The tangible presence of God is always a feature of any true revival. His Spirit powerfully touches those in attendance, not matter what their age or stature is, at the time and place of His choosing. And when God touches a person, there are bound to be strong responses and sometimes strange behaviors. Falling down was one common response. This also usually came a deep conviction of personal sin. But other behaviors have manifested during revivals.

Other forms of response included shouting or singing spontaneously, or weeping openly and profusely, or boldly exhorting those nearby to turn to Jesus. Other more controversial behaviors involved tremors or twitching in parts of one’s body or sometimes uncontrollable laughter. Needless to say, this bothered a lot of people, especially those who maintained that God had to conform to their strict sense of order and decorum. 

How are we to understand this? For most of these actions, there are precedents in the Bible or in Christian history. In the Bible, we read about prophets, kings, and even Roman soldiers falling down in the presence of angels or the Lord Himself. In Scriptures, we hear about those falling to their knees as they sense their own sin heavily in God’s presence. The Book of Daniel tells about the king whose knees knocked in fear upon seeing a supernatural sign. The Psalms speak of responding to God in fear and trembling. 

And certainly, even the 1st Great Awakening saw its share of listeners falling down. John Wesley and his fellow revivalists watched this happen as they preached in the open fields and presented the good news of the Gospel. Unexpectedly, some of his listeners would simply faint to the ground. He did not expect this. He didn’t encourage it. He didn’t see it as proof of genuine faith. But neither did he oppose it. He reasoned that such out-of-the ordinary behavior most likely had a divine origin. Therefore, he chose not to oppose what God was possibly doing. At the same time, he acknowledged certain manifestations might be of demonic origin. This did not disqualify the revival as a work of God. When God is working overtly in our midst, it tends to make demons very uncomfortable. It stirs them up and they begin to cause distractions. As a rule of thumb, revivals usually are messy. 

But, perhaps the strangest behavior seen in North Carolina and in the other camp meetings was the intense spiritual hunger on display. Prior to the early 1800’s,America was witnessing a time of spiritual apathy and cynicism. The frontiers were often rough and immoral places. It was not an ideal climate for spiritual fire.Yet, people would come to the revivals, even in terrible weather with sweltering heat or sleeting snow. At one gathering in the eastern part of North Carolina, thousands of people streamed to the campground, with over 200 horse-drawn wagons dotting the landscape, having come from 10 or 50 or 100 miles away. They were ready to stay for several days and several nights to hear the Word of God and to encounter Him. Those in attendance often numbered more than the size of an average-sized town in the region. The power fueling revival was not the strategies of man nor group hypnosis nor dramatic preaching. It was – and always will be – the astounding impact of the very presence of God poured out on all the people. 

QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS:

  1. Imagine the IDEAL worship meeting at your church. What are your assumptions of what an ideal church service looks like? Who would be speaking? What kinds of people are in attendance? How are they dressed? What kinds of emotions are on display? What percent do you think would be non-believers? How many do you think might be struggling with demonic oppression? 
  2. Imagine God’s Spirit were to tangibly descend upon your meeting. How might the old people respond? How might young kids behave? How might your pastors respond? How do you think those trapped in a lifestyle of sin or the occult might respond? What behaviors would you be willing to claim as proof that God was NOT really there?
  3. Share your thoughts about this statement:Revivals usually are messy.
  4. Today, what would cause your most unspiritual and cynical non-believing friends to turn from their sin and doubt and be filled with deep spiritual hunger for Jesus?

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