An Extraordinary Story of Seekers
Having explored six of the seven confidence builders, how can we not conclude that the hope of revival is at hand? But the final reason to expect it may be more convincing than any other: the determined people. My thesis is this:
God is galvanizing a host of people worldwide who are convinced that revival is the only hope for the church, as well as for the nations. They are confident there is so much more that God wants to do in this generation for his Son. And they are willing to pay any price to prepare the way for God to do it, first of all by repentance and prayer. Further, they are active in recruiting others to the same confident vision. As a result their numbers are increasing. Because of who they are, they form a chief sign of the nearness of an impending spiritual awakening to Christ. In fact they are the first phase of it. Surely revival is on tope of us. Of this we can be confident.
In March of 1992 shouts, whistles, drumming, and screams of 150 pro-choice, gay, and lesbian demonstrators sought to drown out the prayers of Christians gathered inside Chicago’s Armitage Baptist Church. The congregation outside the church came from ten militant organizations—Sister Serpent (a witch’s group) and Queer Nation (a homosexual group). They were organized to protest the pro-life stand of the church members who gathered regularly for a weekly prayer meeting in the multi-ethnic church. Inside the building, everything proceeded as planned. A “concert of prayer” was lifted up, not only for the demonstrators outside but for revival throughout our whole nation.
The nearly two hundred members of Armitage Baptist who normally gathered for these prayer concerts were not along, however. They were joined that night by another twelve hundred from fifty other Chicago churches who had heard about the planned demonstration and came to support the Armitage believers. In fact, there were so many praying Christians that they overflowed from the main auditorium into a second auditorium and out into the streets. Finally, seven buses from Salem Baptist Church pulled up, with the entire Salem choir who began to sing praises to the Lord on the steps of the besieged building. It wasn’t long before the demonstrators fell silent and slipped into the night.
The past, Charles Lyons, told National and International Religion Report, “God’s people came together and God’s people prayed. And there was a sense of God in the midst of all of this.” He’s talking about the kind of people that I want to describe in this chapter—people who are determined, in the face of all opposition, to seek God for revival until revival comes. God’s determined people.
Who are they? Actually they have always preceded great moments of renewal in the church. Jesus called them the meek and said they would inherit the earth. That’s because the meek are anything but apathetic! The meek are those who seek. It is the seekers who ultimately become God’s receivers. And when they receive, it is never for themselves alone but for the sake of many others.
From beginning to end, the Bible is a story about seekers.1 The Bible explains how seekers are called and what they are promised. It describes the discoveries they make in the process of seeking as well as the destiny they share because they do. God wants his people to be a company of seekers because he wants to be wanted—he waits to be sought. He actually commands his people to place their hope in him, to “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2).
To whatever degree there is a supernatural dimension to the coming world revival (and obviously there is), to that degree there must be a body of people worldwide who are determined to seek and prepare for awakening. They must place themselves in a position to receive it and run with it as it comes. Theologian Lewis Drummond writes, “In the ecclesia (church), the faithful remnant has always been God’s way of precipitating powerful movements. If we wait for everyone to be deepened and ready for blessings, we may wait forever. And if that ever did happen, we would not need an awakening; it would have already occurred.”2 Revival cannot be engineered by a committee. Revival comes only by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. But God brings this new day to his church through those who pursue him for it relentlessly. They are the very conduits of the revival because their hearts are set on nothing less.
Perhaps this is the greatest indication that the church is being positioned for a sovereign work of revival: the appearance once again within the church of an extraordinary kind of Christian, determined to pray and prepare until revival comes, no matter what the cost. People like Cotton Mather, who in the early 1700s not only preached on the need for revival and wrote a theology of revival but gave himself to 490 day of praying and fasting for revival until the day of his death in 1727. On that very day revival broke out in Northampton, Massachusetts, under the ministry of his son-in-law Jonathan Edwards—another determined seeker—and swept through the colonies over the ensuing decades, often through determined people banded together in concerts of prayer.
