I would like to share with you the secret of revival. Maybe you or your family is in need of revival. Maybe you are praying for revival in your church. Many of us are praying for revival in our nation's churches. What is the secret? The secret can be summed up in one phrase taken from the title of a chapter in a book on personal revival: "The way up is the way down" (Stanley Voke, Personal Revival, pp. 5-7).
That is the paradox of the kingdom of God. Lose your life and you will find it. Humble yourself and you will be exalted. Be broken in heart and you will be healed. Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:24-25).
The mystery of the kingdom of God is that out of death comes lifeeternal life. The world views this mystery as foolishness. Should we not take the offensive? Should we not assert ourselves? If we adopt Jesus' program, won't we become the world's doormatsasking others to walk all over us? So the world argues, but the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man (1 Cor. 1:25). If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will discover the truth of what Jesus says for our own lives.
My colleague Gary Friesen and I were able to witness the reality of this truth in a dramatic way. A large church in the East had come to the point of splitting. Factions and divisions had formed within the church, rousing a sense of strife that permeated the entire church community. Some members had left the church, abandoning ship. The pastor was pitted against the church leaders, the leaders against one another and the congregation, and members of the congregation against the pastor.
These conflicts had been building for almost two years, and they finally erupted in full force at a congregational meeting. Words were spoken that never should have been expressed. When the pastor was slandered publicly, some in the congregation applauded in agreement while others murmured threats. Seeing the danger ahead, the leaders called the Institute for Christian Conciliation and asked for help in restoring peace. This step offered a new ray of hope. The leaders realized they did not know how to resolve the problem: they were stumped. But they were seeking help.
The first on-site visit was largely devoted to listening and teaching. We had to hear exactly what was happening. Moreover, we had to lay a biblical foundation for the way conflicts are to be resolved. In our teaching, we stressed that what God required was a change of heart. James 4:1-2 asks, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight."
This truth is not as obvious as you might think. Too often when we are in conflict with another person, we think that the catalyst that causes the conflict is a specific issue. But the specific issues may be only the occasion or excuse for conflict. It is through our hearts that conflicts precipitate into fights and quarrels. So it was with this church: each person's desire had escalated to the level of a demand. It was our job to present that truth, but it was God's job to reveal it to each individual person. And he did.
When we returned three months later, we found that God had indeed begun to work in a number of hearts. The aim for our second visit was to prepare for a reconciliation service on Sunday night. We encouraged the church leaders to publicly confess their sins before the pastor, his wife, and the entire congregation. We also worked to provide an opportunity for the pastor and his wife, as well as the congregation, to grant forgiveness, confess their own sins, and affirm one another in Christ.
God used an earlier event to influence the people. A few years ago, another church of the same denomination and size in the same general area had experienced significant conflict. Once a vibrant church of several hundred members, it had lost half of its membership. Those who remained were unable to pay the support pledged to the church's missionaries, and several hundred others scattered like lost sheep looking for another church home. They saw how the name of Christ was scorned in the community: "See how those Christians devour one another!" (cf. Gal. 5:15).
The split of this other church was providential. God used it as a mirror to show the church to which we were ministering what could happen if they did not make peace. On a number of occasions, Gary and I let the people know how perilously close they were to repeating the sin of their sister church. A number of people told us later that they had been praying for revival. Little did they know how God would bring it. Saturday night, the night before the "big day," the church looked like it would split at any moment.
Gary and I had many meetings Friday evening and all day Saturday, speaking with various groups within the church. On Saturday night, we met with the congregation and found that they were not of one mind. There was conflict over the real cause of their problems: was it this issue or that issue, or was it each person's heart? Gary was aiming toward each heart, and the people resisted it. Again and again they tried to lay blame on something other than their own selfish, demanding hearts. But Gary was bold and persisted in presenting the truth. I even had a few moments of doubt about whether or not we had missed something in our assessment of their problems. The human heart is impossible to see, let alone understand. According to Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" While one could interpret that verse as God's counsel to us not to delve into matters of the heart, that is not what Jeremiah is saying. Rather, he is exposing the real issue that each of us must addressour own sinful hearts.
Gary and I pressed on with the people that night. I was praying, "God, show them their heartshearts that are full of uncharitable judgments, suspicions, anger, and bitterness." Though we prayed, we could not see any softening. We went away discouraged that night. How could a reconciliation service take place after a display like that?
