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Edited from a message delivered at the "Heart-Cry for Revival" Conference near Asheville, North Carolina, April 9-12, 2002.
Those of us who live in this country will never forget September 11. It was a moment in which God was speaking to this country perhaps as we have never been spoken to before. For one small moment, God withdrew His hand of protection and we saw a little of Gods judgment. I sense that God wants to do something in this nation. We have been injured. The heart of the people of this land has been wounded.
There is a passage of Scripture that God has brought me to that I believe speaks directly to us as a people. It is in Hosea 6. Hosea was a very unusual prophet. God called him to do something that would be very difficult. God told him to go and marry an adulterous woman and to bear children from this adulterous woman, basically a prostitute. In Hoseas marrying her, God would have a message for the people of God: they were like this adulterous woman; with their worship of false gods, they were prostituting themselves spiritually. Gods judgment was upon them. But God would heal them, would revive them, and would restore them. However there was a condition to that.
In Hosea 6:1-3 the Bible says "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us, but He will bind up our wounds. After two days He will revive us; and on the third day He will restore us, that we may live in His presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."
Here God has a wonderful promise for His people. If there is anything we can cling to for hope of revival, its this passage because here the children of Israel were under the judgment of God. But God says there are four things He will do for His people. In verse one He says, "He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us." Our nation stands in need of healing. Not healing from the psychologist, nor from the sociologist, nor from our political leaders, nor from a political system. We need God Almighty to heal us! He is our healer! He will bind up our wounds.
Not only does He promise that He will heal us, but He promises that He will revive us. It says in verse 2, "After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will restore us."
I am convinced that the only hope for this nation is that we have a mighty revival. It must begin with Gods people. It must begin inside the church. I am convinced the problem is not with the homosexual community. The problem is not with the political leadership. The problem is not with corruption within our government. I am convinced the problem is within the house of God and we need revival! God says He will revive us.
There is a third thing He says He will do: "Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises He will appear; He will come to us." This third promise is that He will come and manifest Himself among us. We do not deserve His presence and God is not under obligation to manifest Himself to us. But He gives us tremendous hope in this passage. He says that "He will come to us; He will appear to us." Oh, the great need and the great hope of this hour is His coming among us! What our churches need is not better programs. What our nation needs is not better preaching. What we need in America is not better music. What we need is simply God among us.
When the Romanian revolution took place in 1989, at that moment there was a general awakening in the nation. All of a sudden something took place in Timisoara and the people began to gather as Pastor Peter Dugulescu stood and began to preach. There were 200,000 atheists there and in one divine moment all the spirit of atheism was blown out of the nation as Peter stood preaching the Word of God. All of a sudden the people began to shout, "Existe Dumnezeu! Existe Dumnezeu! Existe Dumnezeu!" which translated means "There is a God! There is a God! There is a God!" The common people took the television station. It had been controlled by the government and the only scenes on the television station had been scenes of Nicolae Ceausescu, the evil dictator, and when the people took the television station the first words that were uttered over the television station were words that literally shocked the whole nation. These words, "Dumnezue este cu noi!" translated mean, "God is with us!" When God comes and He came in a very dark hour in Romania everything changes. The third promise is that He will come.
The fourth promise is that He will come to us "like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth." When the spring rains come there is new life. There is growth that takes place. When God comes, He comes like the spring rains. There is growth. The answer to all the church growth questions is simply God coming. What we need is God coming. Then the people of God will grow, and when the people of God grow, the church will grow. We need God to come.
Return to the Lord
But there is one condition to all of this. God says I will heal you, I will revive you, I will appear to you, I will refresh you, but there is one thing that you must do. It says in verse one, "Come, let us return to the Lord." One simple thing to return to the Lord if we want to see revival. First of all you have to understand what it means to "return." The word "return" has the little word in it, "turn." In other words you cannot keep going in the same direction that you have been going. You must turn and it says "re-turn." Those of us who have repented, who have already turned from our sins and have turned to the Lord, are the ones who must re-turn to the Lord. Revival begins with those of us who have turned from our sins in faith to Jesus Christ to follow Him. In order to return a person cant keep going the same direction that he has been going. We were going this way as a church, we were going this way as an evangelical community. We must stop! The first step in repentance, the first step in revival, is to stop. You cant keep going the same way youve been going. You must stop and then turn around.
