Our Greatest Need Today
Interview with Bill McLeod, reprinted with permission from Revival Fellowship News. Pastor Bill McLeod ministers with Canadian Revival Fellowship.
Revival Fellowship News: Bill, what is our greatest need today?
As I see it, the greatest need, both in the church and the world, is conviction of sin – to see sin as God sees it. Not only in the world but in the church, there is a terrible lack of conviction of sin. It is shocking sometimes to talk to people, even born-again believers, who have very little idea of what sin really is. They do not see themselves as being sinners. They think that they have a ticket to heaven and there is no concern for what God has said about this matter in His Word. Perhaps it is partly because people are not reading their Bibles as they once did and it is not being preached from the pulpits as it once was.
RFN: What is the solution to this great need?
It is not an easy solution. Two things are involved. First of all, the church of God has to get back to first causes, that is to prayer, prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who is the One that brings conviction. Historically all of the great revivals of the past have been marked by deep and powerful conviction of sin. In the revival in Saskatoon in the early 1970s, we had instances of people who could not co-ordinate to drive their car home from the meeting because the Holy Spirit had convicted them so deeply of sin. I have seen people tremble from head to foot and just fall on their knees because they were under such deep conviction of sin. The meetings were not emotional, but the Spirit of God was there in great power convicting men of sin. That has been lost, but it came through prayer, particularly through prayer.
The second thing would be, in the churches there has to be more preaching of the law of God. In 1 Timothy 1:8 it says, “The law is good,” but later in the same chapter, verse 11, it says, “The gospel is glorious.” Sometimes we preach the glorious Gospel without preaching the good law which brings conviction of sin. So the Holy Spirit has to have some tracks to run on and He runs on the Word of God. If we preach the law, the Spirit will bless that and help people to see the reality of sin. So those two things I would say are very important.
RFN: Can you give us an example? What is the greatest instance in modern history of this kind of a work of God?
In the 1858 revival, which started in the United States and spread to England, Ireland and Scotland, in many areas one person in ten was converted to God. There was deep, very widespread, powerful conviction of sin which drove men to the cross to seek Christ, to find salvation. In the United States, it seemed to go county by county. You read in the book by J. Edwin Orr called The Event of the Century, which is a record of the 1858 revival, things like this: of revival coming to a certain village of 800 people and 685 were converted to Christ. Or another village with 375 people living there and 360 were converted to Christ. It was just mainly through prayer and of course, the Word of God was being preached person to person and publicly as well. It was marvelous the way the Spirit of God would come into an area and convict people, whole families, whole communities of their sin and people would turn to Christ.
And it was a lasting thing. That awakening lasted for about a year but the results went on for another 40 years. It was kind of a “revival umbrella,” and all kinds of home and foreign missionary and social enterprises were born in those 40 years following the revival. Aptly called “the event of the century,” it began in prayer. All over the United States there were thousands of prayer groups, individuals and groups meeting, praying to God for revival, for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God did that and conviction of sin followed.
RFN: Bill, how does the Bible describe this work of God?
In John 16:8-11 we are told that when the Holy Spirit is come, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness and of judgment, those three things. It is not enough that men be convicted of sin, they have to be convicted also of the necessity of a holy life following their conversion to Christ.
Then, for both sinner and saint, for the non-Christian and the Christian, there has to be a realization that we all have to stand before God some day. There is a judgment to come. Paul said in Romans 14:12, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” The Spirit’s work is to convict us of the fact that there is a judgment coming and now is the time I need to be convicted of my sins.
It is fitting to say that I have committed sins one by one. We need to confess them one by one. We like to think in general terms, and say, “Dear God, I have sinned. Please forgive me.” That does not work. We have to be specific.
A friend of mine made what he called a “death list” when the Spirit convicted him. He had 35 things on that list he had to deal with. He sang in a quartet, and he would not sing until he dealt with these 35 things on the death list, and then God had set him wonderfully free.
The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment. Paul knew this. When he talked with Felix he reasoned with him of temperance and judgment to come and so Felix trembled. He was convicted by the Holy Spirit. He did not receive Christ but he trembled as he thought that he had to stand in judgment before God. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Sin, righteousness and judgment.
Our Major Problem
RFN: Do you think a general spiritual awakening is possible in these last days, even in a decadent, materialistic North America?
