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PRAYING FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT
(SERMON NUMBER 19 ON REVIVAL)
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
I have been reading another book on revival. I won’t give the author’s name. I think he is probably a good man. But he doesn’t understand revival. I don’t really blame him because I myself was blinded for many years. But I knew this man didn’t understand revival when I read one of his chapters titled “The Formula for the Problem.” As I suspected, he talked about II Chronicles 7:14. Any book or sermon that focuses on this verse is wrong from the beginning. Just ask yourself, “Why would the ‘formula’ for revival be given in such an obscure place, in II Chronicles, in the Old Testament?” Isn’t it obvious that this is an Old Testament promise, given to the nation of Israel? Of course it is! It has nothing to do with New Testament revival. The verse focuses on what people needed to do in the nation of Israel. When you drag it over into this dispensation it becomes a man-centered “formula” rather than the God-centered gift. The author of that book, on the book jacket, says, “The hope of revival rests in the hands of the next generation.” I have to say as strongly as possible – NO! NO! NO! The hope of revival does not rest in your hands! The hope of revival rests in the hands of God! You can pray, “Do it again, Lord” – and really think you are going to do it yourself.
Local churches used to experience a revival about every ten years or so, according to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. But today there are tens of thousands of evangelical and Baptist churches that have never had a revival! In fact, if a real revival came to most of these, the pastor wouldn’t know what to do – and the people would run away in fear! I know that’s true because that is what happened in our own church. We prayed for revival and over three hundred people, including the Associate Pastor, ran away from our church like rats fleeing from a sinking ship! No, real revival is the last thing pastors and church members in America want! That is one of the reasons they have never experienced revival, and never will experience it! I have found that most Baptist preachers no longer believe in conversion, so naturally they are scared when you talk about revival. They are scared of losing some unconverted members of their churches. What blindness! They are blinded by fear!
In the late 1960s the “Jesus movement” started. At the beginning it was a real revival. But it was derailed and went into the charismatic movement, Kathryn Kuhlman, Benny Hinn, that kind of thing. Why? Because the Baptist churches didn’t want those young people. They were turned away. Jack Hyles preached against letting “long hairs” come into the churches. I preached in two Southern Baptist churches in about 1972. Some of the new converts came in with long hair. They ran us off. They didn’t want their own “church kids” to be influenced. So the Baptists lost tens of thousands of converted Hippies, and they also lost their own kids. I can’t imagine George Whitefield or John Wesley acting like that. They wanted to see lost people get saved and come into the churches! They often preached to large crowds of poor people dressed in rags, and men who had just come out of the mines covered from head to foot with dirt and coal dust. And they had revival!
In a revival Christians are not afraid to embrace lost people from the world. Now they are trying to reinvent the “Jesus movement.” They do all kinds of foolish things to bring lost young people into the churches. The preachers take off their ties and try to be “cool.” They bring in rock music, flashing lights, you name it. But it’s too late. The move of God is over. They can’t “reinvent” it. Most of their people are now middle-aged. The young people they have are confused and worldly. The lost kids in the world think they are nuts! The churches have lost 88% of their own young people, and they are floundering in confusion. When will we learn that “the hope of revival [does not] rest in the hands of the next generation?” When will we learn that revival depends completely on God, not on us? When will we learn that II Chronicles 7:14 is not a “formula” that will bring about revival? Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones said,
The problem confronting us is not a problem of methods, or of organization, or of making a slight adjustment here and there, or improving things a little bit, or keeping them up-to-date, or anything like that...The problem confronting us is the needs of life itself, the need of that fundamental power and vigour in every activity of the church, which really can make an impact upon the world, and do something vital and drastic with regard to the whole trend of affairs at the present time; the need of life, the need of power, the need of the Holy Spirit Himself (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Revival, Crossway Books, 1994 edition, p. 22).
The need is life! The need is power! The need is the Holy Spirit Himself!
