I want you to turn with me in your Bibles to Acts chapter 3 verse 19. I apologise if you came to hear about 'Fearless Boldness', which was on the little card - but we had a prayer meeting here, just a few of us, in relation to the work here at The Stables, I think it was about a fortnight ago. I really wasn't feeling great about the subject that we had lined up for tonight, and during that time of prayer (I haven't shared this with anybody yet), but during that time of prayer the Lord laid this message on my heart. Not the entire message, but certainly the text. So the Lord has elaborated since then, you'll be glad to know, and I have a message entitled 'Times Of Refreshing'. Acts 3 and one verse, OK, we're launching in right in the middle of a context. Just to outline that without reading it, a man, a lame man, has been healed at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, and it has caused a commotion. Peter now preaches a sermon on the back of this great miracle, and we're launching right into the middle of that sermon in verse 19. This is Peter's appeal, as it were: "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord", so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
Can we pray together? I would ask you, please, to engage in prayer yourself, that the Lord will really meet us tonight. Let's pray: Father, we really do praise You and worship You. We exalt You, Lord, as we have been singing already: O praise the Lord! We don't want that to be mere sanctimonious expressions of song or confession, Lord, we don't want to honour You with our mouths, our lips, and our hearts be far away from You. So we ask You tonight, Lord, would You, by Your grace and Holy Spirit, draw us close - would You draw us close? Would You draw us, that we might run after You? Lord, we need help with that, because some of us here tonight, including myself, we mightn't feel terribly energetic to run after You, to pursue You - but, Lord, we pray for Your grace tonight to enable us to seek You, that we might find You. Lord, surely there is no one in this place tonight who would say: 'I don't need refreshment from the Lord'? So we together, as individuals but collectively, uniting our hearts, we ask You, Father, that we would experience this evening times of refreshing from Your very presence, that we would have Throne Room experiences where we would break in, as it were, to the heavenly realm and receive from You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So we wait upon You now, we engage by faith in Your word. You have said, Lord Jesus, that 'If any man keep My word, and love Me, my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him'. So Father, would You come and find resting places in our hearts for You to come and be at home in us. Come and be at home in this place, come and visit us, Lord. O, for a visitation of God! Lord, we are so longing for You, we are so hungry, we are so thirsty, we are desperate for You, Lord! Would You come and meet with us tonight? In the mighty name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
So our subject tonight, which fits in very well with the series 'Hunger for Reality: Going Deeper with God', is 'Times of Refreshing'. Now I have to confess to you at the outset that I am not a great fan of endless reminiscing of past moves of God. I think we can be too romantic in our recollections of historic revivals, to the point where it becomes detrimental. There can be a really negative effect of it, which I will elaborate on in just a moment - but I believe it's biblical, what I have just said. There is a danger that we get a crick in our neck looking backwards, and it actually can hinder us. Isaiah 43 verses 18 and 19: 'Forget the former things', the Lord says, 'Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing, now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland'. You see, there is a danger that when we recollect to an excess what God has done in the past, that we get stuck in the past. Therefore, by getting stuck in history, we fail to perceive what God is presently doing and what He is breaking forth as we speak.
So we have to reiterate the fact that God is always working, yes? Do you believe that? Even in the day of small things - that's why we're not to despise it, because God is working. Jesus said: 'I work until now, and My Father works until now', so God is always at work, and God is the God of the new thing. He is therefore always doing new things. So biblically speaking, it is dangerous to have too much of an obsession with what went on in the past; but also practically speaking, it's dangerous because we then can make the mistake of expecting God, or even requiring God, to repeat history and to move in an identical manner that He had once moved before. So it's hazardous to those who are interested in revival to be stuck too much in the history, and beware of that if you have an interest in those things.
