Reflections on Revival from Vance Havner and Me

Michael Catt

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 Baptists 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 judgment 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 giveaways 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 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.