Chapter 12 - When You Search For Me With All Your Heart
Series: Our Fathers Saw His Mighty Works
According to written accounts of many who have lived during times of revival, one of the chief characteristics of such times has been the tremendous spirit of prayer preceding and accompanying them. Thus, older Christians who have observed revival firsthand have often exhorted future generations that to see a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their own day they must pray to God fervently and unceasingly for it. Perhaps no example of this is more noteworthy than Jonathan Edwards’ book inspired by the First Great Awakening - An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth - which gave rise to the “Concerts of Prayer” preceding and surrounding the Second Great Awakening more than 50 years later.1 More importantly, this prayer principle is borne up by Scripture. In Jeremiah 29, for example, God proclaimed to His people who were captives in Babylon, “I will visit you and perform My good word toward you . . . you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity.” (Jeremiah 29:10b-14a NKJV) God’s deliverance of His people in reviving power is predicated upon His people searching for Him with all their heart.
Since diligent prayer closely accompanies revival, one would expect to find it woven into the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement’s history. And that is precisely the case. Although the leaders of the LEM had been praying for revival since the organization’s inception, the marked beginning of a more widespread and concerted prayer movement within the LEM took place at the 1946 Deeper Life Conference.2 Bearing as its theme, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith Jehovah (Zechariah 4:6),” the whole conference was characterized by “a burden of prayer for revival which seemed to fall on the entire camp from the very beginning.” Prayer meetings were held after lunch and before and after the evening services; but even before those regular meetings were announced, other prayer groups had begun meeting spontaneously at all times of day.
As demonstrated by the following excerpts, the urgent spirit of prayer was further fueled by the daily sessions which emphasized the great need for personal and corporate revival.
“A study from the Bible about the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to see what God wants. Why should our churches be dry and cold? Why should we not have an outpouring of the Spirit in revival power from place to place?”
“Revival always comes in a hard place. Sometimes we think revival is impossible in our hard situation. It is when we are reduced to absolute helplessness that God can bring revival. It may be that we ourselves are the hardest problem in bringing revival.”
“God’s system of evangelism is pivoted not around the evangelist but around the church on fire. In Acts when the preachers were in prison, the revival went on. We should recognize that revival is normal Christianity.” (Rev. Armin Gesswein)
“The last days are prophesied to be exceedingly sinful. Shall we then say it is impossible to have revival in such a day? No, we dare not limit God. I believe that we are living in the days of the Laodicean Church. There is a severe warning to that church: repent, or be spewed out of the mouth of God. We have one last chance - to repent and have revival. Will the church take that chance?” (Rev. J.O. Gisselquist)
“The [lost] coin [in Luke 15] represents the soul that is lost. The woman still wanted the coin, still considered it worth possessing. So is Christ’s attitude to the lost soul. To find the lost coin, the woman lit a candle and swept the house. That’s a good recipe for a revival - a candle and broom. Revival comes when God has set someone aflame, and it is followed by a house cleaning.” (Rev. Joseph L. Stump)
The conference itself was a foretaste of revival. Among the 769 registrants and the hundreds of daily commuters from the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, area, “Souls were saved and lives were transformed. Many Christians made important far-reaching decisions.” The zenith of the conference was the morning of the final Sunday when Rev. Armin Gesswein delivered a stirring message illustrated from his personal experience of a recent revival in Stavanger, Norway. He related how a burden of prayer had fallen on one Christian after another in Stavanger until a group had been formed which had agreed to pray daily in secret and weekly in a united meeting until revival would come. In spite of hindrances, they had continued praying faithfully until several of them on the same day had received assurance from the Lord that the revival would come. Then they had spent the next several weeks thanking the Lord for answered prayer until the revival had actually arrived. When it had, conviction of sin and hunger to hear God’s Word had abounded everywhere - on the streets, in homes, and at businesses. Hundreds from the city and surrounding territory had come to repentance and faith in Christ. At the conclusion of Gesswein’s inspiring message, many conference attendees dedicated themselves to continue in daily, earnest, and importunate prayer, both private and public, until God would send revival to the United States also. As Rev. J.O. Gisselquist declared, “Men’s methods and efforts have failed. It is time for God to work.”
