Lately I have been reflecting on the prophets’ visions of revival. Many of the wondrous things they see in the days of Christ and promises they extend have to do with fuller manifestations of the Spirit of God. For three familiar examples:
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army…And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:9-10, 13-14)
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the Lord‘s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord‘s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.” (Isaiah 44:1-3)
And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:1-6)
Each of these visions promises great manifestations of God’s Spirit, whether in converting a dead church, redeeming coming generations, or reviving a nation.
However, we live, as Isaiah said, in days where the land is dry in the western world. It is difficult to believe that the reviving fullness of God’s Spirit would come here. That is why it is important to look at God’s work in history. In TableTalk, Derek Thomas quotes colonial pastor Cotton Mather, who said in 1721 of New England what we might feel now, “Conversions are rare in these days.” Yet less than two decades later, the Great Awakening began and tens of thousands of conversions took place in the colonies. Lack of rain on one day is no guarantee it will not rain the next.
So we should pray that God, who promises above to pour out his Spirit, would do so yet again. However, as we do so, let us be reminded by another from church history of an important truth as we do.
Missionary John G. Paton found himself on the small island of Aniwa in the New Hebrides in the South S. Pacific in the nineteenth century. He had been there some time and was meeting with great resistance to the gospel by the natives. He asked the Lord for a way to break through to them. As Eugene Harrison recounts:
Due to the great scarcity of water on Aniwa and the prevalence of disease due to drinking bad water, Paton determined to dig a well. When the idea was suggested to Namakei, the old chief thought the Missi had lost his mind. But the white man worked hard for many days, despite the severe heat of the tropical sun. When the well caved in one night, he cleared it out again after much effort. Namakei tried to persuade him to desist from this mad and stupid effort, telling him that water comes only from above and that if he should strike water he would drop through into the sea and be eaten by sharks. Eventually the white man came out of Jehovah’s well with a jug full of water. Namakei hesitantly took the jug, tasted the water, then cried: “Rain! It is rain! The world is turned upside down since Jehovah came to Aniwa!”
The chief went on to believe and then preach the gospel to many who turned to the Lord.
We may wish for revival and God’s Spirit, but like Paton do we desire and are we determined to receive His glorious presence? Here are five questions we should be asking to examine our desire and determination.
- Do we ask God to fulfill the promises that he himself has made?
- Do we thirst for others around us and in the coming generations to know Christ?
- Are we moved enough in seeing others dying for lack of spiritual water that we are moved to pray for them?
- Will we then sacrifice in prayer and action like Paton to see God’s Spirit made manifest?
- Are we ourselves filled with the Spirit so that others see through us his presence in their world?
When God’s people pour out their hearts and lives to their Father, asking him for his Spirit through Christ, he does promise to give the Spirit to us (Luke 11:10-12).