O joy too high for my low style to show!
O bliss fit for a nobler state than me!
* * * * *
Seated at my editorial desk at Decision magazine one day in 1971, I opened a letter from a much-admired friend, Leonard Ravenhill. This man had authored many powerful books including Why Revival Tarries. He was writing from Nassau in the Bahamas, and his letter was dated December 2. Here is what it said:
Dear Woody: When meetings last until after midnight; when couples tear up their divorce papers before a thousand people; when the chief of police says that there is a rash of confessing of crimes; when the shopkeepers say they are staggered by the great number of folk owning up to shoplifting; when lawyers, psychologists, and a Jesuit priest get saved; when deacons and many church members confess with tears and with great shame and brokenness that they have been living in adultery, fornication, thieving, and lying; when men from those meetings in Saskatoon, Canada, fly east to preach at the
Toronto Bible College chapel hour, and the hour lasts until one the next morning, with great humiliation and confessions when all this and loads more happens night after night for several weeks, one might say that there is a touch of REVIVAL.
No star-studded platform, no huge budget, no gimmicks were in evidence. Indeed, the two evangelists had a bagful of modern tricks and they threw them all out and cast themselves upon the blessed Holy Spirit. Result: Right now the Canadian city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is shaking under the power of God. The outbreak is city-wide.
Hop a plane, my brother, and get a "foretaste of glory divine!" This is a prelude to the next great manifestation of God. Hallelujah to the Lamb! Praying for you always,
Earlier I had read something about that Canadian revival in the Saskatoon press. The report said specifically that the large Simpson-Sears store in the city had to open a special account to take care of all the "conscience money" being returned by shoplifters who had been revived at meetings in the local Baptist church. (To Christians who seriously want to know the difference between enthusiastic evangelistic meetings and the direct heavenly touch of the Holy Spirit, I suggest a test of conscience might help such as shoplifting being paid for.)
In response to Len's letter, I decided this might indeed be a story for Decision magazine, and accordingly I telephoned the Saskatoon church. I was told that the "revival" had moved. The American evangelists, Ralph and Lou Sutera, were ministering in Regina, and the Saskatoon pastor, Rev. Wilbert McLeod, was conducting meetings nightly in Elim Chapel, Winnipeg.
I then telephoned Gertrude Adrian, the Billy Graham team's Canadian office manager, and asked her, "Is it true a revival is happening there in Winnipeg?"
Her reply was, "That's funny. I was revived last night."
On Wednesday, December 15, 1971, I flew to Winnipeg, took a room in a hotel, and attended the evening service in Elim Chapel. Hundreds of people, mostly young, had filled the place and were singing some unfamiliar choruses and joyous spiritual songs. The whole evening, except for a brief talk, consisted of warm, enthusiastic singing, praying, some laughter, and many testimonies. I had never seen or heard anything like it. No invitation was ever given, but before the close of the minister's brief message more than a hundred young and old inquirers spontaneously crowded the area in front of the pulpit and clambered around the chancel, seeking something called revival.
Later an "afterglow" took place at a nearby church and nearly everyone in Elim Chapel (except for the inquirers) trooped over in zero degree weather. I joined them and heard more testimonies and requests for prayer. It went on until the wee hours of the morning. The next day I flew back to Minneapolis, awed and troubled, my head full of what I had seen and heard.
The speaker at the Winnipeg service was the Reverend Wilbert McLeod. Formerly a Shantyman preacher on Vancouver Island, he now pastored Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon. The touch of the Holy Spirit had occurred in his church. Preaching that night from the third chapter of Paul's letter to the Colossians, Mr. McLeod said some things that burned into my memory. Among them:
"The Holy Spirit is love. To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with love.
"You can't change anybody, but God can change you.
"The church has been sweeping things under the rug. God is pulling back the rug.
"Revival is nothing but the Holy Spirit pointing His finger right at you.
"If you wish to be filled with the Spirit, you must deal with your problem." (How did he know I had a problem? Some problem!) "Go to your knees and confess it to God in prayer. Agree with God that you have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20)
and tell Him you recognize that your sins are washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Thank God for filling you with the Holy Spirit."
Here were some of the revival testimonies I heard that night: "I feel as if God's steamroller had just run over me" . . . "When God uses a solvent He does a good job" . . . ."This is group therapy with Christ as the focal point" . . . "Any old bush will do as long is it's on fire!" . . . "People who are right with God can help each other" . . . "If you are not ready to deal with your sin, perhaps you had better go home and 'pickle' awhile" . . . "I feel as if a 200-pound bag of flour has been lifted off my back, but on the way to the meeting I prayed for a flat tire so I wouldn't have to go" . . . "Crucifying the self, giving our sin nature to God, is a painful experience but it's the only way to the blessing."
Some of my pastor friends in the Twin Cities knew I had visited the Winnipeg revival, and were curious to learn what I heard and saw. They expressed to me an interest in bringing some of the people involved in it to speak in their churches. A month later two laypeople who had been touched, a bridge engineer and his wife, flew down for a weekend. I made the arrangements, and on Sunday, January 9, Harry and Evelyn Thiessen spoke in four Minnesota churches, often in tears. Their testimony was received with warmth and amazement.
