My Encounters with Revival: Preparing for the Glory
Beni and I attended the 20-year anniversary of the Toronto Outpouring. It was a gathering of many of our heroes of the faith who are alive today, plus thousands of people I had never met before. They were there to give honor to God for all He had done and bring their deepest cry to God for the “more” that He has promised. If there’s anything this movement is known for, it is hunger for more.
Each person at the event had a different story. "The Father’s Blessing," as it became affectionately called, had impacted us all in different ways. Countless marriages were healed. People came sick and diseased and left healed. Skeptics came to mock and left with the unquestionable realization that God was real and He was good. And now they knew why they were alive. Many lost people also attended and came to faith in Christ.
This outpouring seemed to have a special effect on pastors who had come as a last stop before quitting the ministry altogether. Numerous leaders left refreshed, and in many ways “retooled” for the days directly ahead of them. It has been a most wonderful thing to observe that in that manifested presence of God’s glory, any need could be met.
My story was a bit different. I wasn’t a burnt-out pastor, nor was I wanting to quit. It was quite the opposite. I came to Toronto in a very good place. But it was also true that I lived with an awareness of more, and would pay any price to get it. It had been reported to me that God was doing great things there, so I went.
My hunger for all that God was doing was in part the result of reading of past revivals, knowing I was born for such a thing. It was also a product of the environment I was raised in. Great outpourings of the Spirit were part of our family’s history. Some of my family members were involved in the Azusa Street revival of the early 1900s, while others were part of the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson and/or Smith Wigglesworth. And still others were involved in other moves of God that were not as well known.
My grandfather loved to talk to me about what he had seen happen in his lifetime. He experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1901, and my grandmother in 1903. That experience created quite a stir in the church of his day. He was also one who sat under Smith Wigglesworth’s ministry. In fact, my aunt and others received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in his meetings.
But my grandfather also told me that not everyone liked Smith Wigglesworth. His extreme faith made people nervous. Of course, we love him today, because he’s dead. Israel also loved all their dead prophets too, after their controversy wore off. It’s the leaders who are alive who often lead us into unfamiliar territory, that we have the most trouble with. Realizing that helps me to deal with the opposition we receive today, often from well-meaning believers.
There were many things happening in the Toronto meetings I had not seen before, but they were consistent with the stories passed down from our family. It was different, and it required that I make some adjustments to my thinking. But hunger makes change easy. In the same way that a truly starving person doesn’t send the meat back to the chef because the he wanted it medium, not medium rare, so the hunger for more of God at any cost makes gratefulness the driving response to anything He does.
My first trip to Toronto was in February 1995. The revival had been underway for 13 months by that time, and they had learned a bit about stewarding a move of God. It was fascinating to watch, as they carefully navigated the journey of doing what the Father was doing without falling into the trap of trying to control the Holy Spirit out of a fear of what people might think. If there was ever a group that did that well, it was John and Carol and their team of leaders. I was stunned and still am to this day. I don’t know anyone who navigates that challenge better.
On my way to Toronto I prayed a simple prayer, “God, if You will touch me again, I’ll never change the subject.” I had attended two John Wimber conferences in 1987 that had great impact on my life. Breakthroughs in the miraculous started to manifest immediately. Many of those outbreaks of God I had never seen before. While I loved what God was doing, I didn’t know how to sustain what God had given me. It wasn’t a fear of man, nor was it an unwillingness to “bend with God.” I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know that it was God who lit the fire on the altar—but it was the priests who kept it burning.
This time I asked God to touch me again, and I’d do whatever needed to be done to keep it burning. Never changing the subject for me meant I wouldn’t add what He was doing to what we were doing. I would make His outpouring the only thing I would give myself to.
While I didn’t have any dramatic experiences that week in Toronto like the things I watched happen to many others around me, I was profoundly impacted. As a result, I committed myself completely to this movement.
