Overcoming The Stumbling Blocks To Revival
In 1992 we planted an independent charismatic church right outside Oslo, the capital city of Norway. The church grew as new members were added constantly in the first years, but my wife Hilde and I worked hard to see results; she was the worship leader and I was the pastor. After hearing Ken and Lois Gott’s testimony of how broken they were before the renewal broke out in their lives, we said to each other; “Can God can send us revival when things are going that smoothly for us?” We hoped that we perhaps might escape the “desert experience” that we knew from history often preceded revivals. We didn’t know then that the following years would become a long, painful journey in our lives.
In spite of seeing church growth, we longed for a breakthrough, to see the glory of God.
In 1994 we read in a Christian newspaper about what was happening in Toronto. Hilde and I decided to go there as soon as possible. Tired of striving in human strength to see the expected results in ministry, this news gave us new hope. We decided to attend the first Catch the Fire Conference held in the big ballroom at the Regal Constellation Hotel in October ‘94.
We came directly from the airport into the meeting, jetlagged after a long journey from Norway. To be honest it was a shock for us and an overwhelming experience to come into this meeting. We did not expect this! It was wonderful to see that the Spirit was moving in such powerful way all over the congregation, but it was different. I was more used to receiving prayer from the “man of God” at the altar, rather than from “normal” people spread out all over the congregation who were dressed in jeans. The many manifestations were more violent and felt more threatening to us than we had imagined. We had to step over roaring, shaking, jerking, laughing and crying people to find a little spot in the corner where we could hide and watch. But I realized that in spite of my own confusion, people could not make up or even perform this behavior by themselves.
The first three days a struggle went on in our minds and feelings. One of our friends had recently seen an eye-opening report of a New Age séance, and some of the things we saw here looked similar to that. To be honest I said to myself, “If this is the revival, I don’t know for sure that I want it.” I was not comfortable, and I felt sick and scared. I thought to myself, “If this is God, why do I feel this way?”
My wife and I were also offended by the “disorder” in the meeting. I remember John Arnott spoke to a congregation where most of the people didn’t seem to listen to him at all. The Holy Spirit touched people all over the room, but we were trained to sit down, listen to the message and make notes during the sermon. When we saw that the pastor accepted having a worship leader in the conference with a ponytail and earrings, we were provoked. We came from a charismatic background and did not consider ourselves as religious and legalistic. But during this conference God picked on these areas in our lives.
The whole renewal blew our narrow minds.
Could this be God? We struggled to open up our hearts and receive. It was also a humiliating experience for us to meet other Norwegians from “dry,” non-charismatic churches who were totally soaked in the power of God, while we stood there struggling with our doctrines. My dear wife didn’t want to receive prayer, because she was afraid to become as “crazy” as the pastors’ wives she saw on the platform. She ran out from the meeting before the ministry time. We both struggled to give up our self-control. Slowly we calmed down our spinning minds, opened up our hearts and were able to receive the touch from the Lord. On the last day at the conference we wished it was the first day. Now we were ready. God released a deep-felt hunger for more of Him in our hearts.
When we came home we discovered that a new dimension of the presence of God had been released in our lives. The anointing was more tangible. There was a stronger flow of the River of God. As a pastor I had new hope of seeing the Lord move in a stronger way. We were tired of our own way of doing things. As a result of this renewal some pastors in Oslo started to meet every other week. More and more pastors wanted to join the fellowship. There was a new outpouring of the Father’s love among us and a growing hunger for revival in the city of Oslo. Several churches and places in Norway were touched by this renewal. There was a big expectation that revival would break out.
Failing To Stay In The River
I am convinced that we could have had the renewal in a far more powerful way today if we just had stayed in the River! In the light of my own reaction when I first met this renewal, I was surprised by the number of churches and denominations that actually opened up for this move in the beginning. But for some reason people tend to take a step back and look for the “next thing”.
In our country, as it seems to be all over the western world, people began to discuss the manifestations and the purpose of them. Instead of pressing through to the essence of the renewal, many backed off by rationalizing and analyzing the outward things. After a while it seemed like many leaders viewed this experience as a more temporal thing, like we had to move on and do the “real thing,” to evangelize the world. But we continued to come back to Toronto. We had tasted something that made us hungry for more. We still believed that this was an answer to our prayers for revival.
However, I have to admit that it wasn’t easy to change the way we used to run the church and the services. We learned that somewhere along the road you have to make a choice whether to go for it, or just have the renewal as a nice little refreshment. I think there is a demonic force that attacks pastors and spiritual leaders. This force urges them to lean more on programs and policy than on trusting the Holy Spirit. In the early days in our own church, we realized that some people became skeptical, angry and frustrated. Some got deeply touched by the renewal while some didn’t. As a pastor who loved his church, I didn’t want to lose anyone. It was hard to realize that not everybody liked this.