The spirit of prayer first experienced so strongly during that 1946 Deeper Life Conference seemed to spread throughout the LEM’s regions of influence over the next several years. For example, during LEM conferences in the fall of 1946, “a real burden of prayer for revival” was observed in Newark, Illinois,3 and “many earnest Christians . . . praying for a revival” could be found in Chicago.4 Two years later, such reports were still forthcoming. Regular “prayer [was] offered for revival in the churches” at prayer fellowship meetings held by friends of the LEM on Minnesota’s Iron Range;5 while “much prayer for an awakening among the lost” and God’s people searching themselves and “sensing the need for a revival in their own hearts” were features of the Clearbrook, Minnesota, Bible Conference.6 At the Hendrum, Minnesota, Bible Conference that same year, Christians “band[ed] themselves together for prayer fellowship . . . for the year to come” and “young people [went] before God declaring that they were willing to receive a revival regardless of the cost.”7
This strong inclination towards prayer not only was being felt within the LEM but also was occurring simultaneously in many other places and organizations around the country, especially among Christian leaders. Quite clearly, the Holy Spirit was orchestrating a national movement. Within the Lutheran Free Church, for example, a letter was sent to all pastors urging them to promote prayer at family devotions and midweek prayer meetings with the special focus of prayer for an awakening within that synod.8 Even more significantly, the prayer movement among church leaders was also becoming interdenominational. This was particularly true in Minneapolis-St. Paul where the resulting events that were to unfold would soon place the LEM’s leaders in the middle of the beginnings of a national revival.
One of the earliest signs of this Twin Cities prayer movement occurred in January 1947 when about 60 pastors and Christian workers, many of them Lutherans connected with the LEM, met each morning one week under the auspices of the Greater Twin Cities Pastoral Association “to pray and fellowship about the burden for a spiritual revival.”9 The meetings were led in part by the LEM’s friend Rev. Armin Gesswein. Gesswein’s words were especially encouraging to the gathering as he emphasized that revival might begin with even the smallest group of Christians who lamented the church’s current ineffectiveness, who hungered for cleansing and power from God, and who would wait upon Him in prayer for those things. The hunger for revival lay so heavily on the hearts of the pastors that, after the week of meetings, they decided to continue gathering for prayer each Tuesday morning.
Nearly two years later in October 1948, about 55 Twin Cities churches and 80 pastors of all denominations, many of them undoubtedly from that original prayer group, joined forces to hold a week of simultaneous evangelistic meetings under the title of “United Spiritual Advance.”10 Among the participating Lutherans, the LEM sponsored a Bible Conference in Minneapolis as part of the effort. Even more significant than the united evangelistic efforts, however, were the special two-hour prayer meetings attended by the pastors each morning that week. Once again, Rev. Armin Gesswein had been asked to lead them. As of late, the Lord had been directing Gesswein into a full-time ministry of exhorting Christian leaders to pray for revival. Just the previous month, he had led an interdenominational pastors’ conference near Los Angeles at which evening meetings had lasted until 1:00 in the morning while many had remained in prayer, confessing need and failure and seeking God’s power afresh in their lives and ministries. Some of them later testified how the revival had spread to their churches the following Sunday as “folks [had] streamed forward to put things right.” Sharing ministry with Gesswein during the week of Twin Cities prayer meetings was Dr. J. Edwin Orr, an internationally renowned revival preacher and historian. By midweek, Orr, who had either studied or personally been part of many revivals himself, had become convinced that something unusual was going to happen in this gathering. Indeed it did - on Friday, following a historical lecture which Orr gave on the 1858-59 awakenings in America and Britain. He reported,
“Under the wise leadership of Armin Gesswein, the heartfelt hunger of the pastors for another great reviving was channeled into a prayer meeting. Prayers were broken with tears and sobs. Confessions of failure were made. Reconciliations between pastors were effected. It was the beginning of real revival in many a heart.”