On Sunday I preached on John 17:20-23. This passage is one of my favorites, because it records for us Jesus' prayer on the night he was betrayed. Jesus really allows us to see the desire his heartfor us to be one and to love one another as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. I preached earnestly, out of my deep desire that they see the truth.
More meetings followed that afternoon. Even the leaders did not appear to be making the kind of progress we thought was needed. Only three leaders said they would make individual confession. That was a good start, but there were twenty-two others. I was asking, "God, can you turn the heart of this people and grant them a broken and contrite heart?" We would have to wait until 6:30 p.m. to see.
The evening reconciliation service came. Here it was. What would it look like? We knew there were a few people who planned to confess that night. Would their confessions be made sincerely, or would they be offered just for show? How would the congregation respond? What would the pastor and his wife say in response?
We began the service with a few songs, and then I gave a brief talk, establishing a framework for how the service was to be conducted. The entire leadership body, twenty-three people, then walked up and faced the congregation. One of the leaders was the first to step to the mike. He began to read aloud the corporate confession of sin that the leaders had put together. Then he took his eyes off his notes and looked straight at the pastor and his wife and said, "We have sinned against you and caused you great pain." You could tell by the tears in his eyes and the quiver in his voice that he was speaking from his heart.
Then another leader stepped up, confessed his sins, and asked for forgiveness from the pastor and the congregation. And then another leader. And soon more came. We had expected two or three, but at least seven or eight came forward.
We did not hear confessions weakened by the words if, but, or maybe. Instead, we heard each admit specific sins. You might think this would be a sure way for someone in a position of leadership to lose the respect of others. But in my eyes, and in the congregation's eyes, these men grew in stature. It is truehumble yourself and God will exalt you (1 Pet. 5:6).
After the leaders had made their confession, it was the pastor and his wife who next stepped up and addressed us all. Up to this point, we did not know what to expect. In fact, the pastor's wife had told us that if the service had been a week earlier, she would not even have attended. But she was a different woman that night. She shared how she had been hurtsomething the congregation needed to hear. Then she began to admit her own sins. She looked at each of the leaders and confessed, "I've murdered each of you men in my heart. I was so wrong. Please forgive me." How free she looked after that. Her bitterness had been taken away.
Then her husband, the pastor, spoke. He too granted the leaders forgiveness. He also began to confess his own sins. Though he had the opportunity to lecture the leaders and the congregation, he instead focused on his own pride and ambition. It really humbled me as he shared sins of which I too have been guilty.
Finally, the members of the congregation had the opportunity to speak. It began slowly. First one here and another there repented of sin, divisiveness, and hardness of heart. Then it seemed everyone grappled for a chance to approach the mike. One confession led to another. Everyone was pointing at himself or herself. Each one became his own chief accuser. As the confessions continued, it was evident that the Holy Spirit was stirring their hearts.
Eight o'clock came, and a gentle quietness fell upon us all. I closed the meeting with prayer, but still felt awkward. It seemed that God desired for something more to happen, and it did.
As I dismissed the people, I could tell they yearned for more. I suggested that those who wanted to stay could just turn around and greet each other. They did. In fact, they huggedthey hugged and wept and confessed and forgave each other for so long that Gary and I finally made a quiet exit. We knew these people were in good handsGod's hands.
I wish that everyone could have seen what Gary and I were privileged to witness: revival! It began when individuals humbled themselves, confessed their sins, and rose to love each other anew. That is actually the only way God brings revival. The way up is the way down.
I myself was humbled that night. I saw the pride in my own heart. I saw the great grace of God, who saved, and saves, and shall save a wretch like me. I thanked the Lord for how often others have overlooked my sin, and, when necessary, confronted me in order to restore me.
God is not through with any of us yet. There are great things he has for all of us. And now I know how he will bring themby leading us down so that then he may lift us up.
Mr. Poirier is the pastor of Rocky Mountain Community Church (OPC) in Billings, Mont. Mr. Poirier and Mr. Friesen are on the staff of the Institute for Christian Conciliation. Reprinted (with slight editing) from Connections (September 1996) by permission of the Institute for Christian Conciliation, a division of Peacemaker Ministries. To learn more about biblical peacemaking, contact Peacemaker Ministries at 1537 Avenue D, Suite 352, Billings, MT 59102. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 1997.