A Call to Revival

Sept. 22, 2012 Bill Elliff

Session Transcript

I want you to imagine something with me. I want you to pretend with me that your children or grandchildren or family, those that are closest to you are in London, England.

Let's just pretend that you hear on the news the story that an epidemic has hit London, and it's a terminal disease. It is quickly taking the life of every single person in London, and your children are there. Those you love are there.

And then just for the sake of illustration, I want you to pretend that somehow you are unaware that there is modern means of transportation. You don't know that there are cars and trains and planes and ships that you could take you there.

Then also pretend with me that you have the cure; that you are holding in your hands that which would bring instant healing to all those who are there. But you have no way of getting there. So what would you do?

Well, there are some people who would just give up. “I don't know what to do. I'll just give up.”

As I've been around you this weekend, I think I know what you would do. You would start to walk. You would walk as hard and fast as you could. Let's just say in some bizarre way you got all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and you saw this massive ocean, and then what would you do? Well, you would jump in and begin to swim.

Your children are at stake. Millions of other lives are at stake. What else could you do? And you had the cure. So you would swim as hard and as fast as you could.

You might go a mile; you might go five miles. But you would never make it. And the reason that you couldn't deliver the cure to those who desperately needed it was because there was something you didn't know; something you didn't access; something that you didn't believe.

Ladies, this morning I just want you to believe with me that there is something very important this morning that we need to know. For many of us it's something we need to remember. It's something that for most American Christians is not even in the equation in our thinking and our praying.

It is something that could transform everything. It is something that could mean the salvation of millions of lives in the advance of His kingdom. We need to know and believe that God can still send mighty nationwide, worldwide revival and awakening.

And when we think about what revival is, I love the definition of Richard Owen Roberts who said that “revival is the extraordinary movement of the Spirit of God that produces extraordinary results.”

Now we know that God is moving and working all the time. The fact that you are here and breathing is because of the grace of God. That's God's movement. That's God's work. But revival, don't mistake it with something else.

Revival is those moments when God in His grace looks down and sovereignly says, "I'm going to manifest Myself, My presence in an unusual way. I'm going to make it unbelievably clear, unbelievably visible. I'm going to come.” And when God comes, extraordinary things happen!

Just look at the life of Christ. Everywhere He went things weren't normal. Things weren't usual. And revival are those moments when God rends the heaven, and He comes down and extraordinary things begin to happen. And that is what we need to cry out for.

If you have your Bibles, turn with me again. We started on Thursday night with Psalm 85. We prayed through this passage just a few nights ago, but we're going to look at it again, Psalm 85.

And the psalmist knew that the only answer to the horrible condition of the nation and God's kingdom on earth was revival. And so he said: “O LORD, You have showed Your favor to Your land.” He has done that in the past.

You restored the captivity of Jacob, You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. You withdrew all Your fury. You turned away Your burning anger. Restore us, O God of our salvation, and cause Your indignation toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not Yourself revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? (vv. 2–6).

So Lord, here is our prayer:

Show us Your lovingkindness, O LORD, and grant us Your salvation. I will hear what God the LORD will say; for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones. But let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land (vv. 7–9).

Now for the next few moments I want to ask the question, and God asks the question of us: Why should we change our lifestyles to spend the next season of our life crying out to God for a mighty movement of revival?

And the psalmist answers that question. First of all, because only God can save us. Only God can save us. And this is what the psalmist said. Look with me in verse 6. He says, “Will You not Yourself revive us again?”

We've seen that our best ability can't save us, that Washington can't save us, that business can't save us, that technology can't save us. Lord, You are the only One that can save us.

We've heard the reports this morning. I don't need to rehearse again how bad the condition of our church and our nation is.

I work with pastors. Do you know that 1500 pastors are leaving the ministry every month? Every month. Do you know what that means? That means fifty a day. Fifty men today will leave the ministry, fifty tomorrow, fifty the next day, and fifty the next day.

There are some wonderful churches around. You may be a part of a great church that God is blessing and God is using in your community. There are some good churches and there are some pockets where God is moving, all by His grace.

But listen—with all of the good things that may be happening in selected places around our country, it is not stopping in the least the rapid moral and spiritual free fall of our nation. What we need is the dramatic adjustment that can come only—the course correction that can come only by the divine intervention of what the Bible calls and history understands as real, genuine revival and awakening.

Jonathan Edwards, who was in revival, experienced it. He said, "The work of God in revival is carried on with greater speed and swiftness whenever there is an extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit of God."

