Revelation 1: 19 to 3: 22 – Letters to the Seven Churches
Saturday, June 29, 2013
A story for Saturday – how repentance leads to revival
In the messages to the churches recorded in Revelation, two of the seven – Smyrna and Sardis – are struggling with persecution. Five of the seven – Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and the one we all remember, Laodicea, thought they were going on well – but they weren’t. The message to each of this five was: Repent! Get back to how you were!
It makes one wonder how we stand, in terms of attitude, compared with our forebears of 200 years ago. Repentance is always a part of a move by God, always part of what we call a revival, in other words.
There have been several of these in history. We tend to remember the well-known historic ones.
On both sides of the Atlantic, in the mid-1700s, there was a transforming move of God known as the First Great Awakening. You will be familiar with John and Charles Wesley, who started class meetings – we would call them cell groups or an accountable kind of home group – in towns and villages, particularly in early industrial-revolution areas such as the tin mines of Cornwall or the coal mining areas of the north. Manual workers didn’t get into churches in those days – most seats would be reserved for those who had paid the ‘pew rents’; churches positioned themselves for people of a certain class and kept underprivileged people out. John Wesley, in his early days, who was an ordained C of E minister, would hold meetings for anyone at the church – and frequently had to stand on a tombstone outside to speak to the crowd because the churchwardens would not open the church for him and the fairly ragged people he attracted. In the New England area of the US, Jonathan Edwards, who was no great orator, saw unusual impact from his apparently unremarkable sermons. George Whitfield, a former friend of the Wesleys and a ‘big’ preacher, drew hundreds and thousands both sides of the Atlantic. Many churches date from around this time, ours among them.
A century later, a New York businessman called Jeremiah Lanphier was sent out by his local church to begin a noon-day prayer meeting on Fulton Street, round the corner from Manhattan’s Wall Street. He had become disillusioned with the success syndrome that drove the bankers and businessmen he knew – his heart was set on repentance. He prayed alone in a small back room of one of the lesser churches. No one else showed up for the first 35 minutes. Gradually, he was joined by a few. Six months later, 10,000 people were meeting for prayer throughout New York City and it led to a move of God, known subsequently as the Second Great Awakening, one of the greatest spiritual renewals in history. It crossed the sea to Northern Ireland, and over the course of time 100,000 people became Christians in that province alone. Prayer meetings were started in well-known London theatres on Sundays – filling them. As a parallel to this, F B Meyer and Charles Haddon Spurgeon were preaching to huge numbers. To cut the story short, many churches were planted at this time – just think how many Victorian churches there are of every flavour – and England could say, with some justification, that it had the feel of a Christian country. Mission took this abroad, and now we have African pastors planting churches in our inner cities. They always say how grateful they are to those early missionaries “who gave us the gospel all those years ago”.
Both of these moves, if you study the history, were birthed in prayer and sin-conscious repentance before God – repentance for the nation, not just personally. The East Africa revival of 1929 and the 1930s was a distinctly repentance prayer and holiness-led move. They still talk about it in Kenya and Uganda.
Much more recently, in our times, the “Toronto Blessing” and the Pensacola Revival both had a core dimension of prayer, God-awareness and repentance. in both of these there was a move of God which was more like the Acts 2 Pentecost example we saw earlier, opening up a way to preach and teach what God was doing, and create opportunities for people to respond. Now, in 2013, there is a move of God reaching the most needy people in South Wales, notably in Cwmbran. I don’t know about this at first hand, but second-hand from people I know well is reliable.
These are the great moves. There were many, many other smaller ones. I haven’t studied them all, but I can say that the big ones all started SMALL. And they all had this same hallmark of dependence on God, getting right with God and allowing God to be God.
Repentance is powerful. It has transforming effects. It starts with you and me, where we are and how we are. There are no limits to what God can do through people who truly submit to Him.