However, that being said, it's also biblical, in the correct manner, to recall what God has done - even not only to recollect it, but to rehearse it to succeeding generations. If you're familiar with your Bible, you will know, particularly in the Old Testament, there is a principle about telling your children, and telling your children's children what God has done. Laying down the principles of His word, but also telling of the great acts and miracles of history. That's one of the reasons, particularly in the Old Testament, why the Jews had to celebrate feasts and festivals, that's why there is the principle of not removing the ancient landmark - things that represent significant memorials of what God did, or what God said in the past were to remain, so that succeeding generations would take note. You may have heard of the saying: 'Those who cannot remember the past are in danger of repeating its mistakes'. That's a negative statement, but positively we could also say that those who ignore sacred history are in danger of failing to appreciate what God can do. That is the great encouragement that we get, not when we are stuck in the past, but when we appreciate the past - not only recollecting it, but rehearsing it for the benefit of others - we are stirred up in our faith to consider: 'Here, God can do this again! God is able!'. Yes? So that's why we have verses like Psalm 77: 'I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago'. Psalm 143 verse 5: 'I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all Your works and consider what Your hands have done'.
So let's ask the question tonight: what have times of refreshing looked like in the past? Well, if you look at Acts 3, in the book of Acts this is what times of refreshing, the first ever time of refreshing as it were, looked like. Now, before we consider the specifics of this portion, Acts 3, let me just say that there are two ways of looking at the book of Acts. There are probably more, but there are two general ways: the first is looking at it as unique apostolic history never to be repeated again; the other is to look at Acts as normative Christianity to be continued. Now, you will have received, from whatever church background you've come from, one of those two positions: that this book is mere history, it's only reserved to the apostles, and it shouldn't be happening today; or its normative Christianity, what we ought to expect in our modern age, it is to be continued - it's not the end of the story, it's actually the beginning. Now biblically, the latter view is the only credible one, in my estimation. We could talk and argue about that for long enough, but historically the phenomenon of revival shows us that God is still pouring out His Spirit upon the world as He did at Pentecost. 'This promise is to you, and to your children's children', Peter said this in the Pentecostal sermon on the Day of Pentecost, 'and to all who are afar off'. Now that's not a logistical, geographical 'afar off', but it's a historical, in the future sense, those in the future, from this moment on this promise is to them. 'My Spirit will be poured out upon...', some flesh? 'All flesh'. That's not just all who were alive at the time, because that clearly wasn't fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost or indeed in Acts chapter 8 or Acts chapter 10 or Acts chapter 19, but it is still being fulfilled as God's Holy Spirit is being poured out all over the world.
Now getting to the specifics, if you look at chapter 3 of Acts, Peter is now in his second preach, his second message on the Day of Pentecost, and he's making clear that when God's people repent, when they change their mind about their sins, there would follow times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. J. Edwin Orr was a great scholar of revival, and in his book 'The Second Great Awakening In Britain' he said of this phrase 'times of refreshing', that 'This phrase is one of the best definitions of revival in the Bible'. It's an exact depiction of what happens when true genuine revival takes place: there is refreshment. The church, in whatever age it might be, returns to the glory and the power of Pentecost. The immediate context here in Acts chapter 3 is, apart from the Lord Jesus Himself, and John the Baptist His forerunner coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, apart from those two, no prophet had spoken to the nation of Israel for 400 years. There had been a complete silence. Spiritually, God's people had been at an all-time low - and now, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out, God speaks again, and thousands of people are brought into a new and living relationship with God. That's what times of refreshing look like.
