Last Sunday we had lunch with a friend, as we are wont to do on occasion. Hardly remarkable, you might say. What was remarkable, though, was the topic and its effect. The sparking point was Frank Bartleman’s book on the Azusa Street revival. It’s hard to eat Japanese food while bouncing up and down with excitement, which is exactly what all of us were doing, as we read and shared what Bartleman had written.
He describes the meetings in Pasadena as totally run by the Lord. Totally, as in completely surrendered. Today, we’re so afraid that someone in a group will dominate by force of personality, or derail a meeting with a tangential need or agenda. We’re afraid that the quiet ones will feel overrun and that the loud ones will feel suppressed. We try to set goals for meetings and then focus on achieving those goals. In order to do all of these things, we impose structure. We call it being orderly.
In short, we try to accomplish the spiritual under the control of the flesh. It’s as if we go to the home of the Holy Spirit in response to His invitation, and then tell Him to please stand aside, we’ll take over, because, really, He just isn’t able to take care of His own meetings in His own house. And what Bartleman described was exactly the opposite. At these early Azusa Street meetings, nobody was in charge, nobody kicked off a meeting or closed it. Nobody was the designated speaker… except the Holy Spirit of course.
Predictably, everyone who valued the flesh and operated in it, was appalled, as they always will be. While critics pontificated, the world changed, and that change is still with us. History recorded many revivals which came and went. Very few, though, left a world which was changed even after that revival died out. The Reformation in 1517 left a landscape that was permanently different after the spiritual fervor subsided. The same is true of Azusa Street, where these “uncontrolled” meetings changed the way church looked forever (well at least in some places). There apparently were several “attempted coups,” when someone attempted to hijack the meetings. All those attempts just ended up with the perps on the floor, confessing their sins and surrendering to the Holy Spirit. What a thought: the Holy Spirit is actually able to control meetings submitted to Him for control.
Why are we so afraid to surrender control of our meetings to the Lord? Just over two years ago four of us discussed that question at great length. We had just started a small group in our church and one weekend the two men were away on a men’s retreat and the Holy Spirit showed up and took over the meeting. All present were blessed in great measure, and we (the two men) asked ourselves if it could possibly be that our attempts to “lead” the meetings might have been inhibiting the Holy Spirit. That was indeed a possibility, we humbly concluded. What stopped us from letting go? As it turned out, the biggest reason was our fear that “nothing would happen.” I mean, what would happen if ten or twenty people showed up expectantly, and then just sat around, all eyes on the leaders, and… nothing happened? Wouldn’t that just be the most embarrassing thing?
So, our loving Father, kind and awesome gentleman that He is, waited till we were gone and therefore couldn’t lead the meeting. Our wives, having no fear of being embarrassed, tossed the meeting wide open to the Lord, and He responded as if by saying, “Well, kids, what took you so long?” That evening they had one of the best meetings ever to that point, so we were told. Since then, we’ve surrendered control to the Lord, and He has honored us with His presence every time we met. We’ve never had the exact same group show up twice, and things haven’t happened the same twice, but every time it was evident that whomever the Lord wanted to minister to would be there for that particular night.
Despite the Lord honoring our surrender, so consistently and over such a long period, we’ve always kind of felt that this modus operandi was unorthodox. Some people who attended had no idea who was even leading the meeting because, well, nobody visible was. In that time, and despite having some strong personalities and urgent needs, we’ve not had a single incident of anyone trying to hijack the meeting or do anything out of order. And we’ve not had a single meeting where nobody was touched by the Lord in one way or another. Remarkable, sure, but still a little odd, because it goes against everything written in books about leading small groups. It works when, according the experts, it shouldn’t.
So, when we read on Sunday about how the Azusa Street revival meetings went the same way, we were excited. (The friend we lunched with is in our small group.) There is a precedent of the Lord honoring total surrender, even in the setting of leading a meeting of His. How cool is that!!
Are we on the brink of revival? I believe we are. Before that happens, though, I believe there are many more prayer hours the Lord is waiting for. How serious are we? How desperate are we?
Desperate enough to surrender control?