This classic was originally published in March 1998
Revival is in the news today. In Cuba, for example, after four decades of communism, the masses are flocking to churches. According to USA Today, Assemblies of God pastors are now holding up to 20 services a day to accommodate new members. “There’s an incredible spiritual awakening happening in Cuba,” says one pastor. “It’s powerful. You can feel it. Cuba’s people are starting to wake up.”
Just across the Gulf of Mexico, in Pensacola, Florida, more than 500 people stand in line for hours, sometimes in the rain, just to attend an evening service at Brownsville Assembly of God. Services run four nights a week, often long past midnight. Even so, no one wants to go home. And Brownsville isn’t the only city experiencing revival. It’s springing up all over the world; and most significantly, it’s taking place across denominational lines.
This is not to say, however, that every so-called revival or manifestation of God is genuine. Counterfeits exist, but my plea is that the Body of Christ would focus on the “big picture”—not the “scratches on the frame”—and remain open to what God is doing in our world today.
Let’s search for the true meaning and purpose of revival, accepting the possibility that God may manifest His presence is “unconventional” ways. Let’s stop clinging to man-made doctrines and expectations, remembering the words of the prophet Isaiah who declared long ago that God is in the business of crushing human pretensions.
And the pride of man will be humbled, and the loftiness of men will be abased; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:17).
That day is rapidly approaching, and I believe the growing rumble of revival is genuine and truly significant. We’re in the path of a tornado, and if we’re too busy analyzing, judging and condemning this storm, we’re going to miss God.
With that in mind, let’s define revival as the Holy Spirit describes it in the Old Testament.
A Biblical Definition of Revival
In Exodus 33, God told Moses to break camp and lead the children of Israel out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. But there was one catch. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai spending time alone with God, the Israelites had foolishly worshipped a golden calf. And because of their infidelity, God declared He would not accompany them on their journey to Canaan (v 5). Instead, God offered to send an angel before them (v 2). But Moses wouldn’t accept that concession. “If thy presence does not go with us,” he told God, “do not lead us up from here” (v 15).
I like that! “If you don’t go, I’m not going,” Moses was saying. “I want you to be there—nothing else will suffice.” That attitude, my friend, is the hallmark of true revival!
When you seek the presence of God, you are seeking revival. When you experience the presence of God, you are experiencing revival. And when you see God saving, delivering and empowering, you have seen revival! It’s that simple.
More Than Just a Storm
In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel looked out over the River Chebar with his spiritual eyes and saw the presence of God and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power as a storm cloud. And as I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it (Ezekiel 1:4).
In the New Testament, Jesus Himself likened the Holy Spirit’s activity to that of the wind’s. The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going (John 3:8).
And when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, Luke described His arrival as a violent, rushing wind (Acts 2:2).
Certainly, passages such as these associate revival with stormy, windy conditions. But after reading an old book called Revival Tornadoes, I began thinking of revival as something far more tumultuous than an everyday rainstorm. Published in 1889, this out-of-print classic chronicles the life of evangelist Rev. J.H. Weber. As I studied his experiences, my conception of a movement of God as being neat and orderly went by the wayside. I’m no expert, nor do I pretend to know how the Lord must come, but in my mind, a revival is a veritable tornado!
A tornado is a violent whirling windstorm that accompanies a funnel-shaped cloud. Severe thunder, lightning, and torrents of rain are present as well. Just as a tornado advances across the sky, touching down on land here and there, a genuine revival moves through the spiritual world, stirring up life among believers in its path. Divine truth strikes like lightning. God’s voice thunders, bringing heavy conviction and repentance. And torrents of saving and delivering power from God rain down upon men, women and children.
This analogy doesn’t stop there, however. Come back next week for eight additional ways in which a true revival mimics a tornado.