What does it look like historically? Some of you will be familiar with the 1859 revival, yes? You may know how it originated - not entirely, but four young converts, young disciples of Jesus, decide that they are going to seek God and study His word. They go to a little schoolhouse in Kells in County Antrim, and they call upon the Lord, they go every Friday night, and teach a Sunday School as well - but they go every Friday night together with a Bible under one arm and a pile of peat under the other to feed the fire, and they pray, and they pray, and they claim God's promises. They study George Mueller's diary - a man who claimed the word of God by faith in God's promises - and they sought the living God, 1857, 1858. The first number of months they saw very little happen, and then, then, in the year 1859, which is now known as 'the year of grace', 100,000 souls in Ulster came to Christ in one year. Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
What does it look like? Well, whole distilleries closed. The crime rate plummeted by half. Picture the scene: the Diamond in Coleraine, which most of you are familiar with, just where the town hall is, 15,000 people standing listening to open-air Gospel preaching. People falling to their knees and faces, crying out to God: 'What must I do?' in conviction. That's what it looks like. In fact, in Coleraine the Christians got together - isn't that a mysterious phenomenon! - the church united. Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, independent fellowships came together to pray, to seek God. Someone remarked of that, as they united with one heart and one soul after the same thing, this is what was said: 'For the last three weeks it has been one continual Pentecost' - that's exactly what it was, Pentecost. If you look on the Day of Pentecost at what the church was like, they were united: one heart, one mind - that's what happens when the Holy Spirit is poured out, time of refreshing.
We could go on and on talking about 1859 here in Ulster. What else does it look like historically? It looks like what happened in Wales. Have you heard of the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival? Have you heard how it started? Great companies of people gathered, swathes, multitudes of people converted. Most of us know of Evan Roberts who is famed as being the leader of revival there, I'm not sure that that is completely accurate. He was certainly the public face, and sometimes the public faces are not people who pay the price. I'm not saying he didn't, he did pay a price - but do you know how it really started? In 1903 a young girl by the name of Florrie Evans, just converted, surrendered her whole life to Jesus Christ as Lord of all. She was in a young people's meeting, and she stood to your feet, overwhelmed with a sense of appreciation and gratitude to her Lord, and she just spoke these words, this is all she said: 'O how I do love Jesus'. That's all she said! 'O how I do love Jesus', and the whole gathering of young people broke. The Spirit of God spread right throughout that youth fellowship, and then throughout the church, right throughout the town, and eventually through the whole nation and in fact right across the world - because if you look at the history of the trajectory of the Welsh Revival, you will find that a great deal of the outpouring that we are even experiencing today, in a Pentecost sense, came from the 1904-1905 Revival.
One girl. In Kells it was four young men, new converts. One young convert, Florrie Evans - and eventually there is revival in Wales, and indeed spreading over the world, times of refreshing. Probably the most recent revival, most definitely I would say in the British Isles - there are little breakouts here and there, but what we could term as genuine community change in a large degree - was the Hebridean Revival in the 1940s and 1950s. Again, Duncan Campbell is commonly known as the instrument of revival, and he was the man that God used, particularly in the preaching of the word. But what many people don't know is that there is always a praying people that welcome in revival, and God moves people to pray to welcome that sovereign move of grace. The pray-ers behind the Hebridean revival were two praying bedridden sisters, Peggy and Christine Smith. Peggy was blind, Christine was arthritic to the point of not being hardly able to move at all; but they heard how low the ebb of spirituality was right across the Presbytery in the islands. There had been an appeal made by the ministers for people to seek God, and they took it up. They couldn't go out of their home, but bedridden they cried onto God day and night for God to come with times of refreshing. God showed them a vision of Duncan Campbell, they had never seen Duncan Campbell in their lives. God showed them a vision before they ever knew him and, to fast forward a little, Duncan Campbell, the Spirit began to move with him. He was in Bangor, our own Bangor, at the Faith Mission Convention. He was sitting on the platform just about to get up to speak, and he had to interrupt the chairman during one of the hymns to say: 'I can't speak, God is asking me to go to the islands'. Imagine being the chairman of that meeting! The chairman turned round and said: 'You've got to preach, go after you preach!, and he knew the voice of God, and he knew how important immediate obedience was, and he said 'I'm sorry, I've got to go!', and he left, and he didn't preach, and he went to the islands! When he got to the islands, there were those praying people, elders and deacons of the churches there who were waiting for him, who believed that he was going to hear God's voice and come.
