Awakenings: Ten Things I’ve Learned
Category : Glenda's Soap Box
I spent the better part of a year researching the events of the Second Great Awakening. A good amount of that information is compiled in the book: A Table in the Frontier. Because I found much more content than I could fit into a book, I will be sharing even more content in separate posts in this Soap Box blog for all who are interested.
The additions to this particular blog post will present some of the information I learned along the way. Some of what I write will be encouraging. Some of what I write may be shocking. But, I am going to pass it on anyway.
In this process, I am going to lay aside the burden of being politically correct (or religiously correct) in what I say. It is more important to me to share what I know now than it is to try to make what I am going to say more palatable.
So, if you are game, it is time to gird your proverbial loins and keep on reading.
Are you ready to know what I have learned in the process?
THING #1: A spiritual awakening can only come when people are spiritually asleep.
You cannot wake up if you are already awake. I know that sounds like a simple statement, but the only reason a spiritual awakening would be necessary is if believers are spiritually asleep. We hear a lot of talk about awakening and revival, but we hear almost nothing about our own awareness of the degree of our spiritual slumber. The truth is, if the church is not asleep (which it certainly is), an awakening is totally unnecessary. And, much like a deceived person does not know when they are deceived; a sleeping person does not know that they are sleeping. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal that to us.
The awakening can come in the form of a gentle nudge or a rude wake-up call. The depth of sleep in the sleeper determines which method would be the most effective.
How asleep are we? Do we prefer the comfort of sleep to the discomfort of being shaken awake? Which will we choose?
THING #2: We don't need a history lesson, we need a historical mirror.
If we could overlay a transparency of the early church on top of our current church culture, what would the differences be? Unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to us, it is almost impossible to get a perspective on the condition of our own hearts, much less that of the culture we are literally submerged in.
THING #3: Unity among believers in the body of Christ is imperative.
The difference between religion and the Kingdom of God is: religion majors on subtraction and division, and the Kingdom of God majors on addition and multiplication! Are we members of the same body of Christ or are we simply members of some minuscule local church?
If we are indeed members of the body of Christ worldwide, we need to lift our vision higher. What unifies us? We are His people, called by His name. That is our common denominator. Not traditions. Not doctrine. Not the color of the carpet in the church. Not any of those things that can only separate us. We are His people, bought with the precious blood of Christ. That is what we have in common. We are His possessions to do with as He pleases.
THING #4: United prayer is a prerequisite to an awakening or a revival.
Whenever you see a mighty move of God from the past, if you look hard enough you will find people- most of the time completely anonymous people- who have purposed in their hearts to pray until something happens. Or in the case of those in 1800 who lived through the Second Awakening, they prayed for an awakening for people they would never meet. Their vision extended to those who would be living past the year 2000! They were praying for us.
We are not talking about dry, namby-pamby prayer, droning on and on about what we think is important. We are talking about drawing something out of the very heart of God and praying until it becomes a reality on the earth. The world (and much of the church) is sick of hearing prayers void of passion and power.
THING #5: The Holy Spirit is not a gentleman!
I have heard this statement 'the Holy Spirit is a gentleman' all of my Christian life, but it simply is not true. Many times when this phrase is used, it is to make a judgment against someone doing something out of the social norm in the context of church. The obvious implication being communicated is: this is not something God would do. It is wisdom to be very cautious in being quick to condemn things we do not understand or comprehend.
History tells another story. It clearly shows that the Holy Spirit does not mind doing whatever He needs to do to accomplish the purposes of God in people who have surrendered themselves under His mighty power.
The truth is, the Spirit of God cannot be compared to a man in any way, gentleman or otherwise. He is fierce and powerful beyond our ability to comprehend. His was the hand that scattered hundreds to the ground during the early camp meetings for the purpose of humbling them to repentance. Some lay in the dirt for hours crying out to God with deep repentance and tears under His convicting power. Then they were raised up with dirty clothes, clean hearts and transformed lives. Thankfully, He will mess us up to rescue us from ordinary, powerless lives.
So that means the Comforter did not come so that we could be comfortable, and it is abundantly clear that what appears to be chaos in our natural eyes can be perfect order to the Holy Spirit.
