4. Revival Comes to the Thirsty
Carrying God’s Heart for Revival
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6).
If Any Man is Thirsty
Before He was taken up into heaven, the Lord promised that we “shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). To be filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit is the great need of disciples today. Jesus came to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, and just at the most significant time in the festivities, the Lord stood up and spoke something very profound for all the crowd to hear:
37On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39).
According to John 7:37-39, what did Jesus say are the conditions for us to be filled and guided by the Spirit of God?
There are four conditions in the passage above to drinking deeply of the Spirit of God, and if we desire for the Spirit of God to come in a fresh way to our country in revival, we must heed the requirements.
- There has to be a thirst for more of God. Are you satisfied with life as it is? Our Lord loves to be pursued by hungry and thirsty people. Do not let Christ go until your thirst is quenched. Receive all that God has for you. Persevere in prayer for the Spirit to come and fill you. Persistence and boldness will be rewarded. Meditate on the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8.
- You have to come to the person of Christ. He said, “Let him come to me” (v. 37). The Lord is not talking about going to a church meeting or devotion to religious acts; this is about coming to Christ Himself. Do you have a love for the person of Christ? After Peter’s three-time denial of knowing Christ, in his restoration to the apostleship, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him (John 21:15-17), a question that each of us should answer. Ask the Spirit to reveal to you again all that Christ has done for you so that you may fall head-over-heels in love with the person of Christ.
- You will need to drink (v. 37). The act of drinking speaks of receiving the Spirit by an open, transparent heart. Vulnerability and honesty are some of the hallmarks of a heart desiring to be filled with the Spirit. There has to be a conscious decision of the will to go God's way instead of ours. It speaks of submission to follow the Shepherd wherever He leads.
- Whoever believes in Christ (v. 38), “rivers of living water will flow from within them” (v. 38). The Lord is not talking about an intellectual assent or agreement with the facts of the Gospel. His call is for a sincere, settled, inner belief that allows a different set of moral values to affect one's character. Jesus calls it being born-again (John 3:3). It means to give up ownership of your life and to allow Christ to sit on the throne of your spirit, i.e., to direct your decision making.
These four are the necessary conditions to have the vivifying Spirit of God flowing freely from within our lives. All Holy Spirit led revivals have come about due to God's people thirsting for the reality of God's presence in them and through them. The people of God are to cut the roots of sin and drink in the person of Christ.
The Revival in Wales
In the Welsh revival of 1904-1906, we see another example of people of God thirsty for more of the Lord and longing for others to also experience the presence of God. The revival in Wales started with a group of young people thirsty for a deeper walk with the Lord and a more in-depth knowledge of God. Evan Roberts, the prime catalyst used by God in this revival, was virtually unknown when this great work of the Spirit started. His education was limited due to leaving school at the tender age of eleven to work in the coal mine with his father. Upon his conversion to Christ at the age of thirteen, he began to pray that God would visit his country of Wales in revival. At the age of twenty-six, he was challenged to be a minister, but in the early stages of his ministry, God interrupted his formal training when revival came to a small church in South Wales.
It began during a Sunday morning meeting after the main service among some of the young people in the congregation of the church in New Quay, South Wales. Young Florrie Evans was just a teenager at the time. At this youth meeting in February 1904, she declared publicly that she loved the Lord Jesus with all her heart. The Spirit descended on the meeting, and the young people were reduced to tears. After this meeting, the Spirit of God quickly spread to other young people in the Cardiganshire area. Young people, sixteen to eighteen years old, began traveling with an evangelist, Seth Joshua, who had been praying for revival for some time. His prayer was that the Lord would call a person not from the university or college but the working classes.