When the revived pastors returned to their churches, they began seeing increased attendance at both congregational prayer meetings and Sunday services as well as a number of solid conversions. But months after their original joint evangelistic venture, they were still meeting weekly to pray for a definite outbreak of revival.
In January 1949, United Spiritual Advance (which evidently had outlived its original purpose) sponsored a two-day retreat near Minneapolis for over 40 pastors and evangelists, including eleven Lutherans and LEM men.11 “There was a breath of Pentecost upon the gathering” as mornings, afternoons, and evenings were given to the discussion of various revival topics, heart searching by the Holy Spirit, and corporate and private prayer. But the most far-reaching outcome of the whole gathering was brought about by a simple question posed to Dr. J. Edwin Orr, once again a retreat co-leader. One of the pastors asked Orr how long, based on his studies of past movements, he estimated it would be until the coming of a sweeping revival. And Orr replied,
“I believe that the revival for which we pray has begun, but that it is developing by stages. The explanation of the current movement among ministers is that the Lord seems to be reviving the present leadership of the churches, without whose co-operation an awakening of real strength would be difficult. To my mind, the next step will be the reviving of Christian students . . . It is a conviction with me that we shall see a series of revivals in Christian colleges before very long.”
By Orr’s own account, it seems that this thought began gaining particular strength in his mind at the very time he spoke those words.
Two months later, Orr shared ministry at a pastors’ prayer conference near Los Angeles during which several hundred pastors and their wives “continued in penitence and prayer until the early hours of the mornings.”12 While it is more than noteworthy that the spirit of revival from that conference spread across southern California and that similar pastors’ prayer conferences and prayer meetings began springing up all over the country, it is even more remarkable to consider what Orr told the Los Angeles gathering. Under a growing conviction that what he had spoken to the pastors in Minneapolis had been a direct insight from the Lord, Orr prophesied that revival would soon break out in Minnesota.13
With this belief, Orr returned to Minnesota’s Twin Cities the next month to hold a series of student meetings supported by 100 pastors and United Spiritual Advance.14 He began by preaching at the invitation of Bethel College, a Christian liberal arts college in St. Paul. Immediately, revival broke out. Orr reported, “There was much prayer in the dormitories . . . followed by intense conviction of sin among the students in chapel and in classroom. The conviction was relieved only by outright confession, restitution, restoration or conversion to God.” One of the students later estimated that the revival had touched 95 percent of the 600 students, bringing them their “life’s greatest blessing after [their] conversion[s].” Similar meetings were held at nearby institutions. This included Northwestern College where chapel services were broadcast over their radio station KTIS until conviction of sin grew so great among students that it became imprudent to air the services any longer. The campus dean reported having to stay in his office until late each day dealing with confessions of sin and restitutions. By the time summer vacation arrived, 80 Twin Cities meetings had drawn an aggregate of 40,000 students while local Christians of all denominations were proclaiming the work “an outpouring of the Spirit from start to finish.” Revival had begun in Minnesota, and it had happened within mere miles of LEM headquarters.
