An Invitation to Personal Revival

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The most dangerous person in the world to the powers of darkness is a man or woman in love.

When I think of revival, my heart no longer gravitates to the great stories of the Holy Spirit being poured out in unusual or highly visible ways on a people group or church, or a neighborhood, or a city or nation. That has come and will come again, but my heart has lost its longing for such things. Instead of being a man who prays for revival and lives with that longing, I desire above all to be a man so in love with Jesus that I carry revival in my very nature, with revival as the overflow of my life in God and the fragrance of His presence that exudes from everything I am. As a man of God’s presence, I create the culture around me. I create my own weather system, so to speak, which is marked by love and intimacy. Jesus Himself says that the way people will know that you have been trained by Me is by your love for one another (John 13:35).

Revival history has always been deeply impacting and inspiring to me, but I’m no longer content to read and learn about the glories of the past, not when it is possible to taste the same glory personally and daily. The thing about revival is its irresistibility to saint and sinner and the way it speeds up the conversion and maturation process. It’s glorious when this happens at a corporate level, but even more so when it happens at the level of an individual believer. I’m concerned in this moment in history that we have acquiesced to the status quo and subjugated ourselves to a culture of Christianity that no longer bears God’s glory, one that has relegated itself to chasing after the experience we think we need or want, or perhaps what revival leaders have told us we should need or want.

While the revivals of the past and those who led them were valuable in their day, and many of the groups affected by them had positive experiences, my heart is focused not on the outward signs of revival, but on becoming the type of man who carries it. My desire is to move from being a follower to a carrier of revival and of God’s glory. According to 2 Corinthians 3:18:

All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into His likeness in an ever-increasing degree of glory

We move from seeking God’s glory to bearing His glory. This is personal revival. The messengers must be personally affected by God’s glory first, then they are rightly positioned to carry revival to others.

In Acts 1, the believers who had been spending time with the resurrected Christ for 40 days went into an upper room where they consecrated their hearts to pray for the promised Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2, the revival’s first impact was on the upper room believers themselves.  Personal revival preceded the greatest public revival in the New Testament. This was the Spirit’s divine order in the early church, and it still applies to us today.

Personal revival is an inner transformation that occurs inside our hearts, and it is fueled through steady intimacy with God. It is meant to be the spark that ignites corporate revival. If we travel around the world to experience the greatest revival of our day, we may get inspired and touched deeply, but we will only be transformed in a lasting way to the degree that we allow that touch of God to penetrate our hearts and become a lifestyle.

“The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’, because the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, Good News Bible).

The late Leonard Ravenhill was a lifelong student of revival, as well as A.W. Tozer’s prayer partner and author of Why Revival Tarries, among other notable works. Years after the famous Welsh Revival of the early 1900s had waned, Leonard arranged a meeting with its principal leader, Evan Roberts. Leonard recounted the meeting to me and said that he found Evan sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons. The great revivalist’s heart had grown so dry that he was no longer confident that God had ever really used him.

We know that the Welsh Revival changed the world and that it was part of a global wave of the Spirit that occurred simultaneously with the Azusa Street outpouring in Los Angeles and revival in other places internationally. Most tragic to me about this story is that God could use a man so powerfully to transform society, yet the same man could later lose his way. We may never know how it happened to Roberts. The outpouring in Wales was so sovereign that I wonder if perhaps his heart was not prepared adequately to bear up under the intensity of ongoing revival. To use a metaphor, maybe it could handle the quick, sudden shower, but not the long-term soaking rain.

Like Evan Roberts, other revivalists were unable to finish their race on earth with the level of passion and devotion to God they had known in the midst of they revivals they led. In fact, many of the greatest who began in humility often took their eyes from God and became enamored with and distracted by their own success. Their identity became wrapped up in the outward manifestations and trappings of revival, and their hearts grew dim to God.

When we allow our intimacy with Jesus to wane as we engage in life, business or ministry, we begin swinging a dull axe (trying to do ministry in our own strength) that is actually a danger to us, according to Ecclesiastes 10:9-10 (NLT)

When you work in a quarry, stones might fall and crush you. When you chop wood, there is danger with each stroke of your ax. Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.
That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.

