Sometimes stillness reigns in holy awe and silence.
Sometimes worship swells in a crescendo of exultation.
Sometimes tears blend with wondering joy and repentance.
Worship in revival is awe inspiring. The Holy Spirit moves powerfully upon us. The worship is Spirit-led. Spontaneous. Unpredictable.
Its local forms vary. The essence of revival worship, however, is the same everywhere. It involves a growing awareness of and response to the glory and sovereignty of God. The Lord moves upon his people, touching lives deeply.
Revival worship always brings repentance. Often in tears. Sometimes with joy. We grow more sensitive and responsive to the Lord's leading. We stay longer in his presence. Prayer abounds in song, word and silence. Musicians may play inspired music as David did, and darkness flees. Songs blend and flow in creative harmonies, no longer tied to books or overheads. Sung melodies lead into solos, singing in the Spirit, prophetic songs and words, Scriptures sung and said.
Sometimes stillness reigns in holy awe and silence. Sometimes worship swells in a crescendo of exultation. Sometimes tears blend with wondering joy and repentance. Sometimes a wave of spontaneous clapping expresses worship in wordless adoration, acknowledging the great glory of our God.
Some people may be standing, some sitting, some kneeling, some lying prostrate on the floor, some dancing. Many raise their arms in adoration. Many open their hands in submission. Many have their eyes closed as they focus on the Lord in love, adoration, gratitude, surrender.
How can we enter this dimension of worship more fully?
We don't need to wait till we are perfect. We'll be in heaven then!
We come in our weakness. As we become more aware of God's glory and presence we also become more aware of our sin and utter dependence on God for cleansing and forgiveness. So did Isaiah in his worship in the Temple (Isaiah 6).
We repent. There's no end to that one! Mostly we repent before God as his Spirit convicts us. We repent of so much. Hard hearts. Unbelief. Pride. Envy. Jealousy and competition. Status seeking. Unloving thoughts, words and deeds. Self interest. Blindness to others' needs. Materialism. Individualism. Disobedience. Fear, especially fear of people's opinions.
We pray. And pray. And pray. Especially personally, and also together. We seek the Lord. We wait on God. We listen for his word, his leading. We open our hearts to intimacy with our loving, holy Lord. We meditate on Scripture, communing with its author as we do so. The quality of our worship is related to the quality of our time alone with God, waiting on him, seeking his face, loving him. That may include hours communing withthe Lord in the stillness of the night..
We begin to respond to the Spirit more fully, more freely. We find that prepared 'orders of service' rarely fit revival worship (unless charismatically given by the Spirit). We need to be flexible and responsive to the leading of the Spirit. Those called and anointed by God for leading in worship need to be especially sensitive to his gentle direction. They, in turn, release and encourage others to respond to the Spirit in worship.
We usually begin learning this kind of worship in small home groups. The same principles apply in large gatherings. There, the worship leaders' anointing and gifting facilitate worship among all the others.
We sing and pray less about God and more to God. Worship is intimate. People may spontaneously change words of well known songs to make them personal and prayerful - You are Lord; you are risen from the dead and you are Lord ... You are exalted, our King you're exalted on high ... Your name is wonderful, Jesus my Lord ...
We need musicians who harmonise with the worship. That often involves playing harmonies to accompany free singing or singing in the Spirit. It does not require only those who can play by ear, although that can help. Those who read the music need to know where to find it - quickly. Songs used frequently can be arranged alphabetically, for example. Anointed musicians will often play prophetically - just music, as the Spirit leads. Musicians may 'hear' it in the Spirit and express it (though somewhat reduced!) on their instruments.
We respond to God in many ways as we worship. The variety of response is endless! It varies from meeting to meeting. When did God decree a 20 minute sermon after half an hour of singing? His word may come in the first 10 or 15 minutes of worship and the rest of the meeting may be a response to that word. When did God decree that prayer for repentance would come at the end of the meeting? It may come early in the worship as the Spirit leads, followed by cleansed, powerful worship.