Meanwhile, the events connected with United Spiritual Advance were far from the only unusual happenings which the LEM’s leaders were seeing or hearing about. And the fact that Orr’s prophecy about the reviving of young people was truly from the Holy Spirit seemed only to be further validated by some of these happenings. From Los Angeles, LEM National Board member Rev. Leonard Masted reported that when one of the meetings at their district youth winter Bible camp was opened for testimonies, one after another stood to confess their need for salvation and to receive Jesus as Savior right there.15 On the last evening, the youth protested the suggestion that the meeting be ended after three continuous hours because they wanted everyone to have a chance to become a Christian. Masted himself knelt and prayed afterwards with many who wanted to be saved. In his estimation, “It seemed that nearly every one of the  campers who was not converted when he came to camp had a meeting with God there.” Simultaneously, nearly 2,000 miles away at a Minneapolis church’s winter youth Bible camp where Rev. J.O. Gisselquist was speaking, an unusual testimony meeting took place around the campfire.16 When one girl stood to quote a Bible verse, she broke into tears and confessed that she desired to experience a real walk with Jesus. Immediately another girl stood and cried, “How can the Lord ever save me?” Then a third girl asked for prayer because she longed to be saved but did not know how. By the time the campfire concluded, nearly every youth had participated. Afterwards, at least nine troubled youths received Jesus as Savior with the help of other Christians. One week later, testimonies from those campers during a regular evening service of their church resulted in several more youth being converted as well as many rededicating their lives to Christ.
Youth were certainly not the only ones being touched by God’s Spirit in such ways. Late in 1948 came the report of a revival affecting all ages in a small Lutheran church in Rowe, Illinois.17 Beginning on the third evening of a week and a half of special meetings, the power of the Holy Spirit brought such a strong conviction of sin and thirst after righteousness that many began staying after the services for help to find forgiveness in Christ. Others came to the parsonage by day for the same purpose. Of the 29 converts, “a large percentage in [that] small congregation,” many testified of a new-found release from their burdens. Some of these new Christians experienced such intense joy that they could hardly sleep at night. Early in 1949, the Seattle church of LEM National Board member Rev. B.T. Gabrielsen experienced “a heaven-born revival” during special meetings in which Christians were abundantly blessed and many others found salvation.18 Even after the meetings had concluded, Gabrielsen said, “People are continually coming into the office with spiritual problems, and souls are being saved.” Apparently, the revival continued there for some time. When Rev. Leonard Masted preached a week of special meetings at Gabrielsen’s church later that May, he rejoiced that seeking souls were waiting to be dealt with after every single service both afternoons and evenings.19 Joy, peace, and overwhelming love for Jesus and for others was good evidence to Masted of people having truly been transformed by Christ. Eighty miles north of Seattle, a Lutheran church in Anacortes was visited by God during special meetings preached by Evangelist Clarence Haaland, also an LEM National Board member. One scheduled week of meetings turned into three, Christians united to win the lost for Christ, and many of all ages were born again.20 Entire families became Christians and joined the church, and attendance at weekly prayer meetings and Sunday evening services doubled. Back in the Midwest, special meetings during May 1949 in Kintyre, North Dakota, preached in part by LEM Executive Committee member Rev. Charles Crouch, yielded a fascinating result.21 Though none professed conversion during the meetings, one of the church trustees came under such conviction of sin the night after the last meeting that he could not sleep. The next morning he sought out spiritual help and received Christ as his Savior. During the rest of that day, he went to his brother to ask forgiveness for a wrong, helped lead his own son to salvation, and shared his testimony at the church building committee meeting. This small spark quickly burst into flame in the small congregation; and within a month, eighteen people came to faith in Christ.
With the arrival of the summer of 1949, the revival scene seemed to shift mostly to Bible camps. Once again it was young people who were especially affected. A pastor present at the Lutheran Free Church’s Junior Bible Camp in Amery, Wisconsin, excitedly reported about 100 boys and girls having given their lives to Jesus and 40 to 50 having eagerly participated in midday prayer meetings.22 And from an Illinois Lutheran district youth Bible camp came another most fascinating account.23 At the campfire on Tuesday evening, a leader exhorted those present to deal with all unconfessed sin in their lives. After one youth finally got up to do so, one after another followed in succession to repent of sins like unbelief, neglect, and backsliding. On Wednesday evening during a testimony meeting, several youth shared about having come to salvation earlier that week. A number of youth stayed after that meeting to be led to Christ, and Thursday morning and afternoon saw others seeking private counsel from pastors and leaders. At Thursday evening‘s campfire, “before the leader could [even] ask for testimonies, young people were standing up five to ten at a time telling how they [had given] their hearts to the Lord.” Others requested prayer that they too might be saved. When the group was finally dismissed, many stayed behind to receive spiritual help. On Friday evening, many again stood simultaneously to testify of what Jesus had done for them. Several youth who had been stubbornly resisting the Holy Spirit all week finally gave in. By the camp’s conclusion, leaders estimated that 75 to 100 of the 150 youth had made decisions for Christ.
