Wide Awake: Rousing Drowsy Christians from Spiritual Slumber

An interview with Jack Hayford and Dallas Willard. Leadership: A Practical Journal for Christian Leaders, Fall 1994, Vol. XV, No. 4.

Something’s up.

Talk with almost any group of pastors, enter any bookstore, and you find the topic is prayer or revival or angels or spirituality. People are streaming to national prayer alerts, prayer days, prayer summits, concerts of prayer. Newsweek and Life have devoted cover stories to prayer. Books in Print now lists three times as many titles on how to achieve spiritual growth as on how to achieve sexual intimacy.

In short, many people seem to be stirring from a spiritual hibernation, or longing for that. In the midst of such rustling, what signs indicate true awakening? What part do pastors play? How can we encourage prayer and spiritual alertness in ourselves and our people?

To answer those questions, LEADERSHIP talked with two respected leaders.

Jack Hayford is senior pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. He has written several books, including Prayer Is Invading the Impossible (Ballantine, 1983) and composed many songs and hymns, including the widely used “Majesty.” His energy and genuine charity cause him to be invited to speak to pastors from an astonishing cross section of denominations.

Dallas Willard is author of The Spirit Of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (Harper, 1988), a work that Richard Foster dubbed “the book of the decade.” Dallas is a professor of philosophy at USC and has written essays on logic, epistemology, phenomenology, and realism. Yet he brings a quiet humility and Midwestern warmth to the discussion. One quickly realizes why he has served several pastorates and continues to minister to church leaders.
 

What does an awakened pastor look like?

Dallas Willard: An awakened pastor is humble and ready to attempt God’s work with an utter dependence upon God. Awakened pastors realize the work is not theirs.

Revival occurred among the hills of southern Missouri during two of my years in high school. I saw people who had been careless about their souls struck with the fear of the Lord, so much so that they could not sleep. The whole community was affected. Careless Christians became concerned about righteousness, confessed their sins, and made restitution.

Jack Hayford: I was astounded when the Lord first moved among the people in our church. Even since that time, people confide to me, “From the moment I first walked in here, I began to weep.” Some say they wept through each service the first six months they attended. Some will walk in, sit down, and even before church starts, something begins to stir within them. No human being can produce that. It’s just the manifest presence of God.
 

If spiritual awakening is the work of God, what role, if any, do pastors play?

Hayford: There was a partnership in the Incarnation. When the Lord sovereignly visited, Mary had to respond.

Our partnership with God is an important part of an awakening. I’m troubled when people assure themselves they are not responsible to expect or seek anything and avoid God’s demands. Mary said, “Be it unto me according to your word.”

We join as partners in what God is doing. No one gets dragged into revival kicking and screaming – although I’ve seen a few people kicking and screaming as a result of revival. (Laughter)
 

What makes people object to revival?

Hayford: Every move of the Lord includes elements that will frustrate those who look in the Bible for a proof text. Revival often produces phenomena that are upsetting, and it’s human nature to become captivated by the phenomenon.

Detractors will say, “Ah, see, you’ve lost your sight of God.” They indict participants for the immature way they respond to God. But I doubt God gets upset or feels threatened by such things. I think he’s delighted he’s got people’s attention and is able to move upon them, disturb them, and transform them.

For example, there has been an awakening of worship and joyous praise in the church over the last quarter century. Yet some say, “God is the omnipresent Sovereign of the universe. We can’t just come glibly bouncing into his presence with a quick beat and a rap of the snare drum.” There are excesses that disturb me, too; things do get too giddy and glib sometimes.

But I’ve got to back away and ask, “How does God feel about this?” I doubt the snare drum or somebody being happy makes God feel nervous. Renewed, happy people may not yet have the deepest view of God’s awesome eminence, but first, let them get healed. The world has enough agony. Let the spirit of praise arise, and any giddiness can be moderated in time. Meanwhile, let’s give space for people to enjoy God.

Willard: I often tell people the happiest Being in the universe is God. Jesus was noted for his joy. Yes, he knew sorrow and was acquainted with grief, but that was not his basic character.

We’ve all been subjected to people who, with their good intentions, try to make us right. They think Jesus is stern. They hear his words as mean. I have difficulty with talk about the “hard sayings of Jesus.” Jesus’s sayings are not hard unless you’re trying to live outside the kingdom. If you want to hear hard sayings, let me give you a few from the Devil! (Laughter)
 

When God moves, can there be too much emotional response?