A pastor friend of mine told me what he heard an old Baptist preacher say. The elderly man said, “What we need is power, and I don’t know how to get it.” The poor old fellow was honest, but he was foolish. Christ told us how to obtain life and power, and the Holy Spirit! Please turn in your Bible to Luke 11, verse 5. It’s on page 1090 in the Scofield Study Bible. From verses 5 to 13 Christ gave the parable of the importunate friend. The Scofield Study Bible makes the mistake of dividing the passage into two parables. It says that verse 5 to 10 gives the parable of the importunate friend. Then it says that verse 11 to 13 is the “parable of the fatherhood.” In my opinion that destroys the meaning. Verses 5 to 10 speak of a man going to his neighbor and asking for bread to feed a friend who has come to his house. The neighbor tells him it’s too late at night. But the man keeps pounding on the door, asking for bread. Finally the neighbor gets out of bed and gives him what he needs, “because of his importunity” (Luke 11:8). The Greek word translated “importunity” is “anaidia”. It means “shameless persistence.” Then Jesus said,
“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9, 10).
So the first part of the parable tells us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. That’s the idea in the original Greek.
But what does the “bread” signify in the parable? The “bread” is not explained until the second half of verse 13, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” The “bread” we need for the lost is the Holy Spirit! Great Spurgeon, preaching on verse 13, said, “Let us ask that the Holy Spirit may be more plenteously given – and when this prayer is answered, as answered it must be, then shall we see all that our soul desires” (C.H. Spurgeon, “Right Replies to Right Requests,” MTP, number 959, p. 924).
Dr. John R. Rice has some important things to say about that in his chapter titled, “Asking Bread for Sinners.” Dr. Rice said,
God still gives the Holy Spirit in soul-wining power to those who ask Him importunately, and will not take “no” for an answer…And we may have bread for sinners if we mean business, but I want you to know there is a price to pay. You may have the bread if you are willing to knock at the door and wait for God until He gives you as many loaves as you need (John R. Rice, D.D., Prayer: Asking and Receiving, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1970 edition, pp. 97, 98).
There is one point I feel I should clarify in Dr. Rice’s statement. I agree with it all, but I believe that the soul-winning power must also come to those who are not saved, rather than just coming on the soul-winner. Yes, the preacher needs the power of the Holy Spirit, but the main thing that is needed is for the power to come upon the sinner. No matter how much power the preacher has, the sinner will not be saved unless the Holy Spirit comes directly to him – to convict him of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8) – and to reveal to Christ to him (John 16:14). We are asking God to give us “bread” for sinners, not just power for ourselves, but power to awaken and regenerate the lost – bread for sinners! We have a way of praying for the preacher to have power – and not praying for the sinners to have power, for the Holy Spirit to convict them and draw them to Christ. This is very important as we pray for real revival. We must always pray for the Holy Spirit to empower the preacher and the lost sinners themselves! I am afraid this point has been almost entirely forgotten – and it is one of the reasons we have not seen revival in our time.
The Bible tells us that Stephen was “full of faith and power” (Acts 6:8). The crowd of sinners, “looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). Again we are told that Stephen was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:55). But the Holy Spirit did not fall on the lost people. So they were not pricked in their hearts, did not come under conviction, and did not trust Christ. Instead they “stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him” (Acts 7:57-58). That makes it clear that the preacher can be filled with the Holy Spirit, but if the people are not touched by the Spirit they will reject the message, and even turn on the preacher. I personally saw that happen a couple of times, when the Holy Spirit was with me, but not with the lost people. One time they closed the meetings, although it was quite evident that God was working through my preaching. Another time, as I said, over three hundred people left our church in a gigantic church split. Although the Holy Spirit came to me many times in my preaching, He did not come to the people and cause them to repent.