The rest is history, and you can read all about it, how God moved in such a miraculous way in the Hebrides. These are times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. What do they do? Be honest now, what does all that reminiscing do for you? I know what it does for me: it stirs in me an appetite for times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, but it also causes me to consider, what would that look like today? We're not looking for God to do an identical thing, because He is the God of the new thing - and, let's face it, something that was sufficient for 1950, 1940, 1904, 1905, 1859, would not be sufficient for today. Evan Roberts, Duncan Campbell, James McQuilkin were not facing LGBT issues and gay marriage, they weren't facing that! They weren't facing the epidemic of pornographic addiction that we have, they weren't facing the drug abuse challenges that are here today, they weren't facing the tragedy of fatherlessness which is across the whole of our people. So what do you think? You can't do it now, because I'm not going to give you time, but why not take some time out before God and say: 'Lord, would You just show me, even in my imagination, what this would look like?'. I mean, what do you think it would look like? What do you think it would look like morally? What do you think it would look like politically in Ireland? What do you think it would look like?
Let's get back to our verse: 'Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord'. There are two things I want to share with you from this verse: there is something implied, and then there is something supplied. Let's look first of all at what is implied. Well, what is implied is the need for refreshing, am I right? I've already said to you that in Acts chapter 3 what you've got is a dead religion, established Judaism is defunct. You remember when Jesus came to the fig tree and found that it only had leaves, it was fruitless; and then He went into the Temple and He upended the money changers' tables - all of that was symbolic. Jesus was saying: 'Look, Judaism is taking up space but bearing no fruit. My Father's house is to be a house of prayer, but He's not in it any more, and I'm going to do a new thing. These old wineskins are not sufficient to hold the new wine'. The prophetic voice is gone, as we've already said.
This very word 'revival' that we use, it suggests that once there was thriving life, but now it's all gone - isn't that what the prefix 're' means? You can put it on other words 're-turn', or 're-gain', or 're-store'. So 're-vival', [Christmas Evans] put it like this: 'Revival is God bending down to the dying embers of a fire that is just about to go out and breathing into it until it bursts again into flame'. There is death and dearth, but God comes and brings life. So something that is implied is the need for refreshing, it is implied that there is a deadness abroad, there is barrenness. The people of God are parched, there is a desert plain, a wilderness environment. Can I just ask you: do you feel like that? Do you? I'll be honest, I feel like that. What do you do when you feel that you're in a wilderness place where it is dry and barren and dead? What do you do? Do you just have to sit around, if this is your church, or if this is your own personal experience, do you just wait on God turning up? Is that what you do? Or is there something that you can do?
Well, I believe there is something that we can do. I believe you can prepare for times of refreshing; not only prepare, but you can actually practically position yourself for times of refreshing. Do you know how that's done? Well, here's one verse for you, the whole verse, Hosea 10:12: 'Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, till He comes and rains righteousness upon you'. It's this little phrase 'break up your fallow ground'. Now folk like you from rural communities will understand what this means, I shouldn't need to explain it too much - but when the ground is dry, the ground has been dried of all moisture, of all sustenance of water, and is starting to crack, and it cannot bear any fruit, nothing can be planted in it or fertilised below it - it has to be broken up, it has to be dug up in order for it to be good soil which can bear much fruit. That's something you can do, that something Charles Finney, the great revivalist, believed strongly in: that you can take your spade, and you can start to dig up the hard places in your life, do a spiritual inventory and ask the Lord 'Search me O God, know my heart, try me; see if there be any wicked way or anxious way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Lord, You show me' - not listening to the accuser, not being too introspective either, but going to God and saying 'God, You show me what I need to deal with: what do I need to break up? Where are the hard areas, the unfruitful areas, the barren places in my life?', and you go there, and you start to dig it all up.