Hayford: I feel my answer to such a question is often suspect because I’m Pentecostal. But no one ever talks about the excesses of reserve, of fear, of suspicion and pride. Much reserve, so-called “biblical balance,” really isn’t biblical balance but a horrible imbalance toward an intellectualized spirituality.

Academic studies can create even more reserve in me. I can build an almost insurmountable wall of caution that prevents God from breaking through upon me. Yet one thing is clear: we need crashing encounters with God to shake us up.

I just had my sixtieth birthday, and if I were to give the sum of God’s dealings with me over the years, I could distill them to four or five encounters that stretched or broke something within me. Often they occurred when I faced embarrassment or ran the risk of criticism.

Both Finney and Moody experienced overwhelming moves of God that they recognized as breakthrough times. A century or more after their ministries, we accept that they had emotional experiences, but that’s because we’re safely distant from their influence.
 

Moody said he had to ask the Lord to stay his hand because it was so overwhelming.

Willard: Right, and Finney talks about wave upon wave of glory that washed over him.

I often say to those concerned about going off the deep end, “Have you considered what happens to those who go off the shallow end?” (Laughter) Church after church has gone off the shallow end. They’re frightened of the spiritual depths.

Jesus told the Pharisees, “You seek honor that comes from men.” So much of our training educates us in how to receive honor from men. That’s why we have to go through times that push us.

In John Wesley’s journal, we read about his agony of soul. George Whitefield came under such stress and conviction that he let his appearance go. His employers released him, and for seven weeks he spent much of his time lying on the ground, groaning, sweating, and shaking.

The details of history shock us with the human agony in meeting God. Our work today often lacks this heart‑wrenching conviction.
 

Is such agony of soul usually present when God is doing something significant?

Willard: Mordecai Ham, the evangelist under whom Billy Graham was converted, once preached for weeks in Savannah, Georgia, without giving an invitation for people to repent. Finally the Christians became so burdened that they went downtown and rented empty stores so they could hold meetings and give invitations. Some might consider Ham irresponsible because he didn’t give people opportunity to come to God. But he was holding their feet to the fire of truth.

Today people generally seem to regard the law as bad. Yet Wesley said, “I must preach law before I can preach grace.” God often confronts the self‑righteous with a great conviction that tears them apart.

Hayford: On the other hand, revival also can be characterized by joy. More than a decade ago, for example, a California church experienced an unusual visitation of God and evangelistic power. In seventeen weeks of meetings, more than 5,000 people came to Christ. People quit narcotics and homosexual behavior. As God encountered people and transformed them, there was incredible joy.

When the meetings concluded, a capable teacher was asked to come and nurture what God was doing. To bring the joy into balance, he set about defining genuine revival. I don’t think he intended to debunk what had happened, but that is what happened. Everything came under suspicion because the meetings didn’t have the Whitefield‑esque groaning and deep conviction of sin. But both sorrow and joy are equally valuable signs of revival.

Willard: Revival should be “natural.” Even the great revivalists such as Finney understood that what we call the high moments – the moments of great emotional release – are not necessarily good for us if they are all we have. We may need those moments to start the awakening. But the regular flow of the presence of God is the desired outcome. When the Spirit comes in a place, he won’t go away unless we drive him away.

Hayford: High moments are like peaks. On the peaks you get the strong breezes and the larger view. But we live in the valley because that’s where the growth comes. The harvest is in the valley.
 

Many pastors desire awakening but feel overwhelmed with conflict and stagnant growth in the church. Where do they start?

Hayford: First, be brutally candid and open before God. Let him work you up one side and down the other.

Second, don’t be brutal with the people. Don’t indict or assail them as though they don’t want more of God. Declare the truth and the love of God to them, presuming they want what you want.

Later, those who don’t want renewal may cause problems, but if the tide is flowing, it will usually overflow the hard‑hearted or flush them out – and the analogy should be carried to its logical conclusion. (Laughter)
 

So when God begins to work in a leader and congregation, things may get worse before they get better.

Hayford: It seems inevitable. Getting worse doesn’t mean things have to explode, but they will be challenging.

At Corinth, Paul went to the synagogue and was bitterly resisted. Not long before, he’d had a poor response in Athens. And before that he was driven out of two cities, so he had begun to figure that short pastorates were a way of life. The Lord said, “No. You stay here. I have many people in this city.”