Let me say something about stopping. Im convinced that there would be a mighty, sweeping refreshing of Gods people if we did this one thing, if we would simply stop. Im afraid that much of the problem in North America, both Canada and the United States, and around the world in all churches, even in the two-thirds world nations, is that the church is so busy we dont have time for God. If I were to ask you why it is that you dont have time for God, why it is our prayer lives are so weak and feeble, it is because we are so busy in the work of God that we dont have time for the God of the work. And I tell you that if there is to be revival, we must stop!
Theres a passage of Scripture that God ministered to my life in the last few years in a very dramatic way, Psalm 46:10 which says, "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in all the earth." God has given me a promise from early in my ministry. He has given me a call from Jeremiah 1:4-10 to go to the nations, and to speak to the nations the truth of the Word of God. I have surrendered myself to do that and I have been traveling and preaching. God has been blessing, and we have been seeing things happen. It has been an absolutely incredible journey. Those of you who know me well know that I stand amazed at the things that God is doing.
We have a pastor friend in Rwanda. I went into Rwanda right after the genocide where it was said by the Rwandese people, that one million people were killed in one months time simply because of their ethnic background. We preached the gospel to the church, and to the political leaders and to the masses there. God got hold of a number of young pastors in that country and set their hearts on fire. One of them began to write us and say we must go to Burundi. We went to Burundi. He said we must go to Congo. We went to Congo. He sent a fax to our office and it had a map of Africa with numbers on every country in Africa. Joseph said, "Sammy, you must go to every one of these countries." He had countries that were amazing to me because he had places like Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Sudan.
I said, "Joseph, we cant get into those places." Joseph would say, "Oh, dont worry Sammy, God will open the door, and besides that, I have contacts." What we discovered he meant by that is that he knew one person in each country.
But one of the places he was persistent about. "Sammy, we must go, we must go to Ethiopia." Ethiopia had been a Communist country for 19 years. Christians had been persecuted and much of the church had gone underground. When freedom came to Ethiopia the evangelical community was very divided and consequently they were not able to impact their nation for Christ. Joseph had a burden that we go to Ethiopia with the message of Christ. He had a pastor friend there and he called that pastor friend. On the very night that he called, a group of pastors were under a burden for revival in the land. They had said, "Lets have an all-night prayer meeting and lets seek the face of God and lets ask God to move in our land."
So they were praying that night, all night long, seeking the face of God. They asked God to send revival. Then one of them prayed, "Oh Lord, would you send an evangelist to our country like you sent to the Ethiopian eunuch in the Scripture? Would you send someone to come clearly explain the gospel message to our people?" Just as they prayed that, Joseph called and they got his pastor friend out of the prayer meeting. When he returned to them he said, "Ive got an American evangelist friend that I believe God wants to come to Ethiopia." They had no clue who I was. But they said, "We just asked God to send someone, so tell him to come."
Joseph kept saying, "Oh, Sammy, God is going to do something great!" Then about a week before the scheduled meetings he contacted me. "Weve got a little problem," he said. "Whats that?" I asked. He said, "Ethiopias at war with Eritrea, and theyre not going to let us have the stadium." I said, "What should we do?" He said, "Come anyway." The day we arrived, the two nations signed a peace treaty. The day after we left, they went back to war.
After we arrived Joseph kept saying, "Sammy, Gods going to do something here." We went to the stadium; it wouldnt hold the people. I stood and preached and gave the invitation. What happened was absolutely incredible as thousands responded to the message. People literally jumped to their feet. The Christians began to shout. The next night the crowd was larger. The next day it was larger still. By Saturday, which was the final day, we had to have two services because the stadium couldnt hold the people. I had never preached to so many people in all of my life.
I need to back up to tell you something. On the way to Ethiopia, we were on the plane going from London to Africa, and I normally try to sleep on overnight flights. But this particular evening I didnt sleep because there was a movie on and I watched the movie, "Chariots of Fire." It is the story of Eric Liddell, the Scottish runner who became a missionary to China, who ran for the glory of God. He and his sister were having a discussion, and she was concerned that he was getting so involved in running. Eric said to his sister, "Sis, God made me fast and I feel His pleasure when I run."
