Well, it has now been three weeks since our Convocation of Prayer (Feb. 23-25, 2010) and I have spent much time reflecting on it.
I hope that it demonstrated to all the great need for such gatherings for prayer. I was much blessed by the time and the opportunity to join with my brethren in the endeavor.
I have tried to learn from the time so that the next opportunity will, hopefully, be more fruitful.
There are two major areas that I believed that I learned something about.
1. We are further from being in that place of revival than I had thought.
I was struck by the great sense of need that was present in all and I am grateful to God that He has given some this burden.
But I was also struck by the lack of a common vision as to what Awakening and Revival is. Some see it as a great resurgence in evangelism. Some believe that this will be accomplished by God raising up a man who has wide acceptance to proclaim the gospel with power. Such an event would add many souls to existing churches and revitalize Evangelical Christianity in our day. There was the thought that maybe another 'Billy Graham' would come along and be the answer to our current malaise.
Here are the questions that comes to my mind when I envision such a 'raising up' of a man.
A. If I were God, would I entrust a large number of my elect to the churches as they currently exist?
Honestly, I must tell you that I would not. Even so-called 'good churches' in our day are in serious violation of some of the most fundamental elements that identified the churches of the past upon whom God sent Revival. There is little in the way of proclamation of the need of repentance from sin. The 'gospel' as currently preached has much more to do with believing than repenting. The gospel always has and those who were used in Revival in the past led with the issue of sin, judgment, righteousness and the repentance which these issues demand.
Churches are almost void of any kind of discipline. As a result there is much careless living, lack of prayer and devotion, and even immorality involved in them. In many there is the notion that so long as our doctrines are correct and our preachers preach well all is OK, we are a sound church. But this is not the case in many places. Sound doctrinal churches with good preachers in many cases have serious fundamental problems with the understanding of holiness. All of the
doctrines proclaimed skirt the issues of heartfelt anguish over sin and genuine, Spirit-convicted reformation of life. Quite often the doctrines only bolster a sense of complacency and self-satisfaction (might I even say self-righteousness?).
And...I am sure that God Himself is aware of many more problems at which I can only guess.
B. Do we make an 'idol' out of such a man when we place our hope of Revival and Awakening in him?
Our hope must be in God Himself Who is able of stones to raise up sons of Abraham. Many so-called 'Revivals' have indeed centered on a particular individual but I have always been struck by the story of how the First Great Awakening seemed to have been born by a 'groundswell' of spiritual concern, beginning almost simulataneously in various locations without the influence of a dramatice personality.
This is the kind of Revival and Awakening for which I am praying. I have learned to have far too little trust in men to hope that a single man is going to be the answer for our situation. There is much work to do in the churches themselves to prepare for the moving of God's Spirit. I recall that Jesus told Ephesus to 'repent and to the first works' lest He come upon them in judgment. And, I suspect that Ephesus in trouble was a far better church than most of us (any of us?) have ever known.
2. Our secret hope than an 'experience' will save us may be misplaced.
I have also noticed in my reflections on our Convocation that there seems to be among us (and I am not exempt!) the notion that we will have an experience which will solve our personal problems and bring us to the place of Awakening. As I have thought upon this, I have wondered if this notion puts us in the place of making an 'idol' of this experience for which we are hoping.
I wonder if the records of revivals do us a disservice by making much of the experiences of those involved. Our thinking seems to go something like this. (1) there was a great revival, and (2) the people had wonderful experiences, therefore, (3) if we could have experiences like them we could have Revival as well. This sends us in search of the experience with the danger that our hope is in this elusive, life-shattering event rather in in our Lord.
There are two categories, I believe, of religious experience. The most common is an intense emotional and ecstatic event brought on by an environment of religion or maybe created by our own minds. I have had some of those. Their track record in my life is that they do not permanently profit. They produced no lasting change. And, as I have observed them in others, the same can be said.
The less common, but far more profitable, experience is that which begins in the soul through the contemplation of truth and the help of the Holy Spirit to reveal it. When, for example, the sinner becomes convinced by the Spirit of God that he is the kind of sinner that God says he is and destined for an eternal judgment, he is humbled, shattered and broken by this awful fact. The experience is powerful, no doubt, sometimes with physical reactions of one kind or another. Some weep uncontrollably, others tremble, some mourn aloud with groans and cries to God, and others may have different experiences. But these 'experiences' are not the event nor the reason that change is produces. The change is produced because the enlightened mind has grasped enormous spiritual realities and is convinced that they are true. The experience is only the symptom of the event, a collateral occurrence with it, and not the core of the matter.
Likewise, when the child of God sees his own failures, his lack of conformity to Christ, the inexcusable nature of it, and the damage that he has caused to others, a sickening sadness takes hold of him that can crush him under the weight of it unless God interevenes and shows him mercy. Witness the concern that Paul had in 2 Cor. for the repentant adulterer seeking restoration to the church. When this same saint sees the true 'hope of his calling,' the holiness to which he has both been called and enabled, he is powerfully smitten with a longing for it and a walk with God that is consistent with the call of God. He goes burdened, saddened and sorrowful until God, in His Own Good Pleasure, gives him something of what he is seeking, the Visit of the Spirit of God upon his soul to enalbe him to move out of failure into something that approaches 'the fullness of the Spirit.' His heart is overwhelmed with joy, gratitude, rejoicing and profound relief. He hav weep, shout, cast himself about in rapture or simply set to the taks of casting away from him every token of the wicked and shameful life he has led as a child of God up to this point. But, again, it is not the details of the experience that make the matter a real thing. Someone else duplicating the 'experience' without grasping the truths revealed by the Spirit of God may have a wonderful time but he will be left as empty afterward as before (and possibly spiritually damaged). It is the TRUTH grasped and held in a real way in the soul that produces lasting change.
John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
Truth revealed to the soul by the Son (through His Spirit) changes the life, makes the person free, not experience. This certainly is a life-changing experience, but it is the Truth, Divinely Revealed, that is the essence of it.
Let us not make an idol of experience and let us not make an idol of man.