pastors’ prayer fellowships, and so on. History demonstrates that revival is always preceded by a groundswell of prayer.
f. It’s God’s heart to bring revival. He longs to renew, restore, awaken us, and redeem humanity much more than we want him to. God is committed to renew his people and see the nations come to himself. ‘Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance’ (Psalm 2:8).
5. What hinders revival?
Don’t be a ‘fire-fighter’ or a ‘wet blanket’.
From a safe distance of several hundred years or several thousand miles, revival clearly looks invigorating. What could be more glamorous than a mighty work of God in our midst, renewing thousands and converting tens of thousands. … But if we find ourselves in the midst of revival, rather than being invigorated, we may be filled with scepticism, disgust, anger, or even fear…
The irony of revivals is that they are so longed for in times of barrenness, but they are commonly opposed and feared when they arrive. … The hostility in never to the idea of revival, which is ardently prayed for, but to God’s answer to our prayers and the unexpected form it may take (White 1988:34, 39).
Why does revival produce all this opposition?
‘We grow angry when we are scared. We fear what we cannot understand’ (White 1988:41).
a. Fear of change and losing control
We are creatures of habit (as in nostalgia, traditionalism); changes unsettle us. We fear the unknown, the unfamiliar, and the unpredictable.
b. Fear of emotions
We should be scared of emotionalism, the artificial manipulation of emotion, but emotion itself comes from seeing, from understanding. When the Holy Spirit awakens people, he seems to cause them to perceive truth more vividly … people see their sin as stinking cancer that will kill them and see the mercy of the Saviour with the eyes of those who have been snatched from a horrible death (White 1988:51).
Jonathan Edwards called emotions ‘holy affections’ and said they are essential for spiritual life. A hear heart (heart of stone) is an unaffected heart, a heart not moved by divine truth and revelation.
c. Fear of bizarre behaviour
Examples of unusual behaviour in revivals include shaking, jerking, falling, weeping, screaming, laughing, prophesying and being ‘drunk in the spirit’.
Three questions must be asked about this:
i. Has it happened among the people of God before (the biblical and historical precedence)?
ii. What is the fruit of it?
iii. How do we explain these phenomena?
i. Has it happened before?
Yes, these phenomena of bizarre behaviour have happened among God’s people during heightened spiritual activity. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that
it comes nearer to being the rule in revival that phenomena begin to manifest themselves – phenomena such as these … people are in agony of soul and groaning … sometimes people are so convicted and feel the power of the Spirit to such an extent that they faint and fall to the ground. Sometimes there are even convulsions, physical convulsions. And sometimes people seem to fall into a state of unconsciousness, into a kind of trance, and many remain like that for hours (1987:110-111).
There are also certain mental phenomena… You will find this phenomena of prophecy, this ability to foretell the future, frequently present (1987:135).
Martyn Lloyd-Jones goes onto say that ‘these phenomena are not essential to revival … yet it is true to say that, on the whole, they do tend to be present when there is a revival (1987:134). John White’s research has brought him to the same conclusion.
Note these biblical examples:
1. 1 Samuel 10:11 – Saul was in a trance, prophesying when the Spirit came upon him (also 1 Samuel 19:23-24).
2. 2 Chronicles 5:13-14 – The glory of the Lord filled the temple so the priests were unable to stand to minister.
3. Ezekiel 1:28; 3:23; 43:4; 44:4 – Ezekiel fell face down before the glory of the Lord.
4. Daniel 8:17-18 – Daniel collapsed and sank into a deep sleep during a vision and an angelic visitation (also Daniel 10:7-11 – no strength left; on the ground trembling).
5. Matthew 17:6; Luke 9:32 – On the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples fell face down to the ground, but also became heavy with sleep.
6. John 18:6 – When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus they fell to the ground when Jesus said, “I am he”.
7. Matthew 28:4 – On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection the guards at the tomb ‘shook and became like dead men’.
8. Acts 2 – At the Day of Pentecost the place shook, they spoke in strange tongues, and they behaved like being drunk. Peter responded (Acts 2:15) that ‘they are not drunk as you suppose’. Paul makes a comparison between being drunk with wine and being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
9. Acts 9 – Saul on the road to Damascus fell to the ground, blinded by the glory. Later, in a trance-like condition he had a vision (2 Corinthians 12).
10. Revelation 1:17 – The apostle John said, ‘When I saw him I fell at his feet as though dead.’
Not only in Scripture do we find that frail human bodies are affected by the manifest presence of God, but most revivals in history have had physical and emotional manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Some examples:
1. Jonathan Edwards, the great leader of the First Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s in New England wrote to a friend saying, ‘many of the young people and children appeared to be overcome with a sense of the greatness and glory of divine things … and many others at the same time were overcome with distress about their sinful and miserable state and condition; so that the whole room was full of nothing but outcries, faintings and such like. … many were overpowered and continued there for some hours (Stacy 1842:546 in DeArteaga 1992:39-40).
2. John Wesley and George Whitefield spoke of the strange physical phenomena that took place in their meetings in England as well. Wesley describes in his Journal:
Monday, Jan. 1, 1739 – Mr Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitfield, Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord’ (MacNutt 1990:98).
Following the two events of John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, May 24, 1738, and this January 1, 1739 encounter, the supernatural element in his ministry became more pronounced. For fourteen years it was hardly there; for the next fifty it was (MacNutt 1990:98).
3. MacNutt (1990: 104) tells us that early in George Whitefield’s career,
when he was working with Wesley in England and people started to fall, Whitefield decided to register a protest by letter: ‘I cannot think it right in you to give so much encouragement to these convulsions which people have been thrown into in your ministry.’ Ironically enough, when Whitefield came to confront Wesley in person he found himself reprimanded by reality, for when he, Whitefield, was preaching the next day, ‘four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without sense or motion. A second trembled exceedingly. The third has strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans. The fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cries and tears. From this time,’ Wesley writes, ‘I trust we shall all suffer God to carry on his own work in the way that pleaseth him.’
‘By the time he journeyed to America, Whitefield’s preaching was ordinarily accompanied by people toppling over:
Some were struck pale as death, others were wringing their hands, others lying on the ground, other sinking into the arms of their friends’ (Dallimore 1980:392-3, cited in MacNutt 1990:104).
4. Bishop Francis Ashbury, appointed by Wesley in 1771 as a missionary to the colonies, was a very disciplined man who insisted on meetings being conducted in a proper fashion, yet his meetings were characterised by shouting, falling, crying, and the ‘jerks’ (MacNutt 1990:107).