Are you open to God, to listen to His voice in this regard? Breaking up those hard places, maybe they haven't been utilised in years, maybe no fruit in these particular areas for years - but you say: 'Lord, I need times of refreshing, and I'm prepared to go to those places and start digging', that's really what I'm suggesting you do. There is an incredible story, if you want to turn to it 2 Kings chapter 3, it's in the life of the prophet Elisha, 2 Kings chapter 3. What's happening is: Moab is rebelling against Israel, and the armies of Israel and Judah and some other nations unite together against the Moabites. They have been marching around the battleground seven days, and it says there is no more water, no more water left. So they go to the prophet of God, someone who is hearing from God, to say: 'Do we go after the Moabites or not, because there is no water - how can we operate when there is no water to drink?'. Look at what it says in verse 16, the prophet Elisha comes back: 'And he said, 'Thus says the LORD: 'Make this valley full of ditches'. For thus says the LORD: 'You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink'. And this is a simple matter in the sight of the LORD'.
So what is Elisha saying? 'Guys, the rain is coming, but you need to get ready'. If you're thirsty, you need to somehow collect and gather the resource that God is going to pour out, so you need to start digging right now while it is dry, while it is arid, while there is famine - you need to dig now in order that, when the rain comes, you will be able to gather it. That's a word from the Lord right there. I don't know specifically what that means for you tonight, how you need to dig ditches, you need to ask God for what that means for you specifically - but there is something we can do to prepare and position ourselves for times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. We can start breaking up the fallow ground, start addressing practically and spiritually those areas of fruitlessness, those areas of blockage in our lives, those areas where we find we are sterile as far as productiveness for God's kingdom is concerned - but also, digging these ditches and getting ready to be able to receive, so that we have the capacity to hold what God is going to pour out. In a New Testament context that looks like creating new wineskins for new wine, it's a corresponding figure of the same thing.
I'm veering off now, but I have to say that many of our churches are not fit for purpose if the Holy Spirit was to be poured out as He was at Pentecost - we wouldn't be able to cope. Now, I believe God is sovereign in revival - what I mean is: I believe revival is heaven-sent. Isn't that what our text says? 'From the presence of the Lord'. It is not something that is worked up, it is something that is sent down. However, God is the God who answers our prayers, God is the God who responds to our posture. As someone put it so well: 'You can't make the wind blow, but you can set your sails so that you're ready for the moment when the wind does blow'.
So there is something implied in the verse: the need for refreshing. So, if you're in the wilderness - are you? I really am, honestly, I really am! If your church is traversing through desert places, you need to make a choice - and this is it: you need to make the choice not just to dig up the fallow ground, not just to dig up ditches to receive and hold what God is going to pour out; but this is the ultimate choice, this is where all those things will be done, you need to choose to be in the presence of the Lord - because the times of refreshing are from the presence of the Lord. You need to wait in His presence. You need to soak in His presence.
I've just been meditating the last couple of days on Psalm 23. We're so familiar with that Psalm that it really doesn't often impact us as it should, but you know: 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want' - that means He will satisfy you. 'He makes me to lie down in green, luscious pastures, meadows. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul' - you know the rest, cups running over, through the valleys, a table spread before your enemies, goodness and mercy following you all the days of your life; that is refreshing from the presence of the Lord, but it's found in His presence. This is huge, it really is, it's huge - because you could go to your local Christian bookshop, or you could go online, and you could look at all the different paperbacks and all the different programs and resources and curriculums that are set out to tell us how we can know renewal and revival in the church and in our community, but the ultimate bottom line is this: it's found in the presence of the Lord. We're not really that hungry for the presence of the Lord, we want something to do, we want a formula, we want a secret, we want a key - and it doesn't work like that. It doesn't, be assured, I've tried, it doesn't! It can only be found in the presence of the Lord. We need to be people of the Presence, we need to be folk who practice the Presence, we need to be people who covet, and wait, and move in the Presence.