We find the Spirit leads us in harmony, but many people may be doing many different things at the same time - eyes open, and closed; standing, sitting, kneeling, dancing, and lying prostrate; weeping, and joyful; some may have visions while others intercede and others minister in love and others adore the Lord and others bring prophetic insights.
We preach differently - more like Jesus. Speaking often mingles with testimonies, and shares stories of God's mighty acts - last week or last month. Prepared outlines are often blown away in the strong wind of the Spirit. We learn to ride the wind more often.
We worship more in quantity and quality than before. An hour grows to two; two to three; three to four or more. It's like praying. Our time with God grows in quantity and quality.
Immediately we think of obstacles. There are many.
If your congregation is not yet ready for this, begin with those who want to. Be led by the Lord. That may be in a home group. It may be a weeknight meeting. It may be Sunday night. Our Renewal Fellowship was all of those. It began as a home group. It grew into an open meeting on Friday nights. It then included Sunday nights.
As the worship time deepened and extended we began saying, 'If you need to go, slip away anytime.' Few did. Most wanted to stay, and the meetings gradually became half nights of prayer and worship. Many stayed after supper, or during supper, for prayer, for waiting on God, and for ministry to one another.
We began to realise the Lord was leading us to worship more fully, wait on him more fully, respond to him more fully. Our charismatic or renewal traditions are being transformed into something like revival worship.
The outward forms vary. They express the growing inner worship which involves loving God more fully, yielding more fully, repenting more fully, believing more fully, obeying more fully.
The contrast between our usual charismatic worship and revival worship is a little like the difference between the old time church prayer meetings and renewal home prayer groups. The church prayer meetings I attended as a teenager had some hymns, a Bible study talk, and then individuals stood to pray in King James English. Not wrong. Just limited. In home groups we learned to worship more spontaneously, share 'words' from the Lord, discuss and respond to the Bible study, pray specifically for one another, including asking and believing to be filled with the Spirit and learning to use the gifts of the Spirit.
Now, as the same Spirit moves ever more powerfully in the earth, as revival fires are blown from scattered flickers to conflagrations, and as we learn to respond more fully to the Lord in the power of his Spirit, revival worship spreads across the land.
It is not new. It has all happened before. Often.
Revival Worship in the Great Awakening
Awesome worship is common in revivals. As God's Spirit moves on growing numbers of people their worship grows stronger, and longer. Many people have continued for hours, late into the night, or throughout the day, worshipping and responding to God.
Some revivals, at their height, saw people come and go continually as worship, conviction, repentance, confession, and testimony blended with singing, praying, weeping, exalting, and honouring God in lives transformed by his grace and glory.
Sometimes people are overwhelmed by the presence and glory of God. Many fall to the ground.
Here are examples from the first Great Awakening.
Moravians. Among the Moravian refugee colony on the estates of Count Nicholas Zinzendorf in Germany during 1727, the community of about 300 adults put aside their theological differences and prayed together in repentance, humility and unity. Revival flamed in August.
At about noon on Sunday August 10th, 1727, the preacher at the morning service felt himself overwhelmed by a wonderful and irresistible power of the Lord. He sank down in the dust before God, and the whole congregation joined him 'in an ecstasy of feeling'. They continued until midnight engaged in prayer, singing, weeping and supplication.
On Wednesday August 13th the church came together for a specially called communion service. They were all dissatisfied with themselves. 'They had quit judging each other because they had become convinced, each one, of his lack of worth in the sight of God and each felt himself at this communion to be in view of the Saviour.'
They left that communion at noon, hardly knowing whether they belonged to earth or had already gone to heaven. It was a day of outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 'We saw the hand of God and were all baptized with his Holy Spirit ... The Holy Ghost came upon us and in those days great signs and wonders took place in our midst. Scarcely a day passed from then on when they did not witness God's almighty workings among them. A great hunger for God's word took hold of them. They started meeting three times daily at 5 am, 7.30 am, and 9 pm. Selflove and selfwill and all disobedience disappeared, as everyone sought to let the Holy Spirit have full control.