5. At the Cane Ridge camp meetings of 1801, which featured mostly Presbyterian preachers, one observer reported that
The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm… Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying for mercy in the most piteous accents… While witnessing these scenes, a peculiarly-strange sensation, such as I had never felt before, came over me. My heart beat tumultuously, my knees trembled, my lip quivered, and I felt as though I must fall to the ground… Soon after, I left and went into the woods, and there I strove to rally and man up my courage…
After some time I returned… At one time I saw at least five hundred, swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them, and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the very heavens (Johnson 1955:64-5; MacNutt 1990:109).
6. Peter Cartwright, one of the prominent camp meeting evangelists in the Kentucky area, spoke of the phenomena of the ‘jerks’: ‘… no matter whether they were saints or sinners, they would be taken under a warm song or sermon and seized with a convulsive jerking all over, which they could not by any possibility avoid, and the more they resisted the more they jerked… The first jerk or so, you would see their fine bonnets, caps and combs fly; and so sudden would be the jerking of the head that their loose hair would crack almost as loud as a wagoner’s whip’ (Cartwright 1956:17-18).
7. Charles Finney, at the village schoolhouse near Antwerp, New York, describes the phenomena of falling under the awesome power of God’s presence and conviction: ‘An awful solemnity seemed to settle upon the people; the congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction and cry for mercy. If I had a sword in each hand, I could not have cut them down as fast as they fell. I was obliged to stop preaching’ (cited in Pratney 1994:24).
8. Note how the Quakers and Shakers got their nicknames!
Yes, cases of physical phenomena have been observed throughout the ages whenever there has been heightened spiritual activity.
ii. What is the fruit of all this?
Jonathan Edwards wrote a treatise in 1741 called The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. Edwards asked his readers to assess the awakening by looking past the enthusiastic behaviour and seeing the ultimate spiritual fruit. He argued that the authenticity of God’s hand in the revival was demonstrated by five ‘sure, distinguishing, Scripture evidences’. It
1. raises the esteem of Jesus in the community;
2. works against the kingdom of Satan;
3. stimulates a greater regard for the Holy Scriptures;
4. is marked by a spirit of truth;
5. manifests a renewed love for God and people (Edwards 1971, 1984:109-115).
In his concluding section, Edwards exhorted his readers not to oppose the Spirit of God in the revival for this is to commit the unpardonable sin of Matthew 12:22-32. Edwards’ warning went unheeded by and large. By 1742 a majority of the New England clergy had come to the conclusion that the Great Awakening was merely an epidemic of emotionalism and what was needed was a return to sound theology. Rev. Charles Chauncey of Boston became the brilliant champion against the revival. He effectively articulated all the doubts, fears and criticisms of the revival. His books became best sellers and ensured the defeat of the Awakening. ‘When Whitefield arrived in 1744 practically all the pulpits were closed to him, and the wind had gone out of the Awakening’ (DeArteaga 1992:52).
It’s worth noting the fruit at the end of the lives of these two prominent figures, Edwards and Chauncey. In 1757, Edwards became president of Princeton, but when he arrived in the area there was a threat of a smallpox outbreak. To set an example, he was quick to volunteer to take the experimental vaccine. He became ill and died. Chauncey became one of the founding theologians of Unitarianism which discarded the Trinity and advocated universal salvation. Chauncey is no longer considered a hero who saved the people from emotionalism. He is now ‘seen as a religious bureaucrat who defended the status quo without comprehending the deeper issues of revival’ (DeArteaga 1992:54).
iii. How do we explain these phenomena?
We must recognise the element of mystery in God’s dealings with us. We should hold explanations tentatively and humbly.
Some explain it as the work of Satan. However, Martyn Lloyd-Jones questions, ‘Why should the Devil suddenly start dong this kind of thing? Here is the Church in a period of dryness, and of drought, so why should the Devil suddenly do something which calls attention to religion and the Lord Jesus Christ? The very results of revival, I would have thought, completely exclude the possibility of this being the action of the Devil… [see Luke 11:14-18]. If this is the work of the Devil, well then the Devil is an unutterable fool. He is dividing his own kingdom; he is increasing the Kingdom of God… There is nothing which is so ridiculous as this suggestion that this is the work of the Devil’ (Lloyd-Jones 1987:141-2).
What is the true explanation?
When God sovereignly visits an individual or group of human beings, his manifest presence and power often affects their bodies in some way. John White (1988:23) states, ‘God is, of course, present everywhere. But there seems to be times when he is, as it were, more present – or shall we say more intensely present. He seems to draw aside one or two layers of a curtain that protects us from Him, exposing our fragility to the awesome energies of his being.’
Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1987:145-6) tells us that ‘we must never forget that the Holy Spirit affects the whole person… You see, man is body, soul, and spirit, and you cannot divide these… Man reacts as a whole. And it is just folly to expect that he can react in the realm of the spiritual without anything at all happening to the rest of him, to the soul, and to the body… these phenomena are indications of the fact that some very powerful stimulus is in operation. Something is happening which is so powerful that the very physical frame is involved.’
Lloyd-Jones also argues that such strange phenomena are a means that God uses to get our attention (1987:145). God is shaking us to wake us up (Ephesians 5:14).
God is also humbling us! Paul Cain says, ‘God often offends the mind to reveal the heart.’
Both John White and Martyn Lloyd-Jones conclude that although a small portion of such strange behaviour would be of the flesh (the person’s own need for acceptance and attention) or a demonic manifestation, the bulk of such activity in revival originates from the power and glory of God.
We should not be fixated on the manifestations, but on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ!
d. Fear of disorder
Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, declared that ‘revival is a season of glorious disorder’ (Relfe 1988:8).
Martyn Lloyd Jones (1987:103) points out that ‘always in a revival there is what somebody once called a divine disorder. Some are groaning and agonising under conviction, others praising God for the great salvation. And all this leads to crowded and prolonged meetings. Time seems to be forgotten. People seem to have entered into eternity. A meeting may start at six-thirty in the evening, and it may not end until daybreak the next morning with nobody aware of the passing of the hours.’
We don’t like it when meetings get messy and unpredictable. It is embarrassing and offensive to most of us. But John White (1988:35) reminds us that ‘revival is war, and war is never tidy. It is an intensifying of the age-old conflict between Christ and the powers of darkness.’
John Wimber (1985:31) offers this analogy: ‘When warm and cold fronts collide, violence ensues: thunder and lightning, rain or snow – even tornadoes or hurricanes. There is conflict, and a resulting release of power. It is disorderly, messy – difficult to control.’
Understandably we prefer peace, decency, and order. We say, ‘God is a God of order’ but we must realise that to bring in order is sometimes a disorderly process… Chaos and darkness flee but they create a ruckus as they leave (White 1988:44).