I consider this an extremely important point. Yes, the preacher must have the power of the Holy Spirit upon him. And we should pray for that. But we must also pray for the congregation. And we must pray for the Holy Spirit to enliven even those who are already converted, as well as those who are lost. We must pray for the lost to come under conviction of the Holy Spirit. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the entire service will end in rebellion, or will be dry and cold. It is “Finneyism” to believe that the preacher gets filled with the Holy Spirit and then the people automatically get converted. The Holy Spirit must come to the backslidden and the lost as well as the preacher. The absence of the Holy Spirit in a congregation was described perfectly by Dr. A.W. Tozer. Dr. Tozer said,
The absence of the Spirit may be traced [to] that vague sense of unreality which almost everywhere invests religion in our times. In the average church service the most real thing is the shadowy unreality of everything. The worshipper sits in a state of suspended thought; a kind of dreamy numbness creeps upon him; he hears words but they do not register; he cannot relate them to anything on his own life-level...He is aware of no power, no presence, no spiritual reality. There is simply nothing in his experience corresponding to the things which he heard from the pulpit or sang in the hymns (A. W. Tozer, D.D., The Divine Conquest, Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1964, pp. 90, 91).
I find it difficult to explain what happens in revival. Maybe it is best to contrast revival with the coldness Dr. Tozer spoke about. When the Holy Spirit comes down the “vague sense of unreality” is gone. When the Holy Spirit comes down the words of the preacher “register.” The worshipper is aware of power, God’s presence, and spiritual reality. When the Holy Spirit comes down the sermons speak to them with reality. The sermons become the most real thing they have ever heard in their lives! I know this from experience because I had the great privilege of actually being in a revival at the Chinese Baptist Church.
As you got out of your car, you could sense the presence of God. As you got closer to the church building God’s presence grew more and more evident. As you entered the auditorium your heart began racing. AS the congregation stood to sing a hymn tears came into our eyes. AS the people began to pray, one by one, we burst into tears. AS people began to give testimonies and publicly confess their sins, we could literally feel the presence of Jesus Christ. The miracles of conversion swept those who were lost into the arms of Jesus. Then hymns of joy were sung. One song might be sung over and over – until your heart was swept away, into the very presence of God. The people had come under the spell of God Himself! No “charismatic gifts” were seen. They would have been terribly out of place. The church was filled with the presence and sweetness of the living God. I saw all this over forty years ago. I will never forget it as long as I live. Dr. James Alexander Stewart wrote of the Welsh Revival in 1905,
It was plainly evident now to everybody that God had answered the agonizing prayers of His people and had sent a mighty spirited upheaval. A sense of the Lord’s presence was everywhere (James Alexander Stewart, D.D., When the Spirit Came, Revival Literature, n.d., p. 43).
Are there any people here in this meeting who desire such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Without that, we may have 10 or 12 new lost people stay with us this summer, but they won’t be saved. Charles Simeon was certainly right when he said, “the work of conversion must be gradual among you, unless God pours out his Spirit in a most extraordinary measure upon you” (Charles Simeon, Memoirs, 1843, second edition, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1961, p. 141).
You can know about Christ and not know Christ Himself. Dr. A. W. Tozer said,
It is possible to grow up in a church, learn the [Bible] and have everything done to us...but after we have done all that we may not know [Christ] at all because God isn’t known by these external things. We are blind, and can’t see, because the things of God can no man know but by the Spirit of God...A revelation of the Holy Spirit in one glorious flash of inward illumination can teach you more about Jesus than five years in a theological seminary...But the final flash that introduces your heart to Jesus must be by the illumination of the Holy Spirit Himself, or it isn’t done at all. I am convinced that we only know Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit is pleased to reveal Him unto us, for He cannot be revealed in any other way (A. W. Tozer, D.D., When He is Come, Christian Publications, 1968, pp. 26, 35).
It is sin and rebellion that keeps the Holy Spirit from revealing Christ to us. You must come under conviction of sin. You must desire Christ. You must long to know Him. You must hate the sin in your heart that keeps you from knowing Him.
One of the songs that Dr. Timothy Lin had us sing repeatedly as the Holy Spirit was poured out, was Psalm 139:23-24. Please stand and sing it.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart:
Try me and know my thoughts:
And know my heart;
Try me and know my thoughts;
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Psalm 139:23, 24).
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(END OF SERMON)
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