Billy Graham was a man who felt the hand of God and the power of the Holy Spirit mightily. He had a deep awareness of the continual and pressing need for the Church to submit to Christ’s Lordship in order to experience spiritual revival.
In preparation for a research project, I recently finished reading The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life by the late Southern Baptist evangelist, Billy Graham. In the book, Graham details his own understanding of the crucial role that the third Person of the Trinity plays — or ought to play — in every believer’s life.
The final chapter is entitled “The Need of the Hour”, and as I read it, I was struck by the prescience of Graham’s heartfelt message.
Written in 1988, these words may just as well have been penned yesterday — they are a prophetic reminder of the need for corporate revival and the role that ongoing personal surrender to the power, presence and work of the Holy Spirit should play in the normal Christian life.
Even three and a half decades ago, Graham could see the heartbreaking but unavoidable trajectory of human rebellion against God — the rise of secularism, moral decay and perverted sinfulness. Moreover, he recognised that the only hope for this broken world — even at the social level — was the touch of “Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, and Spirit-empowered” believers.
This chapter also contains a grave warning against the kind of Christianity that is powerless, “defeated” and “joyless”. Graham calls on Christians to seek “genuine spiritual renewal” in their own lives. He urges them to fervently study God’s Word, spend time in prayer, win souls for Christ and invest in the kingdom financially — now is the time to do so.
But ultimately, all of this kingdom work must be undergirded by a consecrated life — one surrendered fully to the agenda of the Holy Spirit.
The Need for Spiritual Revival
Billy Graham recognised the “desperate need” for a spiritual revival — even going so far as to call it the “only hope” for humanity’s survival. He was clearly frustrated by the silence and powerlessness of Christians amidst the overwhelming “tides of secularism”. We see these same “tides” today — in the 21st Century — and many Christians are as silent and powerless as they have ever been.
Graham argues that this kind of ineffectiveness is not typical for the Christian — at least, according to the New Testament pattern. The normal Christian life is one of Spirit power that leads to effectiveness in our life and ministry. Graham pointed to Matthew 5:13–14 and Philippians 2:15 as evidence that Christians should be 1) “keeping a decaying world from further corruption”, 2) “illuminating the darkness caused by sin” and 3) providing “guidance” to a lost world.
“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or laboured in vain.”
(Philippians 2:14–16 NKJV)
Graham seems exasperated that Christians are not functioning — as “salt” and “light” — as they should be. “Why are we not doing much more to bring the kingdom of God to the hearts and lives of humanity?” he asks.
He laments the fact that so few have been “touched by God, and are in turn touching the lives of others for Christ”:
“… every instance of that, there are many more Christians who are living defeated, joyless lives. These people have no sense of victory over sin or effectiveness in witnessing. They have little impact on those around them for the sake of the gospel.”
While we can become distracted by our world’s desperate need for spiritual awakening, Graham argues that the “greatest need” in our churches is to feel the “touch of the Holy Spirit” — to bring “true ‘revival’ and ‘renewal’ to the lives of countless Christians”. It is only when God’s people are transformed that the world can be reached.
Just as Ezekiel saw dark days (Ezekiel 37), Graham believed that we again are seeing Satan’s forces “gathering for a colossal assault on the work of God in the world”. However, as Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones in the wilderness reminds us, God can still bring life to His people — the Holy Spirit can “stem the tide of evil and reverse the trend”.
“Our world needs to be touched by Christians who are Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, and Spirit-empowered. Are you that kind of Christian? Or is there in your own life the need for a new touch of the Spirit? Do you stand in need of genuine spiritual renewal within your own life? If so, know that God the Holy Spirit wants to bring that renewal to you right now.”
Graham insists that the responsibility for the depth of the darkness in the world can be traced back to lifeless Christians who fail to fulfil their mandate as salt and light.
The Time is Now
Billy Graham finishes his message on the need for spiritual revival with a word on its urgency. Just as Dr Samuel Johnson wore a watch upon which John 9:4 (“The Night Cometh”) was engraved, so Christians ought to continually remember “how short is our opportunity to witness for Christ and live for Him”.
“It is later than you think,” was the cryptic message once written on a sundial. According to Graham, Christians have their own sundial: “From Genesis to Revelation it bears its warning, ‘It is later than you think.’”
“It is already the hour for you to be awakened from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11–12)
“Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” (2 Peter 3:11-14)
“Night is coming, when no man can work.” (John 9:4)
Quotes are from Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life, pp. 273-276.
Photo by 卡晨/Unsplash.