The LEM’s Deeper Life Conference that summer, bearing the theme “Ye Are the Temple of God,” brought more of that same revival spirit.24 Due to the annually increasing demand, this year’s camp ran for two full weeks, each week with different speakers, and was thus able to accommodate the 1208 registrants as well as the equal or greater number who commuted from the Twin Cities vicinity. During the two weeks, Twin Cities’ Christian radio station KTIS broadcast from camp 22 special half-hour programs (speakers, testimonies, special music, and conference echoes) and seven full services. Remarkable Christian unity and fellowship in the Spirit were hallmarks of the gathering. And although “there was not any one time what would be called a definite ‘break’ when many souls were converted,” “many found blessed peace with God. Souls were dealt with daily in personal counseling and by Christian friends. Towards the end of the conference, one of the speakers estimated that he had heard of at least 50 new converts. It seemed that every day some fresh testimony was heard.” In addition to adult converts, there were a number in the children’s conference who “came out definitely for Jesus”; and at least 30 of the 137 in the two weeks of the high school conference testified either of having become Christians or of having been revived from backsliding. Young people seeking spiritual help were counseled not only during the day but also after campfires, after evening “fellowship sings,” and even after “lights out.”
The reader may be wondering what kind of preaching could have yielded results such as those described in this chapter. To help in answering that question, excerpts from some of the 1949 Deeper Life Conference messages are given here. They are prefaced with the observation that, although the messages were wonderfully deep and spiritually refreshing, their power cannot have been entirely in the spoken word. Messages with similar content have since been given many times in various settings but without similar results. The ultimate explanation for the effectiveness of these messages can only have been the power of the Holy Spirit undergirding both Word and speaker.
From morning Bible studies on Hebrews chapters 5-7 given by LEM National Board member Rev. Theodore Hax come the following nuggets.
“Moses was the apostle of the Old Testament and Aaron was the high priest. In the New Testament Jesus is both Apostle and High Priest. Man’s heart yearns for a mediator between himself and God. We have no need of a mediatorial priesthood on earth today because we have Christ the great High Priest. Our worship is not earthly but heavenly.”
“Jesus prayed to be saved out of death, and God heard Him for His godly fear. God hears us for Jesus’ sake when we keep our consciences clear. As a Man, Jesus learned obedience to His Father through the things that he suffered. We too learn obedience through suffering. Let us not keep on laying and relaying the foundation, but let us go on unto maturity.”
“There is such a thing as so rejecting the grace of God as to put oneself outside the reach of God’s grace. This is told in connection with the warning of falling away from grace and is told for our warning, not for our despair. Our home is Christ. We have not yet entered the harbor, but Christ our Forerunner has cast our anchor within the veil.”
During the first week of Deeper Life, Rev. J.O. Gisselquist preached the evening evangelistic services. Most of these, as well as most of the evening messages delivered the second week by Rev. Evald Conrad, had a distinctly “end times” theme, a frequently sounded note within the LEM. Here then is Gisselquist.
“Jesus reproved the people because they could not discern the signs of the times. Like the disciples of old we should expect the coming of the Lord at any moment. Every prophecy of His first coming was literally and minutely fulfilled. We have as many signs prophesied of His second coming and we can expect each one to be literally fulfilled.”