As he said that, God spoke to my heart as I watched this, and tears welled up in my eyes, and the Lord seemed to speak to my heart and say, "Sammy, I want you to run like a champion. This is what Ive called you to do. I want you to run like a champion, for My glory."
That Saturday morning of the final meeting in Ethiopia when I woke up, so thrilled we were going to have two services, the stadium packed with people, I looked at my wife and I said "
." I had no voice! My voice was gone!
I said, "Oh, no. What am I going to do?" I began to panic and I cried to the Lord from my heart: "God, God, You told me to run like a champion. Why, Lord, I cant speak; I dont have a voice. What am I going to do? I cant run like a champion."
And the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said, "Son, this is what a champion runs like in My kingdom. It is not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit saith the Lord (Zech. 4:6). It is not the eloquence of your speech, but it is in the demonstration and the power of the Spirit of God applied to the Word of God."
I stood that day and I squeaked and somehow in the midst of my squeaking the interpreter understood me and he could speak clearly. God moved and worked. The next day, Sunday, they asked me to speak at the largest evangelical church in the city. They had a church of about 5,000 members and I went to speak to the church. When I arrived all the members were outside. I said, "Whats going on?" and they said, "There were 4,000 new converts that showed up at the church this morning so all believers had to stay outside." They spent the Sunday morning service dividing up these 4,000 people into cell groups, so they could start discipling them.
I left there and the next few months I experienced voice problem after voice problem, which is not a good thing for an evangelist. I finally sent an email message when I was in Brazil to a doctor friend of mine and I said, "I am really struggling with my voice. And I dont know what to do. Do you know anybody who can help me?" He replied, "Sammy, I know one of the foremost audio specialists in the state of Texas. Hes here near my office. As soon as you get in, come on in and well check you out."
The morning I was to go to the doctor the Lord woke me up earlier than I had planned to get up to have my quiet time. When I woke up there was one verse of Scripture that was just burning in my heart and my soul and it was Psalm 46:10: "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in all the earth." That stirred in my heart all morning long.
I went to the doctor and he discovered that I had polyps on my vocal cords. He said, "We can do one of two things. We can have surgery or you can go into a period of absolute total silence for two weeks." God had already spoken to me. He had said, "Be still and know that I am God." And I said, "Well do the quiet thing."
My wife and I went for the quiet time to the Grand Canyon. I had never been there before. I said, "God, Im going to get quiet, say nothing and just look unto You, and see Your greatness." I decided that I was going to read the whole Bible when I was there because I said, "God, if Youre speaking to me, if theres something Youre wanting to say to my heart, then I want to know. I dont want to miss it. I know You speak through Your Word," so I started off in the book of Genesis. I said, "God, what do You want to say to me? God, what do You want to say to me?"
There was one verse that kept coming to me as I read every other verse: "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in all the earth." God said to me "Sammy, this ministry that Ive called you to is not your ministry; its My work. Your responsibility is to come before Me and just let Me be God. Let Me be God in you." I experienced revival! I experienced a great work of God in my own heart, a move of Gods Spirit in my own life. I experienced a refreshing rain coming across my soul during those days.
But God showed me something. I had gotten so busy in His work serving Him, doing what He had called me to do, that I didnt have time for Him. He had a quick way of shutting me up, and shutting me down. I am convinced the first step toward revival for much of the church is we must be still. We are so busy and we must stop, stop, stop! And then as we stop we must turn and we must return to Him.
What Is It To Return To God?
First of all, I believe that it means to return to our passion for Him. To return to Him is to come back to that first love. Do you remember the church of Ephesus, in the book of Revelation? This was a very fundamental church, a very good, Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church that didnt put up with false teaching coming in among their people. But God said, "I have one thing against you. Youve left your first love. Repent and return to your first love" (Rev. 2:3-4).
I am convinced that what has happened is that many of us have lost that simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus Christ, to just love Him.
Revival is coming back to the basic things, and the basic things are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul (Matt. 22:37-38). Thats the first and greatest commandment. To return to Him is to return to loving Him with all our heart, with all of our mind, with all of our soul, with everything inside of us.
