This is Revival
April 9th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THIS IS REVIVAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-09-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message. In the third chapter of Habakkuk, the [first] verse, there is a text that brings to us this appeal and spirit of revival, “A prayer of Habakkuk”:
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, “O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid”? [Habakkuk 3:2] He plainly describes his fear, his consternation, in the first chapter where the announcement is made through him of the coming destruction of the Judean state, of the holy city Jerusalem, and of the sanctuary itself. He is the prophet who brings to Israel the tragic and terrible announcement that the bitter and hasty Chaldeans, the Babylonians, will be God’s instrument of judgment to destroy the state, the city, and the temple [Habakkuk 1:5-13]. That is what he means when he says, “O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid” [Habakkuk 3:2].
He stood between those two great judgments; the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and Samaria in 722 [2 Kings 17:5-6, 18], and the destruction of the Southern Kingdom and Judea in 586 [2 Chronicles 36:14-21]. One had already happened, and the other is prophesied by Habakkuk himself. “O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid” [Habakkuk 3:2].
Then he takes to God an intercessory petition, “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]. His hope for the staying of the judgment and the avenging hand of Almighty God lay in a visitation from above: a revival. “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” And this is our burden of prayer and intercession on our hearts today, “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years” [Habakkuk 3:2].
Revival is a Christian word. It is a family word. The lost need regeneration and resurrection. They need salvation. They are dead, the Scriptures say, in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. It is God’s people who have revival. The spark flaming as the Lord gathered His disciples behind closed doors and breathed on them, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [John 20:19, 22].
It is we who have revival. It is a Christian word. It is a family word. Revival is a church word. It is an assembly word. We’re not to expect revival in the mafia, or in the syndicate, or in the underground, or in a convention of brewers and bartenders and distillers. It begins at the house of God. Simon Peter so said, “It starts with us. It begins here” [1 Peter 4:17]. Revival is a church word. It is an assembly word. It pertains to us.
Revival is a normal word. We’re not seeking some monstrous experience alien to the mind of God. We cannot give what we do not possess. We are asking God for an outpouring of His Holy Spirit, for the moving convicting power of His saving grace. We’re asking for the joy, and the fullness, and the glory, and the fellowship, and the gladness that comes with the presence and visitation of God. It is a normal word. It is something that should characterize God’s people always; the spirit of burning, and of gladness, and of praise, and of glory.
Yesterday I spent at Mt. Lebanon in a retreat with our younger teenagers, our Junior High division, and at noon I happened to be seated at the dinner table out there with a young couple who has just joined our church. They’ve been here just a little while, and I asked them where they came from and the church that they belonged back there in the city before they moved to Dallas. They belonged to a suburban church and had all their lives. But what happened was it was never their thought or intention to come down here. It is miles and miles for them to drive down here. Nor had they belonged to a downtown church, or the First Baptist Church. Well, I said, “Why are you here? Why did you join? Why did you decide to come those miles and miles?”
And the reply of both of them was this. “We came down to the First Baptist Church out of curiosity. We had heard of it all of our lives. It is a famous place, the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we just wanted to see it, and out of curiosity we came to look at it.” And they said to me, “It was a new experience for us. We visited many of the suburban churches in the area of Dallas, but there was no spirit in it like the Spirit of God down there, nor was there any sweet fellowship like the Spirit of the Lord among the people there, nor was there any praise and any gladness, and any warmth as we found down there.” They said to me, “It was the greatest surprise of our lives, for we thought the church being large, being downtown, would be impersonal, would be without warmth. It would be cold. We found it the opposite, and we came back, and we decided this is where we wanted both our souls and the rearing of our children.” Isn’t that a wonderful thing? It warmed my heart to hear them speak those words to me.
That is the spirit of revival, of warmth, of fellowship, of gladness, of praise, of the moving of the Spirit of God among us. I think that God’s Holy Spirit ought to be felt the minute that anybody comes into the assembly of God’s people. There is a something. There is a somebody. There is a moving presence that is felt before anybody would say a word, before anything is done, before a song is sang or a prayer is prayed. There ought to be that presence of God that is felt in the assembly of the Lord’s people. That is revival. It is a normal word. It is something that ought to characterize us all the time. Every Sunday and every service ought to be a glorious experience in God.
What is revival, real revival? There are several things it is. First, it is the spirit of confession and contrition. “O Lord, forgive me my sterile and barren life, and my unfruitfulness. Lord, I’m not what I could be. I’m not what I can be, and by God’s grace, I’m not what I shall be.” This is the spirit of revival; bowing before God, maybe praying because we can’t pray, maybe crying because we can’t cry, maybe burdened because we’re not burdened, maybe concerned because we’re not concerned. Revival is God’s people in bowing, in humility, in contrition laying their souls naked and bare at the feet of the cross.
What is revival? Revival is the spirit of intercessory petition and prayer, both for ourselves and for the lost. “Dear Lord, the night cometh, our day of grace is so brief, and what I do I must do now” [John 9:4]. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the Scots preacher who burned himself out by the time he was twenty-nine, Robert Murray M’Cheyne had on his watch, on the face of his watch, a picture of the setting sun, and underneath the words, “The night cometh” [John 9:4]. It is so brief.
Yesterday, when I came back from Mt. Lebanon, yesterday I made a call in a home here in the city of Dallas. The father in the home had died suddenly. We don’t know. We cannot foresee. Who would have ever thought that Lee Roy Till would be thus ill? What the morrow brings is hid in the infinite purposes and will of God, and what we do we must do now. And that is the spirit of revival: “Lord, Lord, help us to speak, to come, to witness, to testify, to invite; for tomorrow is too late.” And the burden of that intercession is revival.
