Recently, I was having breakfast with two longtime friends and occasional golfing buddies, Pastor Ron Smith and Joe Davenport. In the midst of our engaging conversation, Ron shared an experience of revival that went back over 40 years to the same time as the Jesus People Movement that I have shared about in recent Langstaff Letters. I asked him to write it down for me, so I could use it and he willingly obliged.
Here it is: In 1970, I was in my second year as senior pastor of a church of 350-400 members. I was 25 years old. It was my very first church. Along with pastoring full-time, I was also in my third year as a full-time graduate student in the seminary working toward my MDIV. You can imagine that my days were very full and very long as both of these were full-time responsibilities. I was never not tired.
In my first week as a seminary student in the fall of 1967, I remember the evangelism professor making this statement, “Students, the problem with seminary is so many students come with their hearts full and their heads empty and leave with their heads full and their hearts empty. Don’t let that happen to you.”
Because seminary is primarily an academic environment, and because of my exhausting schedule, that did begin to happen to me. I was so busy, I didn’t have time for my wife and I didn’t have time for God. Busy serving God in the church while at the same time preparing for His call on my life at the seminary. The result is He seemed more and more distant from me and my heart felt more and more empty.
In early 1970 God visited a Methodist college and seminary in Kentucky-Asbury College and Seminary-with true revival. This revival swept through the campuses, the city, and the upper Midwest making front page news in Chicago, Indianapolis, and other cities.
Our evangelism professor, Dr. Roy Fish, called to Asbury and asked them to send some students to our seminary (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX) to give testimony of the revival in his evangelism classes. Three students arrived on the last Sunday of a week of revival meetings we were having at our church with Dr. Fish. It was a Sunday night and it was the largest crowd of people we had ever had. The sanctuary was packed with people. The overflow room was packed with people. And people were standing around the walls. Never in the history of the church had there been so many in a service. It seemed everyone in the church was there–hundreds of people.
Dr. Fish brought one of the students to that final revival service. The three of us met in my office to pray before the service. Then we walked onto the platform to begin the service. My wife said to me later that night, “Ron, when you three came into the sanctuary, God came in with you. I had never felt God come into a room before and I knew tonight was not going to be church as usual.”
Well, we sang the usual three hymns, made the announcements, welcomed the visitors, received the offering, and the choir sang their special song-all the usual stuff. When it was time for the preaching, Dr. Fish briefly shared about the revival in Kentucky and asked the student to share testimony about the personal revival he was experiencing and the revival happening on his campus.
For over a month, the seminary chapel at Asbury had been filled with students, professors and their wives, pastors and their wives 24 hours a day seven days a week. Classes had been canceled. Those gatherings were characterized by one primary thing-open repentance of sin. One person after another would stand up and openly repent of sin
(I have realized over the years that revival is for the people of God because you can only re-vive someone who has first been ‘vived.’ And evangelism is for the unbelievers.)
After the student shared his testimony, he said, “Now let’s just wait on the Lord.” And he sat down. There was silence. Our church (as with most churches) was not accustomed to silence. Our services were so well-planned there was no room for silence. And when you are not accustomed to silence, 20 seconds can feel like 20 minutes. Then he went back to the pulpit and said, “Now let’s respond to the Lord,” and he sat down again. I stepped down in front of the altar to receive anyone who might respond. No one came forward. But instead . . .
Suddenly the presence of God came down on the entire congregation. Never had I experienced God like that before. Never had I seen God come down on an entire congregation in a moment of time. And just as suddenly one person after another stood up and openly repented of sin. Some even came to the pulpit and repented of sin over the microphone. I simply stood there in stunned amazement watching this happen. An elder’s wife who was in the choir came to my side and said, “Pastor pray for me; I am going to ‘so-and-so’ (another elder’s wife). These two women had hated each other for many years. Everyone in the church knew this. She walked up the center aisle, worked her way into the middle of a row of people, the other lady stood up. They repented to each other, asked forgiveness and hugged each other-with the entire congregation watching this take place.
Open repentance of sin continued for several hours with no one orchestrating it but God. It was simply an awesome sovereign moving of God in the midst of and upon the hearts of hundreds of people all at the same time. No emotional hype, no working people up by the evangelist. Just God doing what only He can do and it be truly God.
My wife and I experienced revival in our own lives, in our own hearts that night. We began to have a hunger for God and a hunger for His Word that we had never had before-a hunger that is still there 45 years later. We are so grateful that He chose to manifest His Holy Loving Presence in that Baptist church in Mesquite, TX on a Sunday night so many years ago. It changed our lives forever.
SOME THOUGHTS ON REVIVAL
I have been in ministry for well over 50 years and I have been privileged to observe and participate in many moves of God during that time. Also, I have been a student of earlier moves of God, which are often like waves upon the ocean, one wave following another.
When I first heard and then read about this revival sparked by the events at Ashbury College and Seminary, I noted that it was somewhat different to what many people expect in a move of God today. Usually, the expectancy is for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit power, involving signs, wonders, miracles and healings. I know that’s what I would like to see. But this revival that Pastor Ron described majored on repentance, brought on by the presence of God in a sovereign way.
Now, I know you can’t tell God how to do it. He is sovereign and He does what He chooses to do, but I wonder if this may be what we should be praying for in line with 2 Chronicles 7:14 ‘If my people who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’ This was the essence of other revivals, including the Welsh Revival over a hunter years ago.
Recently, a friend of mine Pastor Phil Roland sent me an article about the Welsh Revival. Let me quote part of it, “Evan Roberts (1878-1951) At age twenty six, he went to bible college and found that he did not make a good student. He would rather pray than study, continually crying out, ‘God, bend me.’ He returned home and asked his pastor if he could speak to his church. His pastor allowed him to speak to those who would remain after the Monday evening prayer meeting. Seventeen people stayed. Evan’s word had such a profound effect that the pastor asked him to speak at the midweek service. He ended up speaking every night for two weeks. Then the break came. A revival swept Wales, resulting in one hundred thousand conversions during a five month period. It all began with a man who prayed, ‘God bend me,’ and determined that he was going to be obedient to God no matter what the price.”
Reflecting on these two revivals: the one in Mesquite and the Welsh Revival, I could not help but go back to the Day of Pentecost when the people listening to Peter preach were cut to the heart and cried out, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, starting with one word, ‘Repent!’ Acts 2:37 – 38
Is this the kind of revival (without sacrificing all the other things that have already been mentioned concerning manifestations of Holy Spirit power) that we need today here in America where as a nation we have turned from God? Remember revival is for the church. Evangelism is for the lost.
I would be interested to read your responses to this question.