With a gentle smile on his face he said, “Young man… have you ever heard of the Holy Spirit?” I responded, “Well, yes I have.” He said, “Good… because you can’t serve God with a lukewarm heart, you need a heart on fire!” (A conversation between an Irish Catholic priest and me as we traveled in a five seat plane into Sudan in the late 1990’s)
Back in the early 70’s and mid to late 80’s, a spiritual renewal swept through our land. It touched Presbyterians, Catholics, Pentecostals, Methodists and many other denominations. In fact, this move of God seemed to have nothing to do with denominations whatsoever. It was a true work of the Holy Spirit and no man could take credit for it. You either “got in” or you got left out. People who were bound by their traditions and denominations missed this move and have no recollection of it.
One thing was for sure and that is that this renewal touched all who were hungry for more of God. The Holy Spirit showed no partiality. For those of us who experienced this wonderful outpouring, we can say one thing without a doubt and that is… it was real. It was as if we all experienced a taste of Pentecost. The fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit seemed to flow freely from the most unlikely people in the most unlikely places. Home Bible studies, prayer meetings, and simple Christian gatherings became portals for heavenly outpourings. Park benches became pews and living rooms became cathedrals. A person with a pure heart, an acoustic guitar and a few simple choruses could usher in the God’s presence like few Christian artist (with all the lights and hype) can today. Those were the days!
Two things stand out in my memory that I can’t seem to forget. Number one: there was true unity among all who were touched by this move of God. We were simply Christians. Our only label was Jesus. We were God hungry people who stopped at nothing but God Himself. No one tried to outdo anyone else. Personalities and egos took a backseat. It was a humble time in church history.
Number two: it was a time of true conversions and sweet salvation. Anyone who remembers those days will agree that lives were being radically transformed. Drug addicts, alcoholics, and other serious sinners were coming to Christ and not turning back. The days were marked by transformed lives and deep (yet simple) spirituality. Baptisms were incredible celebrations and declarations of the born again experience. It was truly an outward sign of an inward change. People were concerned only about pleasing God and walking in the Spirit. Repentance, restitution, joy, deliverance and freedom were the norm and those who followed Him shamelessly spoke the precious name of Jesus. The things I am speaking of were commonplace during this renewal. I miss it!
So what happened? Why did God seem to lift His hand and the Holy Spirit stop moving? I’m not sure. I only know that “big names” started to take center stage and before long it seemed as though we were left on our own. That which once seemed so simple, now became difficult. Instead of pure worship, basic Bible studies and simple devotion, church leaders seemed to turn to church growth seminars and the latest leadership gurus. Growing in numbers took the place of growing in depth. The church went from a gathering of serious, yet simple saints, to assemblies catering to “seekers” (which there seems to be little proof that these folks were seeking God at all). Sharp marketing schemes (used to draw crowds) seemed to replace the drawing of the Holy Spirit. True conversions were replaced with lighthearted “decisions”. Baptisms became more of a medal to be worn by the church than a watery burial of “the old man”. Men of God traded in their prophetic mantles for a CEO status and humility was replaced with spiritual pride. I could go on and on, but I won't. It is far too depressing to ponder at length about where we were to where we are today.
Even as I write this, my heart is longing for another move of God. It does us little good to dream about days gone by, for they are just that… gone by. Those days are history and though we can reflect on them and learn from them, we cannot live in the past. One thing we can do though is pray; pray that the winds of renewal will start blowing once again. The church desperately needs a touch from heaven. We need a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let’s hit our knees in desperation and seek the Lord for a fresh move in our day. Renewal… it’s what the church needs.
By Tom Zurowski