Two weeks later, they entered into the twentyfourhour prayer covenant which was to become such a feature of their life for over 100 years... 'The spirit of prayer and supplication at that time poured out upon the children was so powerful and efficacious that it is impossible to give an adequate description of it.'
Supernatural knowledge and power was given to them. Previously timid people became flaming evangelists (Mills 1990:2045).
That revival produced 100 German missionaries within 25 years, some of whom had a strong impact on John and Charles Wesley, resulting in their conversion.
Methodists. 1739 saw astonishing expansion of revival in England. On 1st January the Wesleys and Whitefield along with 60 others including Moravians, met at Fetter Lane in London for prayer and a love feast. The Spirit of God moved powerfully on them all. Many fell to the ground, overwhelmed. The meeting went all night.
'About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer,' John Wesley recorded in his Journal, 'the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, 'We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.' This Pentecost on New Year's Day confirmed that the Awakening had come and launched the campaign of extensive evangelization which sprang from it (Wood 1990:449).
American Colonies. Jonathan Edwards described the characteristics of the Great Awakening in the American colonies as, first, an extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness and holiness of God, and second, a great longing for humility before God and adoration of God. He published books still being studied today to help us understand revival.
All these revivals stirred up excesses as well. Wise and firm leadership helped to keep the focus biblical and responsive to the Spirit.
Revival Worship this century
The twentieth century has seen countless local revivals with similar phenomena. They now increase worldwide.
Welsh Revival. The century began with worldwide revivals. Best known is the Welsh Revival of 1904-5. Oswald Smith described it this way:
It was 1904. All Wales was aflame. The nation had drifted far from God. The spiritual conditions were low indeed. Church attendance was poor and sin abounded on every side.
Suddenly, like an unexpected tornado, the Spirit of God swept over the land. The churches were crowded so that multitudes were unable to get in. Meetings lasted from ten in the morning until twelve at night. Three definite services were held each day. Evan Roberts was the human instrument, but there was very little preaching. Singing, testimony and prayer were the chief features. There were no hymn books, they had learned the hymns in childhood; no choir, for everybody sang; no collection, and no advertising.
Nothing had ever come over Wales with such farreaching results. Infidels were converted; drunkards, thieves and gamblers saved; and thousands reclaimed to respectability. Confessions of awful sins were heard on every side. Old debts were paid. The theatre had to leave for want of patronage. Mules in coal mines refused to work, being unused to kindness! In five weeks, twenty thousand people joined the churches (Olford 1968:67).
Azusa Street Revival. William Seymour began The Apostolic Faith Mission located at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles on Easter Saturday, 14 April 1906 with about 100 attending. Blacks and whites, poor and rich met together in this radical company which grew out of a cottage prayer meeting.
At Azusa, services were long, and on the whole they were spontaneous. In its early days music was a cappella, although one or two instruments were included at times. There were songs, testimonies given by visitors or read from those who wrote in, prayer, altar calls for salvation or sanctification or for baptism in the Holy Spirit. And there was preaching. Sermons were generally not prepared in advance but were typically spontaneous.
W. J. Seymour was clearly in charge, but much freedom was given to visiting preachers. There was also prayer for the sick. Many shouted. Others were 'slain in the Spirit' or fell under the power. There were periods of extended silence and of singing in tongues. No offerings were collected, but there was a receptacle near the door for gifts ...