Samuel Davies was the president of Princeton and a great preacher. Can you imagine? That doesn't sound like it would fit today in our culture. They called him the apostle of Virginia. Samuel Davies experienced the Second Great Awakening. And he said this:

Before the Awakening, faithful pastors would preach their hearts out preaching the Word of God faithfully and see almost no results. And then, the revival came. And I watched those same pastors stand up and preach the same sermons and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people came to Christ.

I'll never forget this phrase. This is a quote. He said, “In that season the gospel became almighty and carried everything before it.” Don't you long to see that? For the gospel to come almighty and carry everything before it.

Now, I know you understand with me that common scene that we read in the Scripture of the cycle of revival and awakening. Here is the Church of God, and she's in a time of vitality. But that's always followed by decline, because we live in a world with the world and the flesh and the devil pulling at us.

And always following that is a time of judgment. That's God. As we've heard this morning that's God's grace, that's His mercy, that's His wake-up call to us trying to pull us back unto Himself.

And then you'll read in the Scripture over and over again when people got desperate enough, this little phrase: “And all of the people cried out.” All of the people cried out. Isn't it fascinating to you that all through Scripture and all through history it seems that that one little phrase is the tipping point? It's the tipping point. And then revival comes because God is gracious and merciful.

He longs to revive His people. He longs to get glory from His manifest presence. But you see, people cry out when they are desperate. People only cry out when they've exhausted other possibilities. People only cry out when they know that nothing else can save them.

And wouldn't it be something, because you see, God's history is still being written, isn't it? It's recorded in heaven what is happening day by day just like it was happening in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Wouldn't it be amazing if God's history would record, and in 2013 all of the people in the church in America cried out?

Why do we need to cry out? Because only God can save us. Only God can save us.

Look at another thing. Because He can save us. The Bible says in this passage of Scripture that in these next verses, verse 9, the psalmist prayed for revival so that glory may dwell in our land.

The word glory is the manifest presence of God. It's His nature; it's His character. The psalmist says, "Lord, we don't want a moment of glory. We don't want just one service where You show up and we're thrilled with Your presence. Lord, we're asking for something bigger than that. We're asking that glory would settle down, and Lord, we're asking for Your glory that it would settle down in our land."

What many of us don't understand, I believe, is that in the early days, the first 150 years of American history, God sent seasons of nationwide revival every thirty to fifty years.

The First Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening. The great Prayer Revival of 1858, many call it the Third Great Awakening. The Welsh Revival, which really affected the whole world, in 1904 and 1905.

But in America, that's the last great national awakening that history records. And you know what that means for us? It means that you and I have no father that ever was a part, nor mother that was ever a part of a great national awakening. No grandfather or grandmother that was a part of that.

Because of that, we have no context. We just can't fathom what it would possibly be like to see that. And because of our lack of understanding, our faith is very small and our prayers are very weak and limited.

Folks, listen, we need to expand them because revival is God, and God's big and God can do anything. And can I just remind you of what happens and what has happened in our nation when God chooses to manifest Himself and the people cry out for Him?

First of all, it revives the church. I want you to imagine this with me. Just imagine that God stirs your heart during these days so much that you go home and you say, “You know, I don't know what to do. But I just want to gather some ladies together at noon and just once a week just cry out to God that He would send revival, because that seems to be the tipping point with God. I can't do everything, but I can do that.”

So you get a little room, maybe an upstairs room in a building. You make a little flyer and you send it out, and you say, “We'll have a prayer meeting for revival at noon on Tuesday.” And you go up, and you get ready to pray, and you get the chairs set out, and nobody shows up. Ten minutes goes by, twenty, thirty minutes, and finally you hear one lady coming into the room and then another and another and there are six of you. And you're thrilled. You think, "Well, six. We can pray."

And God seems to be so present in the meeting, and you say, “Let's do it again next week.” The next week there are twenty ladies that show up, and the next week there are sixty ladies.

Can you imagine if sixty ladies showed up for a prayer meeting? And let's say that you decided, "Let's meet every day." And it began to grow and grow and in a matter of three months let's just imagine (I know it's incredible to think), but let's just imagine that there are 50,000 ladies praying every day at noon for revival.

You say, “Well, that's impossible.” No, that's exactly what happened in the 1858 Revival. One man, Jeremiah Landphier, who said, “I'm going to pray.” Six the first week, twenty the next week, sixty the next week. And then in a matter of three months all across New York City, every church was filled with people at noon crying out to God for revival.