The second thing, to return to Him is to not only return to our passion for Him but to return to our call from Him. God has placed a call on every one of our lives. I think one of the great curses of the American churches is this that we have so many people who think they have done what they are supposed to do because they come and sit on Sunday morning from 11:00 until 12:00. That is not so. I believe that every person is to be a minister. If we have been reconciled to God we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. If we have been brought back into relationship with God, then every one of us has been called to be a minister of reconciliation. We all do that in different ways. I dont do what you do and you dont have to do what I do, because God has put a call on each of our lives. What happens when we return to Him is that we return to that call from Him. There is a certain amount of revival that comes when we begin to do what God gave us to do. Revival is saying, "Lord, here I am," and letting Him do a purifying work in us. As He does that purifying work in us, Hes going to do something through us. He puts a call on our life.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and said, "Stir up the gift that is within you" (2 Tim. 1:6). One translation of "stir up" is "fan the flame." Its the closest word perhaps in the Greek language to the Hebrew language for revive. Revive, or fan the flame or renew that gift that has been placed within you. God has gifted each of us to do certain things. God has placed a call on my life to go to the difficult places of the world, and as He places that call on my life He gives me giftings to do that. By nature in the flesh I am an insecure person. I am a fearful person. But when I know that God has told me to go somewhere, there is something that happens that I become courageous. And it cant be explained by me.
Joseph, my friend in Africa, said, "We must go to Sudan." We went to Egypt, and there were some brothers from Sudan there. They said, "Would you come to Sudan?" We said, "Wed love to come to Sudan." We began to communicate with them and they invited us to come over. The director of our ministry went to Sudan and met with them in June. They told us what had happened last April a year ago. They were going to have an Easter sunrise service with all the churches in Khartoum, the capital city, meeting together. The security forces of the Muslim government came and surrounded the church and they began to throw hand grenades inside the church. They began to shoot and kill people and wound people. They arrested 56 people.
The pastors said, "We believe that if we back off now, the church will become extinct in Sudan. We must not back off, and we want to hold a big crusade for Jesus Christ. Will Sammy come and preach it?" They said, "We are willing to take the risk. We are willing to put our lives on the line if Sammy is willing to take the risk."
Mike, our executive director, came back to me and gave me the message. He gave me also along with that message a copy of an email that one of the Christians had received from a Muslim from Osama bin Ladens group because Osama bin Laden operated in Sudan before he went to Afghanistan. The message was about what they were going to do to Christians if Christians continued to try to move forward.
In my heart I knew I must go. I sent a message back and said, "We are willing to take the risk with you. Well stand with you." The pastors began to meet together and pray together. We met with our Egyptian brothers and had them to go and do some discipleship training. We wanted official permission from the government to be able to stand in the stadium and publicly proclaim the name of Jesus Christ. In August of this past year they gave us official, verbal permission to stand in the stadium in Khartoum, Sudan, to preach the gospel. They said, "Youll have it in writing somewhere between September 10th and September 15th." We all know what happened September 11th. The Sudan government reversed their position.
One day after September 11, my wife and I were on a plane to Nashville where I was to preach. My mind was in confusion and I began to read the Word. I read through Hebrews 11. God spoke to my heart and said, "Son, I called you to do this. You trust Me." I said, "Im going." I sent a message back. I said, "Im still coming." They continued to make preparations. Still the government denied permission. I had a nice size team going and it dwindled down to me. I said, "God, Im willing to go by myself. I really would like someone to go with me."
Our son has a ministry. He said, "Dad, I guess you are not going to Sudan with all this thats happened?" I said, "Gods told me to go. Im going." He said, "Whos going with you?" I answered, "Everybodys dropped out." He said, "Dad, I have a burden to go to Sudan and preach the gospel. Matter of fact, tonight our ministry is having an all-night prayer meeting and were praying for Sudan." He said, "Could we pray about it? Id have to talk to my wife, and Id have to talk to our students (he has discipleship students), because theyd have to release me, but if all that comes together, would you consider it?" I said, "Dave, Id love you to go."
