The Canadian Revival And Concepts Of Revival
By Ralph Sutera
The following is edited from an account given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2006 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A.
This story is shared to the glory of God, and to help Christians believe that God can send revival in our culture and in our time of life. Revival is not something that happened only in the past. The Canadian revival was not something we established. It was something born of God, although God in His sovereignty has seen fit to use human vessels.
My twin brother and I had been in evangelistic ministry for eighteen years, and it was wonderful to see God work in many lives. But there came into our spirits a sense of despair going back to communities where God did a work of saving people and to have to ask, "Where are those people that we prayed with a year ago?" There were some present, but what happened to the rest of them? We understand it to be the place of the evangelist to preach the message, and after he leaves town, the pastor knows what to do with those who gave their hearts to the Lord.
God began to speak to us about several things. First, could it be the church was not prepared to care for new believers? Or could it be that something was missing in the message we were preaching? Could it be both?
What the average person wants to hear about salvation is, "What’s in it for me? Sure, I want to be saved. I don’t want to go to hell. I want my sins to be forgiven so I have a clean conscience. Sure, I want to get saved and get rid of some filthy habits." God began to sharpen the focus of what the message was all about. We began to see that it is not what we get from God, but what He has already given, and now it is our response in making Him strict Lord of our lives. So the Lordship of Christ came to be the focus in our own thinking.
In the early 1970’s we found ourselves in meetings in a Western Canadian city. The pastor said to us, "My part in this crusade will be to pray." He would sit on the platform night after night, very sober and somber, not saying a word, quietly praying the whole time during the meeting.
A week and a half into the meetings he said to the congregation, "Folks, my prayer has been answered. God said to me, ‘All right, my son, now you can sleep and enjoy what I am doing.’" He was like a bird let out of a cage. We began to see God at work. None of us knew that for one year that man had not slept a whole night through. God would wake him up in the middle of the night to pray for revival in his church, the city, the province of British Columbia, and for the country of Canada.
God began to move in such a way that we even saw people saved in the middle of the night. After each nightly meeting, we would have an "afterglow" in people’s homes, where twenty or thirty people would gather, sometimes until two, three or four o’clock in the morning. Revival was starting, and behind that was a pastor who prayed for a solid year.
Revival Comes to Saskatoon
Following those meetings, we went to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Pastor Bill McLeod had invited us two years earlier to come for meetings. He himself had been praying for five years for revival in this church. When we got there, we called that previous pastor in British Columbia to come to Saskatoon. During that first week he met with the pastors of the area, who were having a convention at that time, and he shared what was happening in British Columbia. God used that to ignite an interest and hunger.
We started the meetings in Saskatoon with about 190 people present. Not much happened that first night. The second night God got hold of a lady in the church who had been praying for a revival in Canada. God said to her: "How hypocritical can you be? You are praying for revival in Canada and you can’t even stand your own pastor’s wife." The lady made things right with the pastor’s wife. Then God spoke to her husband. "What about your brother that you have not spoken to for two years?" He and his brother had a spat thirteen years earlier and for two years they had not spoken to each other. They used to sing together; now one was in a different church. One night in the basement of the church, one brother wanted to make things right and the other one said stiffly, "Well, it’s about time you made it right." Bill McLeod tells how the workers prayed and quoted the Scriptures, and saw God break and melt those hearts to the glory of God. Revival was on! And it began to spread.
After ten days the church that held 300 people would not hold the crowd, and we moved to a church that seated about 700 people for the next two nights. The first night there it was packed. The second night we got a phone call from another pastor who said, "Our church board has just voted to open our doors if you are interested in coming." That church would seat about a thousand people. The next night we moved to that church.
Because we had been in that city before, when that pastor heard we were coming to a church of another denomination, he determined he was going to program his church with a variety of speakers so he could keep his people away from our meetings. When he tells the story, he says that he was going through one of the driest periods of his life. He was bringing in other speakers because he had nothing he could give them himself. Now the church board said, "We want to open our church doors and let the Baptists come to our church." That church soon filled with almost a thousand people.