Growth was quick and substantial. Most sources indicate the presence of about 300350 worshippers inside the fortybysixtyfoot whitewashed woodframe structure, with others mingling outside... At times it may have been double that... The significance of Azusa was centrifugal as those who were touched by it took their experiences elsewhere and touched the lives of others. Coupled with the theological threads of personal salvation, holiness, divine healing, baptism in the Spirit with power for ministry, and an anticipation of the imminent return of Jesus Christ, ample motivation was provided to assure the revival a longterm impact (Burgess & McGee 1988:3136).
Hebredies Revival. Duncan Campbell, ministered in revival in the Hebredies Islands of the north west coast of Scotland in 1949. At the close of his first meeting in the Presbyterian church in Barvas the travel weary preacher was invited to join an all night prayer meeting! Thirty people gathered for prayer in a nearby cottage. Duncan Campbell described it:
God was beginning to move, the heavens were opening, we were there on our faces before God. Three o'clock in the morning came, and GOD SWEPT IN. About a dozen men and women lay prostrate on the floor, speechless. Something had happened; we knew that the forces of darkness were going to be driven back, and men were going to be delivered. We left the cottage at 3 a.m. to discover men and women seeking God. I walked along a country road, and found three men on their faces, crying to God for mercy. There was a light in every home, no one seemed to think of sleep (Whittaker 1984:159).
When Duncan and his friends arrived at the church that morning it was already crowded. People had gathered from all over the island, some coming in buses and vans. No one discovered who told them to come. God led them. Large numbers were converted as God's Spirit convicted multitudes of sin, many lying prostrate, many weeping. After that amazing day in the church, Duncan pronounced the benediction, but then a young man began to pray aloud. He prayed for 45 minutes. Again the church filled with people repenting and the service continued till 4 a.m. the next morning before Duncan could pronounce the benediction again.
Even then he was unable to go home to bed. As he was leaving the church a messenger told him, 'Mr. Campbell, people are gathered at the police station, from the other end of the parish; they are in great spiritual distress. Can anyone here come along and pray with them?' Campbell went and what a sight met him. Under the still starlit sky he found men and women on the road, others by the side of a cottage, and some behind a peat stack all crying to God for mercy. The revival had come.
That went on for five weeks with services from early morning until late at night or into the early hours of the morning. Then it spread to the neighbouring parishes. What had happened in Barvas was repeated over and over again. Duncan Campbell said that a feature of the revival was the overwhelming sense of the presence of God. His sacred presence was everywhere (Whittaker 1984:160).
The seventies. We saw touches of renewal and revival in the early seventies when the charismatic renewal had spread into many churches including Catholic prayer groups and communities. A wave of independent charismatic fellowships emerged then also. Revival spread in Canada. The 'Jesus people' in America captured media attention. Repentance and touches of revival spread through many colleges, especially Asbury College, and students went out in powerful mission.
The nineties. Now new thrusts of the Spirit disturb us again. For over two years many people worldwide have seen increasingly powerful moves of the Spirit. These include massive crowds with Reinhard Bonnke and others in Africa, huge crusades with healing and miracles in Latin America, miraculous visitations across China, refreshing associated with many ministries which the secular media has lumped together and called the 'Toronto Blessing'. Reports tell of over 7,000 churches in Great Britain touched by this outpouring of the Spirit. Once again, colleges and schools have experienced sweeping times of public repentance, restitution and reconciliation through 1995, especially in America. Some of it began at Howard Payne University in Brownwood in Texas and spread nationally, including all night prayer and testimony meetings such as at Wheaton College. Students and staff have witnessed publicly in churches, camps and conferences.
Blessing and Refreshing. During the last two years reports continue to grow of God's blessing and the refreshing of thousands of churches in North America, England, Europe, and around the world. Some ministers are seeing more conversions than in all their previous ministry.
The worship often has touches of revival. Spontaneous moves of God's Spirit result in extended times of singing, praying, testifying, repenting, and being anointed for service and ministry. Many are overwhelmed, resting on the floor. Some experience unusual phenomena, including spontaneous laughter and joy. Some tremble. Healings increase.
Australians continue to tell of fresh moves of the Spirit now.