Edwards was so convinced of this disorderly process as part of the work of God’s Spirit that he cried, ‘Would to God that all the public assemblies in the land were broken off from their public exercises with such confusion as this next Sabbath day (1741, 1984:127).
Again, John White (1988:45) argues that ‘if we insist that revival must be “decent and orderly” (as we define those terms) we automatically blind ourselves to most revivals. Like the dwarfs in C. S. Lewis’ children’s story The Last Battle, we may spit out heavenly food, for to us it looks like, smells like, tastes like dung and straw.’
Question: Am I missing the burning bush for trying to keep the lawn cut?
e. Fear of controversy
We all shy away from controversy. However, the fact remains, ‘renewal has always been controversial and will always be controversial. We must be ready for it (Mallone 1985:42).
Jonathan Edwards said, ‘a work of God without stumbling blocks is never to be expected’ (Works 2:273).
John Wesley prayed, ‘Lord send us revival without its defects but if this is not possible, send revival, defects and all (Bartleman 1980:45).
If we find a revival that is not spoken against, we had better look again to ensure that it is a revival… No one would pretend to claim that every revival burns with a smokeless flame (Wallis 1956:26).
Remember, wherever Jesus or the apostle Paul went there was confrontation. Riots and controversy occurred. Luther, Wesley, Whitefield and Edwards were extremely controversial characters in their day – some kicked out of their churches! But once the dust settled centuries later, they have come to be highly revered and seen as fighters for orthodox Christianity.
Further objections and concerns that many may find themselves struggling with are included here. I am indebted to Bill Jackson of Champaign, Illinois Vineyard for his unpublished paper of April, 1994, called ‘What in the world is happening to us?’ for the following section extracted from this paper with his permission.
1. It’s hard to understand
A. Our presupposition: If it were God, I would understand it. …
B. All through the Bible, God revealed himself in ways that were hard to understand.
1. God’s chosen people for the most part misunderstood Jesus. Pharisees said he was in league with Beelzebub, which was a term for the devil.
2. The disciples didn’t understand the mission of Jesus until the Holy Spirit came (Acts 2).
3. The Jews as a whole never understood that God’s heart was for all the nations. Even the disciples were shocked that God would offer the gospel to the Gentiles, law free. They muse in amazement in Acts 11:18, ‘So then God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life!’
4. Historically, God has moved in ways that are hard to understand. The classic example of this is martyrdom. Martyrdom has always been an explosive key to church growth. One of the early church fathers, Tertullian, said, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’.
2. It makes me afraid
A. Our presupposition: If it were God, I wouldn’t be afraid.
B. Visitations produce fear throughout the Bible.
1. Lightning, thunder, and smoke on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19).
2. Daniel in Chapter 10 had a great vision: ‘I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale, and I was helpless.’ The angel, Gabriel, had to say, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ because he was terrified.
3. Great fear seized the whole church in Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead through a prophetic word when they lied to the Holy Spirit.
C. Note: This fear is not the same fear as that which comes from Satan. 2 Timothy 1:7 says that God has not given us a spirit of fear. The devil’s fear robs us of faith and hope and renders us incapable of love. There is, however, a godly fear that the Bible says is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). It is this kind of fear that is produced by divine visitations. It results in a more godly life.
D. How could a visitation of a holy God on sinful people not produce fear?
1. How could our finite minds expect to understand the infinite ways of God? He is completely beyond us and holy.
2. Fear is caused by:
a) the holiness of God coming in contact with our sinfulness.
b) our anti-supernatural world view. Since we have no supernatural category in our western world view, when we encounter the supernatural we encounter the fear of the unknown. It causes the psychological state known as cognitive dissonance. We receive data that does not fit and it causes feelings of insecurity.
3. It causes division
A. Our presupposition: If it were God, there would be no division.
B. There are two kinds of division:
1. When the kingdom of light clashes with the kingdom of darkness, it causes godly division. Jesus said he had not come to bring peace but a sword. ‘A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ (Matthew 10:36).
2. Backbiting, slander, and rebellion are ungodly because they cause the kingdom to be divided against itself.
C. Godly division is thoroughly biblical:
1. Korah was judged for his rebellion against Moses (Numbers 11).
2. Jesus caused division wherever he went.
3. The inclusion of Gentiles in the church caused division (Acts 15).
D. Godly division is thoroughly historical:
1. The Great Awakening broke out in New Jersey in 1725 and was violently opposed by more traditional churches.
2. G. Campbell Morgan called the Pentecostal Movement ‘the last vomit of Satan’.
3. Leaders in the previous move of God often persecute the present one.
4. God over-rides my faculties
A. Our presupposition: God is always a gentleman and would never force anything upon us.
B. The Bible seems to say something else:
1. God is God and he does what he wants. In Isaiah, God says, ‘I say my purpose will stand and I will do all that I please” (46:11).
2. God over-rode Balaam in Numbers 23 and caused Balaam to prophesy against his will.
3. God over-rode Saul and his men in 1 Samuel 19, and caused them to prophecy instead of killing David.
4. Jesus blinded Paul on the road to Damascus against his will.
5. God’s killing of Ananias and Sapphira is the ultimate over-ride.
6. Far from treating us gently, God has promised his people persecution.
5. It causes me to be the centre of attention
A. Our presupposition: If it were God, he would not do it publicly.
B. Quite to the contrary, God often uses the person to be the message:
1. In Ezekiel 4-5, Ezekiel is told by God to lie on his side, naked, to shave his head and beard. God made him the centre of attention because he, himself, was the message.
2. Jeremiah was told to smash a jar in Jeremiah 18-19 to draw attention to his message.
3. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute as a message to the nation of Israel.
4. Ananias and Sapphira can be used as yet another example because their dead bodies were the message.
5. Stephen was ‘glowing’ when he was killed.
6. It doesn’t happen to me
A. Our presupposition: When God moves, the same things happen to everyone.
B. Biblical perspective:
1. It’s simply not true that some people seem to be ‘favoured’ while others are not. God’s love is for the whole world. Under his sovereignty he treats everyone in a way that is beneficial for them. God ultimately determines what is best for us.
2. Jesus healed only one man at the pool of Bethesda despite the fact that there were many sick present (John 5). This in no way meant that God loved the man who was healed more than the ones who weren’t. Jesus said that he only did what he saw the Father doing and the father was somehow loving all those at the pool that day.
7. A final caution
A. It’s okay to have questions about what is happening but we must try to be honest about the motive behind our questions. What causes the questions?
1. If it’s because of your personality, that’s okay. But let’s not let our personalities keep us from being touched by God during this season of divine visitation.
