Revival Is Coming Our Way


Revival Is Coming Our Way

March 19th, 1995 @ 7:30 PM

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. 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 known; in wrath remember mercy.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Habakkuk 3

3-19-95    7:30 p.m.


Two words before I begin: one, I am preaching about revival.  And to us, “revival” carries with it the connotation of a protracted series of services; a revival, a revival meeting.  But in no place in the Bible does the word “revival” refer to such a protracted meeting.  Revival in the Bible is a word that describes the turning of a people toward God.  And that is the way we shall use it tonight as we expound this Holy Scripture.  The second word about the message is that it is largely and almost altogether a leaf from my own life.  This is what I have experienced, what I have seen in the hand of the Lord moving in a day in which I have lived and ministered.

Our message is from the prophet Habakkuk, and in the third and last chapter of this wonderful and beautiful book:

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet.

O Lord, I have heard Your speech,

and was afraid: O Lord, revive—

and there is the word—

O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath, in judgment, remember mercy.

[Habakkuk 3:1-2]

You see, he lived between the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC [2 Kings 17:3-6] and the destruction of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, in 586 BC [Jeremiah 39:1-2, 52:10-13].  The first had already happened: Israel was taken away into captivity and disappeared as a nation from the earth [2 Kings 17:23].  And the second, the terrible judgment of God, the wrath of God against Judah; he prophesied himself [Habakkuk 1:5-11], and almost certainly he lived to the beginning of that visitation of wrath from heaven.  And in the providences of the Lord, Habakkuk himself prophesied of the coming of those Babylonians, those bitter, bitter people from the Mesopotamian valley that brought death and destruction to the nation, to the city of Jerusalem, to the temple, and the carrying away of the people of God into captivity.

I read of his prophecy in chapter 1, of the coming destruction of that Southern Kingdom.  Beginning at verse 5, “Look among the nation, and watch,” and what:

Be utterly astounded!  For God will work a work in your days,

which you will not believe, though it were told you.  For, indeed, God is raising up the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, a bitter and hasty nation,

Which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful: Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.  Their horses are swifter than leopards, and more fierce than evening wolves: their chargers charge ahead; their cavalry comes from afar; they fly as the eagle that hastens to eat.  They all come for violence: their faces are set like the east wind;

They gather captives like sand.

[Habakkuk 1:5-9]

That was the prophecy of Habakkuk concerning the coming of the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, who, when they came, destroyed the nation and carried the people away into captivity; “They gather captives like the sand” [Habakkuk 1:9].  And Habakkuk lived in that time just before 605 [Daniel 1:1, 3-6] and 586 BC [2 Kings 25:1-21], when that prophecy came to pass, and the people were carried away into captivity and the nation was destroyed.

In the face of that coming tragedy, so he writes my text:

O Lord, I have heard Your speech, and was afraid:

O God, revive Your work in the midst of the years,

In the midst of the years make it known;

in wrath remember mercy.

[Habakkuk 3:2]

For you see, revival, a people turning to God, will save a nation.  When the Assyrians came against Judah, having destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, they encompassed Jerusalem and shut it up in an iron grasp [2 Kings 18:13].  And in those days, Hezekiah led the people into a great beseeching, an intercession, a confession, a repentance.  And God sent the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah, who said to him, “I have seen your tears, and I have heard your prayers” [Isaiah 38:21], and God spared the nation.  For that night, an angel of the Lord went over the great camp and army of the Assyrians, and the next morning they counted one hundred and eighty-five thousand dead [2 Kings 19:35, Isaiah 37:36].  Revival will save a nation.

I do not know of anything more dynamic in the history of our English people than the story told by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities.  In the latter part of the 1700s was the French Revolution.  And there were so many killed, slain, their heads cut off by the guillotine, that having the ground soaked up with human blood, they had to change those guillotines from square to square, and street to street.  The French Revolution was as bloody a confrontation as human history has ever recorded.  At the same time that the French Revolution was occurring in Paris and in France, the same conditions characterized our England.  They were as vile, as wicked, as forgetful of God as were the French.  Yet there was no revolution that came to England.  Why?  Because at that time England experienced one of the great revivals of human history: the John and [Charles] Wesley revival.  And the Lord spared England; and there was no bloodshed, only a great turning to God.  Revival will save a nation.