That night after the last service, we arranged an afterglow in the basement of one Minneapolis church, similar to the one I had visited in Winnipeg. Perhaps 25 people stayed for it. It started out as one of those dreadful gatherings a prayer meeting in which no one wants to pray. I felt responsible for the disappointment since I had invited our Canadian friends, and so decided to "prime the pump" by asking for prayer for myself. The Thiessens invited me to kneel at a chair in the middle of the room, and some people gathered around, laid hands on me, and prayed for me. Then I was told to pray.
What I didn't expect was that God would turn on the spigot. Once started, I did what I had never intended to do spilled out my disappointment with life and my bitterness toward people who had contributed to my discontent. The Thiessens then told me to ask God to fill me
with His Holy Spirit. To be candid, since several people had their hands on me, there wasn't much else I could do.
Suddenly things became very intense and earnest for me. "The way of the cross" and "dying to self," for a person who thinks of himself or herself as a Christian, are not just expressions found in a hymnbook. Crucifixion is a holy business, touched by eternity. It means more than coming to the cross, being near the cross, yielding at the cross, laying down burdens at the foot of the cross, bearing the cross, or taking up the cross. Crucifixion that God carries out on us means being nailed to the cross! And since the self cannot and will not slay self, it has to be done by faith. It meant my being led back to Calvary by the Spirit of God. I had to be wiped out spiritually until reckoned by myself as dead by faith.
I felt the fear of God and the terror of the Lord.
Once I was back on my feet, Evelyn Thiessen said to me, "You didn't feel anything, did you?" What could I say? I said nothing. Superficially I felt a bit humiliated and was also annoyed at the behavior of the others present, for it irritated me to think I had to be first. Evelyn smiled. "The feeling will come later," she said, "and how!"
Four or five days after Evelyn Thiessen had uttered those words "And how!" at the afterglow I was sitting quietly in a living room chair at home when I suddenly realized to my astonishment that I had no more animosity toward anyone. It was absolutely incredible. Pascal's famous description of his own experience of rapture came to me: "Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy!"
I asked myself, What had happened? Thinking back, the afterglow meeting on the previous Sunday came to mind. Could it be that! But I had sat through many prayer meetings. Then I realized with a shock Bill McLeod's words, "If you want to be filled with the Spirit . . .! The Spirit of God! He was there! I remembered about the cross, and something evangelist Sam P. Jones once said came to my mind: "The Lord fishes on the bottom." I remembered, too, that when Dr. Will Houghton was
asked how much a certain wealthy gentleman, now deceased, had left behind, Dr. Houghton replied, "He left it all."
I wanted to laugh. Quietly, unmistakably, the Spirit of God had touched me. No sparks. No blue flame. But no longer was I unhappy with myself. Everything I ever resented in life had vanished, like the Cheshire cat in the tree in Alice in Wonderland. All that was left was the smile! The truth was that nothing whatever in my situation or my relationships had changed, but bitterness and anger were now turned to thankfulness, leaving me with a wonderful feeling of peace and joy. I loved everybody.
Sitting there, making the first of many hesitant apologies to my wife for many things, I flipped open my Bible to one of my favorite passages, Nehemiah 8:10: "Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
Two laymen friends had also asked for prayer that Sunday night and had hands laid on them. They too had been revived, and when I telephoned them they enthusiastically echoed my feelings. On the next Sunday evening I had a preaching engagement in Duluth, 160 miles away, and they agreed to accompany me through the snow. What a magnificent journey of joy! We couldn't stop talking! The evening at the church was equally enthusiastic, and people responded; at the end they asked for an "afterglow." A week later we were back.
The Holy Spirit was at work. The dark night was over. The joybells have never stopped ringing. I have seen and taken part in revival "afterglows" in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, California, Texas, Mississippi, Arizona, Alaska well, God knows; I have forgotten, but the blessings go on.
Two things I have learned in the years since retiring and returning home to California for good. One is that the joy of the Lord is such a vast spiritual reality that no human mind can comprehend it. To borrow a phrase of Augustine, it "crams the heavens and the earth to overflowing," and all I have of it is a tiny thimbleful. But what a delight it is!
A second thing I have learned is that joy plays only a part in the Christian life, and not the most important part. The purpose and intent of the Bible is not to bring us joy, but to save our souls and fit us for God, prepare us for eternal life with Him.
In these pages I have tried to be honest and open with you, as the apostles were with their fellows. Now let me say this as humbly and lovingly as I know how: Some of you reading this book really need to be born again. You're in no shape to meet with God, and you know it. Among my Christian readers, some of you would do well to ask, as I did, to be crucified with Christ, in order that the risen Christ might be formed in your hearts.
Unfortunately our environment in the new millennium will be full of traps. You need to be set free from the world just as the whale "J.J." was revived and set free from Sea World in San Diego, and returned to her beloved Pacific Ocean. You need to return to your native habitat the ocean of God's redeeming love. Apart from the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, our struggle against evil is lost before we lift a hand. Tomorrow morning's newscast will tell you about it.
So our quest for joy closes on a modest note. We recognize that the Joy of the Lord follows a secondary course in the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus. Yet we spreaders need it so much every day! Why? Because of what it does for life. Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote some words that, taken out of context, seem to describe elegantly the truth about joy:
. . . ah, my friends,
and oh, my foes,
it sheds a lovely light.
Table of Contents
How about another excellent book from