Samuel Shoemaker, who labored for spiritual renewal in the mid-twentieth century within the Episcopal Church, highlights in With the Holy Spirit and with Fire his experience of the critical role of determined people:
It would be difficult to believe that God is not ready to “pour His Spirit upon all flesh,” if only more of us were deeply available to Him. In one sense, the awakening is His business—in another sense, it is very much up to us. For while we cannot bring about the awakening in our own strength, we can hold it back by our own refusals. We know all too well that it is tens of thousands of people just like ourselves, partially converted, partially trained, partially mobilized, but not “given” as we might and could be, that keep God’s forces in the world running at such minimal strength and at such slow pace.3
Seekers are Believers
The strategic role of seekers in revival might be illustrated with a child’s brainteaser: If a tree falls in a forest, but there is no one there to hear it, does it make a noise? Of course it makes sound waves, but if there are no ear drums to translate those waves via the brain into what we term a “noise,” does the tree really make that sound? Similarly if God were ready to send revival on his church worldwide, but there were not a sufficient number of believers in position to receive it because there were too few determined people prayerfully preparing for it, would revival come? I believe the testimony of Scripture and church history is it would not.
When talking about these determined people with the pastor of the largest church in the world, he reminded me of a verse that nicely describes them (obviously his church was full of them): “The kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matt. 11:12). Today’s determined people are those who are privy to where God is headed in Christ, what he is preparing to do to advance his kingdom in the twenty-first century. In response to his action they have reached out to lay hold of his forceful initiative—to lay hold of him. In the process they are being transformed into a people of force.
Much like an acrobat who studies a swinging trapeze and launches out to seize it with all her strength so that her destiny above the center ring gets wrapped up in the destiny of the trapeze itself, so it is with determined people. By their pursuit of the hope of national and world revival (which can only come by God’s sovereign intervention), their own destiny gets wrapped up in that vision. It may not be too much to say that once God has a sufficient number of determined people (people of force) awakened by him to his revival initiatives and wholeheartedly pursuing them, revival will descend upon the church without delay. The seekers will become receivers. They will lay hold of it and then run with it. They will be a mirror image of God’s own forceful agenda and in turn become (as Paul would say) “fellow workers with Christ.”
Who are these determined people? As I have met with thousands throughout the body of Christ, I believe one can identify them by at least five characteristics.
The Characteristics of Determined People
Determined people live with what we called earlier “superspective.” They have a vision so full of hope both of the final revival (the consummation) as well as the coming revival (an approximation of the consummation) that they are compelled to seek and prepare for it. In fact their focus on the final revival ennobles all of their other longings for world revival now and makes it impossible for them to settle for anything less.
What they’re looking at is Christ. It’s not so much that they are determined to do more; instead, they see that God is calling them to seek more. Coming to Christ for who he is and for all that his kingdom promises, they are compelled to seek God both on the basis of what they do not have as well as on the basis of God’s unlimited promises for what they shall have.
Like skeptics in the days of Christopher Columbus, some Christians could be called “flatlanders.”4 They see the horizon but expect and seek nothing beyond it. Determined people, however, are “round-earthers.” Because of who Jesus is, they know there has to be a whole other world of God’s blessings reaching far beyond what is immediately apparent. So they live and work both in the light of what can be seen, like flatlanders, as well as what cannot yet by seen. They live daily in the reality of the issues we have studied in this book. No wonder they are so unshakable, so full of confidence!
Their unshakable confidence is also molded by unrelenting yearnings for revival, yearnings that will not let them go. It’s not that determined people are necessarily more spiritual than other Christians’ it’s just they are more restless. They have a sense of impending breakthroughs, a sense that God is ready to give revival now. And they are in hot pursuit. They’ve moved beyond desperation and even anticipating into a trembling expectation—beyond willingness for it into readiness for it. Beyond curious interest in such a work of God, into a passion for it. Extraordinary feelings indeed!