Revival will save a city.  There’s not even a child but is aware of the coming of Jonah to the wicked city of Nineveh.  And for the beginning to the end of his ministry, he raised his voice and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4]; a visitation of God from heaven.  And the king of Nineveh put aside his garments, and sat in sackcloth; and his people bowed before God in repentance and confession.  And the Lord looked down and spared Nineveh [Jonah 3:5-10].  A people turning to God will save a city.

One of the most unusual stories in Roman history, in the latter part of the 300s AD, Antioch rebelled against the Roman Emperor Theodosius.  And Theodosius, the Roman emperor, gathered his Roman army together and marched to Antioch to destroy the city!  And in those days, those days—I suppose he was the greatest Christian preacher that ever lived—John Chrysostom led Antioch in a mighty revival; and the people turned to God in repentance and confession.  And when the emperor Theodosius arrived with his army to destroy the city, they were on their knees, they were praying, they were giving their heart to God; and the emperor himself was caught up in the great spirit of revival: a people turning to God.

Revival will not only save a nation, revival will not only save a city, a revival will save a church, and a people, and a family, and those who live under its surveillance and influence.  So, upon a day, when I was pastoring my little country church in southern Kentucky, some men came to see me, and said, “Our church is closed.  Would you come and preach to us on a Sunday afternoon?  Our children are growing up without God, and our families are without any kind of religious influence.  Would you come?”  And I came.  The church was in the bulrushes, in the weeds; they’d grown clear up to the eave of the roof.  We cleaned the yard.  We repaired the broken windows.  I began to preach.  And I picked out a long, tall boy, and I said to him, “I want to go from house to house, and these people in this backwoods, no telling what would happen if a stranger came and knocked at the door.  I want you to introduce me.  We’ll go to the house to the house to the house, and I want you to tell them who I am.  And then if they will invite me in, I want to open my Book and read to them out of God’s Word, and get on my knees and pray.  And when I kneel to pray, I want you to kneel down with me.”

We went from house to house.  I was graciously invited into every one of those country homes.  I opened my Bible and read to them out of God’s Book.  I invited them to Jesus.  That great big boy knelt down by my side like a jackknife folding together.  And sweet people, I baptized more converts in Barren River in southern Kentucky than they had ever seen or heard in the history of the state.  I baptized more converts than were members of the little congregation.  Revival will save a church, save a community, save a family, save a people.

And I look upon America today: great God in heaven!  I don’t recognize the country in which I live as I look back over the days of my life.  When I was a boy, and as I see it now: the violence, the sin, the degradation, the drug culture, the murder—can’t build prisons fast enough and big enough.  I think of the judgment of God upon Samaria and upon Jerusalem.  And when the Lord was asked, “Why do You judge these people, and send armies that are more violent than they?” God said, “The Assyrians are the rod of Mine anger, and the staff of Mine indignation” [Isaiah 10:5].  I wonder what is the judgment of God that awaits upon America?

I’m not speaking of tenements in New York City; nor am I speaking of the migrant communities in southern California; I am speaking of my sweet, dear people in Dallas.  So, in a city block that side of Commerce, one of the dear, dear friends of mine headed a great corporation, one of the biggest in America.  And on the eleventh floor, his office; and he had me up there for lunch.  And after we had broken bread together, he said to me, “Now, I’m going to call for a limousine and take you back to church.”  I said, “You’re not going to do any such thing.  It’s just five blocks, and its high noon.  And I’m walking through the heart of the city, and I’m going to walk, and I need the walk.”

“No,” he said, “you are not going to walk.  If you won’t let me send you with a limousine, I’m going to call one of our security officers and have him accompany you back to church.”  And I said to the president of that great corporation, “You’re not going to do it.  It’s only five blocks from there, Commerce, to San Jacinto here.  And I need to walk.”  And he said, “But I’m going to send you with a security officer.”  Well, I said, “Why?  It’s high noon in the heart of central Dallas.  Why?”  And he said, “I am afraid you might be mugged.”  Here where I live, here where I minister, here where our church is located—great God in heaven!  What lies ahead for America?

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]

Lord God!  How we need a turning to God in America.

Revival: it is a Christian word, it is a kingdom word.  The lost need to be resurrected; they need to be saved!  It is God’s people who have revival.  It is not only a kingdom word, “revival” is a church word, it is a family word: it belongs to us; we are the ones that have a great turning, a revival.  The sadness of so many of our churches—there are some I could point to right here that are closed and dark tonight.  They are without life, and without fire, and without the moving of the Spirit of God.