Many people consider my spiritual papa for more than 30 years to be a patriarch and sage. At 85 years old, Dr. Jack Taylor has been in ministry for more than 60 years. I asked him a few years ago how many older couples in ministry he knew that had really vibrant marriages. He replied that after all his years in ministry he could name them on one hand, with fingers left over. I asked him why ministry is so hard on marriages. This is what he said:

A ministry is born when a man or woman has an encounter with the Lord in which specific truths are revealed to them. When they speak on subjects that were birthed from the presence of God there is a cutting-edge authority and attractiveness to their words that establishes them in their ministry. But, as popularity comes, there is a high demand for speaking engagements and books to be written, and most of us determine we need to build an organization to promote our unique message. As we do this, the demands of our own organizations begin to drive us. We find ourselves speaking and writing so much that we sacrifice our intimacy with the Lord and our time with our families in order to keep the ship afloat. No one wants to hear the same message over and over, so the demand for fresh content drives us. Before we know it, our content is dull because it is not being birthed out of God’s presence and our once cutting-edge message is now a wall of information we are pushing with no defining edge and purpose. The reason most of the marriages of older couples in ministry have lost their vibrancy is that our spouses never got our best because we were so focused on building our organizations.”

This conversation had a huge impact on me and has shaped my values for marriage and ministry. Sadly, I have been guilty of letting ministry compete with my family and have allowed myself to get in a place where I was doing ministry in my own strength (swinging a dull axe). These days, I fight hard to keep anything from interfering with my intimacy with the Lord and with my family.

In Luke 10, when the 70 disciples Jesus sent out to demonstrate the Kingdom of God returned, they rejoiced that even the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name. Jesus celebrated with them and said: “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning,” but then He gently steered them back to the narrow path when He essentially said to them in verse 20: “You should be excited about these things, but remember to keep your focus on the fact that your name is written in heaven.” Jesus lovingly shifted their focus from what they could do when walking in His power and authority to their relationship with Him and to who they were becoming.

“It is not what a man does that is of final importance, but what he is in what he does. The atmosphere produced by a man, much more than his activities, has the lasting influence.”

— Oswald Chambers

My goal here is not to share my minute understanding of revival. What I’m inspired to remind you of is that we are made to carry revival, not chase after it. Revival is meant to be the atmosphere of a life of love, not a pitstop on our journey.

In a recent interaction with Lord, I asked why most revivals are so short lived. The response I heard in my spirit was: “Personal revival must precede corporate revival before it can become sustainable. When external circumstances are no longer required for you to be who I called you to be and do what I called you to do, you are living in personal revival.”

Jesus expresses this concept emphatically in Mark 2:22 when He says:“No one puts new wine (Holy Spirit, revival) into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the wineskins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins” (emphasis mine).

This is really the heart of what I’m saying. Becoming a carrier of revival requires us to prepare the wineskin of our heart prior to receiving the new wine of revival God wants to pour into us and through us. Perhaps what happened with Evan Roberts and other short-lived revivalists is that the wineskins of their hearts were not prepared for the expansiveness of the new wine.

When I think of the life of Jesus, there were people who chased after Him for the miracles and the signs and wonders He performed, but they didn’t want Him. In John 6, after feeding 5000 men, plus numerous women and children, supernaturally, Jesus confronted the attitude of sign-seekers with such force that all but His twelve closest disciples abandoned Him. Immediately following this, Jesus looked at his twelve disciples and closest friends and had this discussion:

 “’Are you also going to leave me?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:67-69).

No matter how great the new wine is that God pours out through us, no matter how great the miracles that accompany revival, we must be like the twelve best friends of Jesus and stay focused on who He is. God is doing us a favor by withholding miracles from us until our hearts are close enough to Him that miracles, signs and wonders won’t distract us from Him. This means that before revival is ever experienced, we must be cultivating a heart of deep intimacy and contentment in Jesus. Otherwise, we are just one more person chasing all over the world for signs, or one more person offering to God an old worn-out wineskin, or one more person swinging a dull axe.

In John 17:4, Jesus proclaimed to the Father in one of His final prayers on earth that He had completed the work He was sent to accomplish. I don’t understand how He had accomplished His mandate even before the cross, but in some capacity He did. Jesus went on to describe what the finished work was in the remainder of John 17. In a nutshell, He revealed the Father’s love and glory to his closest disciples and friends to such an extent that He was confident they were prepared to be His successors. This is what we want, to be worthy successors that can bear His glory and love.

 Just prior to this moment in history, in John 15:15 the closest disciples of Jesus were promoted from being His servants to being His friends.

 “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father, I have made known to you.”

Anyone can serve God, but not many learn to walk closely with Him in deep friendship and personal revival. John 15:15 teaches us that our capacity for friendship determines our capacity for revelation.

Augustine said: “God has worked through many, but rested in few.”

The aged apostle Paul in Philippians 3 shares the pedigree of his accomplishments, but says he now counts those experiences as less than nothing. His identity was not in anything he had done or that he could outwardly accomplish. Think about where his identity lay:

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]. (Philippians 3:10, AMPC)

As a revival lifestyle became the norm Paul, he grew uninterested in external achievements and could only find identity and glory in how intimately he knew Jesus. It was Paul’s capacity for intimacy that made him the best at love. I think this is why he was given the task of writing the greatest chapter in the Bible on love, in 1 Corinthians 13. The same capacity to love was also his motivation for becoming the greatest missionary in history. His astounding capacity for intimacy with God was the foundation for the Kingdom revelation in which he walked. Paul’s personal intimacy was such that he was caught up into the third heaven, where he saw glorious things he was not permitted to utter (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).  