This passion also carries with it a sense of urgency, even emergency. They seek and prepare, knowing procrastination would be sin. Why Because a spiritual awakening to Christ is our only hope for this generation. Engaging the Father with energetic embrace, they persistently appeal to him for world revival, thoroughly dissatisfied with everything short of it. Their pursuit reflects that of John Piper who says of himself that he is “insatiably greedy. The more you have, the more you want. The more you see, the more you want to see. The more you feel, the more you want to feel. This holy greed for joy in God wants to see and feel more and more manifestations of His glory.”5
Another friend of mine used a most surprising phrase to describe these same feelings. He recalled his preconversion years as a heroin addict. Spending almost every waking hour either stealing money, buying drugs, shooting up, or sleeping it off, he though of little else but heroin. His addiction was more important to him than food or housing or survival. He summarized those years as “desire in constant motion”—that is, desire for heroin. But now with his great longing for revival both in his own life and within his city of Miami, he says he has fallen back on that same phrase as the only way to describe how he feels as a Christian. By Scripture studies, in prayer and obedience, by his ministry to the poor and oppressed, by his calling others to revival prayer, his daily life has become once again one of desire in constant motion. It’s the opposite of a feeling of resignation. It is much closer to what someone has called “rebellion against the status quo.” In fact, determined people often experience an exhilaration comparable to what one might expect in the midst of a revolution.
But this should not catch us unawares. This is how it has always been, according to revival historian Richard Owen Roberts:
When prayers and strong pleas for revival are made to God both day and night; when the children of God find they can no longer tolerate the absence of revival blessings; when extraordinary seeking of an extraordinary outpouring becomes extraordinarily earnest; and when the burden of prayer for revival becomes almost unbearable, then let praying hearts take courage, for the Spirit of God who is the spirit of revival has brought His people to this place for a purpose.6
In the full expectation of national and world revival, determined people let the horizon of God’s future shape their obedience to Christ today. As I said in chapter 3, they have become “prisoners of hope.” Captive to the vision, they are determined to stay awake and not be diverted. Giving full attention to what God has promised, they make their lives as purposeful in the light of those convictions as they possibly can. They even “act as if” (A C. S. Lewis phrase for the whole Christian life) revival had already begun—obeying Christ not the way they expect to obey him then.
You might say that determined people have actually undergone a type of “second conversion.” Whereas all Christians have been converted out of the world to Christ, determined people are those who have been “converted” with Christ back into the world. Their daily routines are ordered in the light of the consummation of God’s plan for all nations. They can no longer act as “tourists” simply enjoying the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. Instead they are “pilgrims” on a journey toward a fuller revelation of Christ to all peoples in this generation.
They have integrated a search for world revival into their daily discipleship, wrapping their lives around that cause and nothing less. Everything about their own Christian walk supports their claim before others that they believe revival is at hand. Everything they do and say is also geared to stir up increased conviction within others that God is ready to act in revival.
Of course that’s not the same as saying they believe they themselves can make revival happen. They are quite aware the hope before is so great, it cannot be accomplished by human efforts. They also know nothing they resolve can control or force God to act and bring it to pass. Instead in everything they do and say, in every area of their lives and in every facet of the life of the church, they strive to prepare the way for Christ’s manifest presence in full-orbed revival.
In a sense these people have become true fanatics, a word that comes from Latin, meaning “temple dweller.” Similarly, determined people live every day dwelling on God’s heart for the world, on his promises for revival, and on his readiness to act on behalf of those who seek him. They live in the presence of the Lord, in everything they do, seeking him for revival.
This decisive devotion toward Christ proclaims, “I am prepared to commit all that I know of myself, all that I know of Christ, all that I can be and do to hasten his day of revival.” Determined people review each day and rejoice when they can say, “I know this day my life has helped to strategically encourage God’s people toward the hope of world revival in the church, for the sake of Christ’s mission among all nations.”
Such extraordinary living may even begin to look like revival itself! At the very least it becomes a dress rehearsal for revival because to reorient our lives around the hope of revival is to flesh out in preliminary ways what we expect from the full impact of revival. “Hope hears the music of the future; faith dances to it right now,” as my friend Ben Patterson puts it. As Lewis said, we “act as if.”
