Behold the servant of the Lord! I wait thy guiding hand to feel; To hear and keep thy every word, To prove and do thy perfect will: Joyful from my own works to cease, Glad to fulfill all righteousness. — Charles Wesley.
The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing. — Proverbs 20:4
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. — Malachi 3:10
REVIVALS do not come by chance, nor do they come by arbitrary divine appointment. There have been revivals that seemed to take place without any definite prearrangement or plan. Still, they may be accounted for on the ground that some burdened soul, humble and unknown, has been in consultation with God, and while others have been careless and indifferent, this one soul, like Elijah of old, has prevailed in prayer, and alone has claimed the promise, that, being fulfilled, has brought refreshing showers in abundant measure to the dry and barren fields, making even desert places to bud and blossom. But the existence of such exceptional cases does not militate against the idea that God’s work in grace is not altogether different from his work in nature. If the husbandman carefully plans concerning the desired harvest, much more should the pastor plan regarding the high and holy work committed to his hands. Wise planning for revivals will undoubtedly take into account both times and seasons. God can pour out the gracious influence of the Holy Ghost at any time upon human hearts. Still, conditions of climate, occupation, and general environment must materially affect the results. In a farming district, it might not be best, under ordinary circumstances, to undertake revival work in the very busiest part of the heated term of summer. On the other hand, it might be said that it would not be wise to enter revival services at a season of the year when usually the roads and streets are notoriously bad. Thus there are many considerations to be thought of in determining the time for special revival services.
It is impossible to emphasize too strongly the unwisdom of putting off until the first week in January — the so-called Week of Prayer — the great revival effort of the year. For the past twenty or more years, we Methodists have adopted this unfortunate practice more and more. There has been an existing sentiment that it was something wonderful that all evangelical Christians should unite in the observance. We have allowed emotion to overrule sound, sober judgment, and intelligent common sense. It is time to call a halt. The sentiment is well enough in its place. Still, if any business demands the exercise of our best judgment, it is that of saving the souls of the perishing. The result of yielding to sentiment in this matter is that in far too many cases, we have given up the months of October and November, to say nothing of September and December, to lecture courses of various kinds, to fairs and festivals, and nearly all sorts of entertainments, and have put off our excellent revival work until the first week in January. We have thus lost, in affairs of minor importance, and sometimes of very doubtful utility, the very best part of the year for public gatherings of the people, and have shut ourselves up to a time when we are more than likely to have exceedingly cold weather, and when the roads and streets may be in a condition to render it practically impossible for most of the people to attend the revival meetings if they should be held. This tremendous and widely prevailing mistake must be corrected if we hope to secure the best possible results. The choice months of spring and autumn let everything give way to the revival. Let all other enterprises of the church give the revival the unrestricted right of way; let the rough places be made smooth and plain, and the crooked places be made straight; let the valleys be filled, and the hills leveled, and let all the people harmoniously and lovingly agree to unite in the revival efforts that surely in all parts of the country north of Mason and Dixon’s line ought to commence, in case of the spring Conferences, as early as the middle of September; and in the fall Conferences, where the preachers do not move, as soon as the Conferences adjourn, and where the preachers move, as soon as they are settled in their new fields of labor.
In some sections of the country, there is no better time for revival work than the spring. April, May, and June are three of the most delightful months in the whole year. Why should they not be utilized for revival work? Indeed they might be if the thought should take possession of the minds of the pastors of our churches and if the divinely appointed means should be employed. Taking all our Conferences together, most of them are not held in the spring. In all cases where the appointments have not changed, the preachers and their families are acquainted with the people and know the conditions of the communities and the churches where they are stationed. They can at once enter upon a special campaign for the conversion of souls. Where preachers have been removed and find themselves in new fields, what better method can there be for commencing the work of the year than to make an earnest effort to secure a genuine revival of religion. Would it not be well to postpone all other matters, except such as must be immediately considered, and concentrate all the skill, strength, and toil of pastor and people upon revival work?
In revival work, delays are dangerous. “Now is the accepted time.” Napoleon started too late when he set out for Moscow. Two thousand French cannons would not be laid along the walks within the Kremlin, as one day we saw them if the ill-fated campaign had begun in season. The defeat that led to the ultimate overthrow of the French emperor resulted from the needless delay.
Many a revival effort has proved a failure because wisdom was not exercised in selecting the time of making it. No sane man in the Mississippi Valley plants corn in September. There are proper times for doing all things that need to be done. God’s work is not so different from all other work that we can afford to throw away all common sense when planning to carry it forward. Nor is it of such minor importance that it can be made to give place to everything else; it ought to always have the right of way. Nothing can compare with it in importance. Nothing so affects the destinies of immortal souls.
Almost every winter is exceptional; at least, this is the case in the opinion of very many. Whether this is true or not, it is manifest that the winter season is not the time when birds singing is heard in the land. Every winter witnesses the complete failure of unnumbered revival efforts because the severe weather has interfered. Much snow, high winds, and zero temperature are the characteristics that make an exceptional winter. In such weather, it is difficult and costly to warm churches, the roads are in bad condition and, in many instances, almost impassable, and the people do not come to the church for the good and sufficient reasons that it is practically impossible to do so. Health and life would be imperiled by the attempt to come. It would therefore be worse than folly. It would be wicked to upbraid, much worse to scold people for not coming out to church under such circumstances. Suicide is not justifiable even in promoting revivals. Sometimes we have moderate winter weather, and when this is the case, the winter months are not unfavorable for revival work. Still, the rule is that all through December, January, February, and March, in the latitudes north of the Ohio and in the Western as well as the Eastern States, the weather will be, for the most part, very unfavorable for the gathering of the congregations we wish to reach.
By Bishop W. F. Mallalieu
Updated 2023 Nathan Zipfel