Preaching for Revival
An interview with Anne Graham Lotz
Preaching Today: How did this ministry of preaching for revival come about in your life?
Anne Graham Lotz: I did a series on revival several years ago at the Cove, the Billy Graham training centre. Before doing the series I was convinced in my own mind that if we are living in the last of the last days of human history, which I believe we are, I didn't think the Bible prophesied that we would have revival. It prophesies that people will gather to themselves teachers who tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear, that there will be a falling away from the truth, an apostasy in the church. So I didn't have a vision for revival.
But in my study of the Scriptures, I came across two passages in particular that I felt could predict a time of refreshing and revival before the Lord comes back. God has put it on my heart from his Word to bring revival — not only to experience it first of all in my life but to bring it about through the teaching of his Word, which he's called me to, and to try to awaken the church in their relationship with God. Many of us have gone to sleep.
What is revival? And when have you seen it?
You can't revive someone who is dead. I'm talking about taking someone who has already placed their faith in Jesus but perhaps has grown complacent, cold, backslidden. Our lives are busy and filled with other things. In America in particular there are many distractions to maintaining a sharp edge of commitment to Christ. All the material prosperity in our country has anesthetized us to our need. We just don't feel the need for Jesus, for prayer, for God's Word as we do when life gets hard.
Revival is an awakening in our relationship with God where we place him first — first in our thoughts, first in our time, first in our activities, first in the way we spend our money. We make him the priority of our lives.
In Wales, Ireland, England, Scotland, and even in America, there's been the history of revival that's usually begun on the part of one person who has started to pray and had a burden for revival. As God puts that on the one person's heart to pray and then begin to share his Word, God sends his Holy Spirit in such an overpowering way that people repent of their sin and return to the Cross of Christ. They are cleansed and filled with the Holy Spirit. It impacts the church. The church comes alive in their love for Christ, in their heart for the gospel, and in their love for a lost world.
The second thing that happens is evangelism on a broad scale. Because of what takes place in the church, people all through a community and region can receive Christ because of the impact they've seen on the church.
The third thing that takes place is an impact on society where crime drops and social issues are righted. People treat their fellow man as God commands.
The fourth thing that happens, interestingly enough, is persecution. People who have placed their faith in Christ become so obvious in society that the devil raises up his people to persecute them.
God has honoured, historically and biblically, several ingredients for sending down revival:
Then it's a Spirit thing. Jesus said in John 3:5-8 that the Spirit of God is like the wind, and you can't control it. You don't know where it's coming from, you don't know where it's going. You know when it passes through. You see the evidence of it, but the Spirit of God is the wind of God. Revival is something God chooses to do. I'm praying with all my heart that he would choose in my time to send down the wind of the Holy Spirit in a fresh way, that the church might be awakened, that the bride might get ready, because I believe we're living at the end of human history.
Are you seeing any signs of what you're describing in America?
It's interesting what signs precede revival. The church is in the worst condition it's ever been — totally apostate, drifted from God's Word. Society is at its most decadent. Revival is not something you build up to. It's when everything is about the worst and most hopeless that you could see. I feel our country, because of prosperity, is blinded to the moral and spiritual bankruptcy that has come. That is evidence we are desperately in need of revival.
I see also within the church, generally speaking, in all denominations, a falling away from God's Word. I see a substitution of entertainment and all sorts of secular and practical means of drawing people into the church. This is a substitution for a real movement of the Spirit of God. Prayer meetings in church are poorly attended, if churches even have them. If they have them, then they dress them up with all sorts of musicals and things to draw people in. People don't just come to pray any more.
I also see the hearts of people hungry for something. We're seeing that in the new spirituality. People are looking for something to fill that spiritual void. The tragedy is they're looking for a God they can make up, one they're comfortable with. They're not turning to the God of Creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They're turning to a God that is a conglomerate of what makes them feel good. The message of the Christian church seems to be silent. We try to accommodate those people and draw them in without clearly presenting the person of Jesus Christ.
So a lot of ingredients are in place for God to send real revival. In our ministry we focus on Jesus. We focus on the Word. We try to keep our focus no matter where we go, what we do. And I find that people respond.
What kind of preaching contributes to revival?
Preaching that's faithful to the Word of God. There's no substitute for biblical exposition. God speaks through his Word. When we give a topical message, we read a text and then we talk about the text, and often what we're saying about the text is not God speaking. Steven Olford told me, " Anne, if you get up and take a text and pull in other things and give illustrations and whatever, " he said, " then that's what Anne Lotz says and nobody cares. But if you take a passage of Scripture and break it down so that you're opening up that passage of Scripture, God speaks and everybody wants to listen. "
So my aim in speaking is to take a passage of Scripture and free God up to say what he wants. When I approach a passage of Scripture, I'm not trying to force into that passage what I think the audience needs to hear. I don't think about my audience and what I think they need. I take a passage of Scripture and ask God to unveil for me what he says in that passage. Then I try to deliver faithfully what I feel he's saying through that passage.