Evan Roberts was the answer to his prayer. In the Spring of 1904, Evan experienced a great awareness of God's presence. One night he was awakened from his sleep and led into deep communion with God for hours. This experience was to continue every evening for the next few months until he went away to a preparatory school for the ministry at Newcastle Emlyn. He was there two and a half weeks before he heard of the Spirit descending on the youth in New Quay. He had to return and receive something himself. In a meeting Evan was attending, Seth Joshua, the evangelist, challenged the congregation to allow the Spirit of God to "bend" all those that were attending. The Spirit prepared Evan due to his evenings of prayer; the Spirit descended on him and filled him. It was a life-changing experience for Evan Roberts. Oswald J. Smith in his book, The Passion for Souls, records Evan Roberts as writing:
For eleven years I had prayed for the Spirit, and this is the way I was led to pray. William Davies, the deacon at the church where he grew up in Christ, said one night in the society: “'Remember to be faithful. What if the Spirit descended and you were absent? Remember Thomas, Jesus' disciple, what a loss he had by not being there when Jesus turned up after the resurrection!" I said to myself, “I will have the Spirit”; and through every kind of weather and in spite of difficulties, I went to the meetings. Many times, on seeing other boys with the boats on the tide, I was tempted to turn back and join them. But, no, I said to myself: “Remember your resolve,” and on I went. I went faithfully to the meetings for prayer throughout the years I prayed for a Revival. It was the Spirit that moved me thus to think. At a particular morning meeting which Evan Roberts attended, the evangelist in one of his petitions prayed that the Lord would "bend us." The Spirit seemed to say to Roberts: "That's what you need, to be bent." He described his experience in this way: "I felt a living force coming into my bosom. This leading of the Spirit grew and grew, and I was almost bursting. I fell on my knees with my arms over the seat in front of me; the tears and sweat flowed freely. I thought blood was gushing forth." Certain friends approached to wipe his face.
Meanwhile, he was crying out, "O Lord, bend me! Bend me!" Then suddenly, the glory broke. Mr. Roberts adds: "After I was bent, a wave of peace came over me, and the audience sang, 'I hear your welcome voice.' And as they sang, I thought about the bending at the Judgment Day, and I was filled with compassion for those that would have to bend on that day, and I wept.”
Evan Roberts was given a vision for 100,000 people to be won to the Lord. He went at his task within the month, holding meetings all over Wales. There was very little preaching of the Word of God, many of his critics say that this was the reason the revival petered out within three years. We saw an example of this problem when we brought up the story of the two young ladies in China that wanted to serve the Lord; people were lost to cults because of a lack of discipleship teaching. Churches in an area need gifted people that the Holy Spirit sends to us, “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11); otherwise, we won’t learn the lessons of the past.
Evan Roberts’ emphasis was on four things as he went around Wales:
1. Confess all known sin,
2. Deal with and get rid of anything “doubtful” in your life,
3. Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly, and
4. Confess Christ publicly.
From the beginning, Roberts emphasized the importance of reliance on the Holy Spirit. "I never prepare the words I shall speak," he noted. "I leave all that to Him. Why should I teach when the Spirit is teaching? Why should I control the meetings? The Spirit that is in them controls them."
He believed in giving free rein to the Spirit of God, Who was leading the meetings. There was a humble, broken spirit in the Welsh people at this time, with many praying often and then sharing publicly in the meetings what God was doing. Another aspect of the meetings was much heartfelt worship by the congregation, the choir being all the people. Even young people of ten to fourteen years of age were seeking God and involved in their own prayer meetings; such was the spiritual atmosphere in Wales at that time. People were changed in so many ways. The crime rate dropped, drunkards were reformed, and pubs reported losses in trade. Bad language disappeared and never returned to the lips of many. It was reported that the pit ponies failed to understand their born-again colliers who seemed to speak the new language of Zion, without curse and blasphemy. For many, even football and rugby became uninteresting in the light of new joy and direction received by the converts. Over 100,000 people were added to the churches of Wales, just as the Spirit had told Evan Roberts.
Again, we see in the history of the Welsh Revival that the Holy Spirit fell when a body of people began to pray and be open and thirsty for more of God. They were also ready to lay down sin and be obedient to the Spirit’s working in them and through them. There was a resolve in Evan Robert’s heart that he wanted the Spirit in His fullness while he kept faithfully praying and waiting upon God and attending church. We also see Evan's persistence of faith that would not let God go until he received what he needed, i.e., to be filled with the Spirit.