“Before the ages began, God was working out the blueprint of His eternal purpose. Before the worlds were ever made, God knew you and all of your troubles and worked out their solution. How is God working out His eternal purpose? The purpose of God is worked out and carried to completion by one Man - Jesus.”
“The book of Revelation is the unveiling of Jesus Christ Himself in connection with the things that are coming upon the world. God has given the revelation to the Son of how He is to get the kingdom. God has given over to Jesus the redemption of the whole world, and Christ today is saving the world. He is sitting at the right hand of God. Christ is able to save to the uttermost because He ever lives to make intercession for us.”
And from Rev. Conrad come the following.
“Instead of pointing to the outward stones of the temple, the disciples should have been able to point to living stones inside the temple. Many times it is true today that we point to large church buildings as a sign of success instead of to signs of spiritual life. Let us look away from the temple and sins of the church to our own temple tonight. Are we outwardly beautiful but inwardly corrupt? Our temple should be an inward house of prayer.”
“True success is being found worthy to escape all of these things that are coming on the earth and to stand in His presence. We must take heed to ourselves lest we be overpowered by self indulgence, drunkenness, and the cares of this life so that we become too busy for God. The coming of the King is near at hand. To the world He will come as a thief because He takes away everything they have been working for, but to us He comes as the Bridegroom.”
“The coming of the Lord will be visible, manifest, sudden, and illuminating. Signs of his coming will be indifference, a minority of Christians, immorality, and people so taken up with ordinary things that they don’t have time for God. Remember Lot’s wife. She was a compromiser. She never got her mind and heart out of Sodom, out of the world. Remember her eternal destiny. If Jesus came tonight, would you be taken or would you be left?”
“If you are not now living in a repentant state, you are not ready for the coming of the Lord. The message of the second coming should be a call to soul-winning. Our joy and glory when Jesus comes again is that we may have souls with us. If you’re going to be properly prepared for His coming, you must have love in your heart toward all men. Christ is able to keep us from stumbling and to set us before His presence without blemish in exceeding joy.”
A month after the LEM’s 1949 Deeper Life Conference, a gathering that was soon to prove most significant to the national revival scene took place in southern California. At that year’s Forest Home College Briefing Conference, over 500 students listened in rapt attention each evening as Dr. J. Edwin Orr lectured on such topics as “Revival, the Work of God; How God Forgives Sins; the Searchlight of God; [and] . . . the Filling of the Spirit”25 while outlining his points on a blackboard. After each lecture had concluded with silent prayer, “sophisticated collegians stood one after the other to repent of evil deeds and thoughts and to confess Christ as Lord. Dozens of young men decided for the ministry or the foreign field.”26 One such meeting lasted until midnight.27 Believers rejoiced at the cleansing from sin and the grace to live a Spirit-filled life, and scores of onlooking unsaved students were converted daily.28 Perhaps no one was more impacted by the evening messages than the conference’s morning speaker,29 a relatively unknown Youth For Christ evangelist who was searching with all his heart for the filling of the Spirit as he anticipated an upcoming campaign. Late one night, he came to tell Dr. Orr that God had indeed filled him with His Spirit and had assured him that he would see revival in his Los Angeles campaign.30
That same summer, Evangelize published an editorial entitled “Is the Tide Turning?” which observed that “the film industry in general [was] retrenching heavily because of a lessening interest in movies,” “liquor sales [were] down 26% since the war,” and the number of pulps and westerns loaned by libraries had dropped from 14% of all books loaned to half of 1% during the last five years.31 According to one major publisher, “There has been a great change in the material offered at newsstands throughout the country.” That change had been towards spiritually-natured reading material such as Fulton Oursler’s The Greatest Story Ever Told, a retelling of the four Gospels. These, of course, were not signs of revival but only of spiritual hunger. Yet the question still begged to be asked, Was the tide truly turning? Indeed it was, and the events which were about to transpire before 1949 had ended would make that fact the focal point of the whole nation.
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