Do you remember some months ago, when on one of these space shots to the moon, something happened to the oxygen system? There was an explosion, and those three astronauts were out there thousands and thousands of miles in space. Why, the terror of it to the entire nation, and the praying of the millions of people, and almost breathlessly we listened to the report and read the headline in the newspaper as those men turned around in space and fought furiously for their lives, bringing their spacecraft back to the earth. Any moment, any hour, any mile of the way could have been their last, and almost frantically and breathlessly did all of America, and a large part of the whole earth, follow those men as they descended back to the planet. That is revival; that spirit of concern, and burden, and intercessory prayer. It is a concern to us. It is a burden to us. It is a matter of intercession to us that God save the lost. That is revival.
What is revival? Revival is the spirit of unity in assembly. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, how does the great Christian era begin? “They were all with one accord in one place” [Acts 2:1]. How many churches are divided by cliques and schisms? How many congregations are split one to five ways? How many areas of church life are decimated and destroyed by jealousy and bitterness? This is revival: “They were all with one accord in one place.” The great drawing, moving, wooing Spirit of God bringing the people close together, and close to the Lord; with one accord, in one place, all dedicated to the same love, the same appeal, the same intercession, the same hope and vision and prayer; Lord, for a visitation from above. This is revival; joining hands together, unity, all of them with one accord in one place.
Did you see some time ago—it’s been a few years ago—in one of our national magazines there was a spread on both pages of a state of Kansas wheat field? From horizon to horizon, there was the picture of that vast field of golden wheat; as far as the eye could see, that vast wheat field. The story that prompted the picture lay in a little boy about five years of age, who had wandered from the home, and had lost himself in that intractable expanse of grain.
And the father and mother, frantically seeking the child, could not find the little fellow. He had wandered out into that endless wheat field. So they called the neighbors, and the neighbors began to search, and to search, and to search for the little lad and couldn’t find him. And as the hours passed, and the night, and a day, and a day, and they all searching frantically for that little boy, a neighbor made the suggestion, “Let’s all join hands, and let’s comb this field from one side to the other. Let’s join hands and spread out as far as we can and comb this great field.” They did so, and finally they found the little boy, but he was already dead. And the picture in the magazine was, as the father looked down on that little child, he said, “O God, that we had joined hands before.”
There are things that we can do personally and privately and singly. But there are some things that we can do only in unity, in one another, and this is one of them. Revival is an assembly word. It is a church word. It is a family word. It is a Christian word. It is a word that has its final meaning in the great gathering together of God’s people. Revival is for the church.
Revival is the spirit of a hungering and a thirsting after God. Do you remember the first verse of the forty-second Psalm? “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 face and the presence and the blessing of God.
I grew up, as some of you know, in far northwest Texas. I have seen the ravages of years of drought. The farm that we owned, and on which I lived for a while as a little boy, was destroyed by wind and by drought. I walked over the fences around the fields. They were beneath my feet. Those rolling tumbleweeds caught in the barbed wire fence, and then the sand drifting against them built up enough until the very fences were beneath my feet. I have seen the heavens turn to brass. I have seen the earth turn to iron. I have heard the lowing of thirsting cattle. I have seen the pastures wither and dry and the entire earth become desolate and barren.
I remember upon a day standing by my father. I was about five or six years old, standing by my father in the back door of the house, the farm on which we lived, and it began to rain. And my father, standing in the backdoor of the house, and watching the rain fall from heaven, began to shout to the top of his voice.
Now you’d have to know my father to know the effect that that would have upon me, because he was very retiring, most so, very quiet, very self-effacing. And to see my father shout to the top of his voice was an astonishing thing to me as a little boy! I looked up into his face, and I said, “Daddy, why are you shouting so?” And he replied, “My son, the rain, the rain, God hath given us rain!” It meant food for our mouths. It meant shoes for our feet. It meant clothes for our backs. It meant life to the family. “God hath given us rain!”
O for the floods on the thirsting land!
O for a mighty revival!
O for a fully sanctified band,
Ready to hail its arrival.
[“Under the Burden of Guilt and Care,” W. 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.
[author and work unknown]
This is the spirit of revival.
What is revival? Revival is the spirit of response and decision. As one of the men came down this aisle upon a day, took my hand here at the front, and said to me, “For the last time I have said no to God. I am coming. I have decided to follow Jesus,” that is revival, the spirit of response, of dedication, of commitment, of acceptance—”Here I am, and here I come.”
That is our appeal now to you. In this first service of our week of soul-winning, evangelistic appeal, if the Lord lays upon you any invitation to which you ought to respond with your life, will you make it now? Will you come now? In a moment we shall stand to sing our song of appeal. The throng in this balcony round, a family, a couple, or just you; the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now.” To accept the Lord as your Savior, come. To put your life in the fellowship of the church, come. To begin our week of revival in a reconsecration, in a rededication in your own heart, come. As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your soul, answer with your life. Come. On the first note of the first stanza, into the aisle or down one of these steps: “And here I am, pastor, I make it now.” Maybe you’d just like to come and have a prayer and go back to your seat; come. I cannot say the word. It is the Holy Spirit of God who must make this appeal to your heart. As He does, answer with your life—”Here I am, pastor, and here I come”—while we stand and while we sing.