THE GREATEST MIRACLE OF AZUSA

The Azusa Street Revival that began on April 9, 1906 is considered by most church historians to be the genesis of the modern-day Pentecostal movement. Life magazine and the USA Today have listed the Azusa Street Revival as being one of the top 100 nation impacting events of the 20th century. The Azusa Street Revival unleashed Christianity’s “next wave” growing to over 500 million adherents world-wide.

What happened at Azusa Street during the first three years was to change the course of church, national and world history. Although the mission building measured only 40 by 60 feet, as many as 600 persons jammed inside while hundreds more looked in through the windows. The central attraction was tongues and traditional black worship styles that included shouting and the holy dance. There was no order of service, since “the Holy Ghost was in control.” There were three services a day and many times they ran together for days.

Today the mission that hosted this world changing phenomena is gone and there is a parking lot and a plaque in it’s place. The humble, unassuming man that lead this great revival is hardly known. William J. Seymour was the son of slaves, blind in one eye, self-educated, and a black holiness preacher. However, Sidney Ahlstrom, noted church historian and Yale professor, said, “William J. Seymour was the most influential black leader in American religious history.”

While the revival is most widely known for the ecstatic utterances known as tongues, it’s hallmark was not just the glossolalia, but rather the unity and evangelistic fervor that was birthed from Seymour’s humble leadership and passion for the Mission of God. To Seymour, tongues was not the only miracle of Azusa Street: “Don’t go out of here talking about tongues: talk about Jesus,” he admonished. To Seymour the most significant miracle was that of racial reconciliation. Blacks and whites worked together in harmony under the direction of a black pastor, a miracle in the days of Jim Crow segregation. This led Frank Bartleman to report, “At Azusa Street, the color line was washed away in the Blood.”

At the height of the Azusa Street revival Seymour prophesied,  “We are on the verge of the greatest miracle the world has ever seen.” The miracle he was referring to was for true love and unity to be revealed to the world by the Church. It would be the reconciliation of races, ethnicities, creeds, generations and gender as a sign of the coming Kingdom and the end of this age. Seymour saw the Church as the anti-thesis of the Tower of Babel, where the race of man was scattered, and as a living example of the one-ness that Jesus prayed for all His disciples.

From the first Day of Pentecost to the Azusa Street Revival one of the signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence and empowerment would be an unnatural unity that transcends human culture, language, social station, doctrine, age and sex. While the denominations, fellowships and movements that were birthed out of the Azusa Street Revival were largely segregated and even Seymour’s church dwindled and became a black congregation, the greatest miracle of Azusa was the setting aside the powerful human forces of  bigotry, pride and arrogance to share in the Mission of God, promote the bonds of Christ’s love, and embrace the unity of His Spirit.


What You Pray About Matters

Thesis:

Prayer, like any fire, needs fuel. We all pray for a purpose, often a presenting need about something that concerns us. However, much of what preoccupies us, the content of our praying, is determined by the changing world around us or some sense of spiritual warfare.

I contend that such prayer is inadequate, that it is, in fact, the essence of worldly praying. By that, I mean, it is world-obsessed, about-this-world praying. It is get-out-of-trouble praying. It is the praying of one who fears his house will not stand some storm – and that is faithless prayer. It reveals weak and rootless believers, prone to fear and relapse.

This is stunning language, perhaps, to most people who see prayer primarily, and in some cases, exclusively as spiritual wishing, as petition, as pleas to God for help.

An apostate church, full of cold or lukewarm people, rarely prays at all – not deeply, not with personal transformational in view.  The profile of America Christians by almost every measurement is that their prayer life is abbreviated, a few minutes daily, sporadic, often occurring on the run, and then obsessed with petition. A life of prayer characterized by communion with God is largely undeveloped. By many, perhaps the majority, it is not even attempted. We do microwave praying, not investing the time necessary to marinate in God’s presence. We engage in impatient praying, not waiting before God. We command and declare, decree and pronounce, not repenting and surrendering, not allowing the Holy Spirit to search our inner heart over open Bibles and shape attitudes and ideas into God’s image. It is God’s hand we seek to move, not His face we seek to see. We pray in faith, wanting God to please us, rather than being driven, even in the middle of some life calamity, to exhibit a life-disposition of faith to please Him. This is the higher role of faith (Hebrews 11:6).

The cares of our lives drive our prayers. They do not reflect a depth in prayer that prizes and relishes the value of eternal life, here and now. It is superficial prayer without roots reaching deep into Scripture. It lacks time for meditation in God’s Word and favors claiming one’s favorite verses and promises. We cherry-pick biblical passages, and that is a hermeneutical problem. Our preference for slices of truth, rather than the whole counsel of Scripture, results in an inadequate spiritual foundation insufficient for the storms of life.  Shallow lives are the consequence.

It matters that we do not pray the Scripture for its developmental impact on us. We squeeze its benefits out of it. Scripture praying is the primary means by which God grows us. Prayer, out of Scripture, over Scripture, in the light of the Spirit, enabled and anointed by the Spirit, is the way to most clearly hear from God and experience the power that enables inner change. Again, this is the Spirit and the Word converging in prayer before God’s Mercy Seat – and it is transformational.

