When I was in Cuba, I got into a great discussion with some missionaries there about revival.
Huge word. Major word.
A word that carries with it lots of opinions, thoughts and emotions - most of it colored by thoughts from our past experiences rather than any kind of theological basis.
It's the kind of word that is hard to describe (like love) but once you experience it - you know that it is there.
I have been in the Assemblies of God since I was born, third generation. I grew up in an Assemblies of God church, graduated from an Assemblies of God college, received my masters degree from an Assemblies of God theological seminary and have pastored Assemblies of God churches down throughout the years.
Yet, within our circles, we often have different perspectives on the subject.
Let me clarify some of the misconceptions that I see out there:
1. That we should not ask for "more" of God.
While is it true that God has already given us everything we need when He gave us Jesus and adopted us as his children (including eternity with Him), and that our focus should be giving more of ourselves to Him, there is a basic theological misconception when it comes to this prayer - "More of God"
God is omnipresent, he is always in our midst. Christ lives in me. But it is a fundamental misunderstanding of God's glory, his shekinah glory when we say that we can't have "more" of Him.
Moses cries out in Exodus 33:18 (while in the presence of God), "Now show me your glory."
Our Pentecostal theological doctrine states that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a second experience, an "endowment of power." A filling of our lives to overflowing. What is that but asking for "more" of God's spirit?
Sometimes, God does need to "show up" in the sense of his glory, his ministering presence. And when we do experience that presence, we will be changed.
I think of Smith Wigglesworth who at one time in New Zealand was so full of God's glory that the other ministers in the room where he was praying had to leave - it was too much.
2. That the focus should not be on the physical, verbal and emotional manifestations that being in the presence of the Holy Spirit can bring.
I agree with the thought that we should not use emotional manifestations to "work up" some kind of response that smacks of manipulation or massaging a service to bring a group of people to the point of experiencing God.
However, again, there is a fundamental misconception of the sequence and order of events in experiencing manifestations.
Worship is about God. It's not about pleasing me. It's not about pleasing you - worship is about God.
However, when God's spirit touches my spirit - there will be some kind of response. A response not just for response's sake but a response that naturally flows out of being touched by God.
Dwight L. Moody, in his 1899 sermon "Revivals" said, "I am not so afraid of excitement as some people. The moment there comes a breath of interest, some people cry, "Sensationalism, Sensationalism!" But, I tell you what, I would rather have sensationalism than stagnation any time. There is nothing a seaman fears so much as fog; he does not fear a storm nearly as much. We have too much fog in the church; let us get out of it. Get any preacher befogged, and he will say, "I cannot draw the crowds, but then, thank God, I am not a sensationalist!"
Let him write a book so dry that it will almost catch fire, and no one thinks of reading it. But he thanks God he is not a sensationalist!"
Moody went on to say, "There is no excitement or sensationalism in a graveyard - a man lies where they put him; but I think there will be a stir on the resurrection morning. Where there is life, there will always be a commotion."
As in the story of David and Michal in the Old Testament - David danced before the Lord, Michal "despised him in her heart."
She said, (Her voice, dripping with sarcasm), "How the King of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"
When you are experiencing the spirit of God there will always be people who will criticize. When people criticize, it makes me uncomfortable and sad.
3. that the focus should be eternal, not temporary.
I agree with the thought that a true revival speaks of people being changed. I recall the story of one man during the Welsh revival who said that God "turned his beer into furniture," meaning that his life was so changed he no longer craved alcohol and thereby was able to spend his money on more meaningful things.
I also agree with the thought that a true indicator of a person being changed is when there lives are changed "outside the four walls of the church."
However, we do live in temporary bodies, with temporary emotions and lives. Sometimes we do need to have longer worship and extended times at the altar, not necessarily to be changed, but to simply spend time in the presence of the Lord - for relationships sake.
Sometimes I need to spend time in the presence of God, not necessarily to be "changed" "or to achieve some kind of "spiritual goal" but just to BE with God.
To use perhaps a limited analogy, I don't always spend time with my wife, Debbie, to be "changed" or to "achieve further growth in our relationship" but just to be with her.
However, once I am in her presence, I do draw closer to her.
And once I am in the presence of God I do draw closer to him - and I do change and my relationship with Him is strengthened.
To think so otherwise is to misunderstand what a relationship with God is all about. Long extended worship does not have to be a means to an end - but an end in itself in that I can spend time in God's presence.
4. That the Word of God is not longer the focus.
I agree with the thought that God's Word must always be the focus of our experience with Him corporately. And...I agree with the thought that the statement, "that church was so good today, we didn't even get to the preaching," is incorrect.
God's Word must be supreme. However, the intent of such a statement is not a degrading of God's Word but a longing of His Spirit behind the Word. We must never substitute God's Spirit for God's Word.
But there must be a balance here for as Paul writes, "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Corinthians 3:6)
We must never forsake the Word of God, that's true. But let's not forsake the Spirit of God as well.
The bottom line? I find that most Pentecostal churches are trying to become more Evangelical. And...most Evangelical churches are trying to become more Pentecostal.
And...isn't it more than ironic that those of us who have grown up in the faith can be those who are philosophically leaving behind the very foundation of what brought our denomination into being?
Read Azuza Street history. Read of the revivals that have taken place around the world (including Cuba where I just was). You will read of true revival - which is a combination of God's presence and spirit (and yes, manifestations) and people being "saved" and lives being changed so that they live a more godly life.
What I am saying is this - Revival is not just "one thing" but a combination of events and results that draws us closer to him.