Upon returning home, this wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit came to us as well. We would never be the same.
It’s Time for Offense
Moves of God always contain something different and something offensive. It seems to be the way He moves. This time the laughter (joy) as well as the focus on getting blessed were highly criticized in much the same way that tongues were criticized in the early 1900s. Saying yes to this journey helped me to discover that joy was to salvation what tears were to repentance. Suddenly the offensive became rather logical.
I, along with my dad, brother, and brother-in-law, visited my grandmother in a nursing home in the Midwest. She was 97. She wanted to know what God was doing among us, so I told her. She listened with great excitement as she loved the moves of God with all her heart. When I mentioned the joy part of the equation, she got a stern look on her face, looked me in the eye and said, “You know that’s from God, don’t you?” I laughed and told her yes. She was relieved. She wanted to make sure I didn’t reject it just because it caused offense.
Twenty Years in Review
During the 20-year anniversary celebration, we were able to see more clearly what had happened over the previous 20 years. The reports came in by the droves. It was astounding. Tens of thousands of churches had been planted. Millions and millions of people have come to Christ. Many missionaries have been released into the darkest parts of the world. Signs and wonders have become more normal, as God’s people have become better equipped to display this gospel with the power needed for a miracle. The very things that were criticisms of this revival were used to bring forth its most pronounced fruit. Only God could bring about the conversion of millions of souls by giving broken people joy. Only God could have spiritual leaders finally receive for themselves without shame. It was beautiful to see the Lord then turn their blessing around and make them a blessing, using them in miracles, signs, and wonders. This is truly the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful.
It was only after my first two visits to Toronto that Beni and I became friends with John and Carol and their wonderful team. They have been to Redding many times, and in turn it has been my privilege to speak at a number of their conferences. I don’t think I’ve ever missed the chance to express my somewhat humorous thanks for the chance to be back on the “mother ship” before I brought the message. Because of the privilege of being one of the speakers, I’ve had the thrill of sitting next to John and Carol on the front row during countless meetings. I’ve never left those times without the intense desire to be more like the Jesus I see in them as they celebrate every little thing that He does among them. It remains a mystery to me how anyone who has seen as much as those two have, can maintain such a childlike approach to all that God is doing among them. Their gratefulness is contagious.
My experience on the front row with John and Carol goes something like this: Someone will be brought to the stage to give a testimony of what God has done for them. Carol will lean over to John and say, “Isn’t that wonderful, John?” And he’ll respond, “It is Carol, it is.” And it truly is. But here’s the backstory. What they just heard in that testimony is something they’ve heard hundreds of times before, literally. And yet the simple thanks and celebration for anything that God is doing remains genuine, childlike, and constant. I sit there stunned every single time.
I now anticipate the opportunity to have my world rocked again by being with them. It appears to me that perhaps the heart of a child, that they have so masterfully maintained, is the reason God has entrusted them with so much. They truly steward a move of God unlike anyone I know or anyone I’ve ever read about in church history. Should the Lord not return for another 30 years or so, I believe that what we’ve witnessed in Toronto, and now all over the world, will go down in history as the greatest move of God to date. I say that without hesitation as it pertains to the past. But I say it with reservation as it pertains to our immediate future. For it is the conviction of us all that we are on the edge of what will be the greatest revival in all of history. In fact, I sincerely believe that this next outpouring of the Spirit will contain all the elements of every true move of God of the past, combined into one explosive outpouring for the harvest of souls and nations.
Preparing for the Glory!
Our 20-year celebration was for this purpose: we gave thanks for the past while pressing ahead into all that God has promised, for this is to be the greatest hour in history. Preparing for the Glory was written entirely for this reason—to launch us into a fresh hunger and passion for all that God has promised. And I believe that God will use the book to ignite the hearts of countless numbers of believers to hunger once again, with a willingness to pay any price, and that God would once again surpass all we could ask or think, all to His glory.
- Bill Johnson