God used Florrie Evans, a young girl, to start this move of the Spirit. Why will God often choose to use virtually unknown people when He wants to move in power?
Evan Roberts only had a few days of ministry training before he was thrust out to win over 100,000 people to Christ in three years, thus transforming the church of Wales in his time. He may have had only a short time in ministry training, but God had been preparing His heart for eleven years through prayer. God will use people who have a desire for God’s glory. The Holy Spirit often comes to His people in unexpected ways, i.e., in ways that no man can explain or reproduce through human effort or intellect.
We have to ask the question of ourselves, “Are we small enough for God to use?” Before God would use Gideon to defeat the Midianites, the Lord had to reduce Gideon’s numbers from 32,000 to 301 (Judges 7:2). God sees every heart and knows whether or not a man or woman can handle such a powerful ministry of bringing revival to a town, city, or country. The Lord cannot use some people because they don't have the character base to support a Spirit-led ministry. Sowing seeds of pride into the hearts of the people of God, Satan has broken many a valid ministry that God uses.
As the people of God, we can expect and pray for a mighty outpouring of the Spirit. Amos the prophet spoke of a time when the harvest will be so great that the previous year's harvest is still being reaped at the time to plow up the ground for the next year's crop. He also speaks in terms of the abundant harvest of gathering in of the grapes, i.e., at the time to start preparing the vines for the next year, they will still be picking the grapes:
Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it (Amos 9:13).
I believe the Lord is not talking about fields and grapes, but He uses the picture as an analogy of the fields being white for the harvest with the laborers few; so great will be the awakening out of the deception of the enemy.
What Does It Mean to be Filled with the Spirit?
If you are a genuine, born-again believer, the Holy Spirit lives in you, for when you came to Christ, the Spirit made His home in you. Here’s what Paul the Apostle wrote:
And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9).
All true believers in Christ have the Holy Spirit, but when it comes to being filled with the Spirit, the question is more about does the Holy Spirit have us? Not all Christians have yielded every aspect of their lives to the Lord, i.e., what many call being sanctified or set apart for holy use by the Spirit. To be filled with God's Spirit, you need to displace yourself from the seat of authority in your life. The most significant example to us of one filled with the Spirit is the Lord Jesus Christ. The most attractive people in the world are those who are full and led by God’s Spirit.
Years ago, the great acrobat Karl Wallenda, otherwise known as Blondin, stretched a wire across Niagara Falls, a distance of around 1,000 feet, and offered to carry anyone across in a wheelbarrow. Many believed that he could do it, but there were no takers. To get in the wheelbarrow and be taken across the chasm—that is the difference between intellectual agreements of what God has done in Christ and personal trust. Mental assessment recognizes that the wheelbarrow will get a person over the Niagara Falls, but the person doesn't get in and trust someone to take him over the Falls. Personal trust, or belief in Christ, is releasing the will to be led by God and to live for Him by obeying His voice. There is always a risk to stepping out in faith. Faith is spelled R.I.S.K.
Paul wrote that Jesus “made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7), so why should we be people that cling to our reputations? If God should humble us by taking a faith risk and we find out that we didn’t really hear God speak, then it should still feel good to step out in obedience to what we thought was God’s promptings to minister to someone.
If you are a Christian, you have been given the Spirit of Christ and are baptized by the Spirit into Christ's spiritual body. It is often due to a lack of understanding and faith in God's word about our identity in Christ that keeps us from walking in the power of the Spirit. We need to understand and accept all we are given in the new birth that Jesus has won for us on the cross (John 3:3). When we know the authority that God has invested in us, we will be true representatives of Christ on earth.
Let’s look now at how the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost. Turn with me to Acts 2:
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:1-4).
The disciples were seen to have flames of fire, described as tongues, resting on them at the moment the Spirit descended, perhaps in fulfillment of John the Baptist’s words about Christ, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). The tongues of fire may have disappeared by the time the 3,000 people witnessed the 120 coming out of the upper room, for there is no further mention of it by those looking on at what was happening. The manifestation of the Spirit filling them was that they began to speak in other tongues, or languages, which is what the Greek word means. This outpouring of the Spirit was a manifestation of power given to the 120 as the Spirit flowed in them and through them (v. 4).
