Reflections on Revival from Vance Havner and Me

Outside of his family, nothing influenced young Vance Havner more than the church and revivals. Even in his eighties, you could see the longing in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He preached revival. He longed for revival. He called people back to God. You could see it, the desire of his heart was for one good old fashioned, Holy Ghost revival. The old fashioned revival.

At Corinth church, they always had their revival meeting the last week of July. In fact, the Baptists had their meeting in July and the Methodists always had theirs the first week of August. Havner would say, “Some of us Baptist got revived in July and went over to the Methodists the next week for a second blessing.” He said, “If a revival had broken out at some other time it would have been postponed until the last week in July!” I loved it when he later wrote that some churches talk about holding a revival and he wished someone would turn one lose.

Follow along as he reflects on those old revival meetings. “During those horse and buggy days, preaching through a summer revival in the country was a herculean task. That night in the crowded church, where screens were unknown, kerosene lamps flickered, babies slept on pallets, dogs barked, and horses neighed outside. In spite of all the competition those faithful exhorters managed to get the message across.”

“There was loud preaching and off-key singing. People got happy and shouted. Nowadays I never see such shouting unless someone wins an automobile or a mink coat on a TV show. Plain folks who could never have made a speech before a congregation were so filled with happiness that they lost all their inhibitions. We could use some of that joy that swept England with the Wesley’s, Wales in the great revival of the early 1900’s and the Colonies in the great American Awakenings.”

“I remember one dear lady who could go up and down the aisles with her eyes shut and never run into a bench. I don’t know what kind of radar she had, but I wish we could recover the explosive as well as the expulsive power of a new affection that sent rural saints out church doors with heaven’s glow on their homely faces. There may have been some extremism but what passes for worship in most of our cold sanctuaries today is nothing to brag about in comparison.”

In his book, Three Score & Ten, he writes, “Such revivals have been caricatured and made the subject of jokes that approach blasphemy. Those shouting sessions had their faults and failings, but there was one tremendous difference between them and the imitations worked up these days: they were genuine, there was nothing phony about them; they were not simulating something. Nobody dreamed of that under the preaching we heard in those days! Nobody was in the mood for cheap, superficial ham acting – they were facing sin and hell and judgement and there was nothing funny about it.”

“What I saw in old Corinth was not a show – it was an encounter with God. Some of it was crudely expressed and imperfectly demonstrated but it was not a masquerade. It was understood then what we highbrows have not discovered apparently; that the gospel was never meant for entertainment.” In those days, believers talked about a blessing, not a religious experience.

Havner describes the preaching as more of a filibuster that something to impress the saints with eloquence. An old saying from the turn of the century went something like this, “If you are preaching in town, take your best suit; if you are preaching in the country, take your best sermon.”

The revival preachers of Havner’s influential years preached the Bible without apology. They didn’t care if it offended a particular listener. They would let God be true and every man a liar. Dr. Havner’s concept and philosophy of revival was clear. “Revival is a work of God among Christians, bringing them to conviction, repentance, confession, restitution, reconciliation, separation from the world, submission to the Lordship of Christ and being filled with the Spirit.”

This is where my passion for revival was birthed. Vance Havner burned this into my heart and I’ve never been able to shake it. This is why I can’t settle for business as usual, circus give-a-ways to get a crowd or dog and pony shows. Most folks have no clue as to what a real, Holy Spirit movement of God looks like. We’re too busy painting the barn to get rid of the termites. I’ve got no time for gimmicks, I want to see God in the midst of His people.

I don’t believe most pastors have a heart for a genuine revival. It’s not vogue and it’s easier to be vague. It’s easier to preach to easy believism than go for the heart of man. It’s easier to call it something other than sin, lest we offend someone. Havner said, “We can have a revival any time that Christians will pay the price.”

I do not believe revival is a thing of the past. It’s more needed now than ever. We are more lost, more listless, we’ve lost our moral moorings and the days are desperately wicked. We will not see a work of God by building more schools, or having more seminars. We will only see it when we have more people at the altar. I doubt if the average pastor even knows what a mourner’s bench is or how to spell it. Most would think it would distract from the band.

Some churches will miss God because the leadership fears the carnal crowd who hold the purse strings. Some pastors are more worried about their social security than they are about eternal security. Some work harder to please the carnal who give them perks than they do to please the Lord who gives them blessings. I pray that what we have seen will stir the hearts of the remnant in other places. There’s no place on our denominational report to give an account of a movement of God. We take up space reporting things that heaven could care less about, why bother with the eternal when we have nickels and noses to account for?