Paul did not chase revival or merely talk about it; he was revival. He did not merely teach on love, he was love personified. He did not simply instruct, he fathered:

 “For though you may have 10,000 instructors in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For in Christ I became your father through the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 4:15

My deepest personal encounter with God happened on the last day of a long conference. I was to bring the closing sermon that evening so in the afternoon I lay down with my wife to take a much-needed nap. There was a strange stirring and hope in my spirit for the service and I felt I was supposed to speak from Hebrews 3 and 4 on the subject of “Entering into God’s Rest”. As I lay there rehearsing my sermon and recounting what the Scriptures say on rest, I fondly remembered the story of a prophet who had a six-month encounter during which he lived and ministered from a place of rest and an open heaven. He considered it the most glorious six months of his life and could not recount the story apart from tears. As these thoughts passed through my mind, I felt the Lord asked me a question:

“Reed, how would you like to be an old man, knowing that you only spent six months abiding in the place of rest that was available to you the whole time?”

The deepest sobbing and groaning overtook me as I felt sorry for the man, but also for how little of my life I had spent in deep intimacy with God—where my life’s work flowed out of a place of rest. God was not condemning me, but inviting me back into heavenly intimacy. Revelation began to flow through my tears and the gratitude I felt for being in that place just made me sob harder.  My hands were in the air and I was shaking so hard I woke up my wife. After about an hour with no letup, I remembered I had a sermon to preach that night and thought it would be a good idea to get up and take some notes. As I reached for my pen, I felt the Lord speak again:

“Reed, you have waited your whole life to be with me this way. Are you sure you want to get up and write a sermon about it?”

I said, “No, Lord. I just want to be with you.” I lay back down, where I stayed in God’s glory for two more hours. Sometimes, God just wants to be with us because He loves us.

This story is not meant to be self-aggrandizing. On the contrary, it is part of a confession. This kind of intimacy with God has marked my life for a few brief seasons, but I have not adjusted my life so that I can live and work from this place of intimacy, rest and revelation. I’ve blamed external circumstances, trials, distractions and probably even the weather, but I’m tasting the fragrance of heaven again and this time I’m determined to hold on to it. I’m simplifying and adjusting my lifestyle to become a man in whom the presence of God is my native soil and true north, a man genuinely joyful and centered in Kingdom love. This is personal revival to me, and it is becoming more and more internally motivated. One of the ways I measure how I am doing in my intimacy walk with the Trinity is this: Do I worship when I am by myself?

The Invitation

The words I share in this document are meant to invite you to the place that awaits you in Jesus’ love and friendship. It’s a place more real and more fulfilling to your soul than any revival you could experience elsewhere. We can seek a visitation from God, or we can become a habitation of God. We can visit the heavenly places, or we can abide in them according to Jesus’ invitation in John 15:5.

“I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.”

Remember, our capacity for intimacy and abiding in Jesus determines our capacity for everything else, including:

  • our fruitfulness in the Kingdom (effectiveness).
  • our understanding and revelation (foundation).
  • our capacity to love (motivation).
  • our capacity to carry revival (expression).

This principle of putting right things first as the foundation for everything else is echoed in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus reminds us to: “Seek first the Kingdom of God” and promises that as we do, “all other things will be added” to us.

As a reminder, Jesus says that the location of the Kingdom of God is “within you” We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He relentlessly trains our hearts to be intimacy-driven and Kingdom-centered.

You and I both know that there is a cost to walking closely with God. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Jesus reminded his closest followers in Luke 14:28 that they should “count the cost” before building their Christian lives to ensure they have enough capacity for God in their souls to complete their mission.

This “cost” has nothing to do with God wanting to take something from His intimate followers, It has everything to do with the fact that what He wants to give us has so much mass that it won’t leave room for much else. 

What could be happening to you right this moment is that the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with what you’ve just read. These truths have been hidden in your heart since you became a Christ-follower. If you are feeling the slightest whisper of the Spirit and find yourself longing for a life of intimacy with God, try closing your eyes and just say “yes” to anything He wants for you. You may not know if you have what it takes or if you can afford it spiritually, but you can. You were made to live in personal revival and exude the fragrance of heaven. You are not made to chase after signs and wonders; they are meant to follow you. If there is anything we can’t afford, it is to miss another day in the presence of God. We can’t afford to let our hearts become hard and dry, and we certainly don’t want to find ourselves sitting on a park bench later in life wondering if we ever knew God or if He ever really used us.

Lovingly and tenderly,