My Personal Experience Of Revival
By Richard Sipley
"When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Psalm 126).
It was as a young teenager that I first became interested in revival. It happened on a Wednesday night, in a church where my father was the pastor. That evening was destined to mark my life.
I was a Christian, raised in a family where we all went to prayer meeting. Our home was right across the street from the church. About five minutes before time to start, I came out the front door of our house and started across the street toward the church. That was when I noticed something very strange. The church parking lot, and every street around the church, was filled with cars. I am sure you will believe me when I say that this was very unusual for prayer meeting night! Full of wonder I went inside. There I received my second surprise. The church was packed! This was obviously no normal prayer meeting crowd. I managed to find a seat at the back, and waited with mounting excitement to see what would happen next.
We sang a few Gospel songs, had a word of prayer, and then my father introduced a man I had never heard of, by the name of Armin Gesswein. My father said that Mr. Gesswein had just returned from the revival in Norway, that he and his family were going to make their home in our community, and that he had agreed to speak at our prayer meeting.
As Mr. Gesswein came forward, there was a deep silence in the church. The air seemed charged with some kind of electric current. He did not go to the pulpit but stood at the front with one foot resting on the first pew. He did not preach, but started talking in a quiet voice. As far as I could tell, this man did not know how to act in church – he was doing everything wrong. I do not remember what he said. I believe he told us about what God had been doing in Norway. All I know is that the impact on that crowd was tremendous, as if God had walked into that room and laid bare the hearts of everyone present!
Soon people throughout the room were weeping and praying. They began going to each other, confessing sin, asking forgiveness and praising God. Two men at the front whom I knew had been bitter enemies stood with their arms around each other. What a night! The place was full of the glory of God! As a teenage boy, I sat and wept in God’s holy presence. That night there was born in me a hunger for revival that has never left.
What was it about that meeting that had such a profound effect on me? I believe it was the unusual sense of God’s presence, and the unusual demonstration of His love, grace and power. I had a tiny glimpse of the glory of God that left me yearning for more. Something is so utterly appealing about God’s manifest presence that it draws the human heart as nothing else in the universe can.
By the time I was eighteen, I was in Bible College. I was twenty-one when I accepted my first position, as pastor of a small church in New Hampshire. While there, I married my lovely friend, Anita Ragland, and changed her name to mine. The years went by quickly, with congregations and responsibilities increasing in size. Throughout those years, we saw God work and manifest His presence and power in many ways. The year of 1968 found us moving to the Brown Street Alliance Church, an old church with a great history and fine reputation, in Akron, Ohio. God blessed the ministry there, the congregation grew, and the church was soon looking for ways to expand. In 1969 the church celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary.
During those twenty-three years of ministry, I had never lost my interest in revival. Indeed, that interest had increased with the years. My library by this time contained many books on the subject. I read them with great hunger. I had often preached about revival, and even fasted and prayed, made restitution, and did what I could to try to bring it about. I made many mistakes, but God knew my desire was real, and He often blessed my efforts in spite of my ignorance.
Nevertheless I knew that what was happening in my ministry was a drop in the bucket by comparison to the need in the world around me. Other ministries, no matter how large or successful, all failed to keep pace with the growing godlessness of the masses. It seemed increasingly clear to me that the only answer to the needs of Western society was a great revival of proportions I had read about from history.
Zeal Fired by Canadian Revival
Then came 1971 – the year of the Canadian Revival! I was senior pastor of a fine church, where conversions were a regular occurrence, missionary giving was high, church growth was pushing us into a building program, and the people loved and supported us. In spite of all that, I still prayed that God would allow me to be part of a true revival which would manifest His presence and demonstrate His power. I had heard about the revival at Asbury College, and wished I had been there. At that time, the news began to filter down into the States of a powerful moving of God in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on the prairies of western Canada. My heart leaped within me! What should I do?
My first reaction was simple. I would fly up there, get in the middle of the revival, and see what God would do. God had other plans. The more I attempted to make plans to go, the more difficult it became. I was blocked at every turn by church and family responsibilities. Then I heard that the seven-week crusade in Saskatoon had ended, and I had to set that plan aside. By this time, however, greatly excited by the thought of revival, I began to pray and preach about it with renewed vigor.
The beginning of that year, the Christian and Missionary Alliance planned an Evangelism Conference for all of the United States and Canada, to be held in Chicago. I had registered and made all necessary plans to go. It was to run from Thursday evening through Saturday noon. I arrived Thursday afternoon, checked into my hotel, had supper, and went to the opening rally without any great enthusiasm. You may wonder at that, but the reason was twofold. First, our church was already engaged in a strong evangelism program with regular conversions. Second, and most important, my heart and mind were so filled with hunger for revival that I could think of little else.