For example, determined people
- Worship God with a new spirit that includes a spirit of anticipation. They celebrate the greater manifestations of his glory just ahead of them even before they see it, praising the God who is, who was, and who is to come (Rev. 1:8).
- Study Scripture with an eye to all that it highlights regarding the hope of revival and its blessings on the nations. There are hundreds of such passages.
- Are compelled toward fellowship with other believers, striving to become a community of hope that focuses not only upon Christ and each other but also on where Christ is going out ahead of them.
- Look at material possessions in a different light, making the accumulation of goods and the giving of resources proportionate to the hope they seek, investing in the coming revival.
- Find new courage for mission, as the hope of revival assures them that current evangelism will create new possibilities for spiritual awakening to break through more powerfully to more people made ready by their witness. Thus, chief among their priorities will be the missionary penetration of the thousands of remaining unreached people groups worldwide.
- Respond to human needs around them in a new way, because their hearts are fixed on the final revival as well as the coming revival. This leads them into ministries consistent with how they believe the world will be changed as Christ is more fully manifested among them in revival. Chief among such demonstrations of compassion with be renewed identification with earth’s one billion poor, who are always a priority with God when he gives revival.
Because of stresses in the Cold War in the late 1970s, President Carter ordered the U. S. Olympic Team to boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow. As a result a number of the athletes who had spent four years in continuous preparation for the Olympics had to commit to train another four years—eight years in total—until the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. What kept them going? The hope of being part of the spectacular drama of the Olympics and the hope of achieving a victory rewarded with a gold medal. Determined people have a similar hope and drive as they live for Christ and prepare for revival.
As we’ve seen, the cross of Christ is the ultimate fountainhead of all revivals, including the final revival. It should be no surprise, therefore, that God calls those determined to seek revival into an experience that is a reflection of the cross itself. Missionary statesman Samuel Zwemer, said in a message entitled “The Glory of the Impossible” that “The unoccupied fields of the world must have their Calvary before they can have their Pentecost.” In the same way, if the glories of national and world revival, which may currently seem impossible, are to come to us, this generation must have its Calvary before it receives its Pentecost.
This is not to say that seekers are morbid. To the contrary, they are awaiting something wonderful, and they show it, always rejoicing in the hope of God’s greater glory (Rom. 5:2). But since they know it must be by God’s action not theirs, they are compelled to confess their brokenness, sin, and powerlessness to bring the church into spiritual awakening. On the one hand they refuse to simply settle for the scope of God’s previous activities in revival because they realize so much more of Christ is needed if his kingdom is to advance in the twenty-first century. But on the other hand, they aren’t in themselves able to spawn the necessary revival for which they are so desperate. And so, since they won’t go back and cannot go on, they must go down. And that is the cross. They have chosen to humble themselves under God’s mighty hand, to come under the “foolishness” and weakness” of the cross by signing up to be determined seekers. Just as Jesus did on the cross, they too cry out in desperate need for God’s intervention. In one sense they share Christ’s sufferings as they take upon themselves the sins of the world. By this I mean they share with him his pain over the dark prospects among the nations and over the disturbing paralysis within the church and they share his willingness to pay any price to see this changed.
Further, like Jesus on the cross, they must wait. This may be the greatest pain of all. Waiting can feel like a “sentence of death” (2 Cor. 1:9), especially when we’re waiting in heartbreaking desperation for a revival that has not yet come. We wait, “far beyond our ability to endure,” placing our hope in God who raised Jesus from the dead and who is also able to deliver a whole church in answer to their prayers (2 Cor. 1:8,9).
