First, let me recommend the most accessible and inspiring book on revivals I have ever read (and I have read plenty). It is not the most extensive or scholarly, but after just an hour reading it, you will want revival to come to your town, wherever that may be. And isn’t that the point? The book is called “Revival Fire” by Wesley Duewel. I have lent my copy out so many times that I only buy used copies now (it is cheaper that way). BTW…I always buy my used books from www.abebooks.com. The “abe” part stands for Associated Booksellers Enterprise and represents thousands of used book store inventories in this country, Canada and Britain. You can almost always find a used copy of any book there.
This book gives pretty clear indications of how revivals spread. In an entire section on the revivals around the world in 1858-1860, the author gives this account from Ireland. Just as an aside, he estimates that a quarter of the nation at that time became converted to Christianity during a one-year period of revival. Here is Mr. Duewel’s account of how it happened in the small town of Derry (Note: Connor is a larger town about 30 miles from Derry):
“How did this Derry awakening begin? Four young men, converts from Connor gave their testimony in a crowded service in the First Presbyterian Church. Several thousand were present. Suddenly a number of people began to call out to God for mercy.
That night many of the people could not sleep. Some wept in their homes for hours. Others cursed and swore in anger. Monday night again there was a united service in the First Presbyterian Church. The building was overcrowded, but the ministers spoke calmly. “The meeting felt still as a grave; the stillness was fearful. Those who were present will never forget it. At length the silence was broken by unearthly cries, uttered simultaneously by several in different parts of the church.” In a few minutes the vestry was filled with people “who lay in mental agony and absolute bodily prostration.”
Here is one account from among hundreds in that service. A well-educated merchant of high morality suddenly saw hell opened before his eyes, and an irresistable power seemed to force him headlong into it. He looked around and said to himself, “I know where I am . This is the church where I usually worship. I am under a delusion.” But as he looked down, there was hell!
He arose from his seat and seized the back of the pew in front of him. The smoke from hell seemed to rise in his face. He suddered and his heart cried out, “My sins! My sins! I am lost!” He staggered out of the building and went home “Had anyone asked me, where are you going? I would have answered, in calm despair, I am going to hell”.
Upon reaching his room, for several hours he called out to God for mercy. Then God’s promises came to his mind. He joyously seized them, and a “heavenly radiance” spread over his soul. He arose a Christian. he raced out into the night across town and knocked on his business partner’s door. When the door opened, he called out, “I have have found Christ and I have come to tell you”. They prayed together, and three days later his partner was converted.
Another Episcopal minister reported that of the five thousand people in his parish there was scarecely a family in which one or more members had not been converted during the weeks this revival burned on.
The evidence from the Bible is also the same. Whenever someone who had been part of revivals burning went somewhere else, the revival came to that place as well. Philip went down to Samaria and revival burned. John and Peter came down there and many were filled with the Spirit. Revivals all tend to have this flavor. Reading another account online yesterday, I found that the Saskatoon/Winnipeg Revival of 1971 (the revival that brought salvation to me), had the same flavor. Here is a portion of that account from Sherwood Wirt:
Some of my pastor friends in the Twin Cities knew I had visited the Winnipeg revival, and were curious to learn what I heard and saw. They expressed to me an interest in bringing some of the people involved in it to speak in their churches. A month later two laypeople who had been touched, a bridge engineer and his wife, flew down for a weekend. I made the arrangements, and on Sunday, January 9, Harry and Evelyn Thiessen spoke in four Minnesota churches, often in tears. Their testimony was received with warmth and amazement.
That night after the last service, we arranged an afterglow in the basement of one Minneapolis church, similar to the one I had visited in Winnipeg. Perhaps 25 people stayed for it. It started out as one of those dreadful gatherings — a prayer meeting in which no one wants to pray. I felt responsible for the disappointment since I had invited our Canadian friends, and so decided to “prime the pump” by asking for prayer for myself. The Thiessens invited me to kneel at a chair in the middle of the room, and some people gathered around, laid hands on me, and prayed for me. Then I was told to pray.
What I didn’t expect was that God would turn on the spigot. Once started, I did what I had never intended to do — spilled out my disappointment with life and my bitterness toward people who had contributed to my discontent.
Four or five days after Evelyn Thiessen had uttered those words “And how!” at the afterglow I was sitting quietly in a living room chair at home when I suddenly realized to my astonishment that I had no more animosity toward anyone. It was absolutely incredible. Pascal’s famous description of his own experience of rapture came to me: “Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy
Two laymen friends had also asked for prayer that Sunday night and had hands laid on them. They too had been revived, and when I telephoned them they enthusiastically echoed my feelings. On the next Sunday evening I had a preaching engagement in Duluth, 160 miles away, and they agreed to accompany me through the snow. What a magnificent journey of joy! We couldn’t stop talking! The evening at the church was equally enthusiastic, and people responded; at the end they asked for an “afterglow.” A week later we were back.
The Holy Spirit was at work. The dark night was over. The joybells have never stopped ringing. I have seen and taken part in revival “afterglows” in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, California, Texas, Mississippi, Arizona, Alaska — well, God knows; I have forgotten, but the blessings go on.
We had the same experience in Montana when revival hit Riverside Church where I was leading. A group of leaders went up to British Columbia to a meeting where some people from a church going through revival in Ontario were speaking. At that meeting, there was an incredible sense of God’s presence, conviction of sin, healing, forgiveness, and power unspeakable. They came back to the church and invited people to their homes that next week to give testimony to what happened. I was one of those who came (because I was at a business conference while they were in B.C.) and I was filled with God, with conviction of sin and then with inexpressible joy.
This spread rapidly to the whole church and then to some other churches. A few weeks later, I was leading worship at a youth camp and God did the same thing there: Conviction of sin, repentance, great sorrow and then joy, miracles and changed lives. The speaker that week was from San Francisco. His daughter was mightily touched by God that week at camp. When they went back home to San Francisco, he asked his daughter to share what she had experienced at camp during an evening service. His 14-year old daughter explained what Holy Spirit had done for her and as she did, many people began to weep and mourn over their sin. Revival came that night to that church.
In years since, I have heard literally hundreds of situations where people came to Riverside, experienced revival in their souls, went home to their church and brought revival with them. That is how God works. He works in people that he has filled to bring his presence and yearning to another group of people. It is like a revival virus. That is always how it spreads.