Many churches in America take a special time of prayer and fasting to start the calendar year. This is always an appropriate way to dedicate the year to Jesus and seek His work and power. However, the beginning of 2018 has been different for many. Stovall Weems, Pastor of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, had just emerged from a very difficult three-year season, but believes he received a message from Jesus that he would restore those three years of pain in three months. Weems told attenders of a special session at the ARC Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 18, 2018, that those three months exceeded their expectations with a large number of physical healings and a greater sense of God’s presence in their gatherings than they have experienced in the almost twenty years of the church’s history. Others in the room verbalized, “God is up to something,” in their own ministries.
In a main session at the same event, Randy Bezet, pastor of Bayside Community Church in Bradenton, Florida, testified to a miraculous healing of his own shoulder as one of many miracles occurring during his church’s own season of prayer and fasting.
A month earlier, many Assemblies of God church planters, pastors, and leaders gathered for the first CMN Conference at Calvary Church in Irving, Texas. During his main session, Scott Wilson, pastor of The Oaks, Red Oak, Texas, shared how he had shifted from a ministry model using methods adopted from business practices to one that prioritized listening to the Holy Spirit and following what the leaders believe God is speaking. He then invited the entire gathering to listen together. A special sense of God’s presence filled the room, and many of the movement’s most influential young leaders came forward with specific messages that Wilson was able to weave together in a powerful reminder to one of the world’s most influential Pentecostal movements what it means to be people of the Holy Spirit.
Just the week before that, Southeastern University’s annual SEU Conference was taken to a new level of spiritual intensity, especially during the Tuesday evening service when guest speaker Benny Perez invited students to the altar. Many shared that they had never experienced that powerful of a work of God’s Spirit before that night. A deepened passion and pursuit of God continued to characterize the rest of SEU Conf and subsequent chapel services. Similarly, Pastor Doug Witherup of Concord First Assembly, one of North Carolina’s largest Assemblies of God churches, shared with me that he has intentionally led his church to seek a greater work of the Holy Spirit in their services, and God has responded demonstrably.
Reports like this are coming from churches across the country and around the world. Special seasons of God’s work have been recorded throughout history. An interesting scriptural example is found in I Samuel 3:1. Just before the writer tells us about God’s initial prophetic call to Samuel, he says, “Word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.” What this implies is that a season of spiritual dryness was coming to an end as God chose to reinvigorate a nation through a called prophet who was sensitive to God’s voice. Certainly, Christ’s first coming was such a season prepared by John the Baptist calling people to repentance. In the Christian era, we can point to many special seasons often called “revivals.” These are often associated with the most prominent preachers including John Chrysostom, Francis of Assisi, Girolamo Savonarola, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards. Other seasons have not been as characterized by single leaders but broader movements such as the early Twentieth Century Pentecostal Revivals including, but not limited to, Azusa Street. The Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s and the Jesus People Movement that followed on its heels are other examples. My own life and ministry were dramatically transformed in such a season in the late 1990s.
While some so-called revivals have experienced destructive errors, I want to see an authentic move of God that purifies his church, renews our passion for Him and his Gospel, leads many to faith in Christ, and brings the freedom that only He can. Study of both scriptural seasons of renewal and those throughout Christian history seem to indicate a two-pronged aspect of authentic renewal: a sovereign work of God’s initiative combined with the expectant faith of His people.
Paul gave us important instructions for navigating the work of the Holy Spirit in I Thessalonians 5:19-20: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.” (NIV) The implication of these words is that, although we cannot start the fire ourselves as people, we can put it out. If we hold the work of the Holy Spirit with contempt, we are likely to lose the opportunity for a greater empowerment to complete our mission. Paul used the same metaphor of fire in the other direction in the second letter to his protégé Timothy when he told him to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (II Timothy 1:6, NIV) What we do can increase or quench the spiritual fire God starts.
A common element of fanning the flame of the work of the Holy Spirit is repenting of all sin. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus’ work by preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) Jesus followed this by preaching the same way (Matthew 4:17). Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a prime example of the true repentance that has characterized many revivals.
The next key element in true revival is taking the Gospel outside of the church. The flames of Azusa Street quickly spread around the world. Although the purifying and empowering work of real renewal brings a joy beyond description, God does not bring it for our pleasure. He cleanses and empowers us to complete his mission. As Jesus promised his disciples in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (NASB)
I do pray that God has once again initiated an authentic season of renewal. I also pray that we, His people, will ensure we do not put out the Spirit’s fire but, rather, fan it into flame for the sake of the Gospel.