Thriving between Times of Revival
In 1971 in Boston I experienced a dramatic conversion to Christ.
One day while walking along the snow covered banks of the Charles River, I saw a vision of heaven and hell. Later that day, a near death experience brought me face to face with Christ and eternity. This revelation instantly brought me to faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I became a new creation and my destiny became heaven, not hell.
From that moment on, I accepted and enjoyed the presence of God within as my normative Christian life. Throughout the struggles, times of barrenness and spiritual solitude, I have known what it means to be in Christ.
Very early in my walk, I discovered that Christ lived not just in me, but also in the Church. God mercifully drew me into fellowship with other members of the body of Christ who were sound in the faith and devoted to the Great Commission. This period, the early 70’s, was a time of divine visitation in the Church where it seemed that every day we saw the Holy Spirit working through us and those around us to enlarge the Church.
I learned from the beginning that the chief work of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to share Jesus Christ with the world. I could not have had a better foundation in the Christian life. There was, however, another less agreeable element in my formation. My Jewish family utterly rejected my faith. My only refuge was Christ and his body and my calling to preach the Gospel.
That was thirty six years ago, thirty of which have been in full time ministry. We have been privileged to witness and also participate in many significant visitations of God in the United States, Mexico, Spain, Europe and other nations and have seen the glory and grace of God regenerating multitudes and building His church in cities and nations all over the world. Our primary ministry is to drug addicts, and we have seen the Lord touch these broken lives through the signs and wonders of the Gospel as well as all the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament in varying degrees of power.
We have also seen, again and again, Satan take advantage of those who are not on guard in these seasons bringing them into excesses and doctrinal errors in order to discredit, diminish, and prematurely end every true visitation of God. There is one common factor among them: the inability to remain centered on Jesus Christ.
So how is it possible to avoid these pitfalls and find the River of life and sustain ourselves in its flow in between these times of heightened spiritual activity so that we may survive and thrive until the next visitation of God?
FINDING THE SECRET RIVER
I have found much comfort in the story of the visitation of God during the time of Elijah. Before his time, Israel had experienced other visitations of God’s power and glory, and now they found themselves between visitations. The drought began at Elijah’s word, ‘There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.’ (I Kings 17:1 KJV)
Why did Elijah pronounce this curse? God was judging the nation of Israel because Jezebel and Ahab had drawn them away from God and into Baal worship. When Ahab accused Elijah of causing the drought, Elijah replied, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father’s house...’ (I K18:18 KJV)
“I have observed a paradox: visitation divides as well as unites the body of Christ.”
If there is no rain, it is never God’s fault. The Holy Spirit is grieved because men have sinned and hardened their hearts to Him. When this happens, and it sometimes happens to Christians, no amount of spiritual activity, including lying down hoping to soak in God’s presence will restore the sense of His love until we listen to Him and confess and abandon the sin that grieves Him.
We live in Madrid where springs are green and the countryside flourishes with wild flowers and life; but the rains end in May and do not return until October. By the time August arrives, there is not even a blade of green grass because there is no water.
I don’t know how Israel survived three years of drought, but I know that we can end our spiritual drought by listening to God who will tell us where to go and how not only to survive but also flourish.
God preserved Elijah during the drought. He spoke to him, ‘Get thee hence...and hide thyself by the brook Cherith...thou shalt drink of the brook.’ (I K 17:3, 4 KJV) In Hebrew, the word Keryth or Cherith means “a cut, a trench or a cleft.” It is not a common word in the Bible, but it also appears in Exodus 33 in the passage where Moses prayed, ‘I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory.’ And the Lord replied, ‘Yes...but you cannot see My face and full glory and live. There is, however, a place by me. You shall stand upon a rock...And when my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft, keryth, of the rock and will cover you with my hand while I pass by.’
The rock symbolizes Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, the Father made a cleft for us to hide. It is no accident that the Roman soldier thrust a spear into His side. Out of it flowed a fountain of blood and water for the redemption of the human race. We enter God the Father’s heart only through the cleft in Jesus’ side. We have access to salvation only through blood and water.
Today’s outpouring of the Father’s blessing proceeds from the same fountainhead as has every visitation of God, Jesus Christ. It starts there, and it is there we must wait between visitations. Are you asking to see His glory without wanting to see His glory filtered through the risen Lord Jesus Christ?
