By Ted N. C. Wilson, Mark A. Finley, Armando Miranda, and Jerry Page
During the Annual Council gathering of representatives of the world church of Seventh-day Adventists, October 8-13, 2010, at the General Conference headquarters, God’s presence was felt in a marked way. Numerous delegates shared the significant spiritual impact the meetings had on their lives.
The theme of the Annual Council was “Revival for Mission.” The main item on the agenda was an emphasis on revival, reformation, discipleship, and evangelism. In addition to the morning devotionals, simple, earnest prayer sessions throughout the day and testimony meetings provided a setting for the Holy Spirit to work powerfully. The delegates voted a major document entitled, “God’s Promised Gift: An Urgent Appeal for Revival, Reformation, Discipleship, and Evangelism.” It’s evident that God did something special. But this leads us to a number of questions: What are the hallmarks of true revival? Are there any dangers in being misled by counterfeit revivals? What is the ultimate goal of all revivals? How can the Annual Council document on revival be applied to divisions, unions, local fields, local churches, and our personal lives.
Hallmarks of True Revival
All true revival is characterized by three things: earnest, heartfelt prayer; a deep searching of the Bible; and a passionate commitment to win lost people. These three essentials of true revival are manifest in the disciples’ experience in Acts. Jesus’ promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not given without conditions. The disciples were to wait not in idleness but in united, earnest prayer and heartfelt supplication. And they did! The Acts narrative records, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14). At the right moment, when the Redeemer was exalted at God’s throne and the acceptance of His sacrifice acknowledged by the Father before the entire universe, the Holy Spirit was poured out in its fullness. Like these early disciples we are counseled, “It is our work, by confession, humiliation, repentance, and earnest prayer, to fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to grant us His blessing. A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 121). Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit through prayer, we are powerless to face Satan’s temptations and incapable of being effective witnesses for the Master.
The disciples bathed their lives in prayer and the study of God’s Word. Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost was a masterful presentation based on the Old Testament evidence of Jesus as the Messiah. The 3,000 people baptized that day “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). The disciples “spoke the Word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31) and gave themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (verse 7). The authoritative truths of Scripture are the foundation of all revival and reformation. All true revivals are anchored in the Word of God. There is no genuine revival without a corresponding increased interest in Bible study. “There is nothing more calculated to energize the mind and strengthen the intellect than the study of the Word of God. No other book is so potent to elevate the thoughts, to give vigor to the faculties, as the broad, ennobling truths of the Bible” (A Call to Stand Apart, p. 69). As we read and meditate upon the Bible, the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible inspires us as we read its pages.
The purpose of our prayer and devotional life is not to achieve a degree of holiness that makes us superior to others. Instead, it helps us realize our need to come humbly before the Lord to receive His righteousness, grace, wisdom, and strength. It empowers us to reveal the loving character of Jesus to others so we can be powerful witnesses of His grace and truth. The disciples’ lives were focused on mission. The book The Acts of the Apostles opens with these words: “The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world” (p. 9). The “disciples prayed with intense earnestness for a fitness to meet men and in their daily intercourse to speak words that would lead sinners to Christ” (Ibid., p. 37). Prayer without a clear focus on mission leads to self-righteousness and pharisaical pride. Mission without prayer leads to a powerless and ineffective witness. Prayer and mission without the foundation of God’s Word and His truth create a climate for doctrinal aberrations and heresy. Prayer, Bible study, and mission are the hallmarks of all true revival.
The Annual Council call to revival is the call of the Holy Spirit to a deeper experience with Jesus in anticipation of the latter-rain power for the final proclamation of the three angels’ messages. The current call for revival does not imply that the Holy Spirit has not been guiding, instructing, and empowering His church in the past. Without a doubt He has, and continues to do so. The remarkable growth rate of the church in recent years, the more than 1 million accessions a year, and the faithfulness of God’s people are clear indicators of the blessings of God. Yet, whatever the Holy Spirit has done for and through His people in the past is not sufficient for today. The Holy Spirit is calling us to a renewed experience now. We need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s final mission in this critical hour of Earth’s history just before Christ’s second coming. God has wanted to pour out the latter rain on His remnant church for many years. It’s up to us to submit in humility before the Lord, asking for forgiveness for our pride and self-centeredness. We are told that “the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the church is looked forward to as in the future; but it is the privilege of the church to have it now…. We must have it, and Heaven is waiting to bestow it” (Evangelism, p. 701).
Our Lord urgently appeals to every member of the church to have a deeper relationship with Him in prayer, Bible study, and the study of the Spirit of Prophecy as manifested in the writings of Ellen G. White. He calls us to a deeper commitment to witness and evangelism. He invites us to seek the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the power of the latter rain to finish His work on earth. God’s mission must be accomplished in God’s power (see Zech. 10:1; Rom. 9:28; Rev. 18:1).
True and False Revivals The devil hates revival. He will do anything he can to keep revival from happening among God’s people. The evil one knows that as the Holy Spirit is poured out in latter-rain power, God’s work on earth will be finished. “There is nothing that Satan fears so much as that the people of God shall clear the way by removing every hindrance, so that the Lord can pour out His Spirit upon a languishing church and an impenitent congregation. If Satan had his way, there would never be another awakening, great or small, to the end of time” (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 124). The fruits of a true revival are revealed in a transformed character that manifests the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24). A genuine revival leads men and women to reveal the fruits of the Holy Spirit in their lives. There is no true revival without repentance, confession, and obedience to God’s revealed will in His Word. Shallow, superficial revivalism primarily focusing on miraculous signs, physical manifestations, and wonders is a deception. God can and does work miracles. There will be a mighty manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power in the last days. But here is the point: the major object of revival is not miracles; it’s a revelation of the loving character of Jesus in our lives and the desire to share His love and truth with others. Because Satan hates Jesus, he hates those who want to be like Jesus and witness for Him.
We believe God's dream of a finished work will soon be accomplished. Throughout Christian history from Acts to the Reformation to the Advent movement, the devil has tried to counteract the influence of the heaven-anointed revival movements. “He [Satan] is working with all his insinuating, deceiving power, to lead men away from the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with mighty power. If Satan sees that the Lord is blessing His people and preparing them to discern his delusions, he will work with his master power to bring in fanaticism on the one hand and cold formalism on the other, that he may gather in a harvest of souls” (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 19). When genuine revival occurs, then churches “petrified by formalism” are set ablaze with new life in Christ. The “form of godliness” that characterizes Laodicean complacency in so many churches gives way to earnest prayer, serious Bible study, and enthusiastic witness. In genuine Holy Spirit-led revivals, God’s people are not caught up in an emotional excitement and enamored with signs and wonders. They are in love with Jesus, committed to the truths of His Word, and long to share Jesus and His end-time truths. In other words, true Heaven-ordained revival is balanced and not extremist in fanatical behavior or uniquely emotional demonstration. It’s focused on Jesus and His Word and finds expression in witness and service.
God’s Goal for All Revival
The question must be asked, “Revival for what?” The answer is: the purpose of all revival is to know Him better so we can share Him more. Revival is not a means for the church to have some warm, fuzzy spiritual experience. Revival provides the motivation and power for mission. The more we love Jesus, the more we desire to share Jesus’ love; and the more we share Jesus’ love, the more we will love Jesus. Mission is not only the goal of revival but part of the means of revival. We are drawn nearer to Jesus by sharing His love with others. “God could have reached His objective in saving sinners without our aid; but in order for us to develop a character like Christ’s, we must share in His work. In order to enter into His joy—the joy of seeing souls redeemed by His sacrifice—we must participate in His labors for their redemption” (The Desire of Ages, p. 142). When the church fails to place priority on soul winning, it dies spiritually. “The very life of the church depends upon her faithfulness in fulfilling the Lord’s commission. To neglect this work is surely to invite spiritual feebleness and decay. Where there is no active labor for others, love wanes, and faith grows dim” (Ibid., p. 825).
Revival does not lead to “sanctified self-righteousness.” It leads to evangelism. Its passion is winning lost people. Its goal is men and women redeemed for the kingdom of God. Its heart cry is for fellowship with Jesus and His redeemed people throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.
The Annual Council Appeal to You and to Your Church
We believe God’s dream of a finished work will soon be accomplished. The latter rain of the Holy Spirit will be poured out without measure. Christ’s mission on earth will be finished. Jesus will come soon. Will you join us in personally accepting this call to a deeper spiritual experience through prayer, Bible study, study of the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy, and pleading with God for the latter rain? Will you commit your life to sharing His truth, proclaiming the three angels’ messages, living a life of Christian service, and being a witness for Him? Will you pray for your brothers and sisters of this mighty Advent movement around the world as the church humbles itself before the Lord for the last warning to this dying world? Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will be poured out mightily upon God’s people and Jesus will come soon.
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
Ted N. C. Wilson is president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Mark A. Finley is assistant to the president for evangelism, Armando Miranda is a general vice president, and Jerry Page is director of the Ministerial Association.