Dave went with me and before I left there was a pastor from Georgia who joined us and three of us went to Sudan. We had some Brazilian brothers who also came and filmed our meetings there. I stood the first night right in the middle of the terrorist stronghold of Khartoum and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ. I gave the invitation, and the cameras of those who were filming began to be covered with dust there were so many people responding. The pastors were overjoyed. They couldnt believe what happened. We went back to the hotel room and we were so thrilled and excited with what God had done.
The next morning there was a bang on my door and it was the pastors from Khartoum. They said, "Sammy, Al-Qaida network, the Muslim Brotherhood and one other group have threatened a blood bath on the stadium if we continue there. The security forces of the government have come. Theyve surrounded the stadium. Theyve secured the stadium. They shut it down and we cant get in. But the pastors want to continue with the pastors conference on revival. They want to know if you will meet with them?" I sat down with my son, and the pastor from Georgia and the three Brazilian brothers and said, "Gods called me to do this. Im going. You dont have to go." One by one these men said, "We want to go." One of the greatest thrills of my life was to see my son come to grips with the question, "Am I willing to die for my faith?" And he said, "I am willing to die."
The reason I share that with you, is that you see these situations that God has called me to go into, and with that calling Hes gifted me. For me not to go to Khartoum, not to go to Sudan, when everyone was saying, "Sammy, you cant do that!" would be for me to rebel against God because God had called me to do it. If God has called me to do it and He has gifted me to do it, I must, I must stir up that gift that is within me and I must do the will of God for my life.
I understand that not everybody is called to do what I am called to do, but I want to say this You have been called. For you to do any other thing but the will of God, what God has called you to do is to turn away from God. You must walk in obedience to the call that God has placed upon your life. I find so many Christians who are not doing something that we would call evil, but they are "dead." Much of the reason that they are "dead" is that they are not obeying the call that God has placed upon their lives. We need to return to the call from God.
Return to Our Dependence on God
The final thing that I want to say is we must return to our dependence upon Him. After we return to our passion and first-love for our Lord, and obey Him by doing what He has called us to do, then we find that we cannot do it. God calls us to the impossible; He gifts us for the impossible, and He also lets us know that we cant do it. One of the great promises that God has given us is in 1 Thessalonians 5 that says, "Faithful is He who calls you who will also bring it to pass."
We must depend upon Him. I told God early in my ministry, "Oh, God, I want to do Your will but, Lord, place me in a position where I cannot describe or explain my ministry by any kind of human manipulation." When God puts a call on your life, He also gives you the grace, He gives you the strength, He gives you everything, for without Him we can do nothing. What we must return to is this place of dependence upon Him. One of the great problems we have in our churches in America today is that almost everything we do can be explained by man and very little can be explained by God. To return to Him is a return to saying, "God, we need You." Thats why prayer is so important. Prayer is simply saying, "God, I need You."
During the days of persecution in Romania, I was asked in a radio broadcast, "Whats the difference between the Romanian church and the American church?" I could have said a lot of things the buildings, and all the nice things that we have, like bookstores, but I said this one thing: "In the Romanian church they are a needy people and they know it. In the American church we are a needy people; we just dont know it."
We come to Him and say, "God, oh God, Youve called me to this, but it isnt going to happen unless You do it." When He does it, the love deepens. You love Him more and want to obey Him more.
Return to Him. One simple thing He says: "Stop. Quit doing it the way youre doing it. Quit going the way youre going. Quit living the way youre living. Stop. Look up. Know that I am God and turn around and begin to have that passion for Me. Obey your call and depend upon Me."
When you do that, you will experience healing in your heart, revival in your soul, the manifest presence of God. Oh, to walk with Jesus, to know Jesus, to love Jesus, to obey Jesus!
"Oh Father, Lord, we have sinned against You. We have left our passion for You. We have forsaken our calling from You. We have ceased to depend upon You. Oh God, grace us with repentance. God, I pray that the repenters would repent. God, I pray that there would be a stopping of the busyness of our lives, a rearranging of priorities that we could be still and know that You are God. Lord, I pray that there would be a turning back to You. Oh Lord, I pray that there would be a new passion for You; Lord, a new obedience to Your call. Father, I pray that there would be a new dependence upon You, a new walk of faith and trust in You. Amen."