The service began, with about three thousand pastors and church leaders in the congregation. Following normal preliminaries, the chairman announced that two couples from the revival underway in Canada were present to share with us. One of those couples was Reverend and Mrs. Orthner. He was a District Superintendent from the part of Canada where the Canadian Revival had begun.
Mrs. Orthner came to the pulpit first. As soon as I saw her face and heard her voice, my heart leaped within me. I said to myself, "That’s it! That is what I want!" Tears were running down my face. When it was Mr. Orthner’s turn, he said, "For the first time in my life, I can say I really know I am filled with the Holy Spirit!" I looked around me and saw others weeping. Some had their heads bowed, while their bodies shook with deep sobs. Soon the entire auditorium had become a prayer room. Everywhere, people were engaged in prayer, confessions, restitution and reconciliation. God had entered the room, and our hearts were filled with His glory.
Whatever else had been planned for that service never took place. I found myself crying and laughing all together. God began a new work in my life – forever spoiling me for "church as usual." The next day the Evangelism Conference proceeded as planned, but I think all of our hearts were somewhat preoccupied with the glory still shining within.
Revival Flames in Our Church!
I arrived home from the conference on Saturday evening. The next morning I shared with our congregation what had happened at the Thursday evening service, along with some of the things I had heard about the Canadian Revival. I invited people to come forward if their hearts were hungry. I must have brought some of the glory with me, for they responded immediately, filling the altar area and the front of the church. I believe Ralph Sutera is right when he says, "The fame of revival spreads the flame of revival." There was a wonderful time of praying, weeping and confessing, but somehow I knew this was not what I was praying for.
A few weeks later, Rev. Orthner was in the area and agreed to speak in our Sunday morning service. The church was full. Anticipation was running high. Nevertheless, when I gave an invitation, nothing happened. Not a person moved! I dismissed the meeting with a heavy heart, and went home to dinner. We had Mr. Orthner at our home for the noon meal. I poured out my disappointment to him. He just smiled, and said quietly, "Let God be God." I could not have imagined what God had in store for us the following week.
It was Monday evening, and our assistant pastor was in his office counseling a young couple in the church. Mary had many problems, which were reflected in their marriage, and sometimes in bizarre behavior on her part. Late in the session, the pastor asked, "Do you remember a time in your life when you personally invited Jesus Christ to come into your life and be your Savior?" Mary had grown up in an evangelical Christian home, professed to be a Christian, and was involved in Christian ministries in our church. Mary thought for a minute and replied, "No, not really."
As pastor Keith waited for Mary’s answer, the Holy Spirit said to him, "And what about you?" As Keith proceeded to lead Mary to Christ, the Holy Spirit challenged him with every word he said to her. He did not know what to say to God. Keith had grown up in a good Christian home, graduated from Nyack College, spent one year as an assistant pastor in another church, graduated from Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver, and served with us for two years. All this time he sincerely thought of himself as a born-again Christian. For his conversion Keith pointed back to a time when, as a five-year-old, he had attended a Good News Club and responded to an invitation. A large group of children had been prayed with together, but in the white light of the Holy Spirit, Keith knew he had never truly received Christ. He said nothing about this to Mary or her husband, but went home to spend a sleepless night as God dealt with him. About ten o’clock that night, rejoicing in her new-found salvation, Mary phoned me.
Tuesday morning about ten, my secretary said, "Pastor, Keith would like to see you if you have time." I agreed. Keith came into my office, sat down and said, "Pastor, I know this is going to shock you, but I don’t think I’m saved!" I will admit I was a little surprised. But shocked? No. Finally God was beginning to move among us in unusual, supernatural power. Much more was yet to come. We knelt together, and with many tears, my assistant pastor received Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord.
Late Wednesday afternoon, there came a knock on my office door. When I said, "Come in," a woman whom I did not know entered. She sat down and burst into tears. When she finally could control herself, she said that I probably did not remember her, but that I had visited her home about a year ago with a church visitation team, and had presented the Gospel to her and her husband, who was an alcoholic. She confessed that neither of them had been interested at the time. She told me how she had later left her husband, because of his drinking problem, and had gone to live with her parents in West Virginia.