The Scriptures are full of God’s command to his people to wait on him and to patiently watch for his extraordinary work of deliverance on their behalf. In a sense, the call to the cross in revival is a call to be “wait watchers” (not weight watchers!). Like dieters, we say no to the desires of the moment, refusing momentary relief through spiritual junk food, because our sights are set on giving to Christ a bride that is holy. We are willing to endure our hunger pangs today, and suffer loss today, so that we can have Christ’s fullness tomorrow.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones warns, “When we get tired of praying for revival and say we must start doing something, then be careful. In holing back the answer, God is preparing us. He wants us to come to the place in which we realize we are indeed helpless and hopeless, and so become desperate and cry to Him alone.”7
Recently I conducted a Concert of Prayer rally in an auditorium just hours before a Josh McDowell “Why Wait?” campaign. In these nationwide youth assemblies, teenagers are challenged for Christ’s sake to wait, to reserve six to the confine of marriage, to practice voluntary abstinence. As hundred of us prayed that afternoon, it stuck me that the same question should be put before the whole church. Why wait? In other words, why pray? Why prepare? Why should we wait on God for revival?
The answer is parallel. God is calling the church to a form of “voluntary abstinence,” to put aside our own ambitions, desires, and attempts to do God’s work through our strength and resources—to wait for him to reproduce his reviving work for us in his time and his way. We wait for him to conceive revival in his people so that what is birthed is legitimate and can fulfill his purposes.
As any unmarried young person will tell you, voluntary abstinence can be painful. Delaying gratification may cause one to feel empty and inadequate. Or it may invite the scorn of one’s peers. Those determined to make God their only hope for revival and to seek him for it until he grants it must be will to sacrifice in similar ways.
To wait, however, is to suffer in a most unique sense, to suffer in anticipation of what lies ahead. The groanings of Christ on the cross are matched, according to Romans 8, by the groanings of creation, of the redeemed saints, and even of the Holy Spirit. All are groaning for the full will of God to be accomplished and for the delays to be over. Our suffering is in the hope of what he has promised for the final revival and, by implication, for every other revival. As Proverbs 13:12 tells us, when hope is deferred, it makes the heart sick.
But a seeker’s sufferings may also rise from another source. Those ambitions for revival become immediately vulnerable to the “antiforces,” not just human but demonic. Satan fears nothing more than a coalition of determined people who have anchored themselves in the promises of God for revival, set their sights on that and nothing less, and prepared accordingly. The enemy knows that as revival comes, the darkness will be pushed back further, his usurpations will be exposed, and multitudes of captives will be set free. So, determined people, expect retaliation!
This truth was illustrated for me at a Concert of Prayer held in a large civic center comprised of two auditoriums. In one an exhibition boxing match with George Foreman was scheduled. On the same night in our auditorium, Christians from scores of churches were gathered to pray for revival. To prevent confusion, the managers placed a sign at the civic center entrance with two large arrows pointing in opposite directions. One arrow said, “Boxing.” The other, “Prayer.” As I entered, it struck me, What a unique decision to place before the citizens of this city as they attend the night’s events. Will it be boxing or prayer?
Further reflection made me realize this was the decision God sets before all Christians all of the time! We must choose whether to be in the boxing match or in the “wrestling match.” By wrestling match I refer, of course, to that image of prayer portrayed in Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God’s angel all night, not letting go until God puts on him a blessing to empower him to fulfill the next day’s mission in the Promised Land. As a result of his all-night encounter with God, Jacob was painfully disfigured for the rest of his life. It cost him. But he also, in wrestling, saw the face of God and received a new name. This was his personal revival! The next day when he confronted Esau and four hundred armed men, not only did God intervene to bring about peace, but Jacob was able to say of Esau and his band, “To see you is to see the face of God.” Jacob had been so awakened to a fresh revelation of God’s glory the night before that even before his enemies his ministry was forever transformed. The price he paid to wrestle with God at the Jabbok River was to be desired over what he would have suffered from his enemy without it.
If we stay in the wrestling match—if we remain determined pursuers of a spiritual awakening to Christ in the church no matter how costly it feels—then victory is sure. In the end we will not only be delivered from all enemies, but we will be sufficiently revived to move out in fullness of power to fulfill God’s mission to the ends of the earth.
