Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Revival and Repentance

Leslie Basham: As a pastor, Henry Blackaby saw his congregation plant 38 new churches—not because of their ability but because of God’s.

Henry Blackaby: I had people ask, "How large do you have to be before you can start a new church?" I’d say, "You’re asking the wrong question. How large do you have to be to be obedient?"

It’s a matter of obedience, not whether you can do it or not. God will do it.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with author and speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, September 23.

The National Religious Broadcasters has called ministries like ours to a 40-day emphasis on prayer for our nation. Revive Our Hearts has been eager to take part, and we’ve been focusing on prayer and revival all month. We have also entered our tenth year of ministry. Throughout this year we’ll be looking back at some of the series that have left a special mark on our listeners. Nancy’s conversation with Henry Blackaby was one of those series, and we’ll revisit that conversation today. It will give you a greater heart for prayer and revival.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You’ve undoubtedly heard the name, Dr. Henry Blackaby. I know that many of our listeners have been deeply impacted through his life and his ministry.

Dr. Blackaby has been a pastor, a missionary, a Christian college president. He’s a well-known author and is perhaps best known for his book, Experiencing God.

Four million copies have been sold. It’s been translated into over 40 languages. I know that many lives have been impacted through his ministry and his message. We’re delighted this week, Dr. Blackaby, to welcome you to Revive Our Hearts.

Thank you for coming to share with our listeners what God has put in your heart about what He has done in the past in revival and what He wants to do in our day. So welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Dr. Blackaby: Thanks, Nancy. It’s a delight to be here.

Nancy: Dr. Blackaby, when I started into the revival ministry 25 years ago, almost no one was talking about the subject, and now almost everyone in the evangelical world is talking about revival, but you hear the word used in a lot of different ways. Sometimes I think there’s some confusion; in fact, you are part of a denomination that in the past has often talked about revivals as a week of meetings—a fall revival, a spring revival.

As you have walked with the Lord over these years, you’ve come to a biblical understanding of what we mean when we’re talking about revival. Help us. How do you define it? How do you describe what revival really is?

Dr. Blackaby: Revival to me has always been a mighty presence of God in the life of his people. I’ve always felt that. I watch people, as you have, come into a heart cry for revival, but what they mean is very different. I think they are seeing sin come in like a flood and evil come in like a flood. They’re crying out for God to raise up a banner against it.

Nancy: To clean up the nation

Dr. Blackaby: To clean up the mess, to make us successful.

Nancy: Yes.

Dr. Blackaby: Both of which are not involved in revival. It’s what God does to His people. So in my heritage I became aware. Of course, as you grow older, you learn things.

I learned that my dad who was born and raised in London, England. . . . At least five of my relatives on his side of the family graduated from Spurgeon’s College during the time of a great movement of God. Many say it was almost a constant revival with him. They did church planting across England, and I became aware of my heritage.

Then my uncle and aunt were the first missionaries from their group of churches in British Columbia to go to China. They had the experience of the Shantung Revival and were with Jonathan Goforth in Manchuria seeing the huge touch of God through their lives.

They would send pictures back, and they would show pictures of 150-250 at baptismal services because there were so many responding to the gospel. That was part of my heritage.

Then I had a heart cry for revival all my life. Things should not be the way I saw them. When I looked into Scripture and fellowship with God, His heart was laid over mine. “That’s not what I desire. What you see is not what I purposed.” So I’ve cried out for that all my life.

Then God led me to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Part of the confirmation that I should go there to this little church of 10 (that had voted to disband) was the testimony of revival off the coast of Scotland with Duncan Campbell. He had been in Saskatoon the year before.

Before he left he said, “I’m not given to visions, but God has given me a vision of revival fires breaking out all across Canada from one coast to the other. When it will be, I do not know. But that it will be, God has given me full assurance.”

Nancy: Now that would have been when, in the early fifties?

Dr. Blackaby: Forty-nine, fifty in there.

Nancy: Right.

Dr. Blackaby: I went in 1970 to Saskatoon. Because of Duncan Campbell’s visit in Ebenezer Baptist Church with Bill McCloud, he had begun to pray. So I prayed with him and a few others every week for two years.

Then all of a sudden Bill called me and said, “Henry, that for which we’ve been crying to God has happened!”