The Holy Spirit came suddenly (v. 2), perhaps just as the crowds were coming out of the temple after the morning prayer meeting. I believe this initial outpouring is what is known as the Baptism of the Spirit. The word translated “baptism” is the Greek word baptizō, which means to dip, dye, immerse, plunge, submerge, to overwhelm, imbue, or engulf. It was used in the Greek language to describe the act of dying cloth in a bath. The fabric was dipped under the liquid until it was soaked, and the color of the fabric changed. On the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came, He baptized the believers into the body of Christ, and the Church, the called-out believers, was born.
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Twice in the passage above, Paul uses the word “all.” This passage does not refer to some believers but all believers. When we give our lives to Christ, we are all part of the Body of Christ and have the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit was not given to those who had worked hard at being holy and deserving. What kind of father would behave like that to his children! He gives His Spirit to all who are born again into His family:
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13).
When Paul wrote that the Spirit had baptized all believers into the Body of Christ, he is not communicating to the faithful Thessalonians nor the spiritual Ephesians. He was writing to the worldly Corinthians. He tells them that every believer, including each of us Christians today, are all given to drink of the one Spirit. The original Greek of 1 Corinthians 12:13 above is a completed past action. Each of us is baptized with the Spirit when we believe in Christ. To everyone who believes, God gives His Spirit. The three thousand people who were listening and watching what was happening to the 120 were told to repent and be baptized and that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). From Pentecost onwards, the only words that describe the coming of the Spirit are the words "they were filled."
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2:4).
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! (Acts 4:8).
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17).
Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said… (Acts 13:9).
And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52).
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
What do the Scriptures mean by being filled with the Spirit? In the last-mentioned passage, Paul was writing to the Ephesians, commanding them to be continually filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). The Greek word pleroo denotes being made full, i.e., to fill to the full, “to be filled, made full.” It is a word used of things, such as a net filled with fish (Matthew 13:48), a building filled with fragrance (John 12:3), or a city filled with teaching about Jesus (Acts 5:28).
Another word used is the Greek word pimplemi, also translated with the English word “filled.” Eight times it was used of being filled with the Spirit, but it was also used with emotions: wrath, Luke 4:28; filled with awe, 5:26; madness, 6:11; wonder, amazement, Acts 3:10; jealousy, Acts 5:17. The word pimplemi is used to describe emotions so strong that they motivate a person in a certain way. There is an act of our volition involved to the degree that we desire to be controlled, led, or guided by the Spirit. To desire to be filled, controlled, and led by the Spirit is something that is an act of the will. God will not force His way upon your life.
What am I saying? I'm saying that being filled with the Spirit is more about being controlled and led by the Spirit's promptings, more than an image of a receptacle filled up. Some will say you have to speak in tongues to be filled with the Spirit, but there are plenty of people who have not spoken in tongues but been wonderfully led and controlled by the Spirit. We are to present our bodies in full submission to God and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done,” i.e., something that Jesus modeled to us in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our part is to relinquish control of every area of our lives to God, e.g., our children, our homes, our cars, even everything we have! This leads us to our last point, which I hope will be practical for us to take on board.
How Does the Spirit of God Lead Us?
To be a disciple is for Jesus to be Lord of your whole life. If He is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all!
In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).
To the degree that we give up ownership of ourselves and our stuff, that is the same degree of being filled and controlled by the Spirit.
If we want to be full and controlled by the Spirit, we must walk in faith and be obedient to the Spirit's promptings. What do I mean by promptings? Let me give you an example. Sandy, my wife, and I were living in England in 1983, and Sandy had an opportunity to visit the United States to see her parents for two weeks. It was after the first denial of my U.S. Residency Visa, so I could not accompany her on the trip. The night before her return to England, she called me from the airport in Chicago to let me know she would be boarding her flight in an hour, and it would be an eight-hour flight. The plane was due to arrive at Heathrow airport at 6 am, so I needed to drive more than two hours to pick her up.