It awakens the church. During the Welsh Revival, as you know, for nine months, every church was filled in the entire nation all night long, many times all day long. Why? Because that's what God does.

During the 1858 Revival, that prayer meeting swept literally across the nation. In Portland, Oregon, 200 shopkeepers signed a covenant that all of them would close their shops at noon so everyone could go to the revival.

Can you imagine in your city all the owners of all the businesses at the local mall saying, “We're shutting down at noon"? How could that possibly happen? God.

God. Don't you think God could do that? He has done it in the past. He can do it again. And when God comes, He comes first to His bride, because He loves His bride. He cherishes His bride. He longs for her to be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, and He pours His life into His bride and He revives her again.

Folks, don't think you are praying against God for that to happen. You are praying for exactly what God longs to happen to revive the church. And then when the church is revived, she begins to be the instrument God can use to bring awakening to the lost. That's what happens in times of revival in extraordinary ways.

In the Second Great Awakening, population was growing by about 200 percent a year. The Methodist denomination grew by 1400 percent a year. In the 1904 Welsh Revival, God moved in such a mighty way that 100,000 people were saved in nine months.

In Atlantic City during the Welsh Revival, there were 50,000 people in Atlantic City, and the pastor said that “we cannot find more than fifty unconverted people in our entire city.” Can you imagine?

History tells us then in the 1858 Revival—I know you're not going to believe this because we have no context for this. But in the height of the 1858 Revival, in New York City alone, 10,000 people were being saved every week. Ten thousand this week, and while that was incredible, 10,000 the next week, 10,000 the next week, 10,000 the next week. And that went on and on and on. In fact, across America in that revival, there were thirty million people in America, and it's a conservative estimate that one million people came to faith in Christ—miraculous faith in Christ.

Now in our day there are 350 million people in America. If God would visit in just the same measure that He did in that day, you know what we would see in the next two years? We would see ten million people come to Christ. That's 95,000 people every single week. Can you imagine? But you see, that's what God does, amen? Because He is a Savior. He longs to save. And in revival He saves people.

And listen, He also transforms the culture. One of the pastors in the Welsh Revival said this after the movement, “The mighty unseen breath of the Spirit was doing in a month more than centuries of legislation could accomplish.”

Now, we're in the midst of this incredibly important political season, and we all want to do what we're supposed to do, right? But I want to tell you something—nothing that politics can do can ultimately change in the way that God desires for this nation to change. Our best biblical and godly politicians know that. The reality is, though, that God can change that.

I'm a pastor. I deal every week with abortion. I deal every week with one more family that goes down in flames. Every week I deal with pornography and how it is destroying the lives of men and women and homes.

I know faithful pastors across the nation who are just working their hearts out saying, “Please, let's stop this. O God, can You help this?” I want to tell you something. I am sick of that. There is only one thing that could reverse that in our nation. That is a mighty sweeping movement of God.

And when that happens, when God comes, all across our nation as we're with one cry, crying out for Him to come, then He can change that in a matter of months. All of those statistics that we heard this morning. Why? Because when revival comes, extraordinary things happen.

And then listen to this, it also advances the mission. I won't take time to go into this, but we can clearly, easily illustrate that every major modern missionary movement began in the seedbed of revival. You know why? It's because when we get right with Christ, we begin to see like He sees and our heart beats for the world and we want to go.

Revival is not an end in itself, is it? The purpose of revival is to get the Church back in its rightful position, sharing Christ with a needy world so that God's kingdom could come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We need to cry out. We need to cry out. Why? Because only God can save us, and because He can save us, you need to believe that, that He can save us.

But I want to tell you one thing else. As we close, and that's this: We need to cry out for revival because He is near. The Bible says in verse 9, “Surely, surely the Lord is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.”

Now, we can't manipulate revival. We can't tell God what to do. Revival is a sovereign work that God does in His timing and His ways. But somehow in this whole scheme of things, He has said, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways.”

He said, “If you will draw near to me, I will . . .” what? “Draw near to you.” Can I just tell you one little illustration of that?

In 1972, a young lady just like you came to a conference just like this. She was from Little Rock, Arkansas. Her name was Kitty Longstreth. Kitty's heart was afire for Christ, and she heard a challenge to go home and begin to pray for your city. In fact, the speaker said that day, “Why don't you go home and just take the phone book and just begin to pray through the phone book for your city.”