The pastor of this larger church tells what it was like the first night. He waited until everyone else had gone to the altar and then he came from the balcony and he knelt, wanting people to think he was coming to pray with others. But God was dealing with him about his own pride and his own self-sufficiency. As a result of God’s working, he called all the evangelical pastors of the city together one day in the home of one of his parishioners who had a large family room. Thirty or forty pastors were there with their wives. We started at 9 o’clock in the morning, and we had to dismiss about 4:30 in the afternoon to get ready for the evening service.
At the home meeting the pastor confessed to all those invited pastors his loveless attitude toward them. He had the largest church; he had the moneyed and the professional people – he felt he didn’t need the other pastors. He confessed his own need and told how God had broken his heart and dealt with him about his spirit of pride. He asked all his brothers and sisters in the ministry for forgiveness for his self-sufficiency. He later said, "The most devastating thing about revival was to be honest enough with myself to admit that there was only one thing that was causing my cup of joy to spring a leak, and that was sin and my not dealing with it."
There were pastors and wives so discouraged at that meeting in the home. God got hold of their hearts and on and on it went.
The Revival Continues and Spreads
My brother and I were supposed to be off to another crusade. Up to then we could pride ourselves on a five-year schedule: "We’re so booked we can’t come for at least five years." What should we do now? God said to us: "Whose ministry is it? Whose timetable is it? Who is going to do this? Is it yours or is it Mine?" We said, "All right, God, whatever You want to do." We started writing letters: "We are sorry we can’t leave here. God is here and is doing something at a deep level."
We were in Saskatoon for seven and a half weeks. We had to move to a larger building that would seat 1700 people. On Sundays we would have two services. On the closing Sunday, 4000 people filled the large Jubilee auditorium, regardless of the fact that it was in the middle of winter and was also the day of the Grey Cup football game. That game in Canada is like Super Bowl day in the U.S.
We picked up a newspaper one Saturday and on the church page we read that twelve churches canceled their Sunday night services because, "We’re going to join the revival that is taking place." We got phone calls from the newspaper, the television and the radio people. I said to the pastor, "Maybe we ought to have an article in the newspaper about what is happening." We went to the newspaper office one day and asked to see the editor. We said to him, "We want to tell you what is happening in the city. We think it is significant." The editor said, "I’m sorry. You’re too late," and he showed us an article he had already written, and said it was going to be on the front page of the paper.
His article described all kinds of people who were making things right. The department stores said, "What’s going on in the city?" People had stolen things from their counters, and they wanted to make it right. The police department said, "Something’s happening in town, because nighttime crime is at an all-time low. What’s going on?"
A man went in to the officers and said, "I cheated on workmen’s compensation. I said I was hurt on the job so I could get workmen’s compensation, when I was not hurt on the job at all. I’m ready to go to jail; I’m ready to lose my job. Whatever it takes, I want to be fully right with God."
Someone wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada, and said, "Sir, you better have some kind of fund ready for conscience money from Western Canadians who are going to be paying delinquent income taxes because they cheated the government." Restitution turned the eyes of a community onto God. People said, "We’ve never seen a God like this around here before. Something is happening in the best sense of the word."
God Was Sovereignly at Work!
The generation gap never had a chance. There were eighteen-year-olds praying with eighty-eight-year-olds. Some of the teenagers praying together would conclude and hasten to go pray with the adults.
The revival spread throughout Western Canada. The city of Regina was calling us, and we sent two pastors from Saskatoon to conduct the meetings there. When we finished in Saskatoon, we joined the crusade in Regina. As Bill McLeod says in his record of the revival, "Can you think of a revival campaign where those in charge are saying, ‘Brother McLeod, you preach tonight,’ or, ‘Brother _______, you preach’?" It didn’t matter who was preaching. God was sovereignly at work.
The credibility for the revival was unique in that since 1954, Lou and I had been traveling in and out of Canada for meetings. Why is that significant in 1971? In Canada at that time, Americans in ministry were seen by many as professionals, and the Canadians were reticent about Americans ministering there. But God in His sovereignty had given us rapport in one mission after another since 1954. God thus gave us credibility with the Canadian people so that when this happened, it was not just seen as some Americans invading them.
