“Spirit of God, fall afresh on us”: Rev Edmund Chan on the demystification of revival
Rev Edmund Chan // June 22, 2022, 8:20 pm
"Revival is a divine initiative of God and a work of God," said Rev Edmund Chan when he preached at Paya Lebar Methodist Church on June 19, 2022. All photos courtesy of Paya Lebar Methodist Church.
Towards the end of last year, in the early hours of November 3, 2021, I was stirred awake: “Son, pray.”
As I began praying against the schemes of the evil one – deception, discouragement, defilement and division – the Lord brought 1 John 2:15 to my heart: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
So, I prayed against three things: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which included the three cardinal temptations of money, sex and power.
By the time I finished, more than an hour had passed. It was about 5.15am. As I lay down to catch a bit more sleep, the Lord said to me a second time: “Son, pray.”
I knelt before the Lord and said again: “Speak, Lord, Thy servant heareth.”
Not just money, sex and power
For the second time the Lord spoke to me: “The problem is not money, sex and power.”
Money, sex and power are external objects. In fact, money is a blessed stewardship. Sex is a gift from God in the confines of marriage. Power is a place of influence.
What is wrong is within the human soul.
However, what is wrong is within the human soul, where there resides covetousness when it comes to money; lust, when it comes to sex; and pride, when it comes to power.
I asked the Lord: “Lord, what then is the antidote to the poison of covetousness, lust and pride?”
The Lord brought three things to mind:
- Simplicity to counter covetousness
- Purity to counter lust
- Humility to counter pride.
And as I prayed, the Lord formed in me a hunger for these virtues.
The key to victory
When I finished praying, it was about 6 o’clock. I thought I might sleep in for another hour or so. I was about to set my alarm clock when the Lord spoke to me a third time: “Son, pray.”
I was already in bed and thinking to myself: “Can I just lie in bed and pray?”
Immediately, within my spirit I sensed a deep conviction: “In the presence of God, kneel.”
Immediately, within my spirit I sensed a deep conviction: “In the presence of God, kneel.”
And so, I got up and knelt before the Lord a third time, and heard the Lord speak to my heart: “I want to show you the key for victory in spiritual warfare.”
I said: “Lord, what’s the key?”
And the chapter that came to me was Ezekiel 37 – the Old Testament chapter of revival.
Ezekiel 37 is a chapter of prophetic weight. And as I prayed through that chapter, my heart was strangely warmed. I couldn’t sleep anymore. I turned on the lights in the living room, got my Bible, got my journal, and wrote down what the Lord was laying upon my heart.
“Lord God, You know”
The central question that Ezekiel 37 pivots on is: “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3)
Note the question. The question is not, “Can these corpses lives?” but “Can these dry bones live?” The obvious answer is, “No!” The corpses have turned into skeletons, and the skeletons have become exceedingly dry bones. There was no life in them.
The central question that Ezekiel 37 pivots on is: “Son of man, can these bones live?”
There’s a second answer. We could say: “Of course! Sure! We believe by faith dry bones can live.”
Sounds like a good answer. But that was not the prophet’s answer!
The prophet’s answer was not presumptuous, but: “O Lord God, You know.” He was saying: “Lord, if You declare they will live, they will live. If You say they will not live, they will not live. You are sovereign over all!”
And as Ezekiel bowed to the sovereignty of God, God told him three profound things about revival.
Three Dimensions of Revival
1. The PROMISE of revival in the WORK of God
“Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” (Ezekiel 37:5)
We cannot engineer revival. We can only respond in faith to the promise of God.
There are two important verbs in verse 5: “I will” and “you shall”. Revival is a divine initiative of God (“I will”). We cannot engineer revival. We can only respond in faith to the promise of God (“you shall”).
Recently, this year, I was praying to the Lord again for revival when He reminded me of what it looks like in application: “You draw an imaginary circle, and you step into the circle, and pray: ‘Lord, revive EVERYTHING within this circle.’ ”
In other words, “Start the revival with me, O God.”
So, revival doesn’t start with praying for the church, the nation, or the world to be revived. It starts with us! It starts with a spiritual hunger, a spiritual thirst, a heart on fire for God.
2. The PROSPECT of revival in the WAY of God
God has a certain way of doing things. And we have to re-learn not merely to serve God, but to serve God on His terms!
So, how is it possible for the church to be revived?
We cannot say, “I don’t know” – for God has revealed His way of revival in a single word: “Prophesy.” (Ezekiel 37:4, 9)
“Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:4)
And then he says: “Prophesy to the breath.” (Ezekiel 37:9)
But wait. When Ezekiel obeyed and first prophesied to the bones, there were two surprises.
The defining mark of the church is not size. It is the spirit of the living God falling on them!
