John Wesley had a long career in ministry—stretching from the mid-1720s to his death in 1791. During that time, he personally experienced many ups and downs. The movement he led also waxed and waned during that time. But there is one thing that always strikes me about Wesley’s attitude:
He always expected revival to occur.
Take this example from Wesley’s Journal, where he describes a visit to Tewkesbury in March of 1775:
“Many here have been lately convinced of sin, and many converted to God. Some have been made partakers of the great salvation, and their love and zeal have stirred up others. So that the flame now spreads wider and wider. O let none be able to quench it!”
Reading that passage, you can’t escape the great sense of both optimism and expectation that is bound up in Wesley’s report. It is an attitude that is tied to Wesley’s great confidence in the Holy Spirit—which is not named in this Journal entry but is certainly in the background.
Work of the Spirit
When Wesley speaks of the conviction of sin and conversion to God, he is alluding to the Spirit’s work in drawing us toward God. And when he refers to the possibility of partaking in “the great salvation,” it is a hopeful statement of the great possibility we all have for life in the Spirit, even in this present life. Wesley’s words about the love and zeal of believers stirring up others and the flame of revival spreading outward are his way of describing how the Holy Spirit works within a local community.
In all of this, there is in Wesley the belief that God’s work will proceed and will expand continuously—in other words, that revival will happen!
But we should note also that Wesley is suggesting that there is a particular way the Spirit works for revival. The Spirit doesn’t work without people, and the Spirit doesn’t work with people against their will. Instead, the Spirit works in and through people as they experience the salvation of Jesus Christ. That should say something to the people called Methodists today, who are hungering for revival.
My recent annual conference meeting in Little Rock, AR, emphasized a three-part theme: Discerning, Discipling, Daring. In their joint laity-episcopal address, Bishop Gary Mueller and Conference lay leader Karon Mann provided wonderful context for what such an approach to ministry ought to look like.
We have in many ways already discerned our path forward through our conference’s Imagine Ministry restructuring and re-equipping process, although what Imagine Ministry will look like must continually be discerned as it evolves. We must now get serious about discipling, that all-encompassing process of forming men and women into mature disciples. And we need to be willing to take risks—approaching our ministry and mission with a certain amount of daring, based on the confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide us.
‘In this together’
I also think one very important component to this work of the Arkansas Annual Conference (like all annual conferences) is its connectional nature. We are all in this together. And only by sticking together can we faithfully work to renew the church in our day.
But if we do stick together—and if we devote ourselves fully to the calling God has given us—then we have every bit as much reason to expect revival as John Wesley did at Tewkesbury.
The sheer sense of expectation was one of the things that struck me about the vision Bishop Mueller and Karon Mann gave my annual conference a few weeks ago in Little Rock. As they closed their address to the members of the annual conference, Bishop Mueller said, “It’s time for us to experience spiritual revival.” He then went on:
We can only share what we have experienced, been transformed by and committed ourselves to. We need to experience Jesus’ love that is so powerful it accepts us just the way we are. Experience Jesus’ love that is so powerful it is unwilling to leave us just the way we are. Experience Jesus’ love that is so powerful it gives us what we absolutely need but can never get on our own—reconciliation with God, healing, wholeness, second chances, the Jesus way of living, joy, generosity, compassion, and hope that is eternal in every sense of the word.”
Those are hopeful and hope-filled words. The hope bound up within them is a hope well founded. It is grounded in the scriptural promise that we will receive the Holy Spirit, who will teach us and guide us in every way.
Because God’s promises can always be trusted, the gift of the Holy Spirit also means that revival is coming. We can downright expect it!
This article originally appeared in the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper’s July 5, 2013 edition. Reprinted with permission. You can see the article in its original form at this link.