2. If it’s because you are a ‘noble Berean’ (Acts 17:10-11), that’s to be commended.
a) Search for the truth diligently.
b) When you find it, press in.
3. If it’s because you are afraid:
a) Ask God why.
b) Don’t run. If this is God, then you would be turning your back on him.
B. After the crucifixion, the disciples had questions too. The Jesus who walked with two of them on the road to Emmaus and opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures is the same Jesus who walks in our midst by the person of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:13-35). He will open our minds as well (Jackson 1994).
My conclusion to this section:
Today we need the fire of God. Some are afraid of wildfire but there are always enough ‘wet blankets’ around to dampen it.
On the Day of Pentecost, the crowd responded to the supernatural manifestations of the spirit in three ways: some were amazed, some perplexed, and others mocked. Each generation has been no different.
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (1986:25) urges us to study past revivals because ‘once we know how the Lord has acted in the past, we should be better prepared to accept the special working of God when it arrives… Every one of our preconceptions and built-in limitations concerning what God can or cannot do or what he is likely or not likely to do in exact detail must be jettisoned.’
In other words, don’t put God in a box. Let God be God! He is the Great I Am, not the Great I Was! His thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55). We should expect to have difficulty understanding and agreeing with the way God does things at times!
We are wise to take the advice of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: ‘we must be careful in these matters… What do we know of the Spirit falling on people? What do we know about these great manifestations of the Holy Spirit? We need to be very careful lest we be found fighting against God, lest we be guilty of quenching the Spirit of God’ (White 1988:13).
6. How can we promote revival?
Taking a survey on the street, a reporter asked a hurried pedestrian, ‘Sir, do you know the two greatest problems in the world today?’ The man responded, ‘I don’t know and I don’t care.’ Without missing a beat, the reporter declared, ‘You got them both!’ (ignorance and apathy).
We can overcome ignorance and apathy concerning revival. How can we promote revival?
1. We need to care
We need to care that God works in our nation. Note that Nehemiah had a cushy job as a cupbearer to the king but left to rebuild the walls.
2. We need to get informed
We need to get the big picture!
Read the Bible. Read biographies of leaders of past revivals. Go where the fire is, such as conferences and places where God is moving powerfully, and get first-hand exposure and experience. It is irresponsible to criticise that which you know nothing about. Slander is sin.
3. Cultivate daily intimacy with the Lord
This is what John Wimber calls ‘developing a personal history with God’. Develop personal disciplines that cultivate a passion for Jesus such as prayer, fasting, Bible study, worship and obedience in the small things.
Jack Deere (1993:201) urges us to pray the following prayer on a daily basis: ‘Father, grant me power from the Holy Spirit to love the Son of God like You love him (John 17:26).
Don’t despise the day of small beginnings. Learn to hear God’s voice and catch his heart. Get spiritually prepared so that when God’s zero hour strikes, you’re fit for action.
4. Intercessory prayer
Note these Scriptures and quotes, and many like them:
2 Chronicles 7:14 – ‘If my people… will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’
Isaiah 62:6-7 – ‘You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till…’
Isaiah 64:1 – ‘Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.’
‘God does nothing but in answer to prayer’ (Wesley).
‘Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of his highest willingness’ (Luther).
‘Prayer is rebellion against the status quo’ (David Wells).
‘Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as worthy’ (John Piper).
‘Give me Scotland or I die’ (John Knox).
‘There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer’ (A. T. Pierson in Bryant 1984:40).
‘When God has something very great to accomplish for his Church, it is his will that there should precede it, the extraordinary prayers of his people’ (Edwards, Works 1:426).
Some argue that revival is sovereign and you can’t do anything to make it happen, while others say you can pray and bring it about. I believe God initiates the prayer that precedes a revival; and in this hour he is stirring the church to be united, aggressive, and persistent in prayer for God to act and move again.
5. Be willing to pay the price
Are you willing to receive a divine ‘baptism of desperation’, a ‘holy dissatisfaction’ that puts your reputation, dignity and personal peace at risk?
We need to have the courage to be honest with God and say with Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest, ‘If what I have is all the Christianity there is, then the things is a fraud’ (Brown 1991:28).
We must force a crisis in our lives… when our very being aches with desire for his visitation, when we are consumed with hunger for his reality, when we radically cut back on other activities in order to seek his face, then we are ripe for transformation (Brown 1991:29).
We need to surrender our puny agendas, our need for security, safety and comfort zones. As Hebrews 11 tells us, we are not to shrink back and displease the Lord but to become risk-takers in this adventure of participating in the Kingdom of God.
Christians ought to be old friends with risk and when a church or an individual Christian builds a wall of safety, something very basic to the Christian faith has been violated… Christians ought to be the most gutsy people on the face of the earth (Brown 1983:113-114).
We must have more confidence in God’s ability to lead us than in Satan’s ability to deceive us (Deere 1993:215; see also Luke 11:11-13).
Arthur Wallis (1956:10) says, ‘If you would make the greatest success of your life, try to discover what God is doing in your time and fling yourself into the accomplishment of his purpose and will.’
We, like Peter in the boat during a storm, need to hear Jesus’ words, ‘Do not be afraid,’ and his invitation to ‘come’ and walk on water with him.
God’s gracious disposition is always toward revival and he only looks to see if there is a people, a generation who dares enough and cares enough to pay the price. ‘Now is the time to sanctify ourselves for tomorrow God will do wonders among us’ (Joshua 3:5).
Scripture quotations from the New International Version of the Bible (1973, 1978, 1984).
Bartleman, Frank (1980) Azusa Street. Logos.
Brown, Michael (1991) Whatever Happened to the Power of God? Destiny Image.
Brown, Stephen (1983) If God is in Charge. Nelson.
Bryant, David (1984) With Concerts of Prayer. Regal.
Cartwright, Peter (1956) Autobiography of Peter Cartwright. Abingdon.
DeArteaga, William (1992) Quenching the Spirit. Creation House.
Deere, Jack (1993) Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. Zondervan.
Dallimore, Arnold (1980) George Whitefield. Vol. 2. Crossway.
Edwards, Jonathan (1974, 1992 reprinted) Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vols 1 & 2.
Banner of Truth.
Edwards, Jonathan (1741, 1984) The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.
Banner of Truth.
Jackson, Bill (1994) ‘What in the World is Happening to Us?’ Unpublished paper.
Johnson, Charles (1955) The Frontier Camp Meeting. Methodist University Press.
Joyner, Rick (1993) The World Aflame. Morningstar.
Kaiser Jr., Walter C. (1986) Quest for Renewal (Revival in the Old Testament). Moody.