Does He need our permission? No. If we are surrendered to God, He can do as He pleases with us- no holds barred.
In Acts 2:15, those that were witnessing the early church believers thought they were drunk at 9am in the morning. They had to be told that what they were witnessing didn't have anything to do with alcohol, but they certainly must have appeared to be under the influence of something powerful, which they certainly were: the Holy Spirit! In other words, from outward appearances by the common observer, they looked drunk.
THING #6: Repentance is not optional.
Repentance is a gift. Period. And we don't get to control how it looks to others. History tells us one thing about each and every move of God that has happened world-wide. They all had one thing in common. When the Presence of God came in power, repentance followed. The ugly kind where you weep until your tear ducts are bankrupt. No dignified repentance characterized any move of God that I have researched. The kind I have read about is when people forgot themselves, abandoned their fear of man and wept cleansing tears of conviction as the Holy Spirit mercifully exposed the true condition of their hearts. It happens when people care more about what God thinks than what others around them are thinking.
Is there such a thing as a tear-less repentance. I think not.
THING #7: God's way or the highway.
Spiritual awakenings are not random events. When we obey His instructions in His Word, His Presence always comes to join us. IF...If...if we keep our part of the covenant. ("If" is the word that precedes conditional promises in the Word of God. It appears 1521 times, 1029 in the Old Testament and 492 times in the New Testament.) We quote II Chronicles 7:14 all the time, but we may have never noticed that the word it begins with is the weighty little word- If. And another very important word is also in that same promise, and that is the word 'then'. "If My people...then I (God) will... What God will do is contingent on what His people choose to do first.
That is difficult concept to comprehend in our current church culture because in our experience there is no predicting when the Presence of God will join one of our gatherings. We believe that if we sing great worship songs, and everyone participates and raises their hands that somehow, someway He might feel welcome enough to join us.
A quick look at the Old Testament will show us that time and time again when God's people did what He told them to do, He joined them. Here is the pattern. God gave instructions on how He wanted things done, when the people agreed to His terms (stopped worshiping idols and renewed covenant), He joined them. It is like the covenant of marriage at a wedding. What kind of ceremony would it be if the groom didn't show up to fulfill His part? God is not a random no-show, but it will always be on His terms. Always.
Maybe the problem is we want to be in control. We want Him to come when it is convenient for us, as long as He doesn't disrupt our plans so our service can go as predicted and we can still make it after church to our favorite restaurant before the big rush.
The only problem is that God- the One True God- will not be dictated to. He cannot be controlled. If the god we are serving stays inside our little box so we are not offended and our comfort zone remains intact, it may be an indicator that we are in deep trouble.
THING #8: Hell is a real place.
When Jonathan Edwards (First Awakening) preached his famous message entitled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, it is said that for that moment, in that room, hell became so very real that people clung desperately to the pillars in the room as they had a strong sense that the rotten floor would give way and they could find themselves slipping into hell without the Savior that God provided in the Lord Jesus Christ. Somehow they found that passion to cry out to God for mercy!
Among the preachers that God used the most before, during and after the Second Great Awakening we find Rev. James McGready. What was his gifting? It is said that when he spoke he could illustrate the joys of heaven and the terrors of hell in a particularly realistic manner. The fruit of his ministry? Untold thousands of people of all ages that were radically saved with the evidence of completely transformed lives.
Ask yourself: When was the last sermon you heard describing heaven and its inhabitants in great detail? When was the last message you heard on hell and its population?
In these times when no great majority of people even believe that there is a literal devil, we try to convince ourselves that hell does not exist because it does not fit into our brand of theology. ("How could a loving God send people to hell?") Could it be that we have tried to replace a Holy God with the ever jovial and harmless Coca-Cola Santa Claus?
THING #9: The easiest way to kill an awakening is to do the opposite of what prepared the way for one in the first place.
Disunity & Division: Start to spiritually subtract and divide instead of adding and multiplying. Look really hard and find insignificant things that promote the separation of believers (things that offend you, preferences, etc.). And if you really want to do something stupid, break off from an existing congregation to develop your very own denomination for the purpose of "doing things the right way" (or even believe the lie that your current denomination or church is "doing things the right way"). When Jesus prayed that we as believers would all be one, He wasn't suggesting that we would all share the same opinions, but that we would be tenacious in holding on to and loving each other in spite of our differences.
