How to dampen a spiritual fire

The Wales revival broke out in 1903 and fizzled by 1905. During those two years, people came from all over the world to swim in those revival waters and that spirit went back with them when they went home. One of those people was a man named Frank Bartleman. He was a preacher and journalist in Los Angeles who began to write about revival and about what was happening in Wales. He had written Evan Roberts to ask for prayer. Roberts answered him; Bartleman believed the prayer in the return letter came with the gift of faith. It was for him part of the stirrings of a movement in California. He wrote that the spiritual movement he sensed in California was “rocked in the cradle of little Wales. … Los Angeles seems to be the place and this the time, in the mind of God, for the restoration of the Church.”

About that same time (1906), William Seymour was being raised up under the discipleship of Lucy Farrow in Houston, Texas. Both of them were taught by a guy named Charles Parham, known today as the father of the Pentecostal movement. Parham led a seminary and invited Seymour to become a student there. Seymour was black and in that day, having him in a white school was highly unusual. But Parham saw something in Seymour. Listening through the window of Parham’s classroom, Seymour fanned the flames of his calling and began to preach. Before long, he gained the attention of some folks in Los Angeles, who invited him to come and be their pastor.

Seymour went, and the short end of the story is that he started preaching in L.A. and people started coming. It was a small group at first, but as the Spirit moved the house where he was staying began to be packed nightly. Parham invited his old mentor, Lucy Farrow, to come and preach about the Holy Spirit and all Heaven broke loose

It is no small thing that the Pentecostal movement was born out of the ministries of a white man, a black man and a woman, all three preaching what Seymour called, “old-time repentance, old-time pardon, old-time sanctification, old-time power over devils and diseases, and the old-time ‘Baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire.”

Frank Bartleman, the L.A. journalist, followed Seymour and wrote this about his ministry: “Divine love was wonderfully manifest in the meetings. They would not even allow an unkind word said against their opposers or the churches. The message was ‘the love of God.’ It was a sort of ‘first love’ of the early church returned. The ‘baptism,’ as we received it in the beginning, did not allow us to think, speak or hear evil of any man. The Spirit was very sensitive, tender as a dove.”

After outgrowing the house Seymour lived in, the church rented a building at 312 Azusa Street. That address is still famous today in Pentecostal circles. Millions of Pentecostals would say that their spiritual birthplace is Azusa Street and dozens of denominations trace their roots to that revival.

As with too many spiritual movements, it was human brokenness that stopped the flow of the Spirit on Azusa Street. The organization beneath the movement had its share of dysfunction. Too much enthusiasm and too little structure led to infighting and jealousies. Along the way, someone got mad with someone else and ended up leaving and taking the mailing list with them. Without a mailing list, there was no way to get the word out about meetings. When the crowds stopped coming, the revival waned.

As J.D. King has written in his article about this revival in Charisma Magazine, the real lesson from Azusa Street is that revivals rarely end because of conflicts outside the walls, and more often because of conflicts within.

That is a sobering thought. To think that the attitude we bring into the Body of Christ could actually stifle the flow of the Holy Spirit and the growth of a movement should cause all of us to examine our hearts.

As part of a spiritual community, I must ask myself: is my attitude stoking the fire, or is it “water in the wood”? Am I contributing to the health and spiritual awakening of my community, or am I dampening the spiritual fires because I’d rather have it my way or not at all?

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Lord, bend us.

In 1903, Evan Roberts was 25 years old. He was a Christian, coal miner, and student who began to pray for God to fill him with the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this season of prayer, Roberts found himself at an evangelistic event where a man named Seth Joshua was preaching. Roberts heard Joshua pray, “Lord, bend us,” and at the sound of those words the Holy Spirit grabbed him.

That’s what you need, the Spirit said.

Roberts wrote: “I felt a living power pervading my bosom. It took my breath away and my legs trembled exceedingly. This living power became stronger and stronger as each one prayed, until I felt it would tear me apart. My whole bosom was a turmoil and if I had not prayed it would have burst … I fell on my knees with my arms over the seat in front of me. My face was bathed in perspiration, and the tears flowed in streams. I cried out, ‘Bend me, bend me!!’ It was God’s commending love which bent me … what a wave of peace flooded my bosom … I was filled with compassion for those who must bend at the judgement, and I wept. Following that, the salvation of the human soul was solemnly impressed on me. I felt ablaze with the desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the savior.”

After that experience, Evan would wake up at one in the morning and pray for hours, invaded by an intense love of God and a deep desire to see others come to Christ. He began to pray together with a few others: “Bend us, Lord.”

A few weeks later, after seeing a vision of God touching Wales, he predicted a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He began preach across Wales and within about nine months, over 100,000 people had come to Christ. Five years later, reports say 80,000 of those people were still in church. The effect on the culture of the country was profound. Bars emptied out. People used the money to buy clothes and food for their families, pay back debts and give to the church. People became kinder; there was a wave of forgiveness.

Sadly, Evan, didn’t last. Like firewood that wasn’t ready for burning, his own personal fires fizzled quickly. Losing his mental health, he became arrogant and short-tempered; his sermons filled with condemnation. He moved in with a woman who distorted his message. He spent a year confined to bed, pretty close to insane. He lived to be 72 years old but preached his last sermon when he was in his twenties.

Lord, bend us.

David Thomas has studied great awakenings and revivals and has written: “There is this built-in self-correcting, reanimating capacity in the Christian movement due to the Spirit’s residence in the Church. Christian history is in many ways the story of successive seasons of awakening. We love it. We yearn for it. We need it, desperately, more every day — in our culture, in our churches, in our families, in ourselves. We want to be in on awakening, to be in on a work of God in our day. Again, we have a soft spot for this, a longing for this: we want to be about sowing for a great awakening. But what about that sowing piece? … Where does it come from? Where does awakening start? How do we sow for a great awakening? … I’ve come to believe that the true seedbed of awakening is the plowed-up hearts of men and women willing to receive the gift of travail. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (as it says in Psalm 126). Prayer is the precursor to the work of God … always the anticipating act of awakening.”

Lord, bend us.

Thomas says that a call to travailing prayer isn’t a call to feel guilty about how little we actually pray. It is a call to become more open to awakening, and to let that desire make us less casual in our prayers. “I wonder what it would take for us to move in the direction of travailing prayer,” Thomas writes. “How bad it will have to get … if we’re not there already?”

I wonder, too. Who among us is ready to take God at his word? Who is ready to spend time in repentance, time in surrender, time in confession of faith? Who is willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to be moved to their knees?Who is ready to cry out, not just for ourselves, but for the effectiveness of the Church, for the effectiveness of the gospel flowing through us, for the gospel’s power to renew the world?

Lord, bend us!

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