Krupp, Nate (1984, 1988) The Triumphant Church. Destiny Image.
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn (1987) Revival. Crossway.
Lovelace, Richard (1979) Dynamics of Spiritual Life. InterVarsity.
MacNutt, Francis (1990) Overcome by the Spirit. Chosen.
Mallone, George (1985) Canadian Revival: It’s Our Turn. Welch.
Murillo, Mario (1985) Critical Mass. Anthony Douglas.
Packer, J. I. (1984) Keep in Step with the Spirit. Revell.
Pratney, Winkie (1994) Revival. Huntingdon House.
Relfe, Mary Stewart (1988) Cure of All Ills. League of Prayer.
Wallis, Arthur (1956) In the Day of Thy Power. Cityhill.
Wallis, Arthur (1979) Rain from Heaven. Hodder & Stoughton.
White, John (1988) When the Spirit Comes with Power. InterVarsity.
Wimber, John (1985) Power Evangelism. Hodder & Stoughton.
Wimber, John (1994) Equipping the Saints, Fall Quarter.
Pastor John Wimber, leader of the Vineyard Christian Fellowships, wrote this leadership letter in May 1994 about current moves of the Spirit of God in the Vineyard and in other churches around the world including Australia.
In recent months the Holy Spirit has been falling in meetings throughout the Vineyard. This season of visitation began about the same time in Toronto, Canada at the Airport Vineyard and in Anaheim, California, then rippled out across America, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and to other parts of the world by now.
As the leader of the Vineyard, I am often asked, ‘What is this?’ and ‘Is this revival?’
My answer is, in my opinion, not yet. But it is the only thing that becomes revival. We’re seeing the early stages of an outpouring of the Spirit of God. Some have estimated that as many as 80,000 individuals have been significantly touched and revived to date [200,000 by February 1995]. It has not yet evolved into what most church historians define as revival: an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the church and then in the aftermath, through the church into the community resulting in the conversion of thousands.
What is revival? I like John White’s definition: ‘an action of God whereby he pours out his Holy Spirit, initially upon the church, and it comes as an alternative to his judgment which is about to fall on the church and on the secular world’ (John White, ‘Prayer and Renewal’ course, Canadian Theological Seminary, 1 July 1991).
True revival is marked by widespread repentance both within the church, and among unbelievers. Although as many as four thousand have been converted to date (in various Vineyard churches by May 1994) we’ve not yet seen the dynamic of thousands and thousands of people coming to Christ rapidly. Of course, that is our prayer and I thought that it would be helpful to review some basic things concerning revival to get us focused.
During the last approximately 17 years God has poured out his Spirit, beginning in what is now called the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim and extending through us to churches all over the United States, Canada and Europe, as well as to other places in the world.
Beginning some time in September of ’76, Bob Fulton, Carol Wimber, Carl Tuttle, along with others, began assembling at the home of Carl Tuttle’s sister. The agenda was simple: praying, worshipping and seeking the Lord. By the time I came several months later, the Spirit of God was already moving powerfully. There was a great brokenness and responsiveness in the hearts of many. This evolved into what became our church on Mother’s Day in 1977.
Soon God began dealing with me about the work of the Spirit related to healing. I began teaching in this area. Over the next year and a half God began visiting in various and sundry ways. There were words of knowledge, healing, casting out of demons, and conversions.
Later we saw an intensification of this when Lonnie Frisbee came and ministered. Lonnie had been a Calvary Chapel pastor and evangelist, being used mightily in the Jesus People Movement. After our Sunday morning service on Mother’s Day 1979, I was walking out the door behind Lonnie, and the Lord told me, ‘Ask that young man to give his testimony tonight.’ I hadn’t even met him, though I knew who he was and how the Lord had used him in the past. That night, after he gave his testimony, Lonnie asked the Holy Spirit to come and the repercussions were incredible. The Spirit of God literally knocked people to the floor and shook them silly. Many people spoke in tongues, prophesied or had visions.
Then over the next few months, hundreds and hundreds of people came to Christ as the result of the witness of the individuals who were touched that night, and in the aftermath. The church saw approximately 1,700 converted to Christ in a period of about three months.
This evolved into a series of opportunities, beginning in 1980, to minister around the world. Thus the Vineyard renewal ministry and the Vineyard movement were birthed.
Ebbs and flows
By July of 1993, VCF (Vineyard Christian Fellowship) Anaheim had an ongoing interaction with the Holy Spirit in which we’d had ebbs and flows. There were times when we had a great sense of nearness and times in which there seemed to be a withdrawal to some degree. But there was never a time in which God was not willing to bless, heal, deliver and touch people. It just wasn’t with the same intensity that we’d had early on. Sometimes your family may have fillet mignon for dinner, and sometimes you have leftovers. But you still eat, and you’re thankful for whatever it is you have to eat.
Most of you know about the discovery of my cancer in April of 1993 and the ensuing treatment. In July of 1993, right before the International Vineyard Pastor’s Conference began, the Holy Spirit spoke to Carol, my wife. He told her I was to go to the nations. We understood then it meant going to the church in the nations, as over against going to evangelise the lost of the world. This in my mind meant a ministry of renewal and revival.
Carol responded, ‘Lord, my husband is sleeping 20-22 hours a day. He has no voice. Tomorrow pastors from all over the world are going to be here and he won’t even be able to participate. If this is indeed your will, touch him tonight. Please give him his voice back so that he may minister.’
That’s exactly what he did the next morning. I woke up able to speak and with just barely enough energy to go and participate in the conference. It was a very blessed event for me as well as for those that love me in the Vineyard.
By October of 1993 God had spoken 27 times confirming that I should go to the nations. Seventeen times he spoke in the same context and said that this would be a ‘season of new beginnings’. The Lord was saying, ‘I’m going to start it all over again. I’m going to pour out my Spirit in your midst like I did in the beginning…
I felt like Abraham might have felt when he was waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises. The New Testament credits Abraham with not wavering in his faith. He had faith that God was going to do it, but I’m sure Abraham and Sarah had a few moments when they wondered how it was going to come together. (That’s how Ishmael came about.) Anyway, I was looking at my age – 59, going on 90. I was coming through an incredibly tough year with the cancer. The church had endured the season of adversity coming through it with a new sturdiness and strength. I saw a new strength in our movement. I knew God was moving.
But I looked at myself, and thought, I’m out of energy. In my spirit I was just murmuring, ‘Oh God, oh God’. And at that point (mid January) the Lord gave me a word. I heard myself say: Shall I have this pleasure in my old age? The very words that Sarah laughingly said to herself when she overheard the Lord say she was going to have a son from her 90-year-old womb by her 100-year-old husband (Gen. 18:10). This was a word of life from the Lord, and it touched me deeply.
