My heart has been deeply moved by the reports of the Asbury Revival. I have written this study to do my small part in fanning the flame. If you long to see a work of God, you might invite your group to read Henry Blackaby's book Fresh Encounter and to participate in this study together. Here is an excerpt.
Revival has been one of the most mysterious, compelling, sublime, and desperately needed phenomenon in human history. You cannot remain indifferent to it although it produces a wide variety of responses. Over the centuries revival has produced massive influxes of converts into the churches, yet ecclesiastical leaders are often bewildered at how to respond to it or even whether or not they are in favor of it. Revival quickens the human spirit and enlivens worship. It makes prayer exciting, preaching dynamic, and Christian service fervent. Yet churches are as prone to resist revival when it comes as they are to embrace it. Revival seems to defy a simple explanation, let alone a means to control it.
Revivals are God initiated, and God has laid down explicit prerequisites for them (2 Chron. 7:14). Even when God's people are longing and praying for revival, it comes suddenly and unexpectedly. Just as inexplicably, revival can dissipate or end abruptly.
Revival has always met resistance, even within the church, which may seem surprising since revivals have been responsible for many significant advances for God's kingdom. Yet revival also exposes the sin and morbidity of congregations. Numerous accounts of revival testify to the profound sense of God's presence during worship preceding the revival. The dynamic preaching often experienced in revival contrasts services. This keen awareness of God's nearness was noticeably missing in services the anemic and ineffective exhortation of earlier days. The electric singing during revivals eclipses the lifeless music that was the norm. The testimonies of radically changed lives in revival exposes the absence of personal transformation before revival. The fervent and extended prayer times throughout the day and night replace previously forsaken prayer meetings. Most notable is the profound conviction of sin during revival compared to the heretofore complacent and indulgent attitude toward sin before revival. While this book is intended both to explain and to promote revival, Brian Edwards was correct in claiming: “Revival does not need a defense; it needs to be experienced.”1
Revival amplifies the Christian experience, making the Holy Spirit's work in a person's life unmistakable. Revival demonstrates what is important to God, and it exposes how far God's people have departed from His intention. Revival is not for those who enjoy the status quo. It will disconcert those who rationalize and accommodate their sin. It will unsettle stoic Christians with its fervency. But for those who cannot bear to continue their Christian experience at the same low level to which they have grown accustomed, revival is their deliverance. When churches realize that if the Spirit does not breathe fresh life into their midst they will continue to suffer spiritual powerlessness and cultural irrelevance, then revival is the answer to their desperate prayers.
Contemporary Hearts Cry for Revival
Across America and around the world, God's people are crying out for a fresh encounter with Him. Everywhere we travel we hear churches pleading with God to revive them, their nation, and their world. There is widespread dissatisfaction with today's church. Numerous efforts have been attempted to make the church more relevant, seeker friendly, contemporary, or cutting edge. Yet despite millions of dollars, hundreds of best-selling books, countless church growth conferences, and an endless stream of Christian trends, the church displays a powerlessness that cannot even evangelize people today at the same rate as society's population growth.
Contemporary believers wonder why the mighty movements of God recorded in Scripture and Christian history are noticeably absent today. Modern pastors are burning out at epidemic levels as they experience the demoralizing futility of attempting to lift their church members out of their spiritual lethargy. While some individuals and churches are experiencing a fresh wind of God's Spirit blowing upon them, many others are asking, “Is there a Word from the Lord? What does God want us to do?” Throughout history God has always had a response to those who seek Him (Jer. 33:3).
Just as it was in biblical times, standing in Holy God's presence is an awesome, life-changing experience. While God is always present in a believer's life, revival is a sacred moment when the Holy Spirit draws powerfully, unmistakably near to His people. Revival involves a fresh encounter with Almighty God. Any meeting with God entails a serious, irrevocable accountability. Revival does not merely call for minor adjustments in our schedule. It elicits a humble, on-our-face response to our Creator. Revival does not result from an encounter with a doctrine but a response to a Person.
This book will examine what Scripture says about Almighty, Hallowed God's requirements for fellowship with Him. As you read Scripture, the Holy Spirit will assist you to understand and apply what it says. You will not merely encounter Bible verses; you will also come face-to-face with the living God because every encounter with God's Word is a meeting with Him.
To obtain the maximum benefit from this book, we encourage you to do the following:
This book is designed to help you encounter God through His Word in such a manner that you experience true, deep, and lasting renewal in your life and church. Once God has revived His people, evangelizing others is inevitable.
Whenever God speaks, it is never merely for observation or discussion. It is always intended for obedience. God does not make suggestions. He speaks commands. Do you want God to speak to you, your family, and your church? Then be prepared to obey Him. To hear the Creator of the universe communicate with you and then refuse to do what He says is an unmitigated offense. He is your Lord. Christ is Head of the church. He is the sovereign Ruler of the universe. He has every right to ask you whatever He pleases.
Do not read this book unless you mean business with God. If the Holy Spirit takes Scripture and brings you face-to-face with God, you are accountable to respond to what you read. When you hear from God, you must either reject Him or obey Him. To sin in ignorance is one thing, but God holds people accountable who sin with knowledge of the truth (2 Pet. 2:20-21). Jesus asked His followers this troubling question: “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
If you choose to study this material, you will learn what God requires of His people. Then you will face a choice: to do as He says or to carry on business as usual. Be careful to count both costs. Don't merely evaluate the price to obey what God tells you. Be sure to consider the profound loss in not returning to Him. What will it mean to your family or your church if you refuse to follow God's directions? What will happen if you fail to do what He says? Moses warned God's people that the Word of God “is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life” (Deut. 32:47).
Blackaby, Henry T., Claude V. King, Richard Blackaby, and Anne Graham Lotz. 2009. Fresh Encounter: God’s Plan for Your Spiritual Awakening Revised. Nashville, TN: B&H Books.