And Kitty, not knowing what else to do, took him very literally. She went home and got a group of ladies together and they took the Little Rock, Arkansas, phone book and they tore out the pages. They handed it around, and they just began to pray. And they kept praying, and they kept praying. They would see little signs of God's movement and answers to their prayer.

One time, about twelve or fifteen years into their praying, they said, “We need God to get on the pastors of our city, that the pastors would begin to pray together.” So they started praying for that. And not very long after that, just a strange set of circumstances, the pastors, about a dozen of us pastors, gathered and felt the need to just begin to pray across denominational lines.

And that prayer movement among the pastors has grown and grown and grown until we've seen dozens and dozens, and now about a third of our pastors out of 600 pastors in our city that in one way or another have been gathering together to pray. That prayer movement has grown, and we've identified the intercessors—about a thousand of the intercessors in our city. They're praying, and then we've been in the last two years we've felt the call of God for our churches to come together quarterly in just times of crying out to God for prayer. These have been unusual times, extraordinary times. I've pastored for forty-two years; I've never seen the unity that is existing among our pastors and our churches as we have begun to pray together.

And Kitty Longstreth, by the way, has been in that prayer meeting until her death a few months ago, for forty years. One woman crying out.

About two years ago, in the fall of 2010 in our church, the church I pastor and my wife and I are part of, we just felt the strange call of God. We felt called to call our people to prayer and fasting for forty days. And for some reason our folks just did that.

They just said, “We need the Lord so deeply we're going to lay aside television, food, or whatever it is, and we'll cry out to God for forty days." It did something. I can't describe it all, but it just did something. Then as we came around to January, we just felt the need to gather together the first Monday of every month. Let's do that and just cry out to God just specifically for revival and spiritual awakening.

It is hard to get a prayer meeting going in a local church, isn't it? But yet when we came that night, there was a large group of people gathered in earnestness, and they really prayed. It was unusual, and it felt in our church there was gasoline on the floor that just kind of needed a match.

I was preaching in the spring on the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives. And on April 3, I was preaching about the quenching of the Holy Spirit. Now, you may have studied that. I had not really studied that, but quench means to douse. It means God is moving and He is working, but we do something that just stops that; that just quenches that.

I thought, “Well, how could we do that?” Well, the next phrase says, “Don't despise prophetic utterances; test everything. Examine it; see if it's of the Lord. Keep what is good; throw out the bad."

And I know there's a broad range of thinking about what a prophetic utterance is. But at it's very least, it's what God says. And so here is what He says. "Look, here's how you quench." It's when God starts speaking to you, because He wants to take you places that He needs you to go, and you despise it. That means you just treat it lightly. You minimize it, you marginalize it, you don't pay attention to it.

It's like when God brings a quadriplegic to you with a message on her heart about forgiveness. And at great expense and suffering to her, and she pours out her heart and says you must forgive, you must forgive, you must forgive. We get emotional and say, “Boy, that's exactly what I need to do. Wonderful message, Joni.” And then we walk out of the auditorium and make absolutely no adjustment in our lives.

You know what that is? That's despising what God has said. And you know what? God wanted 8,000 women to forgive. Can you imagine the force of that? The tsunami of that?

So God is saying, “This is one of the things that I want to have happen as these women disseminate everywhere, is that they would forgive and go back and clear their consciences with their husbands, their children, and their family members. I want that great tidal wave of forgiveness and grace to go across our nation.” But you see, if we don't respond to what God is saying, it quenches the Holy Spirit.

I was preaching about that. And halfway through my message the Lord said, “Okay, you've said enough, stop.”

And I said, “Lord, I've got a really good second half of this message.”

And the Lord said, “Don't quench the Spirit.”

So I just told our people. “I think I'm done.”

And as soon as I said that, a retired missionary in our church stood up with tears in his eyes and says, “We've got to obey the Lord right now.” He gave this impassioned plea.

And before I knew what was happening, people were streaming down to the altar; they were going to each other. I stepped down because I had a microphone for four weeks down on the floor just in anticipation of what the Lord might do. I walked down to the mic and I said, “I just want you to do whatever God tells you to do. If you need to go to somebody, you just go to somebody. If you need to come here for prayer, if you have something you want to say to the body . . .”

A woman came up, and she shared something. She said, “Can I say something?” It was wonderful. It was sweet. I thought, "Well, that's good. That's unusual. That's great. Maybe that's the end of it.”

And then another lady said, “Can I share something?” And she shared something, and it was even more powerful. I looked down and there was a line.

