This Is Revival
April 9th, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
THIS IS REVIVAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-09-72 10:50 a.m.
On television and on radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled This is Revival. The text is in the third chapter of Habakkuk and the first verse:
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet:
O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid:
O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years,
in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.
What does he mean when he says, "O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid?" In the first chapter of the little book of three chapters, he announces to the nation its ultimate destruction. Being a prophet, God sent him with a message that unfolded the future for Judah. And the message was that Judah the state, and Jerusalem the holy city, and the temple, the sanctuary of the Lord, would be destroyed, and the people would be carried away into captivity.
He says that it will be the bitter and cruel and merciless Chaldeans, the Babylonians, who will come and sweep them away [Habakkuk 1:6-11]. That’s what he refers to when he says, "O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid." The prophet Habakkuk stood between the two great destructions of the chosen people. One of them had already happened. In 722, Sennacherib and Sargon from Assyria came and destroyed the Northern Kingdom, and destroyed the capital at Samaria.
That had already come to pass, and now Habakkuk is burdened with the message of delivering the announcement of God that the Southern Kingdom would also be destroyed, its capital laid waste, its sanctuary left in ruins, and the people carried exiles into a foreign land. There was great sorrow and agony of heart as Habakkuk made that announcement to his people, "O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid" [Habakkuk 3:2].
Then he prays. And for what does he pray? I would think that in the face of any catastrophe or judgment that would be announced by God, as at Nineveh, when the king heard the prophet, "Forty days and yet Nineveh will be destroyed" [Jonah 3:4]. When the king heard that – from the prime minister to his cabinet down to the humblest citizen, and even the animals – all were clothed in sackcloth, and the king and his people made appeal unto God; maybe the Lord will avert the judgment [Jonah 3:5-9].
Well, that’s what Habakkuk does here. When he heard the announcement, "O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid," then he prays, "O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy" [Habakkuk 3:2]. He prays for revival.
Revival is a Christian word. It is a family word. It pertains to us. The lost need regeneration; they need resurrection. They need "vival, vival." They need life. The Scriptures say that they are dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. It is the Christians. It is God’s people who are revived. The spark turned into a flame, revival belongs to us. It is we who are revived. The Lord met His disciples, and behind closed doors breathed upon them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit" [John 20:22]. This is revival. It is a Christian word. It is a family word. It pertains to us.
Revival is a church word. It is an assembly word. It belongs to the house of God. We’re not to look for revival in the mafia or in the syndicate or in the underground, or in the brewers’ and the distillers’ convention. Revival belongs to the people in the assembly. It is a church word. It belongs to us. We can never give what we do not first possess. And there ought to be in the spirit of the church one of triumph, and of gladness, and of warmth, and of praise. This is revival.
Yesterday I spent at Mt. Lebanon, our assembly ground, with our junior high teenagers, our younger teenagers. At noon, I was seated by a couple who had just joined our church. And as I ate dinner with them, along with all the rest of that teeming group of youngsters, I asked them where they came from, what city, and what church they belonged to. And to my surprise, all of those years they had belonged to suburban churches, and yet they come down here miles and miles to join our church and to be here with us.
Well, I said, "That is interesting because practically all the people who belong to a suburban church in another city will seek out a neighborhood church in a new city to which they have removed; and for you to come down and to be with us is unusual. Why did you do it?" And this was their reply, they said, "We came down to the First Baptist Church in Dallas out of curiosity."
They said, "It’s a very famous church, and we just wanted to see it." So they came down. And they said to me, "We were surprised. We thought, being large that the church would be cold, and removed, and lack warmth, and welcome." The couple said to me, "We were never so received in our lives, and there was a spirit in the congregation that we’d rarely ever seen or felt." They said, "We went to neighborhood churches in the city, but there was no gladness of welcome such as we received down there. Nor was there the spirit in it such as we felt in that church."