So something is implied: the need for refreshing; but something is supplied, and that obviously is refreshment. There's that prefix again, 're-freshment', something that has been lost, something that is dead being restored. We don't appreciate here in the West the value of water in the Middle East, that's because we live in Ireland and we've got plenty of water - maybe too much. But when you appreciate that wars, in the Old Testament wars almost broke out over wells - read Abraham's story. The reason was that to own a well was a resource of wealth, it's probably a bit like an oil well to us today, or a goldmine, to have a well of water or a water spring. We don't value water as they did because we have it all around us, but also we don't value it as they did because we have never experienced thirst as they did. Imagine being a traveller lost in the desert plains, imagine digging like an animal in the sand for any sign of water; your eyes distended, glaring, and you're rushing frantically towards mirages of water troughs and lakes - none of us really know what that is like, real thirst. Yet that's the biblical image that is used for the way we are meant to be in an insatiable appetite and pursuit of God Psalm 42:1-2: 'As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?'. Psalm 84:2: 'My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God'. Psalm 63 verse 1: 'O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water'. This is divine dehydration, where you are thirsty for God!
Are you? I mean, are you really thirsty for God to that extent? Let me ask you a really incisive diagnostic question, OK? Are you thirsty for God, or are you thirsty for His blessings? You might scratch your head and think: 'Are they not one and the same thing? I mean, when you get God, you get His blessings'. Well, we're not just hair-splitting, it's not semantics, it actually comes to the heart of the matter: are you actually thirsty for the Lord Himself, or only what the Lord can do for you? I have to say that often my desire and sentiment after revival, my reminiscences of revival in a romantic sense have to do with the outflow, the consequence, the knock-on effect of what happens when God comes in revival - but not necessarily is my motivation for God and God alone! I want God to save my relatives, why would we not? I want God to fill our churches, why not? I want the moral decline to stop. But is our primary goal for God Himself? We want times of refreshing, but it's from the presence of the Lord, we get it from God.
This has really been coming to me strongly lately. I read a book by Larry Crabb recently, and he gives a brilliant illustration in it. He has several grandchildren, and he says that in all the years that he's been bringing his grandchildren to go and see Santa Claus - they sit on his knee and they get the photograph - not once has he ever heard any of his grandchildren turn to Santa Claus and say: 'Santa Claus, I was just wondering how you're doing'. It's all: 'Oh, I've been a very good girl, I've been very good boy, and this is what I want for Christmas. Would you make sure I get this for Christmas?'. Do we treat God like Santa Claus? Do we treat God like a veritable slot machine? Listen, if that is our relationship with Him in order to get revival, that's not going to work.
Moses, you know the story in Exodus chapter 33 - wow! What a story! God was so disappointed with His people, Israel. You know how idolatrous they had been. Moses was up getting the law and meeting with God, and he comes down and there is an orgy going on, and they're worshipping a golden calf, attributing the deliverance through the Red Sea to this idol. God has had enough, and do you know what God says? You read it when you get home, God says: 'Moses, these are stiff-necked people. If I come among them, if I dwell among them, I will destroy them. So I'm going to send my angel before you into the Promised Land. I'm not going, but my angel will go before you into the Promised Land. I will honour My promise, but I'm not going with you'. Then He said to Moses: 'In fact, I could start over with you again, I could work with you again - not those people, but I could work with you again' - and what does Moses say? He says this, very famous version: 'Do not let us go up from here if You do not go with us'. Now, can I interpret that for you? What Moses was saying here is: 'I'm not content to have the Promised Land of Canaan with the blessings without Your presence. I'd rather have Your presence without the blessing!'. Wow! He was very unselfish when it came to God starting afresh with him, because he says: 'What will the Egyptians think, if You have promised them a Promised Land, and You got them out of Egypt but You weren't able to get them into the Promised Land'. He even pleaded for the people.
Moses would rather have God without the blessings, than the land without God. Revival is not only something supplied, but it is being satisfied with God. Duncan Campbell, during the Hebridean revival, defined revival - I think this is probably the best definition of revival that there is. He defined it as 'A community saturated by God' - not just the church, but the whole community seeped in God. One of the meetings they came out of, and there wasn't much going on at this stage, they were preaching and he was cold in his preaching he felt, there was an emptiness, there was a deadness in the services. Then they had a special prayer meeting, and there were particular people - not Duncan Campbell, but particular young people who got to their feet and prayed, and touched the Throne of Grace. One particular night they come out of one of the churches, and the whole community had gathered outside the church - and this is how Duncan Campbell described it, he said: 'God was everywhere'. That gives me goosebumps: God was everywhere! Do we want God, or do we want the blessings? Frances Brook wrote that amazing hymn, listen:
'My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace,
Nor even blessing, but Himself, my God;
'Tis His to lead me there - not mine, but His -
At any cost, dear Lord, by any road.