I had brought this message of new beginnings to our AVC (Association of Vineyard Churches) National Board and Council meeting in November of 1993 at Palm Springs. Then the Lord confirmed this word in the hearts and minds of our national leadership. They laid hands on Bob Fulton and me and they blessed us to go, and stir up the church.
At the same meeting John Arnott (from Ontario, Canada) learned how the Holy Spirit had recently powerfully renewed and refreshed Randy Clark (VCF St. Louis) in a meeting conducted by Rodney Howard-Browne in Tulsa, Oklahoma. How the Lord got Randy to Tulsa for a meeting conducted by a South African Pentecostal is a story in itself. Nevertheless, Randy began seeing similar outpourings of the Spirit in his home church and elsewhere as he had occasion to minister. It was as if the ‘times of refreshing’ had begun.
So John Arnott, knowing that a season of new beginnings in the Vineyard was near at hand, and hearing about Randy Clark’s transformed ministry, invited Randy to come to Toronto to minister in his church, as well as to those folks from the surrounding area that would like to attend.
This occurred on 20 January, 1994. Four days of meetings turned into five months [now over a year] of almost nightly meetings in numerous locations in Ontario. It has since poured out through those who have visited there into similar renewal meetings all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and even Europe.
Meanwhile at the Anaheim Vineyard beginning on Sunday, 5 December, 1993, the Holy Spirit told me to stir up the gifts of the Spirit that our people may have a greater hunger for the Giver, Jesus. Throughout the month of December and early January, we set aside nights for that with an ever increasing sense of the Lord’s presence and willingness to bless.
On the afternoon of Sunday, 16 January, 1994, the Holy Spirit gave me the word ‘Pentecost’. I spent the rest of the afternoon asking the Lord what he meant by it. No answer. At that evening’s church service, the Lord gave me a vision of young people in a certain set and order. During the ministry time, from the pulpit I asked the young people to come forward. They did and the Lord came, consuming them in a beautiful and powerful way. It began a significant increase of the outflowing of power at Anaheim that has continued until this writing.
In interaction with leaders and workers across both the United States and Canada, I have encouraged the Arnotts, as well as Randy Clark and others that have been touched by the Spirit and are being used to share with others, to refer to this present visitation of the Spirit in our churches as a ‘refreshing’ or ‘renewal’ rather than a revival. I have no problem with the notion that people are being revived. I just have a problem with our using a term that most evangelicals at least reserve for that phase of revival that is an outpouring, not only on the church but through the church and into the community. The result is the salvation of thousands.
What about the phenomena?
Nearly everything we’ve seen (falling, weeping, laughing, shaking) has been seen before, not only in our own memory, but in revivals all over the world. One of my colleagues on the AVC staff, Steve Holt, has compiled an extremely helpful summary of Jonathan Edwards’ thoughts on the place of physical manifestations and phenomena in the midst of revival.
During the first Great Awakening in America, Edwards was right in the middle of it all. Not only was he a thoughtful participant, and observer, but he applied his keen theological mind to the ‘problem’ of religious enthusiasms, which were the object of much scorn and criticism among the religious establishment. Edwards’ perspective on revival can be very helpful to us as we evaluate some of the manifestations of the Spirit that we see in our meetings. Edwards saw them too, and he developed a very wise counsel regarding it.
Edwards attempted to answer the question, ‘How do we judge whether these phenomena are from God or the Devil? Edwards’ logic is lucid and spiritual, but after 250 years, some of his language is a challenge. The following are his main points in outline from. For further details on the writings of Jonathan Edwards, I refer you to his Complete Works.
1. We do not judge by a part: the way it began, the instruments emphasised, the means used, the methods that have been taken. We judge by the effects upon the people (Isa. 40:13, 14; Jn. 3:8; Isa. 2:17). Edwards reminds us that God often uses the most foolish things to confound the wise.
2. We should judge by the whole of Scripture, not our own personal rules and measures, nor some portion of Scripture. Furthermore, Edwards enjoins us not to judge phenomena negatively just because we have not personally had such an experience.
3. We should distinguish the good from the bad, and not judge the whole by the parts. Summation: We can become so paranoid of extremism that we actually sin by grieving the Holy Spirit and stopping his work. To accomplish his work, God seems more willing at times to tolerate extreme behaviour (that is not clearly sinful) than we are.
4. We should judge by the fruit of the work in general. Edwards could justify in his own mind the extravagance of some in the revival because of the revival’s impact in New England. The Bible was more greatly esteemed; multitudes had been brought to conviction of truth and certainty of the gospel; and the Indians were more open to the gospel than ever before.
5. We should judge by the fruit of the work in particular instances. Edwards wrote of many examples of people who had been transported into the glories of the heavenlies for hours at a time. Great rejoicing, transports (visions and dreams), and trembling have produced an increase in humility, holiness, and purity. Answered prayers became the norm.
6. We should judge by the glory of the work. Edwards passionately called for the church to be seized by the rapture, glory, and enthusiasm of God. In his view, the Great Awakening (with all its various manifestations) was exceedingly glorious in the extraordinary degrees of light, love, and spiritual joy that God had bestowed on great multitudes.
Restoration and Revival
There’s a time of restoration coming. There’s a time of revival coming. There’s an outpouring of the Spirit that’s preparing the hearts and lives of men and women across our country, and around the world. We saw it recently in New Zealand, and in Australia. The Lord poured out his Spirit mightily. We’ve seen it in the Anaheim Vineyard. We’ve seen it across the country. It’s happening wherever there’s receptivity.
Remember, as long as people keep hearing about this, and as long as people keep coming, the Spirit will be poured out. The laughter will bubble forth. So don’t be afraid of it. It indicates the ongoing truth of God’s word. It’s another verification that God is among us. It’s another standard if you will, being lifted up and exalted unto the Lord. It’s his work. It’s not craziness. It’s not people acting weird (Not that they don’t look crazy and seem strange). But it’s appropriate. The Lord is being exalted by his own means. Remember, the Lord says, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ (Isa. 55:8). And God just goes about doing things differently than you or I would.
What do the phenomena mean?
Our theology and experience of revival must be tempered by our understanding of sanctification. Sanctification is the necessary counterpart to justification, or the forgiveness of sins.
I view sanctification as that work of the Holy Spirit that takes place both as ‘a one-time act, valid for all time, imputing and imparting holiness, and as an ongoing, progressive work’ (New Dictionary of Theology, p. 615). In the sense that it’s ongoing, we co-operate with the Holy Spirit.