Some argued that it was impossible to bring seekers to the services any more. They described our church as not seeker friendly. After a while more people got frustrated that this didn’t lead to revival in our town and church growth. Actually we lost more people than those who were added to the church. We paid a high price, and we went through a time when our hearts were broken. After a time of struggle in my mind, I realized that I had to choose between God’s way and the way of human reasoning.
First of all, I wanted a “Holy Spirit friendly church.” I wanted The Holy Spirit to feel welcome and comfortable in our meetings. I am convinced that in the long run we will get both His presence and growth in the church if we let the Holy Spirit move freely.
Leadership is like a lid. It’s impossible for a church to rise above its leaders. The enemy uses fear, pride and confusion with us. I believe the biggest hindrances to revival are our own preoccupied minds, strategies, programs and human plans. Pastors often feel the pressure to have results, to see church growth and to prosper. In many circles that is the definition of success. I want to challenge every church leader to take a step back, take your hands off and let God touch His people. He knows how to build His church and our main purpose is to make ourselves available to Him.
We need to realize that church growth is not necessarily an instant result of renewal.
People might become confused, challenged and offended. But how often did the Lord Jesus offend people’s minds to reveal what was in their hearts? That is not an easy part of this move of God. Sometimes people attack the leaders in anger, and that is not easy, either.
Getting Back Into The River
For several years our church vacillated back and forth. Although Hilde and I were in the River personally, our church was not going for it 100%. Finally, I made a quality decision to stay in the River no matter what, to “push my poker chips into the middle of the table.” From the moment I had my first drink of the new wine in this outpouring, I knew that nothing else could satisfy my heart’s desire. During these years since I first tasted, God broke down the confidence I used to have in my own strength.
Now I realize that my only source is Him.
Although I am still not seeing the numerical growth I believe I will see one day, and a few members are still frustrated, what we are seeing are wonderful changes in people’s lives, fruit that only the Holy Sprit can produce. We are experiencing a new level of God’s wonderful presence and a release in the prophetic gifts. This deeper experience of the Father’s love is so precious, and we need it so desperately.
We also feel that we are “pregnant” with something that is about to be born. God has called us to take another step in faith and to plant new churches. We are so full of joy and expectation for what God is about to do, and we really believe that he will touch Norway.
One important change in our thinking is to value the presence of God as much as the teaching of the word of God. In Norway we have a tradition of preaching the Bible, but we do not have a tradition of waiting on the Lord. When we first started setting aside time in the services to ask the Holy Spirit to come, people got a little uncomfortable. Now they love it.
This outpouring called “The Father’s blessing” has changed my life. It’s a valuable gift from the Father, and we must embrace it. Leading our congregation into the River has been like a birth; it has come through labor pains and patience. It has been helpful for us to receive counsel from ministers that have come farther down the road in the renewal than we have. I believe that one key for us is to “strike the arrows” on the ground as many times as it is needed, like Elisha said to the king of Israel in 2 Kings 13:17-19. We need to keep going and not stop.
Although church is not as predictable as it used to be, I have found that the fruit is worth taking the risk. As pastors, we need to remember that the Lord knows what He is doing. We don’t need a little more of what we used to do. We need something entirely new. It’s a part of God’s unchangeable nature to make something new! He does that all the time. Though change is not something the human flesh likes, we need to get used to it.
It’s All In The River
I came to Toronto recently to the Catch the Fire Conference in October 2002, and I felt like I was coming home. Going to Toronto helps me to see how big God is, that you don’t have to narrow down what the Lord does and limit Him in any way. I find that all the precious facets of the kingdom of God are to be found in this River of renewal. In it I have found the Father’s love, intimacy with Him, praise and worship, the prophetic gifts, radical faith for healings and miracles, missions, feeding the poor, church planting, lively cell groups, unity, deliverance, the release of the five-fold ministry and other gifts. This is what I have been looking for my whole life.
But more than the fruit, I enjoy very much the balance that comes when we prioritize intimacy with Him and soaking in the presence of God. In this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, I have begun to realize a very important dynamic of revival, our response to His knocking on the door of our hearts and our church. The orphan spirit says, “I’ll do it my way.” In other words, “Lord, send revival, but please do it in the way we like.” But, the spirit of sonship says, “Come Holy Spirit, come as you like. We will submit and embrace your gift. We want MORE of You!”