The first surprise: the dry bones came together! Ezekiel 37:7-8a states: “And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them.”
The second surprise: “But there was no breath in them.” (Ezekiel 37:8b)
I see this in the Church. And it is my pastoral concern. The defining mark of the church is not size. It is the spirit of the living God falling on them!
It is not difficult to gather the multitudes together to have a worship festival or large meetings. But what’s the point, if there is no breath in them?
The power is in the Word and the Spirit! The preaching and the praying!
I believe that Spurgeon was right in claiming that “prophesy to the bones” is preaching the Word; and “prophesy to the breath” is praying for the Spirit of the Lord to fall afresh upon us.
Whatever we do, the preaching of God’s Word and the united prayer of God’s people must be kept central.
Preaching and praying are the two cardinal apostolic mandates. In the New Testament, the apostles say they will give themselves to two essential priorities: to the preaching of God’s Word and to prayer.
The Church must recapture the way of God.
God did not say that the key to revival is to hold more conferences, organise more activities, or have more things to do. These do not produce revival until they correspond to His central priorities – that whatever we do, the preaching of God’s Word and the united prayer of God’s people must be kept central.
And when Ezekiel aligned to the way of God, there arose an exceedingly great army!
3. The PURPOSE of revival in the WILL of God
Very often we truncate the message of Ezekiel 37. We stop at “there arose an exceedingly great army” – end of story.
But that’s not the landing point of Ezekiel 37. Something else is missing. There’s something more!
For when the exceedingly great army of the Lord arose, then the Lord said: “Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and the people of Israel associated with him; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ And join them one to another into one stick … and make them one stick, that they may be one in My hand.” (Ezekiel 37:15-17, 19)
“Take two sticks and join them in one. Let them not be divided” – no divided identities, no divided loyalties, no divided interests, no divided agenda; let them become one in the purpose unto the hand of God. Let them be united.
True revival has a unifying effect!
But wait. United for what?
We are revived so that we can be missional unto the nations! That’s the will of God.
It is this “for what?” question that the church must answer. It is not for ourselves. Rather, we are revived so that we can be missional unto the nations! That’s the will of God.
Thus, revival is not an end. It is a means.
Otherwise, it’s truncated only to be a consumeristic form of spiritual ecstasy and attainment, rather than a commission to the nations!
Ezekiel 37 climaxes with this missional focus: “Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel.” (Ezekiel 37:28)
God has a global vision – and nothing less than a global vision is worthy of a global God. He has a redemptive purpose for all mankind, for all the nations, and we the Church are His redemptive agent.
In order for that to happen, the two sticks must come together as one – a united, redemptive, missional force unto the nations!
“Do It Again, Lord – through Me”
About 80 years ago, in the year 1940, Prof Edwin Orr took a group of Wheaton students to England, to visit some of the religious sites of significance. They came to the house of John Wesley in Lincolnshire.
The professor brought them to Wesley’s kitchen where he took his meals, then went to Wesley’s study. Some of Wesley’s books were still there. Then they went up to the second floor, where Wesley’s bedroom was. It was a small room, with a single bed.
One of the students noticed two indentations on the floor. Prof Orr said: “Oh! These two indentations are the knees of John Wesley when he knelt down – not for minutes, but for hours upon hours, day by day, crying to God for revival.”
“Lord, do it again. Do it again, Lord. Do it again – through me.”
No wonder the revival fire came in the Wesleyan revival!
The professor finished the tour and brought the students back to the bus. As he counted them, one was missing. He got off the bus, went back to Wesley’s home, looked in the kitchen, looked in the study – the student wasn’t there.
He went up to the second floor to the bedroom and saw his student kneeling by the bed where John Wesley had prayed. As the professor went closer, he heard the student’s prayer: “Lord, do it again. Do it again, Lord. Do it again – through me.”
The professor touched the student: “Son, it’s time to go.”
And rising from his knees, young Billy Graham got up to join the rest of the students in the bus.
And the Lord did it again!
Unto the nations
Today, God is looking for his Church to rise up and cry for revival for the nations. For God so loved the world (John 3:16) – and He sent His Son for the redemption of the nations!
My brothers and sisters, God wants to use each one of us for His redemptive purpose. God wants to revive the Church for the nations. May we not live as Christians meandering through the corridors of faith, nor as the Christians who miss God’s agenda and become misguided in purpose. Rather, let us be Christians who are missional in the redemptive purposes of God.
May our prayer be: “Lord, would you do it again? Would you do it again through me?”
This is an edited transcript of Rev Edmund Chan’s sermon “Revive Us Again, Lord”, preached on June 19, 2022 at Paya Lebar Methodist Church, closing the church’s conference entitled, “Tapestry. Generations Unbroken.” at which he was the keynote speaker.
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