Pride: Begin to believe that awakening has come because of your own giftedness and the things you are doing right. Try to control anything messy that has happened during the awakening and impress on others how you would like to correct any imbalances by doing it your way. Attribute some of what you have seen in an awakening as a work of the devil, instead of a work of God that is mercifully operating even in the midst of some carnality and flesh.
I simply cannot say it better than this quote (from www.gospeltruth.net) under the heading of The Post Mortem of the Second Great Awakening: “Though the Great Revival died, it did not die a natural death. It was put to death by Christians who placed other things; self, denominational beliefs, often doctrine, above God.”
Can we learn from their error and keep our self righteous mitts off of a move of God if one ever comes near where we are?
THING #10: Something important has been utterly lost.
How can something so priceless be lost for generations and the Church not even know it is missing?
Here is a clue. There is a very strategic story in the Old Testament in the book of II Kings, chapter 22. It tells the story of a young king, Josiah, who came to power after a secession of kings in his ancestry who "did evil in the sight of the Lord" and led the people into the worship of false gods. Idolatry. Something that God passionately hates, and it was something He warned them time and time again not to do in the Book of the Covenant that was given through Moses to God's people.
The Bible says that Josiah "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord". Long story short, he initiated a work that would restore the Temple where his people could once again worship the One True God. In the process, one of those men he designated for the work uncovered something that had been lost for generations. God's words. The words of the Covenant that had been made between God and His people. The Book of the Covenant that God had given His people to follow. It had been lost and completely forgotten.
When one of Josiah's men brought it to him and read the words out loud, Josiah had the proper response. He tore his clothes in utter repentance over what had been missing. As those words were read to Josiah, he realized the gravity of the situation and was utterly stunned over the magnitude of what had been lost to those in the generations before him. It dawned on him that his forefathers who had ruled over God's people had been doing so without the benefit of God's words. No wonder things had gone so horribly wrong. He would not make the same mistake!
He personally repented and led God's people in repentance. He personally renewed covenant with the Lord and led God's people to renew covenant with God. He utterly destroyed all the idols with their altars and anything that had to do with the worship of false gods (which had aroused God's fierce jealousy and anger). And then he did something that had not been done for generations. He re-instituted the Passover (meal) among God's people. "He gave this order to all the people, 'Celebrate the Passover to the LORD, your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant'".
Something priceless has been lost from the Church for a very long time. History tells us that there have been people (martyrs) that have literally given their lives for this treasure to be available to those that came after them so they could share it in the same manner that the Lord Jesus Christ did while He was on earth.
What are we missing? I suggest to you that we are in a similar place to the one I have mentioned in II Kings 22. Utterly hidden from us is the revelation of the priceless treasures found in comprehending both the Covenant (between God and believers) and the Passover meal from the perspective of the Kingdom of God that can only come from the Holy Spirit. The Lamb of God was the perfect Sacrifice, and He desired to celebrate this Passover meal with His disciples, and also with the generations of believers that would come after them.
This meal has virtually no relation to the little plastic cup of grape juice and the round white wafer that melts in your mouth, both being sealed with plastic. You know, the one we spend minutes preparing to receive together while we sit comfortably and individually in our pews. (Would Josiah have recognized and demolished this idol of convenience that we worship?)
It is no understatement to say that if you could point to one thing that the camp meetings of the Second Great Awakening shared- where the Presence of God came in mighty power- the common denominator is communally sharing the Table of the LORD when it is taken on the foundation of the knowledge of the Covenant between God and his people. What takes us mere moments to prepare ourselves to receive literally took days during the Second Great Awakening. Sometimes up to 4 or 5 days. If our first thought is, "Why in the world did it take them so long to prepare to receive Communion?", then we can begin to get an indication of the magnitude of our loss. Do we even expect the Presence of the Lord to come in power and join us when we share Communion?
The truth is, we cannot even verbalize what has been lost because, much like it was in the days of Josiah, it is completely hidden from our view. That discovery, that revelation awaits those who realize something is missing and determine in their hearts to- at whatever cost- recover the hidden treasure that literally lies buried in the house of God.