Willard: I pastored a Southern Baptist church in southern Missouri, and there were some people in that church whose whole identity, I think, was tied to a self‑righteous image. I discovered quickly I couldn’t change things when folks were determined not to change.

In time, though, I realized that all around the church was a sea of dying people. I made friends outside the church and found plenty of people who were receptive to me.

Struggling pastors must not become obsessed with people who resist them. Recalcitrant people may have the most to teach us. They “teach” us about love and forgiveness.

When David ran from Absalom, one of his enemies stood by the road cursing him. An aide said, “Why don’t I go over and take off this dog’s head?” David said, “No, perhaps God has sent him to do this.”

We must not be obsessed with these people. Let’s love them and get on with our work.

Hayford: In my second year of college, a Baptist preacher and songwriter named B. B. McKinney came and spoke to us. He said, “Get a passion for the lost and the hurting, and God will fill your hands with all the gifts you need to see them brought to him.”

That’s not a bad definition of how you start an awakening. Develop a passion for the lost. God loves those who are lost. When you do, the Spirit will move to give all the gifts you need.

Willard: Awakening moves our heart. When the Good Samaritan saw the man lying by the side of the road, “his heart was moved with compassion.” The others had no compassion.
 

How can pastors keep their spirits up in a church that’s spiritually slumbering?

Hayford: When I came to Church on the Way, I didn’t think I was going to stay. I was a faculty member at a Bible college, and Anna and I were asked to help this little church on weekends and Wednesday nights. I had wanted to return to the pastorate, and the offer afforded me the opportunity to preach while finishing my last year of administrative and faculty work.

I had been here for eight months when one day the Lord impressed me that I was to stay. I wanted to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” I couldn’t believe this word could be from God – I’d been offered better opportunities elsewhere.

Willard: You would have had to see this church building to appreciate what Jack is saying. It was a tiny place. We have lived here since 1965, and I remember how it looked in those years.

Hayford: For six weeks I carried this increasing burden in my soul, knowing God was calling me to something I didn’t want to do. I felt painted into a corner by the Almighty.

Then on a Friday morning, I had one of the defining moments of my life. While at prayer, I saw in my mind a succession of seven or eight events in my life where I had become the leader, though I had not sought leadership roles.

The first was when I was in nursery school. The last was at freshman orientation in Bible college. The student body president greeted the new freshmen, and I thought to myself, I’ll do that some day. There was no pride or ambition in the thought, just a recognition of fact.

As I recalled those scenes, God said, “I’ve given you the gift of leadership. Will you give it back to me?”

If he had told me, “You have pride. Will you throw it down?” it would have been much easier.

But God was asking me to release something I’d used for him. Immediately I saw myself like Samson: If I give this up, I shall be as any other man. What will people think? If I give up the thing that distinguishes me  from everybody else, I’ll stay here anonymous and obscure the rest of my life.

All of a sudden, my motives were stripped naked before God. I recognized that my agenda was to answer people’s expectations. They expected me to accomplish certain things for God. I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform up to their expectations if I made this concession.

I made a surrender that day. But the miracle was not that I made the surrender, believing I would pastor this tiny church the rest of my life. The miracle was that I felt happy in the surrender. I was freed from the constraint to answer people’s expectations.

Willard: Zechariah says we should not despise the day of small things. God’s work is done “not by might nor by power but by my Spirit.”

We shouldn’t see this kind of surrender as some heroic deed to become spiritual. Instead it should be a release to God. Jack said he was happy and free. People who are discontented and angry at God about their day of small things miss the chance for God to do something.

Wherever we are – in our family, in our community, in our education, even in our culture – no matter how small or despised that place may be, that is where God can use us and bless us. We may not achieve the dreams of our youth, but we can be sure God will bring us into the dreams he has for us.
 

Sometimes church members define those dreams‑for us to be a high‑profile “successful” ministry.

Willard: When I pastored small churches, I saw how you can feel a sense of abandonment. It’s almost as if people gather under a cloud of failure and self‑condemnation, and because they carry such a burden of guilt themselves, they’re more ready to find fault with others.

I would not have been able to go on in the ministry if I had not seen the confidence Jesus and the apostles had in the power of the Word of God. Proclaim the Word, and you will see it do exactly what Jesus said it will do. Preach what Jesus preached in the manner he preached it, and that cloud will begin to lift.

I remember a church I served while I was on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin. For a year, I pastored a couple of small Congregational churches in the area. As I preached the gospel I watched those churches flourish, one in particular. It was almost like watching water come on parched corn in the summer. You can count on this: the Word does its work.