So they said, "We came back, and then we came back again, and then recently we joined and are going to rear our children in this church." You cannot know how happy that made my own heart, for that is the spirit of revival; one of warmth, and of interest, and of concern, and of welcome, and of gladness. I think that when people come into the assembly, before a word is said, before a song is sung or a Scripture read or a prayer prayed, I think that people ought to be able to sense and to feel the moving presence of God among us.
He is here, and His Spirit is felt. And when we leave the place it ought to have been an experience with God to be present in the service. This is revival. It is a church word. It is an assembly word. It pertains to us.
It is a normal word. We’re not seeking after some monstrous experience, extraneous and alien and foreign to the mind of God. It is a normal word. Always there ought to be that spirit of uplift, and of glory, and of praise among us. Not just a week, but every time we meet there ought to be that rising, that uplifting, that God-wardness that is so deeply felt in our souls. What would you think of a father, and his son was sick all the time, and you spoke to him about the boy, and the father was unconcerned, just absolutely indifferent? And he says, "Don’t worry about the boy. He’ll be up six days out of the year, and that’s just fine, and that’s just normal. He’ll be all right, and he’ll be really alive and up and well and strong six days or seven days out of the year. And the rest of the time, why, he’s down and he’s sick and he’s invalid."
Oh, no! If the father had any care or any concern at all, what he’d pray for and work for and seek is the health of his boy every three hundred sixty-five days out of the year, every fifty-two weeks out of the year. I feel that about the church. This is revival. Every time we gather together we’re looking to God for a blessing. It’ll be a great experience! It’ll be a great hour. It’ll be a great day. The Lord is there. Revival is among us! It’s a normal word! It’s not strange and alien and foreign; but it pertains to a life that we experience here in the presence of God and with one another.
This is revival; the spirit of contrition and confession, the spirit of bowing. Lord, forgive me my sterile, and barren, and unfruitful life. I’m not what I could be. I’m not what I can be. I am not, by God’s grace, what I shall be. This is revival; a bowing before God.
I do not deprecate, nor would I find it in my heart even to comment on the idea of the waving of banners, and the blowing of trumpets, and the beating of drums, and the parades, and the march that might go with a revival. But as I looked at it, I still would have this conviction in my heart that that is for show, that’s for ostentation, that’s for parade, that’s for exhibition, and all of it is fine, maybe to gather attention, to make a headline, that’s great. But if there’s real revival it will not be with the blowing of a trumpet, or a beating of a drum, or a parade down the street.
If there is real revival it’ll be found when people are down on their faces in contrition and in confession, wrestling before God. Maybe praying because we cannot pray, maybe crying because we cannot cry, maybe burdened because we’re not burdened, maybe concerned because we’re not concerned, maybe weeping because we cannot weep.
How long has it been since you have seen a congregation bowed down in tears because of a burden for the lost? How long has it been since you’ve seen anything like that? I can hardly remember it. And yet, I can remember as a boy, when I have seen whole congregations so burdened for the lost that they bowed in tears, in weeping, in concern, in care. I don’t see that anymore.
There are ten thousand other things that weigh upon our hearts that demand and command our attention; but not that, not that. Yet that is revival. It is the bowing of God’s people in confession and in contrition, "Lord, there’s no burden on my heart, there’s no concern in my life, I don’t care." And that spirit of unburden, unconcern, is what turns our hearts and our churches and our services into cold steel!
Might as well think of the bricks in the wall having revival, might as well think of the steel girders having revival, might as well think of the concrete floors having revival because the people are just like that. Their hearts are like iron, and their lives unconcerned or hardened like the concrete. This is revival; when God puts in us hearts of flesh, hearts of concern, hearts of prayer.