All Christians need to be cleansed, and dedicated to the service of God (Rom. 12:1-2) and thereby make practical our prayer, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth (and in my life) as it is in heaven.’
Let us not allow ourselves to equate the experience of various manifestations of the Spirit with sanctification. Such experiences may accompany, accent, or provide a milestone on the journey of sanctification, but they are not necessarily the agents of sanctification.
In summary I believe that this could readily become the revival we’ve all longed for and prayed for. I do not believe that it has reached its full stature yet, but I believe it may be around the corner. People have asked me what I think the next step may be. I’ve said that I know that at some point in time we must give a call to full scale repentance undergirded by deep and heart felt contrition. Changed lives and the fruit of true repentance will result.
Reports have been coming in from Christian groups in widely separated locations of what appears to be a strange new phenomenon. Believers of different ages and widely different social backgrounds are being overcome by prolonged outbursts of laughter which have no obvious cause. Sometimes they may also act as if they are drunk.
Often this laughter appears to be contagious. Those who have experienced it apparently ‘transmit’ it to others. Large groups may be seized by it simultaneously.
Both ministers and lay people from a wide range of denominations have been affected in this way. Some testify that it has had a stimulating effect on their faith and has brought them closer to the Lord. On the other hand, there are those who are sceptical and view this kind of experience as a deception of the enemy.
As a result of all this, I am frequently being asked whether I believe that the Holy Spirit at times produces in people prolonged, exuberant and apparently causeless laughter. ‘I have to believe it,’ I reply, ‘because that is how I was saved more than 50 years ago.’
In the summer of 1941, I was part of a medical unit of the British Army billeted in a hotel on the North Bay of Scarborough in Yorkshire. The hotel had been gutted of all its furniture and fittings. Our ‘beds’ were simply straw mattresses on the floor.
While in Scarborough I had some brief contacts with Pentecostal Christians, who confronted me for the first time with my need to receive Christ as my personal Saviour. At that point in my life I was a nominal Anglican, who never voluntarily attended church. I had never before heard of Pentecostals, and I had no idea what they believed or what kind of people they were.
About nine months previously, however, I had started to read the Bible through from beginning to end. I had no religious motive. I regarded the Bible merely as a work of philosophy. As a professional philosopher, I felt it was my academic duty to find out what the Bible had to say. At that point I had come as far as the book of Job – but it had been a dreary task!
Confronted in this way with the claims of Christ, however, I decided about 11 o’clock one night to pray ‘until something happened’. I had no idea what I might expect to happen. For about an hour I struggled in vain to form some kind of coherent prayer. Then about midnight I became aware of a presence and I found myself saying to some unknown person what Jacob had said when wrestling with the angel at Peniel: ‘Unless you bless me, I will not let you go’ (Genesis 32:26).
I repeated these words several times with increasing emphasis: ‘I will not let you go, I will not let you go …’ Then I began to say to the same unknown person, ‘Make me love you more and more’. When I got to these last words, I began to repeat them: ‘more and more and more …’
At this point an invisible power came down over me and I found myself on my back on the floor, with my arms in the air, still saying, ‘more and more and more …’
After a while my words changed to deep sobbing which rose up from my belly through my lips, shaking my whole body convulsively. The sobs did not proceed out of anything in my conscious mind. I had no special sense of being sinful.
After about half an hour, without any act of my volition, the sobbing changed to laughter. I had no more conscious reason for laughing than I had had for sobbing. The laughter, like the sobbing, flowed from my belly. At first, it was quite gentle, but it gradually became louder and louder. I had the impression that I was being immersed in a sea of laughter that reverberated around the room.
At this point the soldier who shared the room with me woke up to find me on my back on the floor clothed only in my underwear, with my arms in the air, laughing uproariously. Rising from his mattress, he walked around me rather helplessly two or three times, keeping at a safe distance. Finally he said, ‘I don’t know what to do with you. I suppose it’s no good pouring water over you.’ An inaudible voice within me responded, ‘Even water wouldn’t put this out!’
However, I remembered dimly having heard years earlier in church that we should not blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Contrary to all my natural reasoning, I knew that what was in me was the Holy Spirit. In order not to offend my friend, I rolled over onto my face and laboriously crawled to my mattress. Pulling the blanket over my head, I eventually fell asleep, still laughing – quietly.
A totally different person
Next morning I awoke to an amazing, but objective fact: I was a totally different person. No longer did vile language flow out of my mouth. Prayer was no longer an effort, it was as natural as breathing. I could not even drink a glass of water without pausing to thank God for it.
At six o’clock, as was my usual custom, I went to the pub for a drink. But when I got to the door, my legs ‘locked’. They would not carry me inside the pub. I stood there having an argument with my legs. Then, to my surprise, I realised I was no longer interested in what the pub had to offer. I turned round and walked back to my billet.
Back in my billet once again, I opened my Bible to continue reading. At this point, however, I discovered the most amazing change of all. Overnight the Bible had become a completely new book. It was as if there were only two persons in the universe – God and me. The Bible was God speaking directly and personally to me. This has never changed, and it is equally true of the Old Testament and the New.
I opened by chance at Psalm 126:1-2: ‘When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter…’
At that point I paused. ‘That’s exactly what happened to me,’ I thought. ‘It wasn’t I who was laughing. My mouth was being filled with laughter from some other source!’ Upon further reflection, I saw that this strange, supernatural laughter was the way that God’s people expressed their joy and excitement at being delivered from captivity. …
One evening about ten days after my first encounter with the Lord, I was lying on my back on my mattress in the billet and I began to speak an unfamiliar language that sounded to me like Chinese. Once again, I dimly recalled something I had heard in church about ‘speaking with other tongues’. I knew it was connected somehow with the day of Pentecost. At first I spoke timidly and hesitantly, but as I relaxed, the flow of words became free and forceful.
Once again, the initiative did not come from me. I was responding to a powerful inner force that came very specifically – like my previous laughter – from my belly.
The following evening I again found myself speaking an unknown language, but it was obviously different from the language I had been speaking the previous evening. This time I noticed that the words had a very marked poetic rhythm.
After a few moments of silence, I began to speak in English, but the words were not of my choosing, and their content was on a level far above that of my own understanding. Also, they seemed to have a rhythm similar to that of the words that I had previously spoken in an unknown language. I concluded that my words in English were an interpretative rendering of what I had previously said in the unknown language.
One brief section of what I said in English remains indelibly impressed upon my memory. In vivid imagery, it outlined God’s plan for my life. Looking back over more than 50 years, I can see how God’s plan has been – and is still being – progressively worked out in my life.