THE RAVENS, THE CROSS
While Elijah waited by the brook Cherith, God spoke to him again in a disturbing symbol, ‘I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.’(I K 17:4 KJV) Seekers of divine visitation seek life, not death; the dove, not the raven; but God was about to sustain Elijah’s life by means of a creature that symbolized death.
The Christian’s secret of spiritual sustenance is that the life of Christ within them comes out through death, by taking up His cross. While they accept and rejoice in the secondary phenomena of signs, gifts, and visions; they know that during the times of drought, it is the raven, not the dove that will bring them the first course.
A careful read of the history of revival in the Church reveals this: Without accepting the ravens’ food which is the cross, the use of the dove’s gifts may turn out to be superficial and passing. A profound work of the cross is an essential precursor for revival, especially for the leaders and pastors who guide the flock and are responsible to steward the visitation.
Every revival leader in Church history paid a heavy, secret price.
They dined with the ravens before the dove arrived to bless the multitudes. How many of them suffered humiliation, rejection, weakness, loneliness, sickness and other meager meats before God spread a table for the multitudes? So often the multitudes that rejoice in the days of visitation have no idea of the price others have paid for their table of more pleasant fare.
TO ZAREPHATH AND RESURRECTION
God loves us and knows our frame. He will not spend more time than necessary threshing the wheat. I Kings 17 says, ‘And it came to pass after awhile that the brook dried up’.
God won’t leave us at the brook forever. We are not called to perpetual death and suffering, but to the resurrection that follows. Some of the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages made this mistake. They over-emphasized the cross and wound up taking a morbid pleasure in death.
God spoke to Elijah and said, ‘Arise, Get thee to Zarephath...and there I have commanded a widow woman to sustain thee.’ Here is a third element that will sustain us between revivals. The widow of Zarephath represents the life of faith and costly sacrifice that must precede as well as follow visitation. The mercies of God are new every morning, but so are His demands of love and sacrifice.
I see a close parallel here between the Samaritan woman at the well and the widow of Zarephath. Both were asked to give something to God and His representative: one, a drink; the other, a cake. God supernaturally provided them with an abundant return on their investments: to the one, living water; to the other, a living barrel of meal and an overflowing cruse of oil.
‘The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail’. But what finally brought an end to the drought and the great outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the land?
REPAIRING THE ALTAR OF GOD
God called Elijah to challenge the evil principalities and powers with a simple act of obedience. Elijah summoned everyone in Israel and the prophets of Baal to stand before the altar of God on Mount Carmel. He then asked his nation, ‘How long will you halt between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him’.
Nowhere in scripture do we find a starker picture of man’s two approaches to God who alone holds the power to bless. On one side the fanatical prophets of Baal stood exhausting their repertoire of spiritual antics, shouting, screaming, leaping and cutting themselves. I sometimes wonder if all our efforts to obtain revival by religious works don’t rival these pagan forms of self-abasement.
“...the real spoiler that divides brethren happens when we depart from the truth.”
Instead of this, Elijah stepped forward and ‘repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. He repaired the place where bankrupt mankind places by faith all he possesses at God’s disposal and where mankind gives to God only what He asks for, our loving obedience.
THE GREAT VISITATION WE SEEK
If we are to see another divine visitation in our day, we must forsake the antics of Baal and return to rebuild the altar one essential stone at a time just as Elijah repaired the altar. ‘He took 12 stones according to the number of the tribes.’
I have observed a paradox: visitation divides as well as unites the Body of Christ. It can split churches and families, and yet also reunite brethren across denominational divides. God wants everyone to experience the visitation we are seeking. If we rebuild the altar together and embrace those few precious truths we have in common, we won’t be part of the division left in the drought.
Elijah stood before the altar and simply prayed, ‘Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel... and that I have done all these things at Thy word.’ Visitations come, stay, and return only ‘at His word’. In our sincere desperation not to quench the Spirit during the dry times, we are often tempted to tolerate faddish teachings, practices, and so called ‘visions’ that just do not exalt Jesus Christ nor have any foundation in the written word of God. They are not the essence of real revival, either. Perhaps this is why our ranks thin and true visitation turns to drought.
While unusual but genuine manifestations during visitation are often a source of tension in the body of Christ, the real spoiler that divides brethren happens when we depart from the truth. Sincerity is no substitute for the truth. Jesus is the truth.
When Elijah finished restoring the altar, ‘Then the fire of the Lord fell...and when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, the Lord He is God.’ Do you want to see revival fire fall and unbelievers forsake today’s prophets of Baal? Let’s return to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, hide ourselves in Him and see His Kingdom, His Power and His glory come.