Too many believers are hearing God only through their pastor or some teacher and not for themselves. They no longer recognize the voice of God – the same voice of grace that called them to salvation. This is dangerous. It produces weak and spiritually feeble Christians. They relate to the church, more than and sometimes instead of Christ; to the pastor, instead of God, the Father. As Protestants, we have forgotten the cornerstone of the Reformation, the priesthood of all believers, direct access to the Father through the Son, Jesus, and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we have reverted to the pastor as a priest, and to the church, rather than Christ Himself. The church is the bride of Christ, not Christ, and she is needy and sometimes less than healthy – she cannot do what only a relationship with Christ can do. A pastor is important as a teacher and under-shepherd, but pastors are mortal. We need a new reformation – a Christ-reformation.

The primary content of prayer should be Scripture. And when we do pray about the tribulations of the world and the assaults of Satan, such prayer should also be over an open Bible, searching for both wisdom and strength. The goal of prayer should be for the inner man to be strengthened and refined. The end of prayer is Christlikeness. It is “knowing Him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death” (Phil 3:10).

Summary:

  1. The content of our praying should be determined by Scripture.
  2. If all of your praying are prayer requests, content determined by living in a fallen world, it is, in fact, the essence of worldly praying.
  3. If your praying is out of fear, regarding some storm, it is often faithless prayer, rootless prayer.
  4. If your praying is on-the-run crisis praying, it is not adequate to develop a normal spiritual life as described in Scripture.
  5. You cannot set your standards by those of others in a season of apostasy, attending an apostate church, with a pastor who seems to be content with things and people the way they are, not calling for prayer and repentance.
  6. Healthy Christians pray when they don’t have to pray when there is no trouble, for the joy of God’s Presence.
  7. We are called to wait before God, to attend His Presence, to simply worship.
  8. We are to meditate on God’s Word, indeed, considering the whole counsel of God, not merely slices of truth that we prefer.
  9. Prayer is the primary means by which God disciples and develops us – over the Scripture and in the light of the Spirit.
  10. God wants you to know His voice, “My sheep hear My Voice” (John 10:27).
  11. God wants you to exercise your privilege, the priesthood of all believers, not only for yourself but also for others, particularly the lost.
  12. The end of prayer is Christlikeness.

In the ancient fairy tale, “Three Little Pigs,” the mother sent out her young sons to make their way in the world. They realized they needed houses and so they each constructed a shelter to protect them from the cruel and evil world. The first little pig chose to build his house out of cheap and convenient straw. Almost immediately, the integrity of his house was challenged and his life was in danger. His nemesis, the big bad wolf came and blew his house down. He escaped, according to one version, to the home of the second brother.

That brother was a bit more diligent. He had chosen to build his house of wood – sticks. They, too, were convenient and available. But the wolf also challenged the integrity of that house. He blew the house down, and then, the two brothers escaped to the home of the last brother. Each time, the wolf chanted the well-known proverbial phrase,

“Little pig, little pig, let me in,” the wolf intoned.

And each pig responded, “No, no, not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.”

And then the wolf threatened, “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.”

With the first two brothers, he was successful. Their houses collapsed, and their lives almost ended. The third brother chose to build his house, not of straw or sticks, but bricks – of stone. This time, the wolf threatened, but he failed to blow the house down. Failing to overpower the little pig’s house, he resorted to trickery, to deception. He attempted to lure the little pig out of the house of stone, out of his place of security, to meet him first at one location and then another, but the third pig was wise, discerning, and unresponsive to the wolf’s deceptive ploys. The wolf then resolved to gain access to the house and the little pig by descending the chimney. Again, the little pig outsmarted the wolf. He heated-up the fire, and as the wolf descended the chimney, he captured the wolf in a cauldron of boiling water and cooked him and ate him, turning the table on his enemy, making him a victim of his self-authored treachery.[1]

Satan, of course, is the wolf we face. And he is a formidable enemy. He comes, Jesus reminds us, to steal, kill, and destroy. Of what is your house built? What is the content of your prayer life? Is it the tyranny of the urgent, stuff related to this mortal, fleeting world – or the stuff of eternity?

Jesus warned about houses that would not endure storms because they had no foundation. They were inadequately constructed, built for the calm, and not for the storm. Is your house built of the perishable or the imperishable?  With wood, hay, and stubble?  Or with stone, precious stones, gold, and silver?  Is your house of prayer built from convenience, or is it constructed with costly prayer?  Is prayer an investment in eternal matters or a request for a loan from heaven to get out of some trouble?

When the wolf comes, and he is coming, will your house stand? Or will he huff and puff and blow your house down? Is the foundation adequate – is there depth in your prayer life? Or is your prayer life all about the superficial, the perishable, like stubble and sticks? Is it about the obvious, the apparent, but sadly, the eternally inconsequential?

This is no analogy – this is the real test of a life of prayer.

[1] The fable, Three Little Pigs, was a familiar bedtime story in my growing up years. It was first published in The Nursery Rhymes of England dated 1886 and again in English Fairy Tales, compiled by Joseph Jacobs and published on June 19, 1890.