And that’s the second thing that revival is. Revival is the spirit of intercession and of pleading. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a young Scots preacher, so effective in his life and ministry, who burned out, who died when he was twenty-nine years of age, Robert Murray M’Cheyne put on his watch, on the dial of his watch the picture of a setting sun, he drew a sunset; and underneath were written the words, "For the night cometh" [John 9:4]. Oh, how tragically true that is. Our day of grace is just this long, just this much, and then it is gone and gone forever. Cannot you think of those that are not here? Who would have thought they would have been ill? Can you think of those who have died? Who would have thought that today they’re not alive? Our lives are like a mist. They’re like a vapor. They’re so brief. They can be so easily taken away. We live literally like a brittle thread, and its length is in the sovereign will and purpose of God.
What we do, we must do now. And that brings the burden of concern to our hearts. If there is a word to be spoken it must be spoken now. If there’s an invitation to be extended, it must be extended now. This is revival; that sensitivity of concern and care and intercession.
Some several months ago, on one of these trips to the moon, there were three astronauts out there in space. They were far, far out. They’d almost achieved their goal. And do you remember something went wrong with the oxygen system? There was an explosion, and those men in jeopardy of life turned the spaceship around, trying to get back to the earth.
And there were millions and millions and millions of people in America, and other millions around the world, that almost breathlessly waited and watched and prayed for the safe recovery of those three men out in space. That is the spirit of revival. If there were in the church that same eager longing for the safety and the conversion and the salvation of our lost, you would have a visitation from God. That is revival; the spirit of intercession, of prayer, of burden and concern.
This is revival; the spirit of unity. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come," what is the first introduction to the great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit of God? "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place" [Acts 2:1]. I do not think that there can be the possibility of revival when there is dissension and schism in the church. I don’t think it’s possible. I think the Holy Spirit withdraws Himself. I’ve often said that the reason that I can think of for the tremendous blessing of God upon the First Church in Dallas has been, in the memory of man, there has never been trouble in the church. As far back as men can remember the church has been one and at peace in the Lord. The weakness of us is not found in the assembly. It’s not found in the gathering of the church; but the weakness is found in our separate individual jealousies, and bitternesses, and hatreds. And there’s too much of that in the church. Some of it is in the staff. Some of it is in the deacons. Some of it is in the choir. Some of it is in all of the organizational life of the church. It’s not enough to make us sick, but it is enough to be an affront to God. There ought to be nothing of that anywhere in the church.
When we come before God, all of us ought to leave ourselves behind. Now out there in the world we can compete. We can strive. I suppose, as a worldling, to bite, and hate, and undercut, and choke, and kill, if you could put the other guy out of business and starve his family, I suppose in our modern individualistic society that’s perfectly in order. If you can get the guy out of your way, make him close up his door, send him to the wall, make him bankrupt, take all of his business, I suppose that’s all right in the world.
But in the house of God and in the church, there ought to be nothing of the competitive unless it is this, that we compete with one another that we might be better servants of each other; that we compete with one another that we might be a better friend; that we might love somebody more than somebody else loves them; that we might give ourselves more than anybody else gives himself. "The Son of Man came not to minister unto, but to minister, and to give Himself a ransom for many" [Matthew 20:28].
This is revival; that spirit of unity and oneness, the self-effacing, the putting of ourselves aside, just leaving ourselves out of it. If somebody’s exalted, fine; let’s help exalt them. If somebody’s elected, fine; let’s vote for them. If somebody is praised, wonderful; let our voices also praise them. If somebody’s placed forward, great; let’s help build a platform on which they can stand. Let it be just less and less and less of us until there is not anything of us, not personally, but all of it is to the praise and glory of God.
O Lord, wouldn’t that be revival? Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be marvelous, if the whole church, pastor, deacons, staff, all of us, if the whole church were just like that, joining hands in one great appeal for the lost, just giving ourselves for that and nothing else in our hearts? No personal ambition, nothing but just God and what God can do through us.