And that meeting just went on and on and on for an hour, two hours and three hours—until about 3:00 in the afternoon. It was the most sweet, precious, unrehearsed thing.

One C-130 pilot came down and said, “Look, I have quenched the Holy Spirit for four years. God has been telling me to be baptized. I sat in the sound booth and I was unwilling to obey the Lord. I wonder how I've hurt this church?”

We have a portable baptistery. It was out that day, and we had used it in the earlier service. He said, “I want to be baptized right now.” He walked over and started taking off his shoes. I thought, “I've got to get over there or he's going to baptize himself." And he was baptized—the church just exploded.

Another woman comes running down the aisle and said, “I've been disobeying God about my baptism for years, and I need to be baptized.” And then another one and another one—in their street clothes. It was the most beautiful thing.

And in the providence of God, we had planned that next night a first Monday. So at 3:00, I said, “Look, tomorrow night we're going to gather together; if you feel led to come, you just come.”

Instead of having seventy-five or eighty people at that meeting, the room was absolutely filled. That meeting went for three hours.

And all kinds of things in that meeting that night. People were coming and going, but it was orderly, and it was just so wonderful. This girl comes and she said, “Can I say something? My husband and I were married for a month, and he committed suicide in my presence. I'm so bitter at God. I'm a believer. I don't want to be bitter; please pray.”

She shared that and about fifty people swarmed her and prayed like I have never heard our church pray. And then as they were finishing praying, one of her friends came to me and she said, “This girl (her name was Bailey) doesn't have a car. Can we do anything about that?”

I reached down and took an offering basket and put it on the platform and said, “If you feel led, just give.” People started coming and giving and emptying their pockets. Then a lady comes down, and she was trembling. She said, “The Lord has told me to do this. I've talked with my husband. He is in complete agreement.” She reached down and took her big wedding ring, her diamond, and she handed it to me without a word. And she said, "I want that to go."

Then a man came down, and he said, “My father just gave me the keys to a 2003 Ford Expedition. Would this work?” He handed the keys to her. Then we took the money out of the basket (which was about $2800), and gave her gas for a week for the Expedition. (laughter)

Listen, folks, I don't have time to tell you, but we decided we'll just pray each night. If God tells us to meet the next night, we'll meet the next night.

Every single night people were coming to Christ, and that meeting went on for five continuous weeks—every night except Saturday.

Now look, I've studied revival all my life and pastored for forty-two years. I've never been in a moment like that, never. The only explanation I have for that is that God manifested Himself.

I got up one night and read the Acts 2 passage. I said, “I've longed for this all my life. Every single thing that is happening in that passage right now is happening in our church—and daily people are being added to the church.”

There were during the course of that time sixty-five people who came to Christ and followed the Lord in baptism five weeks—one or two every single day. People off the streets; people from under the bridge that our folks were witnessing to.

And I thought, “God, why did You do that in our church?” And one of the reasons to me is that there are about 500 or 600 churches in Central Arkansas. Do you know, if God would send just the same measure of His manifest presence to our city for just five weeks in all of the churches, do you know what would happen? Thirty-two thousand people would come to Christ.

Do you think 30,000 people coming to Christ in your city would make a difference? Do you think it would change the schools? Do you think it would change the government?

And you see, that's what revival is. It's the knowledge of God covering your part of the earth like waters cover the sea.

And God can save us. And every indication as we've been crying out to people to unite their hearts in one cry, every indication around our nation is that God is stirring. God is rumbling. If I had time, I would tell you story after story after story.

So as we close, we ask the question, what can we do? What can we do? Well, you've heard already we can turn.

Folks, don't miss this, ladies. This is you turning; you repenting and returning to the Lord with all of  your heart as you go back to your home. And not letting anything get between your soul and the Savior. We need to turn, and we can pray.

You could be the Kitty Longstreth in your city. You could be the instrument. Maybe the only reason, the primary reason you're here is that God wants to send you back as the fire to be the intercessor for your city.

And then we can unite together, and that's what OneCry is. It's creating a huge highway across our nation with easy-on ramps so that we can join our hopes and our prayers together as we cry out to the Lord for nationwide revival and spiritual awakening.

You know, we often find ourselves kind of waiting. Waiting on the Lord. “O God, we wish You would do something. We're waiting. We're waiting.”

And I wonder if the Lord is waiting on us. “I've told you what to do. Why don't you turn? Why don't you pray? Why don't you cry out to Me?” And see what only God can do.