So faith bounds forward to its goal in God,
And love can trust her Lord to lead her there;
Upheld by Him, my soul is following hard
Till God has full fulfilled my deepest prayer'.
'My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace,
Nor even blessing, but Himself, my God'.
We're not decrying the blessings of God, I have encouraged you here to seek earnestly the best gifts - that's biblical, but that's not the priority. A.B. Simpson was a man who rediscovered (if you know anything about him), he rediscovered the truth of healing, the truth of the gifts of the Spirit. He was before his time, a real pioneer in the things of the Spirit - but even he detected within himself a desire for blessings rather than God. He wrote that old hymn:
'Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling,
Now it is His Word;
Once His gift I wanted,
Now, the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing,
Now Himself alone'.
Something is supplied, and it's refreshment - but it comes from the presence of the Lord. I have a book in the house, and it's entitled 'Him or It' - Him or it? It just takes chapter after chapter, expounding the truth of how we can have an 'it' in our Christian lives, whether the 'it' is our denomination, or the 'it' is a man-made theological system, or the 'it' is some kind of sacrament, or practice, or tradition, or whatever it might be, or the 'it' could be a particular gifting or ministry, or whatever, a role - but it's all about Him! For Him, through Him, to Him all things exist! He must have the preeminence, it's all about Him from start to finish! He is Alpha and Omega, He is Beginning, He is the End, and He is Revival.
Do we just want the benefits, or do we yearn for our Beloved? Revival is God's work, as I've said, but there is always something for us to do. Our text says: 'Repent therefore and be converted'. What is repentance? 'Metanoia', a change of mind, essentially that's where it begins, where you change your mind about your sin, you change your mind about yourself. 'And be converted', that's when you let God transform you. When you repent, change your mind, allow God to change your life, you will know times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. I think this verse, Acts 3:19, is a New Testament counterpart to that famous verse on revival, 2 Chronicles 7:14: 'If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and' - what? - 'heal their land'! God is able to heal our land, but you need to change your mind.
How do you need to change your mind? Christians are not good - isn't it ironic that the people who are called to repent are not good at changing their minds? Christians are the most intransigent beasts, at times, in existence - concrete minds, set and fixed - and yet God calls us: 'Change your mind'. I'm telling you this now, as someone who God is trying to change his mind, I'm telling you this: unless we change dramatically as a church, we're not going to be ready, we're not going to be ready. Our mindsets need to be changed, but we need to allow the Lord to change us, we need to be converted! Imagine that! Christians need to get converted, we need to be transformed by the Lord so that we would be prepared for what God is going to do - I would chance to say, what God has already begun to do! The question is: are you prepared? Am I prepared? I'll be honest: I'm not, I'm not. There's not enough change here. I've been with you for three years now, and I have to say: I feel a great shortfall, a great negligence, even toward you, in regards to my position before God, what I've been bringing. This isn't false humility, this is honesty before you tonight: I'm not ready for this! I want to be ready, and me and God are having a chat about it - but I'm not ready for this!