I, in keeping with this text, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place"; all of them joining hands together in a great unity. I thought, when I was preparing the sermon, I thought of a picture that I saw in a national magazine, a big spread on both pages. It was a picture of one of those illimitable, horizon-to-horizon wheat fields in Kansas. As far as the eye could see there was that picture of endless wheat, broad acres of grain. And what had happened was this: the little five year old boy in the home had wandered out into that field and had got lost. And they couldn’t find the little fellow, and so the father and mother frantically searched, and to no end. And the neighbors were called, and they searched to no purpose, and finally everyone in the whole vast area began to go through that wheat field seeking that little five year old boy that was lost, to no avail.
And the days passed, and they couldn’t find the child. Finally, somebody said, "Let’s all join hands, and let’s comb this field back and forth until we find the child." That’s what they did. They joined hands, a great long, long string. They joined hands and they combed that field, and found the little boy. But it was too late. The little child was dead. And the picture was of the father standing over the silent form of that little five year old boy, and he was saying, "O God, that we had joined hands before." That’s revival; when our people join hands and we are seeking the lost, we are praying for the lost. It is a care to us that they be saved. That is revival.
This is revival; a longing, and a thirsting, and a hungering after God. The forty-second Psalm begins, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for the living God" [Psalm 42:1-2]. It is a hungering. It is a thirsting for the presence of the Lord. That is revival.
I grew up in far northwest Texas, and I remember the drought of the years and the years. We lived on a farm. The wind and the drought destroyed it. I walked one time over the fences around our farm. They were beneath my feet; the tumbleweeds by the wind blown against the barbed wire fence, and then the sand caught in the tumbleweeds, building up and up and up, and finally the fence beneath your feet when you walked over it. I have seen the heavens turn to brass. I have seen the earth turn to iron. I have heard the lowing of cattle for water. I have seen the pastures burn and the whole world turn brown and seared.
One day, standing in the door at the back of our house on the farm was my father. He was watching the rain fall. I was standing by his side, four, or five, six, five or six years of age. And as the rain began to fall my father began to shout to the top of his voice. Now, my father was very retiring, and very shy, and timid. And when I heard him shout I could hardly believe, and I looked up and asked him, "Daddy, why are you shouting so?" and he replied, "Son, the rain, the rain, God hath given us rain." It meant food for our mouths. It meant shoes for our feet. It meant clothing for our backs. It meant life for the family. "God hath given us rain."
O for the floods on the thirsting land!
O for a mighty revival!
O for a fearless sanctified band,
Ready to hail its arrival.
["Abundant Life," William Leslie]
The need of the land is revival,
A freshen of grace from above;
Repentance toward God and forgiveness;
More trusting in Christ and His love.
The need of the church is revival,
More praying for those who are lost;
More fullness of spirit and witness;
More zeal without counting the cost.
This is revival; a lifting up of our hearts and our hands God-ward, and heavenward, and Christ-ward. This is revival.
This is revival; the spirit of answer, of response, of resolution, of commitment. This is revival; "I have decided to follow Jesus." One of the men came down the aisle here at this church and took my hand and said to me, "I have said, ‘No,’ to Christ for the last time, and I’m coming." That is revival: an answer to God with your life.
Will you do that today? Will you? As the Lord shall speak to your heart today, will you answer? A family, a couple, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, into that aisle, down one of these stairways, here to the front, would you make it now? Would you come now? In a moment we shall stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing that song, would you answer God’s call with your life? Would you do it? "Here I am, and here I come." I cannot press the appeal. God has to do that. The Lord has to say the word. The Lord has to make the appeal. God has to speak. But if the Lord speaks to you, will you answer with your life? Will you come? "Pastor, this is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming today." Or just a couple you, or just one you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. "Here I am. Here I come." Do it now. Make the decision now, and when we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, come now. There’s time and to spare. If you’re on the last row of that second topmost balcony, come. Come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. What is revival?
A. Revival is a
B. Revival is a church
C. Revival is a normal
II. This is revival
A. The spirit of
contrition and confession
B. The spirit of
travail and agony in prayer
1. For ourselves
2. For the lost
C. The spirit of unity
D. The spirit of
hungering and thirsting for God
E. The spirit of
weeping and rejoicing