Few of us in the western world have ever seen genuine revival. The story I tell here represents the closest I ever got. It still amazes me.
In 1982, my friend Robert Ward asked me to accompany him to the Outer Hebrides, a group of islands off the north-west coast of Scotland and the last place revival occurred in the United Kingdom, or all of Europe for that matter.
The revival began in the late 1940s with an all-night prayer meeting, in which a small group of people in a Presbyterian church took hold of God. As they prayed in the small hours of the morning, people elsewhere on the islands were awakened to terrifying visions of hell and judgment, and began to call upon the Lord for salvation.
Many of the people Robert and I visited with were young people at the time of the revival, and so we had eye-witness accounts.
We attended service at the Presbyterian church in Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. You can see a recent photograph of it above. The preacher had a magnificent view of the bay out the window! The service was mostly in Gaelic. We were told in hushed tones after the service that during the revival unsaved people entering the church on Sunday morning often fell into a “coma” during the preaching of the Word. The elders used to carry them outside and lay them in rows on the ground. When they awoke out of this “coma,” they were converted. And when they were converted, they were truly converted. The life of the islands was transformed.
Others were struck down by the Spirit while going about their employment or other daily business, experiencing visions of judgment. The ministers would often refuse to go them until they were convinced they were truly convicted of their sin. Some lingered in this state for several days before a visit from a minister became the opportunity for them to receive Christ and be delivered from their agony.
One evening we preached in a country chapel. As we left the building, one of the men told me that during the revival a wind began to blow through the church to the point that papers were flying around. The minister ordered the windows to be shut, but the wind continued to blow. On another occasion, after the congregation had left the building one Sunday night, members looked back as the empty building was suddenly filled with light.
A nurse violently opposed to the Gospel became so upset she decided to move away and took a job in Glasgow. Later, her job ended and she had to move home. The church was located on the way to the hospital, but she hated it so much every morning she would walk blocks out of her way to avoid going past it. One morning she was late and had no choice. As she passed the church, she fell under the conviction of God and was struck to the ground, crying out for mercy. When she arose, she was saved. Much later, a close friend of mine baptized her and told me the story.
Those dear people lived and prayed for nothing but revival. They had seen and tasted the goodness and presence of God. They were not Pentecostal, they were Presbyterian. The ministers did not wear designer t-shirts or expensive suits, they dressed in black from head to toe. The worship was not Chris Tomlin, it was the Psalms, and sung in Gaelic, not English (a sound like vocal bagpipes). But they knew the power of God.
What do you think revival looks like? We can’t define it by any particular outward manifestation. But at its heart is the presence of a holy God coming in power into a sinful world to change lives.
If I had people falling down under conviction of sin all around me, I would even learn Gaelic and sing the Psalms if that’s how God was doing it. I’d rather be there than in a sound and light show with great contemporary music but nothing else.
Those Presbyterians had no technology, no plan and no money. All they had was the ability to get on their knees and cry out to God. And he came.
Maybe we have something to learn from them.
Maranatha - Come, Lord!