But God is looking for a remnant to be ready, ready for refreshing, ready to dig up the fallow ground, ready to dig up the trenches, the ditches to receive, to hold what He's going to pour out; ready to wait in His presence, ready to be prepared to have Him above and beyond every other blessing, every other accolade or achievement, to have Him. There is a wonderful verse - and this is the last thing I'm going to say - in Psalm 110. I got it when I was sitting over here as well, that night we prayed together a couple of weeks ago. I got Acts 3:19 and I got this one, Psalm 110 verse 3: 'Your people shall be willing', or ready, 'in the day of Your power' - that's what we're talking about. 'Your people will be willing, or ready, in the day of Your power'. Another version puts it: 'Your people will volunteer', or 'Your troops will volunteer'. There is no conscription here, we're volunteering, ready and willing in the day of God's power, in the day of God's glory. The English Standard Version renders it like this: 'Your people will offer themselves freely' - that's what being willing and ready means. Young's Literal Translation translates it: 'Your people will be a free-will gift or offering', that's Old Testament speak. That means there were various tithes and offerings that were requirements in the Old Testament economy, but a free-will offering was something that you didn't have to give but you gave it out of the gratitude of your heart - this is what is being spoken of here. Where you're willing to give yourself, a freewill offering to God, so that you would be ready in the day of His power when He pours out His Spirit.
Romans 12 verse 1 says basically the same thing: 'I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service'. Your expected worship, basic worship is giving yourself as a living sacrifice - and the picture there is the burnt offering, which was a sacrifice that was given and completely consumed; there was nothing for the priest to eat, there was nothing for anybody else, it was all for God. It's living, that means you can give it freely, and you need to keep giving it freely over and over with readiness, to be a volunteer in the day of God's power.
The sun is starting to set tonight, and the Sabbath was always sunset Friday to sunset Saturday - you know that. In the New Testament times, the days changed at sunset. So as this sun begins to set, do you know where we are moving? Do you know where we are moving? We are moving into the Day of Pentecost, but Days of Pentecost in the calendar sense are a bit futile - and I'm not rubbishing the church calendar, I think it's helpful at times - but what I'm saying is: we are living, now, in the Days of Pentecost every day of our lives, but there is a new day coming to our land, I believe. Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Are we ready? Let's pray.
Father, I have given the word, and we are all, when we have done our duty, unprofitable servants. Lord, You know my heart, and if there was a chief of unprofitable servants, I feel that way right now - to bring such a message as this, and yet fall so far short. Forgive me. But, Lord, there is one thing I'm absolutely certain of, and that is my barrenness, that is my thirst for You. It's not what it should be, but I know I'm dying without it, Lord. I pray that You will increase my hunger and thirst after You. It's the love of other things, the appetite for other things that has distracted and choked the seed of the word from growing up and bearing a hundredfold. Lord, I pray tonight: would You see us in our need, see me in my need? We thank You for all Your blessings, we don't underestimate, we're not ungrateful, Lord, for the least of Your mercies we thank You. We're not despising the day of small things, we acknowledge You are on the move, how could we not acknowledge it? We see it with our very eyes, not as we would like, but we can discern that You're doing something - but, Lord, we don't want to miss it. While on others You are calling, do not pass us by. Lord, we need grace. I hear You saying: 'You've all the grace you need', but Lord, for some reason, there are things blocking, there are things tantalising us, there are things way-laying us and distracting us. Lord, help us, grace, more grace, that we might truly be a people, a Jacob generation, a generation of those who seek God and will not let Him go until He blesses us; that we would be a prevailing people that would overcome the spirit of the age, and overcome the lukewarmness of the church, and overcome the wickedness of our flesh. O Lord, make us a remnant, ready to be receptacles for the outpouring of the refreshment from heaven. Oh for the floods on a thirsty land! Oh for a mighty revival! Oh for a sanctified, fearless band, ready to hail its arrival! Lord, would You come to us in our need? Lord, for Ireland we pray, for our nation, and we pray for our government, and we pray for our MLAs, and we pray for our TDs, and we pray for the new incoming Taoiseach - we pray that You will touch his life, and that You will bless him. We pray that You will move in our island, move in our islands. Lord we need You. I repent of seeking after blessings, I repent of seeking after experiences as first, I repent of seeking after what You can do for me. Lord, I repent - in all my relationships - for being in it for what I can get out of it. I repent of being the centre of my little universe. Lord, I pray that Jesus will be the centre of my life, of His church.
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This sermon was delivered at The Stables in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the seventh recording in his 'Hunger For Reality' series, entitled "Times Of Refreshing" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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