I one time heard of a little monkey, somehow got away from its owner in the middle of a cold winter.  And the little thing, so cold, found a house, and went around; and on the inside of the window, there he saw a fire.  And the little monkey finally found an aperture big enough, through which he could crawl, and enter into the domain.  He ran to the fire, and stood there with his little paws to warm—and froze to death.  The fire was painted.  So many times in the household of God is the fire painted: it’s not real; there’s no dynamic of the Holy Spirit of God moving in the congregation.

Revival is a kingdom word.  Revival is a church word.  Revival is a normal word.  Somebody this noontime was speaking to me about something they’d seen on television: an outlandish demonstration of what is supposed to be a visitation from the Spirit of God, as the people rolled, and as they laugh, and as they carry on.  God doesn’t mean that, nor refer to such a response as that.  Revival is a normal word: it’s the way we ought to live every day of our lives, serving God in the congregation of His dedicated people.

This is revival: the Spirit of rededication and recommitment.  So the executive secretary of California wrote me a letter.  And he said, “My pastors are greatly discouraged.  And I thought, maybe, if you would acquiesce, you could come and preach to them for a week.  There will be no business; all we will do is gather, and you preach to us for a week.  And I promise you every one of our pastors will be present: I will pay for his coming.”  I acquiesced; I accepted the invitation, and went out.  And about halfway between San Jose and Santa Cruz on the [Pacific] is an assembly ground owned by the Nazarenes, called Beulah Park; one of the most beautiful and effective places I’ve ever seen, those tall redwoods two hundred feet high, oh!  And every pastor of a Baptist church in California was there; every one of them.  There were over three hundred of them that were present.  So I started out preaching the best I could from the depths of my heart on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; and on Thursday night, while I was there just preaching away, one of those men stood up and came down, and fell at the mourners’ bench, and began to sob and to cry.

I hadn’t even paid any attention to that mourners’ bench; from side to side, there it was.  Well, I thought, you know, so I went on preaching while he fell down on his face there at the mourners’ bench crying.  And in a little while, another one stood up, and fell down there at that mourners’ bench, and began to cry.  Well, I tried to keep on preaching; and as I did, another one stood up, and another.  And finally, I had to quit.

Did you ever hear the sound of more than three hundred men crying, sobbing?  I had never heard such a sound in my life!

When I got home here to Dallas, I received a letter from a pastor out there in California.  And the letter went like this, it said: “I want to apologize to you, and ask for your forgiveness.  I’m the man,” he said, “that stood up in the midst of your sermon, and came down there to that mourners’ bench and began to sob and to cry.”  He said to me, “If you knew me, you would be surprised that I would do such a thing.  But I wanted to tell you why.  The week before my wife and I had agreed—we were so discouraged, we had agreed that I was going to quit the ministry, resign my church, and enter a secular work.  That week, a week ago, we received that letter from our executive secretary.  I showed it to my wife, and I said to her, ‘See, my way is paid.  I’ll go to that assembly, and then when I come back, the following Sunday I’ll resign.  I’ll quit the ministry.  And I’ll get me a secular job.’”

And he said, “I just found myself standing up.  I just found myself down there at the front, sobbing and crying, and giving my life again and anew to the Lord.”  So he said, “I have come home, and I have told my wife what has happened to me in my heart, and we have rededicated and reconsecrated our lives to Jesus.”  And he said, “The Sunday last I told my congregation what had happened to me; and we are starting again and anew in revival.”

That is what it is to be visited from God in heaven.  Well, you know what happened to me?  And, preacher, you won’t mind my recounting it.  I wrote him back, and I said, “You owe me no apology.  That was one of the great experiences of my whole life.”  I said, “I just want you to pray for something that I want to do in our First Baptist Church in Dallas.”  I didn’t tell him what it was, but what it was, was this: I was going to ask my deacons if we could have a mourners’ bench in our church from one side to the other, and have kneelers in the pews where we knelt in prayer.

Well, I met with the deacons month after month after month, and every time I came to the meeting planning to ask them about a mourners’ bench and places of prayer, my energy just flowed out of my hands.  I just couldn’t muster up enough strength to do it.  Finally, after about six months, I stood up, I told my deacons here what had happened out there in California, and that I wanted a mourners’ bench in our church from one side to the other, and kneelers in the pew.  Well, they were astonished!  And they sat there in silence for I don’t know how long.  Eventually, and finally, the oldest deacon, white-headed, the oldest deacon in the assembly stood up and said, “My brethren, if the Lord has put it on the heart of our pastor that we have a mourners’ bench and places of prayer in the pew, I make a motion that we do it.”  It passed.  And I did not look for it, I had in my mind just a bench, a mourners’ bench.  But they had architects here in the church that made beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful altar rails; and the pulpit at that time was far different from what it is now, and those altar rails were from one side to the other.  And kneelers were placed in the pews.  And I never saw a church change in my life as this church changed, as we knelt in prayer.