Then she amazed me by saying, "This morning God awakened me at five o’clock and told me to go back to Akron, Ohio, and to come and see you and get saved!" She asked her sixteen-year-old son to drive for her. They had been traveling all day, and had just arrived before she knocked on my office door. I explained the Gospel to her, she prayed to receive Christ, and went on her way rejoicing.
That evening at our midweek prayer service, a young woman suddenly rose to her feet and began to confess her sins. She wept, prayed, and sat down again. God was powerfully at work, I knew, but I was not as certain about how to make room for the Holy Spirit. Keith shared his recent experience with the Youth Group, and three teens gave their hearts to the Lord.
God Entered Our Sanctuary!
By the time the Sunday morning service got started, the church was full and the atmosphere was alive with expectancy. I asked Keith if he would like to share with the congregation what had happened in his life. He was anxious to do so. While he talked, the church was intensely quiet. When he finished, I invited Mary to come and also tell us about her recent conversion. This she gladly did. At this point there had been no preaching. When Mary was through, I said quietly, "Is there anyone else who would like to share?" At that moment it seemed as if God entered our sanctuary!
"But," you say, "God was already there, for God is everywhere." Yes, you are right. But this was different. God is not manifested the same everywhere. That place was full of God! His holiness, His love, His power, and His grace were all around us, flowing through us in a way that cannot be explained.
Immediately a young woman stood up in the congregation weeping, and began to pray, confessing her sins publicly, asking God’s forgiveness, surrendering her life to Him, and finally rejoicing in God’s grace. As she sat down, someone else stood up and began to do exactly the same kind of thing. Then another person followed that one, and another after that, in a seemingly endless stream. Within minutes the entire church was filled with quiet weeping and a soft murmur of prayer.
When a young man came walking swiftly down the center aisle, and fell on his knees at the altar, sobbing, I asked if anyone else would like to come. Immediately, the whole front of the church filled with weeping, praying people. Soon the platform was filled – then the prayer room and the front pews. I did not know what to do, so I did nothing. I stood there, basking in God’s glory, laughing and crying all together. God was completely in control of what was happening.
After about an hour had gone by, someone came to the pulpit where I was standing, and requested permission to share a personal testimony of God’s working with the congregation. I agreed. Quickly a line formed, and the testimonies began. It was a most unusual scene! People were weeping, praying and confessing all over the sanctuary. At the same time, people were standing at the pulpit, sharing with us what God was doing. Yet all was orderly. Finally, close to one-thirty, I interrupted what was happening and dismissed the service. I would not do that today, but then I did not know any better. I suggested we all spend the afternoon in heart-searching and prayer, and come back for the evening service.
In the middle of the afternoon, I received a telephone call from a member of a neighboring church who had heard we had experienced some revival that morning. Would I come to their church that night, the caller asked, and share with them? Their service began one hour before ours, so I agreed. I told them what had happened to us, and gave an invitation. People started to come forward in large numbers, weeping and praying.
I left them at that point, returning to my own church for our evening service. We sang a few songs and had an opening prayer. Then I asked if anyone would like to share. Instantly the morning service continued as if it had never been interrupted. How kind God is to our ignorance! That day saw a number of miracles. One of our godly women said, "I have seen God do more in this one day than in the whole last nine years put together." This revival continued throughout the next two weeks and the following two Sundays with only a slow abatement of its intensity. I am confident that over ninety percent of our congregation met God in some special way during that time.
Saved, Healed, Called into Ministry
One of those was Pat Jarrett. Pat, a young man in our congregation, had a wife and two children, a good job, a new home, and a hot temper. Pat had attended Nyack College in order to play basketball. He lacked twenty hours of graduating. He was deeply involved in athletic activities, and had developed a severe and painful case of arthritis in most of the major joints of his body. Pat had sat in my congregation for four years, taking careful notes of my sermons on 4" x 6" file cards, but Pat was not truly born again. On the Sunday morning that revival came to Brown Street, Pat came hurrying down the side aisle, rushed into the prayer room, and was soundly converted.
The following Sunday morning we had a communion service. In that church we used the entire time for the communion service. The revival was still in full progress, with people meeting God no matter what form of service was used. As we prepared to partake of the broken bread together, I invited those who wished to trust God for the healing of their bodies to stand, and remain standing, while we prayed together. Pat stood. He said later that as I began to pray, it felt like a warm liquid began flowing at the top of his head and went down through his entire body, going out at his feet. God instantly healed every joint and bone in his body. More than twenty-five years have passed, and he has never suffered with that problem since.