Nancy: So this was another pastor in another church nearby. He’s a friend. He has been on this program, but some of our listeners are not familiar with him.

Dr. Blackaby: A fine, fine godly man.

Nancy: Yes, he his. A man of the Word, a man of prayer.

Dr. Blackaby: He could quote the whole Bible, I think.

Nancy: Yes.

Dr. Blackaby: He and I became very good friends, and the movement of God went from his church to St. Timothy’s Anglican and then to the University Drive Alliance and to Third Avenue United. For seven and a half weeks, we experienced the presence of God.

Nancy: Tell us, I’ve read about this, but some of our listeners may not be familiar with this. This was in 1971, if I recall correctly. What was it like?

Dr. Blackaby: Well, it was like what I always felt God wanted. The churches came together. We met in the largest facility. If you went three hours before the meeting began, you couldn’t get in. There was such a touch of God in the meetings, and people would give testimonies.

They had an after-meeting that would go to 5 and 6:00 in the morning. There were so many lives being profoundly touched that they had to have two or three places to meet. Then we began to read in the local paper: “Sears is seeing many things being returned that were stolen.” The income tax people were saying there are confessions coming from all over the place how people cheated on their income tax.

The paper for weeks would have articles about what was happening in the city. I was involved throughout the whole seven and a half weeks. So I was there two years before, went all the way through it, and stayed 10 years after. I saw the impact in our own little church and this little group of ten that wanted to disband. Instead of disbanding, the Spirit of God hovered over our church, and we started 38 new congregations all over two provinces.

We began to cry out for laborers the way God told us, and over a hundred from our little church. . . . Well, we first baptized 180 college students, and about 100 felt called into the ministry and missions.

So we started a whole theological college in our church just to train them. I really prayed earnestly for God to come among His people to cleanse us, to make us available and obedient. So that little church that had never started a mission church, when the Spirit of God comes upon a people, they’re obedient.

I had people ask, "How large do you have to be before you can start a new church? I’d say, "You’re asking the wrong question. How large do you have to be to be obedient?" It’s a matter of obedience, not whether you can do it or not. God will do it.

We kept hearing about towns and villages crying out for a church. They would come to us, and I would take it to the church family. They’d say, “Pastor, it’s obvious God’s at work. We don’t have an option; we just need to go.”

There’s a whole story coming out of that, but I think a major part of revival is when God comes to His people and they repent and are cleansed. They become a highway of holiness over which God can do anything He wants and go anywhere He wants and do whatever He wants with his people. And they’ll always respond with, “Yes, Lord.”

Then you see the impact of the presence of God affecting towns and villages and other language groups. Also, the campus was radically changed at the university.

Since then, you and I were present in Colorado when the Lord just came upon the whole group of Campus Crusade leaders who were there. There were at least 21 hours of unbroken repentance and crying out to God. 

Since then, I’ve been on university campuses and other places where suddenly, the Spirit of God came upon God’s people, and there was an immediate repentance and utter brokenness. Then they would testify, and then others would respond; and it would go all night and all the next day spreading all across the campus and then to other campuses. The Lord has let me be a part of that. Nancy, I’m overwhelmed that He let’s me be a part of that.

I see the tremendous need again for God’s people to understand biblically. I was thinking of this passage in 2 Chronicles 15:2 where God announced to Asa, “The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” Asa sought the Lord, rebuilt the altar, took out everything that was offensive, and God came among his people again. But later his heart departed, and he forgot to trust in God; and God disciplined him severely.

Revival is basically knowing that God wants to be God in the midst of His people. We’re a covenant people, and the covenant was made on purpose so that through His people all the nations of the earth could be blessed. But when His people depart, so does the powerful presence of God and expression of God.

When they return, that’s revival. When the life of God returns to the people of God and when the people of God are right with God, it has an incredible effect on the lost people around them.

Nancy: Dr. Blackaby, there is, as you know, a lot of activity in the evangelical world today. There are mega-churches, mega-movements, media ministries, publishing. It’s not that there is a lack of activity. I’ve heard, even recently, some say that that means we really are in the throes of revival.

But you’re talking about saying that we need to recognize that the presence of God, the manifest presence of God is somehow missing in the midst of all this. What’s the evidence of that? What is it that we’re missing?