In retrospect, too, I have gained a new understanding of my initial experience of supernatural laughter. Unconventional as it was, it proved to be the divinely appointed door through which I entered a lifelong walk of faith. It also had the effect of liberating me from many preconceptions of my background and culture which could have been a barrier to my further spiritual progress.
In Matthew 12:33 Jesus states the most decisive test that must be applied to all forms of spiritual experience: ‘a tree is known by its fruit.’ I have to ask myself therefore: What has been the fruit of my strange experience? Is it possible to give an objective answer?
Yes, the fruit of that experience has been a life converted from sin to righteousness, from agnostic dabbling in the occult to unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the Scriptures – life that has been bringing forth fruit in God’s Kingdom for well over 50 years. Certainly that was no transient product of autosuggestion or of some mere emotional extravagance.
From time to time, in the succeeding years, I have received a renewed experience of supernatural laughter. I have also seen other believers touched by God in a similar way, but this has never been a main emphasis of my teaching. Almost invariably I have found this kind of laughter has a double effect: it is both cleansing and exhilarating. At times it has been accompanied by miracles of physical healing or of deliverance from emotional conditions such as depression. …
cleansing and exhilarating –
at times accompanied by miracles
of physical healing or of deliverance
The fruit we should look for
I have been emphasising the principle that ‘a tree is known by its fruit.’ Logically, therefore, in evaluating the current move in the church, we should ask: If this move is from God, what kind of fruit should we look for? In reply, I would suggest five main kinds of fruit that would authenticate the present move.
1. The fruit of repentance
All through the New Testament the first thing that God demanded was not faith, but repentance. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by calling for repentance (Matthew 3:2). When the religious people came to him for baptism, he demanded that they first produce in their lives the fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:7-8).
The first word that Jesus preached was, ‘Repent’ (Mark 1:15). He told the multitudes, ‘Unless you repent, you will perish’ (Luke 13:3-5). After his resurrection he told his disciples that repentance, first, and then forgiveness of sins should be preached to all nations (Luke 24:17).
On the day of Pentecost the first demand that Peter made of the convicted but unconverted multitude was ‘Repent – then be baptised (Acts 2:38).
Speaking to the people of Athens, Paul said, ‘God now commands everyone everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30). Throughout his ministry he required, first repentance toward God, then faith toward Christ (Acts 20:21).
True repentance is not an emotion, but a decision of the will – a decision to turn away from all sin and unrighteousness and to submit unreservedly to the Lordship of Jesus.
Repentance is the first of the six foundational doctrines listed in Hebrews 6:1-2. Those who have not truly repented can never have a solid foundation for their lives as Christians. Over the years I have counselled hundreds of Christians with various problems in their lives. As a result, I have concluded that at least 50 per cent of the problems in the lives of Christians are due to one simple fact: they have never truly repented.
I believe that a renewed emphasis on repentance is the most urgent need of the contemporary church in the West. To be effective, any move in the church must deal with this issue.
2. Respect for Scripture
A second decisive factor in our lives as Christians is our attitude to Scripture. Jesus called the Scripture ‘the word of God’ and he set his personal seal upon it by five simple words: ‘the Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35). No amount of ‘higher criticism’ can set aside the plain meaning of these words. If we believe in Jesus then we believe in the Bible. If we do not believe in the Bible, then we do not believe in Jesus.
In Isaiah 66:2 the Lord says: ‘This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word’ (NIV). God here combines repentance – a humble and contrite spirit – with faith in his word.
Why should we tremble at God’s word? First, because it is the way that God the Father and God the Son come to us and make their home with us (John 14:23). Second, because God’s word will one day be our judge (John 12:48).
From creation onwards, God has worked through two main agents: his word and his Spirit. First, the Spirit of God moved; then God’s word went forth (Genesis 1:2-3). The result was creation.
Ever since then the Spirit and the word have always worked together in harmony. Anything that the Spirit does harmonises with what the word says. Furthermore, all Scripture is inspired by his Holy Spirit and he never contradicts himself (2 Timothy 3:16).
This means that every kind of spiritual manifestation must be tested by this standard: Is it in harmony with Scripture? If so, we can receive it. If not, we must reject it.
3 Exaltation of Jesus
In John 16:13-14 Jesus promised his disciples, ‘When he, the Spirit of truth has come, he will guide you into all truth… He will glorify me…’
Jesus here reveals two important facts about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. First of all, his supreme function is to glorify Jesus. This provides an authoritative test of any spiritual manifestation. Does it focus our attention on Jesus? Does it exalt Jesus?
As soon as human personalities are allowed to take the centre of the stage, the Holy Spirit begins to withdraw. The exaltation of human personalities has many times quenched what was originally a genuine move of the Holy Spirit.
Then we need to notice that Jesus is careful to emphasise that the Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’ but a ‘He’. When people begin to explain spiritual experience in terms of getting ‘it’, it can easily happen that they get the wrong ‘it’.
Jesus is a person and the Holy Spirit is a person. The Holy Spirit, as a person, draws believers together around the person of Jesus. When we make a doctrine or an experience the focus of our gathering, we are spiritually ‘off centre’.
4. Love for our fellow Christians
In John 13:35 Jesus told his followers, ‘By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’ In 1 Timothy 1:5 Paul said, ‘The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith’ (NASB). Any form of religious activity that does not produce this result, he dismissed as ‘fruitless discussion’.
In 1 Corinthians 13:2 Paul applied this test to himself: If I have all the spiritual gifts of power and revelation, but have not love, I am nothing.
Before we apply this test to others, we need to do the same as Paul and apply it to ourselves. We each need to ask: Has my faith made me a loving person?
Then – and only then – can we apply this test to the present move in the church. Is it producing Christians who sincerely love one another – regardless of denominational labels? Will it cause the unbelievers to say of these people what the world said of the early church: ‘See how these Christens love one another?’
5. Loving concern for the unreached
In John 4:35 Jesus told his disciples, ‘Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are white already for harvest.’ If those words were true even in the time of Jesus, they are certainly more true today. I have been privileged to travel and minister in many nations and I have formed one firm conclusion: We are living in the harvest hour!
Yet, alas, many Christians, who could be working in the harvest fields of the world, are caught in a snare of materialistic self-centredness. I believe that any genuine move of the Holy Spirit will result in multitudes of new labourers being thrust forth into the world’s harvest fields. Otherwise it does not truly reflect the heart of God.
If a significant number of Christians in the current move successfully pass all, or most, of the five tests outlined above, then it is safe to conclude that this is, essentially, a move of God. This does not mean that everyone or everything in it is faultless. God has no faultless people to work with.
It is amazing what he can do with weak and fallible people who are truly surrendered to Him.