Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter, in their book, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever, summarize a cluster of spiritual awakenings that occurred between 1900 and 1908.
Of striking significance are the results Towns and Porter realized upon polling 17 recognized evangelical leaders, asking them to rank the order in which they would place the 10 epic seasons of revival discussed in the book in terms of their global impact.
Imagine my pleasant surprise to find that even though the majority of those polled were neither Pentecostal or charismatic, the revival of 1900-1908 was the consensus arrived at, underlining that short revival period as the most influential in church history!
Though the writers were looking at the whole of that decadeâ€”one which included the Welsh Revival, the Keswick conferences and other marked evidences of the Holy Spirit at work in the churchâ€”the Azusa Street revival stands today above all others as the most influential move of God's Spirit within the most influential season of revival ever!
It launched a century-long advance in evangelism and Jesus' miracle-workings in His church that reaches to today, and which invites you and me to embrace a brand new readiness of heart and pursuit of soul.
Now, as we step into 2006, let me urge you to join me in a new expectancy; visions and hope are easily spawned as the much-anticipated Azusa Street Centennial scheduled in Los Angeles, April 25-29, reminds us of the mightiness with which the Holy Spirit can break into our world in transforming glory.
As one of the host of leaders who have worked together to bring the whole body to a celebration of the Azusa "moment" in time, I cannot emphasize too strongly: This isn't about the past! The Centennial is about how God moves when plain people earnestly seek Him, answering His call to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churchesâ€”now!
Everything in my own spirit resonates to this call:
If there is anything I hunger and thirst for at this already-God-blessed-and-prospered season of my life â€¦ If there is any heart cry that rises from my heart as a believer and my lips as a leader, it's this:
"Jesus, pour more of Your Spirit upon me until it becomes certain to Your view that I will serve my 'moment' in Your purposes as the leaders of that era served in theirs!"
I was researching the Townes and Porter book while working on my newest book and was reminded how each of the primary leaders in historical revivals were characterized by distinct points of passion that brought them to their moment.
While they all had in common a hunger for the Holy Spirit's moving in their lives and the lives of those to whom they ministered, each had a focus that affected the nature of the spiritual breakthrough in his or her part of the world.
To examine Seymour's roleâ€”but more importantly, his spiritâ€”is to be instructed in a heart- and mind-set that sought and received a "moment" of divine visitation that changed the world. One cannot but be moved by the dimensional grasp and spiritual passion that was being exercised by a man whose primary credentials were his being steeped in God's Word and overflowed with His Spirit.
The reason for the Holy Spirit's selection of William Seymour as the primary leader in the setting that would eventuate in a worldwide spread of a book of Acts dimension of evangelism, miracles and spiritual passion, is not difficult to assess with history's privilege of hindsight:
At first he held to tongues as the initial evidence of one's being filled with the Holy Spirit, but later altered his viewâ€”yet still without reducing the place of, desirability of or value of speaking in tongues for the Bible-based, spiritual benefits they afford.
Taking those four qualities of Seymour's leadership in his "moment," I want to conclude in saying, "Lord, I hunger for a holy storm surge of the Holy Spirit's work in my time. Shape me to answer my momentâ€”today."
1. Today's "moment" calls for leadership balance, humility and a surrender of private agendas and "personal kingdoms." Any quest to flow with the river of the Spirit in the stream of grace prophesied for the end times begins at God's throne (see Ezekiel 47:1-12).
It is to that place the Holy Spirit seeks to bring each of usâ€”that in surrender to God, and a will to move into the stream of His Spirit's moving, His life, love and power may extend to ever-deepening dimensions and ever-distant reaches of His power to the nations.
2. Today's "moment" calls to a surrender of our mindsâ€”to God's Spirit of truth and wisdom, while refusing the folly of either fanaticism or intellectualism.
This does not call the intellectually-gifted away from their brilliance, but summons that all human glory be brought under the sway of the omniscience of the Holy Spirit.
There is no more brilliant thinker than the one whose mind is yielded to the Maker who created us as physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual beings. The maximizing of the first three features of our humanness is sparked to new heights when yielding to the fourthâ€”when our spirit is yielded to His Spirit.
3. Today's moment calls the entire church to lead the way in overthrowing the global, human-race-wide bondage to ethnic separatism born of sinful pride, economic exploitation, historic hatreds and unforgiving retaliation.
When asked what he saw as the world's great problem, Billy Graham immediately responded: "Racial prejudice." The revelation of God's Word is that there is only one race: "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings (Acts 17:26, NKJV).
Let the Spirit-filled church be seen as emissaries of a transcendent Kingdomâ€”one that unites in love and truth, manifesting the Holy Spirit's love in ways that reveal God's newer, better, living way of relationships.
4. Finally, today's moment calls for a dual commitment:
That was unquestionably the reason God's Spirit lavished this grace upon all who were present at the church's birth, so let us be gracious, assisting all to receive and be benefited.
Since Azusa Street, 100 years have transpired, but the Holy Spirit's voice is still speaking todayâ€”seeking those who will answer their "moment" and live it within the light wisdom's instruction gives us from the past, considering this:
One ordinary man answered his moment a century ago, and God came to one small chapel on a side street in Los Angeles. If we listen, I believe the same voice is whispering when He is present.
The street where you live may not be named "Azusa," but we are each wise to be taught by the Centennial's history. Its wisdom calls us to answer with that measure of character that opens the door of our souls to God's sovereign purposes and maximum possibilities. That will certainly have an impact on A.D. 2006, and perhaps even A.D. 2106 as well.
God bless you this New Year!
Jack W. Hayford, Litt.D., is the founder of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California; chancellor of The King's College and Seminary and the president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.