And pastor, there was a movement all through our Baptist Zion, copying these beautiful instruments of confession and humility before the Lord.  That is revival.

This is revival: a new beginning, a new creation, a new experience, and a new dedication to God.  I said to our group this morning in our Sunday school class down there, Mrs. C’s Sunday school class, I said, “I’m going to speak Sunday night about Jacob.”  It came in the morning hour, concerning God’s elective purpose.  And here is what happened.  Jacob was born a deceiver.  When he came into this world, Esau his brother was born before him, and Jacob came second, holding the heel of Esau [Genesis 25:25-26].  And he was given the name of “heel, supplanter, deceiver.”  And the life of [Jacob] was that: he took advantage of his brother, and took away his birthright [Genesis 25:29-34]; he deceived his own father and his own mother, and stole the blessing [Genesis 27:1-29].  And Esau swore to kill him.  And in order to save his life, Rebekah, the mother, sent the boy away; and he went back to his family in Mesopotamia [Genesis 27:41-43, 28:1-2, 29:1].

In Mesopotamia, with Nahor, his uncle, and Laban his, it’d be his cousin, he was the same deceiving Jacob.  And finally that story ended with Jacob being sent away, and going away, hated and despised because of how he had dealt with Nahor and Laban [Genesis 31:1-55].  And on the way back, at the River Jabbok, all night long he wrestled with an Angel of God [Genesis 32:24].  And the Angel of God wrestled with Jacob the deceiver.  And as it began to dawn toward a new day, Jacob pled with the Angel, “Do not leave me.  Bless me, bless me.”  And the Angel touched his thigh, and blessed him, and said, “Your name will be no longer Jacob,” deceiver, supplanter, cheater. “Your name now will be Israel,” the prince of God.  And the Angel left him as the sun dawned, and Jacob halted on his thigh, halted on his thigh [Genesis 32:24-32].

And the next verses say Esau came, bitter, sworn he was going to kill his brother [Genesis 27:41].  And the Book says he had four hundred men with him to slay Jacob; hated him.  And when he met Jacob, Esau with four hundred men to slay him, when he met Jacob, Jacob came before Esau halting on his thigh, halting on his thigh.  And Esau looked at him, and the Bible says and when Esau saw him, he burst into tears, he burst into tears, meeting his brother Jacob as he halted on his thigh; he burst into tears, and put his arms around him, and kissed him, and welcomed him back home [Genesis 33:1-4].

That’s what God’s Spirit can do with a people.  And the rest of the story here in the Bible is one of Edom on one side—that was Esau’s other name—and Israel on the other side: in those days, one people.  What revival!  What the Spirit of God can do to a people!

And that leads me up to you, pastor, that leads me up to you.  In the passage that our people read, “On the day of Pentecost they were all with one accord in one place” [Acts 2:1].  And as you, I have come here to church, and time and again have heard our pastor as he pleads for one heart and one spirit among our people: all of us loving each other and serving God in a like faith and a like commitment.

And you know, when I have heard him preach, calling our people to a great unity in the faith, my mind, every time that he speaks of it, goes back to an issue of Life magazine that I saw many years ago.  The magazine was much larger than it is now.  And on the inside of the magazine was a story of a Kansas wheat farm.  And out of the little home on that Kansas wheat farm there wandered a little boy, a little-bitty boy.  And the little fellow wandered into that vast illimitable field, and was lost.  And the mother, when she found it out, oh, was so distracted, went out to see if she could find the boy.  The father was called, and they went out and looked.  The rest of the family looked.  The neighbors were called, and looked.  And they could not find that sweet little boy, lost in that thousands of acres of wheat field.

Finally, one of the men said, “Let’s all join hands, and comb the great wheat field until we find the little boy.”  They joined hands, and combed that vast wheat field, and finally found the little lad, dead.  And the picture that I saw in the Life magazine, the whole two pages here and there, in the background was the picture of that vast thousands of acres of wheat, an illimitable wheat field; in the foreground was the father, with his family and the neighbors on either side, and the father is looking down at the still, silent body of his little boy.  And underneath is the caption that he was saying: “O God, O God, that we had joined hands before!”  That’s what we ought to do in this dear church!  O God, joining hands, one in the faith, one in the Spirit, one in accord, one in love and ministry, combing this great city for Jesus.  That is the spirit of revival.