I got up at 3.30 am, and while I was dashing around getting my things together for the drive, the thought popped into my head, "Take your passport!" When that thought came, I processed the idea by thinking it would be unnecessary. Why on earth would I need a passport? I wasn't going anywhere! I wouldn't need my passport to get into the airport, so I carried on rushing around and continued to get ready. I had my car keys in my hand, and just as I put on my jacket to go out the door, the thought came to me again, "Take your passport!" Still, I thought it was weird, but I decided to obey the impulse because, by that time, I had a little bit of experience at listening to those promptings, so I dashed upstairs, got my passport, and ran out of the door to the car.
I got to Heathrow on time, and as I went into the arrivals hall, I looked upon the monitor and saw that Sandy's flight arrived on time. However, after two hours of waiting in the arrivals lobby, I began to get worried. The time to wait was usually only around half an hour. Then, over the public-address system came a message for me, "Would Mr. Keith Thomas come to the Information Booth?" I was even more worried when I did not see Sandy there. A uniformed Immigration officer was waiting for me. "Mr. Thomas?" he said, "All this mess can be resolved if you just happen to have your passport on you!" With a big smile from ear to ear, I pulled my passport out of my pocket while he told me that British Immigration just needed to know that Sandy's husband was a British citizen. Only the passport would prove it! I got to take my wife home, and she was quite relieved after having waited for at least a couple of hours while being detained in a small room at the airport. When she had left the U.K., she had overstayed her visiting visa, and her residency status had not yet been approved. Without proof that she was my wife, she would have been sent home on the next plane.
God was gracious with me in prompting me the second time to take my passport. I wonder how many other times the Lord has inspired me like that, and I haven't listened. If we would only listen to Him, how many victories and how many little miracles of provision could we be receiving? God longs to be gracious to us and speak specific things to our hearts if only we would quiet our spirit enough to listen:
13If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, 14how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! (Psalm 81:13-14).
What obstacles in your day-to-day life keep you from being receptive or quiet enough to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit? What changes could you make in your lifestyle to be more susceptible to those promptings?
I am still learning these truths myself, but over the years, I have found that, if I want to be led by the Spirit, I have to obey His promptings. Something that I have found helpful in discerning what is of the Holy Spirit and what is of our own mind is to review the thought that comes. Can I identify a chain of successive thoughts, or did the idea come to my mind out of nowhere? If there is no link or chain of thoughts and the thought came like a light bulb suddenly turned on, then it could be the Spirit's prompting. The next thing is to ask myself, what would be the likely outcome of my obedience to a thought dropped into my mind? Is there a chance that God would get glory out of my acting on the idea? Would it also be compatible with the Scriptures? Is there a possibility that blessing could come out of my obedience to the prompting? What is the worst-case scenario if it’s not the Spirit’s prompting? If the only thing to risk is a possible humbling or embarrassment, then go for it!
Can you think of anything you now can ask of God, whether it is a small thing or a big thing? Start by asking God for something for which you can believe, no matter how small. God will build your faith as you take this step.
You may think that God would never use you in such a remarkable way, and yet it is impossible to tell what can happen from one act of obedience. It took faith for Tommy Hicks to get on that plane to Argentina or for the two young Chinese girls who went to Hainan Island. It was obedience to the promptings of the Spirit for the two senior ladies on the Hebrides Islands to call Duncan Campbell to come and preach. Small acts of obedience to the promptings of the Lord really can change the world. Even if God gives you a trivial task, such as speaking a word to someone or performing a small act of kindness, it may be a big thing in the economy of heaven and lead to great rewards.
Dare to be bold in your God, for the righteous are as bold as lions!
Prayer: Father, let there be no distraction keeping us from hearing and obeying Your Holy Spirit's promptings. Help us to trust You in small things. I pray that You would lead us one step at a time to greater faith so that our relationship with You will deepen and that You be glorified in our lives and the lives of others. Amen!
 Oswald J. Smith. The Passion for Souls. Welch Publishing Company, Burlington, Canada, page 42.
 Vines Concise Dictionary of the Bible. Published by Nelson, p. 137.