The Rev. Dr Brian Edgar was a lecturer in Theology at the Bible College of Victoria. He describes a unique time of renewal at the college in September, 1993.
The Holy Spirit may at times break down existing patterns of prayer and worship in order to renew his people.
Sometimes this is because of inadequacies in the attitude of those worshipping, as in Isaiah 1:10-20. There God is tired of the sacrifice and worship of those who do not repent.
At other times the working of the Holy Spirit comes simply to give a renewed vision of the majesty and holiness of God, to refresh devotion and commitment, and to lead people to a new understanding of his nature. This is a part of the contiunous renewal of which Paul says, ‘let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish … and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God’ (Colossians 3:15-16).
Such a time of renewal took place over three days in September 1993 during second semester at the Bible College of Victoria (B.C.V.). This special and unplanned period became a time of renewal, growth, conviction and great blessing.
B.C.V. is an interdenominational, evangelical college training people for ministry in Australia and overseas. There are about 180 full time students and almost as many more part time students. Ever since its foundation in 1920 individual, group and community prayer and worship have been an important feature of the community life of the college.
The priorities of the college are expressed as ‘Knowing, Being and Serving’. This means knowing God in personal relationship; being transformed to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ as Spirit filled people of compassion, faith, vision and power, living holy lives in the personal and social realms; and serving God in the world, developing gifts for ministry for building up the church, meeting the diverse needs in society, and proclaiming the gospel to unreached people.
As a consequence of this commitment, time is regularly given over to prayer. Students and faculty pray in daily chapel services, in fellowship groups, in lectures, at meal times, in faculty groups, in pairs and room groups on special prayer days and nights, and in prayer cells for specific issues including healing, evangelism, community life and student ministries. People pray, sometimes with conviction and joy, at other times with doubts and fears.
Continually there are testimonies to the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is programmed as an important part of college life and God honours that commitment, but on occasions God wants to do something different.
A desire for God
The recent time of renewal began with the group responsible for preparing for a regular day of prayer. Others had a growing conviction that God’s Spirit wanted to move in a new way. One student, reflecting the feelings of many, said, ‘My heart had already been prepared to meet with God – and I was not disappointed. For some time I had recognised the hunger in my heart and my need for God to refresh and renew my weary spirit.’
A number of people felt a desire for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Various experiences indicated that the Lord wanted students to be involved in all night prayer to prepare for the day of prayer for the whole college.
Many would agree with the student who said, ‘For the last two years it has been an increasing prayer of mine that God’s Spirit would move across this nation, and more recently that I would experience more of God’s fulness in my life.’
Significantly, a desire for God to work in this country in a dynamic way is connected with a willingness to allow God to work in a new way personally. It is difficult to communicate what one has not experienced.
One student observed that although none of those who met the Lord on that day would claim the necessary qualities for spiritual leadership in this generation, nonetheless a start was made, for ‘when God raises up spiritual leaders, He first judges them so that they may depend on Him alone’ (Holland 1993:1).
The presence of the Spirit
On Tuesday 21 September about 140 of the college community gathered together in the chapel for prayer. A time of teaching followed the praise and worship. The teaching was brief, about 20 minutes, low key and even understated. Then as people were invited to pray or receive prayer, the effect was as tremendous as it was unexpected.
What had been planned as a 50 minute session became a four hour response to the presence of the Holy Spirit as he touched people’s lives and moved them to prayer, repentance, reconciliation, testimony, praise and commitment. It is difficult to describe this; it needs to be felt.
All who were present found that this was a special time. The college community comprises diverse groups of people from a wide range of denominations and traditions of prayer and worship. Many of them are prayerful people but most had never experienced a time like this.
The Holy Spirit convicted, empowered, challenged, encouraged and renewed people. Forty or more sought prayer. They had a tremendous ministry together.
The day’s program was transformed, replaced by the plans ofthe Spirit. Significant personal matters were dealt with that day and in the days that followed.
One student acknowledged, ‘God was convicting me of my doubt in the Holy Spirit’s power to work in and through my life. … I knew I had once again to give the Holy Spirit permission to consume those parts of my life that had been preventing me from loving God more completely.’
For many, the infilling of the Spirit meant that they were overcome – sometimes with grief and repentance, at other times with joy, often with weeping, and often with relief and rejoicing.
The ministry continued over the next couple of days. People were reconciled. They shared in prayer. They ministered to one another and were counselled.
Two days later, when the college community was gathered together, an opportunity was given for people to share testimonies of what God had done over the past few days. One hour became two, then three and four hours, as they praised, prayed, and gave testimony to the experiences of the Spirit.
It was a time for hearing how people had been challenged about their prayer life, their relationship to the Lord, their relationships with others, personal attitudes, and ministry challenges. Again there were tears and rejoicing.
Lives had been changed, barriers broken down, resistances overcome, forgiveness granted, and blessing received. Although lectures had been planned, they simply did not happen that day. Such was the intensity of the moment that no one wanted to leave the chapel.
Lessons of the Spirit
Four points stand out as concluding observations, although many other things could be said.
1. Historic connections.
There is a connection here with the noted revival which took place at Asbury Seminary in the U.S.A. in 1970 and which had far reaching effects throughout America (Coleman 1970).
The speaker at the start of the day of prayer was the Rev. Mark Nysewander who was visiting B.C.V. with the Rev. Richard Stevenson. Both are part of the Francis Asbury Society (U.S.A.), a society focused on renewal through the Holy Spirit. Mark had been present as a student at the revival at Asbury Seminary in 1970 and is continuing that ministry through the Francis Asbury Society.
2. Future influence.
This experience at B.C.V. may or may not spread to other people and places, but whether it does or not, it will continue to mean a lot to those who experienced it. Many future ministries will be enriched by this personal experince.
Knowing through experience what God can do in renewing a community is essential for communicating this to others and for preparing them for it. The historic connection between revivals may continue as students and faculty better understand the power of God to move people and as they become more confident in ministering in his name.
3. A gentle ministry.
It should be emphasised that the ministry exercised over these days was described as ‘a gentle ministry’ with ‘no hype’. Others were ‘surprised by the quietness’ of the time shared together. It is no insult to those leading worship beforehand or to those involved in teaching to say that the worship and teaching were not extraordinary in any way.
There have been more articulate, more dynamic, more profound sermons preached at B.C.V. than these. The worship was more restrained than it has been at other times, but this time the effect was different from all other times. Clearly, the issue was not human hype, enthusiasm or ability, but the providence of God who initiates and controls.
4. An openness to the Spirit.
While no one can command the activity of God, it is clear in retrospect that there was a willingness on the part of many people, students and faculty, to be open to whatever God had to offer and a commitment to not allowing programs to interfere with the work of the Spirit.
This openness had surprising implications. While many were looking for a wider renewal in Australia, God wanted to work closer to home, with those who were praying.
God deals first with his messengers and challenges them to be the kind of servants he wants them to be.
Coleman, R., ed. (1970) One Divine Moment. New Jersey: Fleming Revell.
Holland, H. (1993) ‘An Extraordinary Day of Prayer’ in Ambassador: Official Journal of the Bible College of Victoria, No. 151, p. 1.
See also comment on the Asbury Revival in Renewal Journal (1993) #1, pp. 44-45; #2, p. 51.
© Renewal Journal 3: Community (1994, 2011)
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