Jeff Beacham (1995:32) reported on a touch of revival worship at the annual conference of the Assemblies of God in Australia attended by crowds of many thousands this year:
I don't think I've ever experienced meetings so powerful as the ones that we enjoyed at our national conference. ... The manifest presence of the Spirit of God in the meetings was so strong that many people could hardly stand.
In one of the morning meetings Rodney Howard-Browne exhorted the church to soar to greater heights of inspiration and to pursue the purposes of God in these end times. So strong was this exhortation that it lead into a 45 minute period of glorious praise and worship such as I'd never been in before.
Barry Chant (1995:5), described worship at the annual conference of the full Gospel Churches of Australia this year:
The gatherings were full of joy. There were positive testimonies of salvation and blessing; people often danced for joy; the fellowship was sweet. One thing that particularly impressed us was the frequent use of prophecy, tongues and interpretation. To be honest, one rarely hears these gifts being used these days in local churches. It was refreshing to see them given the attention they deserve.
Prophecies were often in song, with several people picking up the theme and continuing it, so that one prophetic message might include input from four or five people. Often the whole gathering would join in at the end with singing in the Spirit.
All around Australia - and around the world - there are signs of revival. Many good things are happening. It is exciting to be part of the Kingdom of God at such a time as this.
Sue Armstrong describes the touch of God at Nowra, N.S.W., in August 1995:
Every meeting saw people touched and changed by the power of God. However, the final night was different! From the outset there was electrical excitement in the place; the praise and worship took off and by the time it came to the message it was impossible to bring it as the church was so filled with joy we knew the Holy Spirit was doing the work and we gave up!
Dan and Sue Armstrong then visited North America. There they attended a combined churches meeting in Toronto, Canada. Sue reports,
We were blessed to be there for a special event. On the Sunday evening there was a rally called 'Waves of Power' in the Metro in downtown Toronto. This was a first. Around 200 churches in the Toronto area came together for this event (around 6,000 people). The praise and worship went for over an hour and it was awesome! Phil Driscoll, an anointed trumpeter, ministered powerfully, and the speaker, Pastor Bud Williams, brought a challenge to take the city of Toronto for God. Over 2,000 people responded to this challenge.
Increasingly churches are willing to come together in repentance and unity to pray, worship and minister. Often this is accompanied by powerful moves of God's Spirit. Some 'hot spots' where these outpourings of the Spirit are most intense include the Airport Vineyard at Toronto in Canada, Pasadena in California, Melbourne in Florida, and Sunderland in England. All these places have churches co-operating together to worship and minister in unity.
All this drives us back to God's Word to see what he has to say - just as the charismatic renewal drove us to rediscover similar events in the Acts and teaching in the epistles on the body of Christ and spiritual gifts as in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12-14.
Now we are rediscovering the passages about the awe inspiring majesty of God, the overwhelming authority of Jesus the risen Lord, and the invincible impact of God's Spirit in the earth. This drives us to our knees, or we fall prostrate before our God. Unity in the Spirit is longer a nice theological discussion point, but a humbling, sacrificial reality increasingly required and blessed by God.
We need to take God's word on revival very seriously in this day of his visitation. 'If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land' (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Beacham, J (1995) 'And the Heat Turns Up', in the Australian Evangel, August.
Burgess, S M & McGee, G B eds. (1988) Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Chant, B (1995) 'Personally Speaking', in New Day, November.
Mills, B (1990) Preparing for Revival. Eastbourne: Kingsway.
Olford, S F (1968) Heartcry for Revival. Westwood: Revell
Pratney, W (1984, 1994) Revival. Springdale: Whitaker House.
Whittaker, C (1984) Great Revivals. Basingstoke: Marshalls.
Wood, A S (1990) in The History of Christianity. London: Lion.
(c) Renewal Journal #6 (1995:2), Brisbane, Australia, pp. 45-54.
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