Yes, for a number of reasons. I think of Psalm 119:126, “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void Thy law.” The world has made the laws of God void so it is time for God to work.
Then Psalm 102:16 it says, “When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory.” In the New Testament, Zion is the church. Hebrews 12:22 makes that quite clear. So it seems to me that Jesus Christ is going to come back at a time when God is building up the church, which would be a time of revival.
Some base their thought of revival on the early and the latter rains in the land of Israel. The early rain was Pentecost and there will be a latter rain in the last days. They argue that from James 5:7. I have no problem with that either.
I believe God is going to pour out His Spirit on North America. We see it in many parts of the world today. Why should God miss North America if He is touching other parts of the world? We are not the only sinful continent in the world. Some sinful countries – like Russia for example – 70 years of communism and atheism and there are great movings of God in that country today.
I earnestly believe and because of that I pray constantly. There are thousands of people doing this. You meet them all over the country – praying day and night for revival. I believe it is going to come.
I do not believe that Satan can create a condition of society in which God the Holy Spirit cannot work. I do not think it is possible. Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8; Heb. 2:14) and He does that in people’s lives. “He must reign until He puts all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25). Hebrews makes it clear that part of this is His taking the sinner, and turning him from an enemy to a friend. I can see that as part of the work that Jesus Christ is doing today in destroying the works of the devil.
RFN: What part does faith play in this?
I think faith is extremely important. Without faith it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6 reminds us. This would be true if we are praying for revival.
In the early 1800s in the United States there were powerful revivals sweeping many communities. They were so powerful they attracted the attention of British Christians. They asked the Rev. Calvin Colton from the United States to write a book on it. It is called A History of American Revivals in Religion. It was published in 1832. I have a copy in my library.
Colton makes it very clear that this kind of awakening never came to a church that did not believe it would come. It only came to those churches that honestly, earnestly believed that God would send this kind of awakening. It is a point he makes very clear in the book over and over again – the place of faith. You have to believe that God will do it. I think it is a great problem today that Christians are not believing this. They are hoping God will do something but they are not really believing. It is a major problem.
RFN: What do we need to do?
The first thing is to believe God and then to pray in faith that God will do this. This means that I need to take special time – daily if possible – 5 minutes, 15 minutes, half an hour, whenever I can, just to pray for revival. Mention specific people, specific churches, specific countries and areas of the world. I would pray for every country in the world at some time, praying that the revival would come to the Christians and churches in that land.
I have found for myself that it is very helpful to ask God to awaken me every night of the year. He will awaken me, 1:30, 2:30, 3:00, 4:00 o’clock, sometimes even at 12:30. I go to bed at 11:00 and He wakes me at 12:30 to pray for revival. It does not matter to me when it happens, I get up out of bed and I sit on a chair somewhere, and I pray. I rarely pray less than half an hour, sometimes an hour, sometimes an hour and a half. Mainly it’s praying for revival. This is something anybody can do.
I saw a video on the revival at Asbury College in 1970 and that started when six students got together and they covenanted together that they would pray a half hour a day for revival for one month. They did this, and then they met together one night to pray all night. They were praying at the altar apparently. They joined hands in a circle and they covenanted together. They called on God for revival again as a group at 12:00 o’clock at night. Then one of them said, “God has answered. God is coming!” Three days later revival broke. Here is a group of six, praying day and night for revival. They covenanted to pray at least half an hour a day and God answered that. He honored that. So why not today?
I was in one church where the pastor on January 1 got all his people to promise that they would pray 15 minutes a day for revival in the church. I was there three or four months later and he told me that as far as he knew everybody in the church had accepted that. The church had about 250-300 people.
When I was there for meetings, the church was packed Sunday morning, the church was packed Sunday evening, the church was packed Monday night. The church was packed for eight days and there were up to 40 people responding in a single meeting. There was such a deep and powerful sense of conviction. The Spirit of God was there! I attributed it – under the providence of God – to the prayer that was going on. Fifteen minutes a day, everyone was praying for revival.
Praying in faith is extremely important. We have to make time. We have to put ourselves out, and people do not like to do that. “How am I going to wake up in the middle of the night?” they ask. “How am I going to do my work the next day? I will be so played out.”
That is the attitude that people have, but if you get into it and trust God, it does not happen that way. He gives you strength for the next day. I have been urging people everywhere I go to do this, and a few people are picking up on it but not nearly as much as I would like to see.