Determined seekers automatically open up to extraordinary times of dying. At the core of their being is a willingness to pay any price at any time and go anywhere in order that world revival might come. As Jesus begins to bring about the answer to our prayers for revival, our destiny is sealed even more with the destiny of his kingdom. For those who seek it, the coming revival will cost everything. But we are willing because we understand that our only hope to fulfill Christ’s global cause is his manifest presence throughout the church. And further, those who share his sufferings will also share his glory (Rom. 8:17), including the glory that shines forth in world revival.
Seekers become receivers. Determined people see themselves not only as people with a destiny, but people of a destiny. In their daily pursuit of revival they are increasingly putting themselves in a position before God to be the primary receivers of revival, for their sakes and the sake of many, many others. They fully expect to receive, knowing (in the words of A. W. Tozer) “Our pursuit of God is successful just because he is forever seeking to manifest himself to us.”8
There are two ways to describe how this receiving happens. From one perspective, Olaf Hallesby in his classic book Prayer concludes that all intercession is simply a matter of “opening the door and inviting Jesus to come in.” This is true, he says, whether we pray for our own lives, our churches, our city, or for world revival. Our prayers open the door to receive the entrance of the Lord to do his full work among us. So when we pray extraordinary prayers, we need to expect to receive extraordinary answers.\
However, we are given a different picture by Richard Foster in Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. He suggests that God answers our prayers by opening the door of his heart and inviting us to come in, so that we may explore all the “rooms” in his heart. He wants us to know him for all that he is. This is his greatest gift to us in answer to our prayers. In this case, extraordinary prayers introduce us into extraordinary revelations of the heart of God. In both examples, however, we see how determined seekers receive something extraordinary that will not disappoint them and that will open new possibilities for many others.
One of the first thinks we must prepare to receive is a multiplication of ourselves in other determined people whom God raises up in answer to our prayers. As God used John the Baptist, so God uses us to prepare the way for the Lord in the lives of others—raising up valleys, pulling down mountains, making straight highways—so that multitudes can join us in the pursuit of world revival.
Every determined person is a gift from God. Their pursuit of God does not rise out of the flesh; nothing in us naturally wants to do it. Instead it is a work of grace. It is grace that calls into question the status quo. It is grace that confronts the idols on which we have depended. It is grace that reassures us of divine intervention, that stirs up the hope for so much more, that sustains us in the times of waiting, that ultimately answers our prayers for revival by giving approximations of the consummation and centering us fully on Christ alone. And if grace can do all of that for us, it can do that for anyone else as well!
That’s why seekers must remain on the lookout for other seekers whom God “creates” by grace. Joined with us, these newly discovered determined people are the greatest hope we have that God will answer our pursuit of revival. As we saw in the last chapter, God is bringing to fullness the number of seekers and receivers that need to be in place for him to pour out a massive revival on this generation. (in the next chapter we will study how to find these people and mobilize them for the pursuit of revival.)
A short time ago I was on a flight out of Nairobi, Kenya, to New Delhi, India. Sitting all around me was a band of African missionaries who were going to minister among Hindus in India. About a half hour outside the New Delhi airport, just as the sun was breaking over the horizon, this group of thirty evangelists suddenly removed their seat belts, stood a\up at the same moment, turned around, got down on the knees, and began to pray. They remained in that position until just minutes before landing.
The whole scene remains a colorful parable for me of all the determined people I’ve known. Seeing the desperate needs of the world, they are ready to give their lives to Christ for his mission to the nations. But they also recognize there is so much more God wants to do to empower his church for this ministry. From their “superspective” position, they’ve caught the sunrise of a coming revival. Full of hope that is not off, they now give themselves with determination to pursue that revival, to seek and prepare for it in the full light of its expected impact, and to mobilize others to rise up and seek it with them.
Determined people are anchored in a hope based on a confidence that is sustained by these realities:
- The Decisive Person
- The Divine Pattern
- The Dark Prospects
- The Disturbing Paralysis
The Dramatic Preparations
- The Distinctive Praying
- Other Determined People
Do you want to join them? If so, the next chapter will give you practical ways to get started.