Hayford: Many pastors who want renewal in their lives are judgmental about the renewal God is working elsewhere. They’re afraid if they don’t condemn emphases or exaggerated manifestations, they could be accused of being like them. But when they condemn, they prevent the Lord from doing the creative thing he wants to do within them.

Before we criticize, we should consider what the prophet said by the word of the Lord: “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.” If you become a weapon against one of God’s servants, you’re preempting yourself from prospering in God’s purpose.
 

What do leaders need for themselves to encourage renewal in others?

Hayford: In order to lift others, you first need a personal lift. You’re not often going to get it from the outside. It’s going to have to come from your private walk with the Lord.

I wish I could say I’m alone in the presence of the Lord in an extended time of prayer every day, but I’m not. I pray every day, but I don’t really have what I would call an intimate time with the Lord every day.

I go to be with Jesus – and I mean that exactly – usually two or three times a week. Some weeks it’s only once, on rare weeks four or five times. When I have been with Jesus in an intimate, personal way, then I’m able to lift the people.

One day when I had been here perhaps less than three months, I was alone with the Lord when he impressed upon me Isaiah 40: “Comfort ye. Comfort ye my people. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and tell her that her warfare is accomplished.” That word gave me freedom to be an encourager and lifter of people. I didn’t have to monitor their righteousness or stand as their judge and corrector. The Lord assured me that if I would comfort the people by the power of the Spirit, the Comforter would take them from there. I could trust the Holy Spirit to correct things in their lives.

Willard: Many pastors feel guilty about not keeping their “quiet time.” Yet the popular image of a quiet time is probably not workable for more than 5 or 10 percent of the people.

Hayford: I thought you were going to say 5 or 10 people in the world today.

Willard: That may be more accurate. One reason is that it’s often done as if it were medicine instead of a joyous meeting with God. Quiet time also doesn’t work for many people because being in Jesus’ presence takes time. Six ten‑minute quiet times are not as effective as one sixty‑minute time with God. If you want a shower, one drop every five minutes for two years is not enough.

We need to approach God with intensity. By that I don’t mean great effort. I mean, above all, that we take the time to be undistracted, to enjoy the presence of Jesus. How do you do that? As Jack indicated: you plan your week to include longer times when you can be alone with God.
 

How should we pray for awakening?

Willard: Just as we can be sure that the Word of God will do its work, we can be equally sure that prayer will do its work. We just need to do it, growing in confidence as we do it. It’s like swimming; you learn by doing it. We may not know how we should pray, but if we do it, we’ll learn. We begin to pray for a situation, for instance, and Christ’s presence instructs us how we should pray further.

I’m praying for a person losing his well-paid position with IBM. His wife is in agony about all the changes, so we’ve been looking to God for answers. Suddenly I was given a word from God that this woman had. been hurt so many times that she no longer could believe in God’s goodness. With that knowledge, I knew I should pray that she would see the goodness of God in order to remove the fear that stems from all her hurts.

We talk about the Spirit groaning within us. I think the Spirit groans “articulately.” He expresses pain and concern and then gives us wording for them. So prayer becomes interactive, enabling us to pray in specific terms.

Hayford: To pray for the congregation, I go to the sanctuary and spend an hour there, sometimes longer, other times less. I ask God to work in the people who will soon be sitting in that place. I ask for his Spirit to move upon them and give them an understanding of his Word.

In that environment I often feel the heart of God for a person and weep. Not only do I intercede more effectively for them, I am changed. I will express more of the heart of Jesus to those people because of what happened to me while I was praying for them.

The songwriter put it: “I come to the garden alone ... And he walks with me, and he talks with me. And he tells me I am his own.” I believe the Lord wants every pastor to know that intimacy. Your discouragement cannot survive in that atmosphere. Trials cannot be avoided, but they can be navigated. Pain will come, but it will be healed in the presence of Jesus – maybe not overnight, but the healing will come.

Willard: G. Campbell Morgan, in the early part of this century, became dissatisfied with his ministry. So, to seek the Lord, he locked up all of his books except his Bible. For months he would go to a little house in the back of the property where he lived, simply to study his Bible. Results came as G. Campbell Morgan was himself changed.

There are no promises to half‑hearted seekers. “He that cometh unto God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” This diligence is something we pastors need. If we seek him, God will find us.


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