In my mind's eye I see God in heaven having so much he wants to say to his people and to the world, and it's as though we put a muffler over his mouth. We're his spokesmen, and he wants to say something, and we actually have a hand over his mouth because we're saying what we want to say. Maybe what we say is based on truth and there is nothing false about it, but God speaks through his Word. We remove the hand from over his mouth when we take a passage of Scripture and let him speak freely and clearly through his Word.
Secondly, revival comes from preaching bathed in prayer. We can get up and give a clever expositional message with an outline — and it can be cold as ice. A Scripture passage is clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer. I'm talking about prayer and fasting when you prepare the message. I'm talking about having people in your congregation who are committed to pray for you as you prepare the message and when you deliver it.
I have a preaching friend who recently said, " I don't think I've ever heard anybody explain how to pray in preparation for preaching. " How do you do it?
The simple prayer is " Lord, help me. " Then I ask him — before I open my Bible, I want to hear his voice speaking to me personally. When I approach a passage of Scripture, I always approach it personally first, devotionally. I read a passage and take a few verses and ask myself, What does it say? I list the facts. Then, What does it mean? I try to find the spiritual lesson from those facts. And then, What does it mean to me? I take the lessons and put them in the form of a question I would ask myself. Again and again I have heard God speaking to me through a passage of Scripture. As God speaks to me through that passage, my heart is warmed, and my mind is opened.
Then I go back and take that list of facts and break it down into an outline. I come up with an aim, what I think the passage is saying, and I phrase it to cause the audience to do something specific. When they hear me give the message, I want them to take action. It is not an action I've thought of; it's an action that comes from the passage of Scripture. Then I go back and rework my message in keeping with that aim so God can speak his aim through that Scripture.
I pray before I study. I pray during study. Often I can't come up with the outline, and I pray until it unfolds like a flower. Then I go back and pray the sermon through. God, does this make sense? Is this what you want to say? I pepper it with applications, questions I would ask the audience, and I ask God to give me those applications. Then I pray when I finish the sermon, going back through it before I get up to speak. I put it down before God and get on my knees, and I pray it through. I ask God to help me crucify myself, that I would have no awareness of myself, no self-consciousness, no agenda except to give clearly, faithfully the message I believe has come from his Word. Then I just release it to him.
Sometimes in the pulpit he brings to my mind things I hadn't prepared. I'm well prepared at that point, so I don't really talk off the top of my head. But he does bring applications, things to my mind that I hadn't thought of before. I want to be free in him to give what I feel he puts on my heart.
And then when I finish preaching — I learned this from Elijah, actually, when he went up on Mount Carmel. After he prayed and God sent down the fire, he wasn't finished. He went back and got on his face to pray for the rains to come (1 Kings 18:36-44).
And he prayed until the rains fell. Sometimes after I walk off of a platform, I think I'm finished, but I'm not. I have to pray until the rains come. Sometimes the rains come when the people are on their way home. So I've told my prayer team at home not to stop praying when I finish. They pray for a month after I've spoken that the fullness of God's blessing will fall on those who heard that message. After I've spoken, as the message sinks in, as people begin to apply it, that's where the blessing of God falls. We have to pray in preparation; we have to pray in proclamation; then we pray in postscript that God would fully bless what we have faithfully delivered.
Perhaps a pastor has been preaching for revival, but it hasn't come yet. Some of the people are getting a little tired of hearing about this week after week. Of course you're in a different situation, but you've talked to pastors. What sort of advice would you give?
Revival is up to God. The response of the audience is God's responsibility, not ours. You don't have to stay on revival themes. All of Scripture speaks of Jesus, he said in Luke 24:25-27, so you can preach the whole counsel of Scripture and exalt Jesus. John Stott said that a good Bible expositor ought to present Jesus in every message, because Jesus is in every passage of Scripture. You can preach through the whole counsel of Scripture and still be exalting Jesus. You can preach through the whole counsel of Scripture and bathe it in prayer.
We don't have to call people to brokenness; we don't have to call people to repentance. If you preach God's Word faithfully, God will bring people to repentance. God will convict them and bring them to brokenness. At the revivals we're leading I don't preach on revival. I lift up the cross and the resurrection and the throne of Jesus Christ, and then I expect him to bring the conviction and for him to stir people's hearts. If we're preaching the whole counsel of Scripture and taking people through a portion of Scripture, I think we create a hunger for God's Word.