Prayer Ingredients behind Revival
We later learned about two groups of men praying in India. One group had prayed for about five years: "Lord, send revival to Western Canada." There were also two Indian brothers belonging to the Gideons who had prayed: "Lord, lay a city on our hearts in Canada for which we can pray for revival." God gave them the city of Saskatoon. They prayed and prayed. A well-known Christian author who was in Saskatoon during the revival went to a Gideon convention in India one year after this happened in Canada. He was telling the story of what he saw and experienced. The two men came running up to him very excited and asked, "Where did you say that happened?" When he said, "Saskatoon, Saskatchewan," they said, "Praise the Lord! God has answered prayer!"
Among the many definitions of revival is this one: "Revival is when hidden springs spring forth." All the hidden springs of prayer, unknown to the world, spring forth in an abundant flow.
Several years before, we were in the city of Penticton, British Columbia for one week of evangelistic meetings in a single church. It was a wonderful week. God laid us on the heart of an older couple, and for four years that we did not know about, they prayed that God would change our ministry from a straight evangelistic ministry to a ministry to the inner life of the church in revival. After revival happened, we had a conference on a weekend in Regina where we called people who had met the Lord in different cities to come together. This elderly couple in their seventies came across the Canadian Rockies in the middle of winter to attend. My brother on the platform recognized them and said, "You folks from Penticton, come and tell us why you are here and what you think of this." The lady said, "This is nothing but God answering prayer, that’s all," and she told what we had not heard, that for four solid years they had been praying that God would transform our ministry to revival for the local church.
Our evangelist friend was on an airplane and he met a missionary on the plane and said to him, "I love to hear from people who walk with God how God answers their prayers. Can you tell me of a time when you specifically know that God answered your prayer?" The missionary replied, "Yes, I believe I can. I was praying for revival in Canada. I was praying, ‘God, that country needs a real divine touch.’ The next thing I heard was that there were twins up there and a revival broke out. And I said, ‘Praise the Lord! God answered my prayer.’" Revival is "when hidden springs spring forth."
It is significant also that two years before, Duncan Campbell, whose name is associated with the Hebrides revival, stood on the platform in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon, a church then so insignificant that not even fifty people came to hear him, and while he was there, God made it clear to him that revival was going to break out in Canada and it was going to start at this very church. When he left Saskatoon, he went to Winnipeg and he stated that to Bill McLeod’s brother who was in evangelistic work in Winnipeg. His brother never told Bill. Duncan Campbell wrote about it in his autobiography. He lived long enough to hear the fulfillment of what God had done, and then a few months later he passed away.
Bill McLeod, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where the revival began, started praying for revival five years earlier. He then got the church praying for revival. He got the youth group, the Sunday school classes, the ladies’ prayer group, and the deacons all praying for revival. He established a one-half hour prayer meeting after Sunday evening services to pray for revival. The church had a prayer wheel that covered the twenty-four hours of the day praying for revival. He talks about what it was like to lay aside many of his pastoral duties to call on God for revival. Prayer is the thing that makes the difference. Hidden springs spring forth openly.
Revival in the Church Life
God transformed a deacon’s board in Ontario. They said that the first two hours of their previous meetings began with five minutes of prayer and then they fussed and fumed with each other for two or three hours and went home with their stomachs churning. After revival they spent the first two hours in prayer and ministering to each other, making sure each one was right with God and right with each other. They then got up from their knees to spend their last hour settling all kinds of issues and would go home rejoicing. That board went to other churches to tell how God changed the life of a church board.
A district superintendent responsible for more than seventy churches in Saskatchewan and Manitoba said that for two and one half years after revival he was not called out as a district superintendent on one troubleshooting assignment in any church. I said, "You mean to say that for two and one half years after God worked like this, none of your churches had any problems?" He said, "No, I didn’t say that. I as a district superintendent have not been called out on a troubleshooting assignment. Revival taught church leaders how to solve their problems with kneepads on instead of with boxing gloves on." They learned how to pray through their problems.
Other Outcomes of Revival
What about church growth? One district of a denomination in Western Canada a year later reported 119 percent increase in church growth. It was the largest church growth of any of the churches in the whole denomination. Bill McLeod talks about the Baptist churches in the province that would have big budgets and would never meet them. When revival broke out, the budgets were met.