Dr. Blackaby: We’re missing the result of the presence of the holiness of God. You cannot have God in your midst and remain as you are as a people of God. You will come under severe conviction of sin. God’s people will feel the awesome presence of the holiness of God and expose their sin and will cry out unto God in repentance.

Nancy: Now, we have though in our services. . . . I’m just trying to think in a frame of reference that many people are going to church week after week; they’re very involved. We go to our services. We sing praise songs about holiness, lift our hands, whatever the format is in your church. I think a lot of people would say, “What is it that we need to repent of? What is all this sin you’re talking about? We can see it out in the culture. We can see it in the world, but what is it in the church that concerns you that we need to be concerned about and that God is concerned about?”

Dr. Blackaby: Let me give you a list. I think God’s people have removed repentance from their vocabulary for God’s people. If the word repentance is used in most evangelical churches, some are going to bow their heads and say, “O God, I hope there is someone here who is lost and needs to repent.” And God would say, “No, no, no. It’s you who need to repent.”

You have divorce running rampant throughout the church, and nobody is doing anything. Nobody calls people to repentance because of divorce. Now, I pastored 30 years, Nancy, and much of that in California and only saw one divorce. And that was from a Native Indian who left Canada, and I couldn’t reach him. If I had, I don’t think he would have divorced either. But today, divorce can happen, and there’s no grief reaction on the part of God’s people.

Nancy: We’re just accepting it as the way it is.

Dr. Blackaby: And the Scripture says, “God hates divorce.” That’s a direct quote from Malachi 2:16.

Nancy: You don’t hear that kind of preaching today though.

Dr. Blackaby: No, and that’s probably what’s happening, and the people need to repent. There ought to be a profound grief at what we’ve done to God’s name, what we’ve done to the entire gospel. It’s a gospel of reconciliation. If God’s people can’t reconcile one with another, then we have sinned grievously against God. If the church doesn’t deal with it, then the church has sinned.

We have broken relationships, and everyone feels that’s just okay. We lose members, and nobody pursues them. As a pastor for 30 years, an absolute with me is what I heard in John 6 from the mouth of Jesus, “This is the will of Him that sent me, that of all that He has given Me, I should lose none” (verse 39, NASB). I mean, that became an absolute for me as a shepherd.

I cannot remember—Marilyn and I have gone back over the three major churches we pastored in those 30 years. We cannot remember ever losing members apart from those who moved out of the city. But those who were still—we didn’t lose members, but that was because we sought to teach and teach and teach and teach. Jesus said not, “Teach them everything I have commanded,” “Teach them to practice everything I have commanded”  (Matthew 28:20 paraphrase).

Nancy: Big difference.

Dr. Blackaby: Oh, it’s a world of difference. We’re filling people with head knowledge but not leading them to experience the truth, but I would not rest until I saw the lives transformed by the truth. We would teach the truth and then walk with them until they were living it out. That’s why many of them wouldn’t go on vacation—because they felt they would miss some activity of God while they were gone.

People say, “Well, I’ve never been in a church like that,” and I said, “That’s why the churches need to repent,” because we have moved from relationship to religion. We assume that by actively practicing religious activity, that is the relationship to God.

Nancy: Well, there’s a lot of good feeling, a lot of emphasis on experience today, but it’s possible to be praising and singing and clapping and going to classes and sitting through services and not be right with God.

Dr. Blackaby: Not even have a relationship to God. If you read Isaiah chapter 1, he condemns all of that—including the raising of the hands and the prayers and all the rest and the sacrifices. He said, “They’re an abomination to me” (verse 13). Primarily, because they had equated activity with relationship, but their hearts were far from God.

Nancy: “[They] honor me with their lips . . . 

Dr. Blackaby: . . . but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). When God was about to destroy Israel, they were at their height of their religious activity. They would say, “We’re keeping the law; we’re doing the sacrifices.” But their hearts had departed, and they were now worshiping other idols. They never saw anything wrong with that.

As long as they were worshiping God, they felt they could do both. As long as God didn’t immediately discipline them, then God was okay with what they were doing. It was the religious leaders that never got the message. When He came to Jerusalem and Judah, it was the religious leaders of God’s people who never got the message.

So God said, “I’ll send my son; they’ll listen to him.” But the religious leaders of the people of God in Jesus’ day not only refused the message, but they crucified the Son of God.

Now, Nancy, it may not be popular to say, but as I go across America, the religious leaders of our day are no different. God’s people are still full of sin.

As long as there is sin in the life of God’s people, families broken. . . . There are some places in Texas I heard where they have safe houses for abuse in family life. The largest majority of those who come are wives of church leaders.

I talked to the person who directed it for all of Texas, and she was hesitant to say that to me. I’d say we have such brokenness in our churches, but nobody is repenting.

Prayer meetings are not being conducted with great intercession, with proper focus on prayer. What is it that we pray about? When you pray for revival, do you pray, “O God, send revival.” Or do you say, “O God, bring repentance profoundly to our congregation. Lord, we don’t even know what we should repent, but You do. We’re not seeing the manifest presence and activity that is Yours in our church, O God." There is no grief and no praying, no Gethsemane experience in the life of the churches.

When God’s people don’t pray and pastors don’t pray with their staff and deacons don’t pray significantly. . . . When I go across the nation, I do not see a significant change in the prayer life of God’s people.

But we’re the salt. Nancy, what did Jesus say happens to the salt when it loses it’s saltiness? It’s good for nothing but to be trod under the foot of men (see Matthew 5:13).

I see America treading under their feet the evangelical community. We are not influencing the nation. But it didn’t use to be that way.

It used to be that if some evangelical leader spoke, the whole nation took note. Leaders would think twice about doing something.

Nancy: The pastors were the prophets in those days.

Dr. Blackaby: They were. But today, they can speak and nobody listens. They just sort of yawn or say, “Well, that’s just them again.”

Nancy: We’ve lost our credibility.

Dr. Blackaby: We’ve lost our spiritual credibility. Now, should we then repent? We better. We cannot keep blaming everybody else for the condition of America.

When it dawns on us that the condition of America is a reflection of the condition of God’s people, at that point, we will then cry unto God, “O God, show us what’s missing from our life and how do we return so that God will once again manifest His presence?”

But I’m afraid we have become content to live without the manifest presence of God, and that is fatal.

Nancy: I wonder if most people even have a concept of what that would be like, to have the presence of God. Have we gone so long without it, not having witnessed it, that we think this is normal?

Dr. Blackaby: Yes. If we feel something exciting, it must be God. I’d say this generation has almost no reference point to an incredible presence of God. We have no reference point. We don’t know what it would look like.

We cry unto God, “Show us what we need to do so that You can once again manifest Yourself in the midst of Your people.” But I tried to prepare them. When people say, "We’re praying for revival."

I said, “Has anyone ever prepared you for such an encounter with the holiness of God?”

“Well, no, we’re just praying for revival.”

And I said, “I think if revival came, many of you would be so shocked at the experience some of you would respond immediately knowing it was God, the remnant. But others would try to shut it down because this is not seeker friendly.”

We’re far more concerned with what the world thinks about us than we are of what God thinks about us.

But we’re a covenant people of God. Our first concern ought not to be how the world sees us, but how God sees us. We need to see our lives as God sees us.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Henry Blackaby about prayer and revival. It’s one of the classic series from the Revive Our Hearts archives. We’re revisiting some of these classic series during our tenth year of broadcasting. Nancy will continue talking with Dr. Henry Blackaby tomorrow, but when you order these series on CD, you’ll receive a substantially longer version of the conversation. Just look for the series, We Need Revival at ReviveOurHearts.com or call 1-800-569-5959.

We’re able to air hard-hitting series like this thanks to listeners like you who donate to Revive Our Hearts. Would you stand with us during this tenth year of ministry? Help us continue broadcasting in your area, Lord willing, for another decade.

When you send a gift of any amount, we’ll show our gratitude by sending you the book, Voices of the True Woman Movement. Nancy edited this book and added some chapters. Other contributors include Joni Eareckson Tada, Janet Parshall, and John Piper. Nancy edited these chapters from the plenary sessions at the first True Woman conference in 2008, and this book will give you a solid, biblical understanding of true womanhood and show you how to make this message real in the challenges of daily life.

Donate by calling 1-800-569-5959 and ask for Voices of the True Woman Movement or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Yes or no? According to Henry Blackaby, you make one of those two choices every time you encounter God, He’ll explain tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture was taken from The New International Version.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.