May I take time just to speak briefly of two others?  Revival is the spirit of thankfulness and loving gratitude to God: “O Lord, how good You have been to me and mine.”  I stood one day in the backdoor of our farmhouse with my father.  He had gone out there in eastern New Mexico, in a desert, had built a fence, built a house, dug a well, plowed up the ground—oh, I can’t imagine it—and sought to raise a crop there in that barren and dust-covered part of the earth.  And here’s what I remember as a little boy: I was about five years of age, and I was standing there by the side of my father in the back door of the farmhouse, and my father was shouting to the top of his voice.  Well, my father was very quiet, and very reserved, and very reticent, and I’d never seen or heard that, as he stood there shouting to the top of his voice.  And I looked up at him, and I said, “Daddy, why are you shouting?”  And my father replied, “Son, look, the rain, the rain!  God hath sent us rain!”  It was bread for our hungry mouths, it was clothing for our naked backs, it was life for us: God had sent us rain.

And I think of our church like that.  O God, for the blessings that can come only from Your gracious and heavenly and saving hands.  Lord, send us rain.  God bless our church, and our people, and its ministries here and throughout the whole earth.

And I close, this is revival: the spirit of response.  “Lord, Lord, here I come.”  I never heard it better in my life than one of the men that I was visiting with, said, “Pastor, I have said no to God for the last time; and I am coming.”  And down the aisle the following Lord’s Day, there he stood.  That is revival.

I close with one of the most unusual services I ever shared in my life.  As you know, I have been going weekend after weekend all over this part of the earth, preaching the gospel.  About, oh, three or four weekends ago, I was in a city, a big city, on the eastern seaboard of the United States.  And at that eleven o’clock hour, God wonderfully blessed us, kind of like He did this morning here in this dear and wonderful church: the people down there, coming to the Lord.  Well, I was seated like right there, and all those people who had come were standing there, and the pastor stood up and approached the pulpit, came up to the pulpit to lead the benediction.  And when he came up to the benediction, a man stood up on the other side, over yonder; he stood up, and he said, “Wait a minute, pastor, wait a minute.  I have given my heart to the Lord, and I want to make my confession of faith in Christ.”  And he brought his family with him.  And the church rejoicing received them on his confession of faith.

All right, the pastor for the second time came up to the pulpit to lead the benediction.  And when he did, before he could have the people stand, there was a family seated right there, and the man stood up, and said, “Wait a minute, pastor, wait a minute.  We’ve prayed for our boy here, who’s eighteen years old; we’ve prayed for him for years, and he’s been so hard and recalcitrant.  And our boy has repented and turned, and accepted Jesus as his Savior.  And he wants to make his confession of faith.”  So that family came down, and the church rejoiced in receiving them.

The pastor came up a third time to lead the benediction, and when he got to the pulpit, a man stood up at the back, and said, “Wait a minute, pastor, wait a minute.  I have received Jesus as my Savior, and He has forgiven my sins, and I want to confess Him as my Lord.”  So he brought his family, and they stood down here, and the church rejoiced.

And then the pastor, for the fourth time, came up to the pulpit to lead the benediction; and when he did, another man stood up.  And they received him.  And another man stood up, and they received him.  And another man stood up, and they received him.  I never had any experience like that in my life.  And clear across that big church stood those families, receiving the Lord, rejoicing in the goodness and grace of our Savior, Christ Jesus.  That is revival.

O Lord, how I praise Thy name for the moving of the Spirit that I feel and see in our precious, and darling, and beautiful, and loving congregation.

God bless you, wonderful pastor, and the Lord bless you His darling people.

Now, preacher, I want you to come and stand right down there.  You come and stand right down there.  And Bob, you come up here, and you lead any kind of a song that you like.  And while we remain in the presence of Jesus our Savior, and while the choir sings this song of appeal, and while our precious pastor stands down there to receive you, a somebody you to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], a family you to come into the church, anybody you to answer the call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, while we prayerfully wait in His presence, you come.  In the balcony, down one of these stairways; on this lower floor, down one of these aisles; “Pastor, this is God’s call for me, and I’m answering with my life.”  You come, and God speed you in the way while we pray and wait, and while the choir sings the song.