Henry Blackaby who was ministering in Saskatoon at the time will tell you that for ten years all the ministry he talks about in Experiencing God was flavored by revival. He was pastor of a Baptist church in the city, and for ten solid years he saw the direct results of revival. The number of churches he was able to start through his people was the direct result of revival. Just recently one of those churches was involved with us in another series of meetings. In fact, Henry Blackaby himself states that his whole DNA for life was changed by this revival.
What about missions and evangelism flowing out of revival? Revival is proven to send out workers for the field. As a result of the Winnipeg crusade alone, where Bill McLeod and another pastor went while we were elsewhere, it is known of at least thirty people who are in full-time service somewhere in the world. There was a mission station in Africa to which four missionary couples went. None of them knew each other previously, but when they arrived and began working together, they discovered that all four couples were there as a direct result of meeting God in the Canadian revival.
A pastor from Ontario in Eastern Canada wrote in a letter: "In the morning service we had a couple minister to us, and they said they were saved in the revival in Western Canada, and now they are in the ministry, preaching in my church. When we went back to church at night, I had a different couple, and they said, ‘We were saved in the Canadian revival, and here we are now ministering in your church.’ Also, one of the most faithful husbands and his wife in my church were saved in that revival." It is estimated that about 300 people were saved as lay teams traveled and shared their testimonies.
A pastor said that in his youth group of about thirty-five young people in the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, seventy-five percent of them are in the Lord’s work, and it is all a direct result of what happened in revival!
Prayer came into sharp focus in churches. There are churches where prayer ministries tripled as a result of God’s working in revival. Also, lay people went everywhere sharing their testimonies. The power and the excitement of a personal testimony were very real. When we came home from Canada and shared with our church in Ohio, God touched the people in a very powerful way, and our congregation sent teams to over 700 churches in the eastern part of the United States. It was all the result of revival. Some of those men could write a book as to what happened as a result of sharing testimonies of what it was that God did.
Lessons Learned about Revival
When the Spirit of God works in revival, He doesn’t need any help in convicting people. There is a brokenness and an openness. The truths we share in revival are: deal with sins; surrender the rights of self at the cross; be filled with the Holy Spirit; and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Revival is not an emotional experience; it is a truth experience. Truth came into sharp focus.
There are many texts about revival I could share with you. Here is one: "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth" (Psa. 110:3).
Acts 3:19 speaks of "times of refreshing" that come from the presence of the Lord; that is time after time.
A text we use about the real essence of revival is 2 Corinthians 3:17 through 4:7: "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Note that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. What is that liberation? It is beholding in a glass, a mirror, the glory of the Lord. Now we are changed from glory to glory. In the next chapter it tells what the change is:
"Therefore, seeing we have this ministry" – the ministry of being changed from glory to glory – "as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty…" – that is revival! – "not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but, by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid…." Our gospel is the glory of the Lord showing through us. "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ…." If we are not growing from glory to glory, then our gospel is hid. The light is not shining through us. Why does the glory need to be shining through us? So others can see the glorious Gospel of Christ and be converted. This is a wonderful truth, the basis of what happens in revival.
We did nothing to produce revival. We are examples of First Corinthians, chapter one, where it says God chooses the weak things and the things that are not to bring to nought the wisdom of the world, so that if anything good happens, no flesh could glory in His presence (vv. 27-29).
The Essence of Revival
I found a sheet I typed years ago – "The Essence of Revival." I wrote that revival makes the Gospel simple and sensible (apologetics superseded by reality). It makes Christianity practical. Henry Tiechrob said, "Once I dealt with my sin, I could now go to God for other areas of my life." How practical! It makes holy living enviable. People seeing holy living say, "I wish I had that." It makes human relations enjoyable. It makes Jesus Christ communicable. People who never talked to others about Christ could now communicate about Him. It makes Christian experience undeniable. Who can deny the transformation in people’s lives? It makes Christian commitment total. These matters comprise the essence of what it means to walk in God’s power and glory. "Lord, I pray that You will stimulate within our hearts an insatiable desire for genuine revival!"