Finney said, “Most ministers fail because they don’t know how to raise the tone to a higher standard. There is only here and there a minister…who knows how to probe the church when it is in a cold and backslidden condition so as to effectually waken the members and keep them awake.” We need more Finney’s, Havner’s and Tozer’s who know how to cut to the chase and get to the point. It takes a man with fire in his bones to light the dead wood in our churches. It takes a man with gumption to call God’s people to repentance.

Twice in my life, I’ve seen an outpouring of revival. Once as a teenager. The second as a a pastor. I can tell you, once you’ve seen what God can do in a genuine movement among His people, you won’t settle for counterfeits or imitations. I’ve seen enough video series, I much prefer a visitation from heaven.
Michael Catt

Vance Havner on Revival

Vance Havner was a prophet of the 20th Century. He was a revivalist, more than an evangelist. He was a God called man who was used to stir the saints. He was sent by God to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Here are a few of his thoughts on revival.

A revival, a visitation from God, will not accomplish everything that some people expect. Pentecost did not convert Jerusalem. Jerusalem went on to judgement. Pentecost accomplished God’s purpose. God is not out to convert the world but to call out a people for Himself. Revival furthers that purpose.

In my meetings through the years I have discovered that most of the members of any church do not think it important to attend a ‘revival.’ If there is to be another revival, it will come in an upsurge among God’s people of every connection, born-again believers in Jesus Christ. Some of us are willing to pray for a revival in our denomination, but who would think of praying for a revival in the church across the street.

Real revival does not begin with joyous singing. Evangelistic meetings may and should so begin, for we are declaring good news, but revival begins with conviction and repentance on the part of Christians. Bunyan says that when God tunes the instrument He begins with the base. We try to make God’s house a delightful place when first it may need to be a dreadful place. Repentance must precede rejoicing.

Our Lord is knocking at the door of the Laodicean church today. He is the Divine Disturber. The church is in her robe and slippers and easy chair with a PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.

It does little good to wring our hands and lament the inroads of television, ball games and other attractions on our church attendance. If we do not have enough vitality to compete with all this, maybe it doesn’t matter much whether we have our meetings or not. If the gospel means so little to us that it can be sidetracked by every sideshow that blows into town, it wouldn’t mean much if such people did gather to go through the hollow motions of a dead faith. It is certain that the answer does not lie in stubbornly holding on to the form when the power has departed. We seem to be preaching and promoting something while most of its adherents wouldn’t miss it much if they lost it! There is something frightfully wrong when we have to beg most of our crowd to cme to church to hear about it.

If I were a non-Christian and dropped into the average church during a so-called revival, and saw a fraction of the membership trying to get more recruits for the army of the Lord when most of the outfit had already gone AWOL, I would conclude either that Christianity is not what it is supposed to be or else we have been sold a cheap and easy brand – inoculated with a mild form until we are almost immune to the real thing.

When I was a boy, preachers used to talk about ‘holding a revival.’ What we really need is somebody who will turn a revival loose!

A revival is not an evangelistic campaign. It s not a drive for more church members. It is not a temporary stir of stepped-up activity among church members, or a week of ‘protracted meetings’ with an aisle parade of cheap rededications. A revival is a work of God’s Spirit among Christians whereby they get right with God, with themselves, and with others. It means conviction of sin on the part of Christians; repentance and confession of sin; reconciliation and restitution; getting right with others; separation from the world; submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and being filled with the Spirit. Such a revival precedes and will produce effective evangelism, for when the joy of salvation is restored, transgressors shall be taught God’s ways and sinners will be converted to Him.

Finney said, ‘Whereas mind and conscience may assent to the truth, when revival comes, obedience to the truth is the thing that matters. Revival is nothing less than a new beginning of obedience to God.’ Ezekiel’s listeners heard his words but did them not. If we hear and do not, we deceive ourselves, says James. Our Lord summed it up: ‘If you know these things, happy are you if you do them’ (John 13:17). Our Lord makes Himself real to those who have His commandments and keep them (John 14:21). Revival comes when Christians begin to obey God. Obedience, like repentance, is a lost word in our Christian vocabulary. Church members despise the prophet who preaches obedience to God.

Everybody will agree on the first verse of the song, ‘The Way of the Cross Leads Home.’ Nobody will argue against the proposition that we must go home by the way of the cross, for there is no other way but this. The trouble comes in the last verse: ‘Then I bid farewell to the way of the world, to walk in it nevermore.’ Dwell on that subject before the average Sunday-morning congregation, and you are in for trouble! But one cannot travel two roads at once – the way of the cross and the way of the world. We are not going to see much revival until we decide which road we are going to travel.

If America is ever laid to waste, much of the blame will lie at the doors of the churches. We have the Answer and, like the children of Issachar, we should have understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.