Pat was saved and healed, but God was not finished. On the third Sunday morning of the revival, God spoke to Pat again, and he found himself at the altar of the church, struggling with the call of God to professional Christian ministry. As we talked and prayed together, he gave everything to God: wife, family, job and new house. Today Pat Jarrett is an ordained minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Churches Unite for Crusade
Report of what happened at Brown Street Church generated hunger in the hearts of other Christians. The experience of God’s presence and His working in our midst also made the people of our church hungry for more. I shared with the Akron Evangelical Ministers’ Association what God had done among us. Some of these good men of God became interested in the idea of bringing the Sutera Brothers to Akron for a United Crusade. The Brown Street Baptist Church was located about five blocks from our Alliance church. They became leaders with us in planning for a Sutera Crusade. Enthusiasm kept increasing until by the time the crusade was launched, there were sixteen churches cooperating. The Baptist church building and ours were about the same size. The question arose as to where we would hold the meetings. Our church board decided they could be held in the Baptist church building if they wanted them there. When I reported that to the Baptist pastor, he laughed with joy, and replied that his board had just voted that the meetings could be in the Alliance church building. He said, "The revival has already started!" I heartily agreed.
The Suteras give us a date in 1974, but with the understanding that the date would need to be flexible, due to the fact that many of their crusades were being extended beyond the times planned. We agreed to that. We printed handbills, organized prayer meetings, and began to preach and pray to get our people ready for God to visit us. God moved in power in the crusade before ours, and a three-week meeting was extended to five weeks. We threw all our handbills in the trash, and printed some new ones with our hearts full of excitement.
As we approached the time for the meetings, and more churches became involved, we realized that neither of our churches would be large enough for the crowds. We obtained the use of a church building twice the size of ours. Then as the excitement increased, we reserved another back-up church building twice the size of that one. It was good we did – the opening night of the crusade, the church sanctuary was packed to suffocation, with people standing around the back.
What a night that was! Old Dr. Brock, who wrote, "Beyond The Sunset," was the song leader. After a short time of singing, Ralph Sutera introduced two couples from another city who had experienced changed lives in one of their crusades. They gave their testimonies. Then Ralph said, "I believe there are many people here tonight who are ready to meet God now. There is no reason they should have to wait. If you want to meet God, just get up out of your seat and go to the prayer room now." Immediately sixty people went to the prayer room!
I went also to act as a counselor, and was thrilled to see the room full of broken people. Everywhere they were weeping and seeking God. The sense of God’s presence was intense. His glory filled the room. While we prayed with these people, the service continued in the sanctuary.
By the time we were finished, a second invitation had been given, and about fifty more people came for prayer. That first night, there was a great afterglow meeting, led by Henry and Freida Teichrob, who were traveling with the Suteras at that time. We used that building three nights, and then held the rest of the three-week crusade in the larger building.
Those were wonderful days and nights! At that time there was a saying among those working in the prayer room, that "it is like heaven working with the Suteras, because there is no night there." It was true. Many times we finally went to bed in the early hours of the morning. Nevertheless God sustained us. Many blessings followed the crusade. One of the most striking was the increase in giving. Within two weeks after the close of the meetings, both our church and the Brown Street Baptist church registered a forty-percent increase in regular church offerings. There was a new atmosphere at board meetings, due to the fact that every member of our board had been on their knees in the prayer room doing personal business with God.
As the meetings came to a close, I realized that it would be very important for me to do some careful follow-up teaching from the pulpit, so that our congregation would know how to apply their new steps with God in their daily lives. These sermons were eagerly received by our people….
Revival Is the Only Answer!
The revival I had experienced was for the most part limited to the people of God. It had not spilled over into the world in any significant way.... I have become absolutely convinced that the only hope for North America is the true conversion of millions of people at the grass roots of our society. I am further convinced that church ministries as we know them today will not bring this about. I believe in those ministries, and have participated in them most of my life. They are right. They are biblical. They must be continued. But they are not enough! North America must experience a widespread revival like the great revivals of history. Nothing else will suffice. I believe God gave us the church revivals of the last twenty-five years to teach us, and to get us ready for the great revival He now wants to bring!
God began to speak to me about a radical change in my life. He made it clear that it was time for me to stop being a full-time pastor and give myself to His Church at large. As I have traveled, preached and listened, my heart has become increasingly burdened with the conviction that revival is the only answer!
– From Prepare For Revival! by Richard Sipley, pages 11-21. Published by Guardian Books, Belleville, Ontario, Canada. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission.