History teaches us that there have been many occasions when God has come in power upon His people as He did on that first Day of Pentecost. We generally call these occasions revivals: God bringing to life the dry bones of His church as He showed Ezekiel in that prophetic vision during Israel’s exile. (Ezek 37) A revival is a sovereign work of God, leading to an increased interest in spiritual matters, spilling over into the local community and having an effect that goes far beyond that local community. We cannot control revivals, any more than the disciples could control the arrival or movement of the Holy Spirit. But we can put ourselves, as they did, in a good place to receive God’s outpouring by gathering together in prayer. Every revival that has ever happened seems to have happened where people have been praying. Maybe not many people! The revival which swept through the Hebrides between 1949 and 1952 largely started in a small cottage by the roadside in the village of Barvas, where two women, Peggy and Christine Smith, lived. They were 84 and 82 years old. Peggy was blind and Christine was almost bent double with arthritis. They were unable to attend public worship because of their age and infirmities, but they held on to the promise of God: ‘I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground.’ (Is 44:3) They prayed faithfully for many months and God revealed to them that the church would be crowded again with young people. Peggy asked her minister to call his elders and deacons together for special times of waiting upon God and together, people prayed. One night, as they waited, a young deacon rose and read part of Ps 24: ‘Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.’ (Ps 24:3-4) Turning to the others he said: “Brethren, it seems to me just so much humbug to be waiting and praying as we are, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God.” Then lifting his hands toward heaven, he cried: “Oh God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?” He got no further, but fell prostrate to the floor. God had begun to work in awesome power. It was the start of a revival as God poured His Spirit out on the church and many people were also saved.
We desperately need God to move in these sovereign ways today, but we have to admit that we are often scared to experience these things because this means renouncing our need for control and letting God alone be in control. Most of us are not afraid of being in water if our feet touch the ground: ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep is fine, because we still retain a modicum of control. Last year in Whitby, my younger granddaughter, paddling in the sea, was floored by a (very small!) wave and ended up flat on her back! She didn’t like the experience one bit, and that to me was a parable of how the deep-flowing waters of Ezekiel 47 are often resisted by us. Yet when we learn to swim, we can let go of fear and enjoy the experience even of swimming in the sea. We should not be afraid of God’s Spirit; God will never give anything to us which will harm us, but His Spirit is given to be our helper, comforter, guide and advocate, for He is a Father who loves to give good gifts. (Luke 11:11-13)