On the first Sunday after regular services resumed at the Third Presbyterian Church, Pastor Jones noticed an unusual joy and earnestness in both his own preaching and prayers, and in the praise and attentive listening of his hearers. A few wept quietly in the congregation as the gospel was proclaimed. Everywhere faces were alight with gladness as the congregation sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
“Of course,” thought Jones, “there is nothing surprising here. After all, we’ve been apart for so many weeks and gathering together on the Lord’s Day today is like coming up for air after a long time underwater. I’m grateful, to be sure, but it’s not really unexpected.”
That week, however, Jones found he did not experience the usual lethargy in prayer with which he had daily to battle at other times. Instead, deep and renewed conviction of personal sin gripped his heart. He thought he saw, with new clarity, something of the ugliness and offense Christ must see in his remaining sin. Recoiling from it, he wondered how he could have boasted so glibly in his prior accomplishments when these horrors still festered in his heart. But as he confessed and turned to Christ, he found more than common sweetness and comfort in the shed blood of Calvary. His private study of Scripture—which in times past had often been a perfunctory duty quickly dismissed—now became vital, as if in his reading of the Word he heard directly the voice of his Master address him in intimate dialogue. Several times that week he awoke in the early hours of the morning, burdened to pray for specific members of his congregation and their families, yet found that as each new day’s duties began, he had more, not less, strength for the work to which he was called.
On Tuesday, two elders called to share a sense of growing urgency they both felt over the souls of the community and suggested they each set aside Wednesday for fasting and prayer. Visiting in the parish, Jones began to hear common themes in the blushing confessions of his people:
- the faithful believers were seeking God for the conversion of the lost
- the previously lukewarm were reading the Scriptures with heretofore unknown hunger
- the teenagers of the church were shaming their unconcerned parents with requests to be among God’s people and sit under the Word at every opportunity
Undoubtedly something was happening at Third Presbyterian.
On Wednesday, as he had planned, Jones spent the day fasting and praying. He’d fasted once or twice in his ministry, but now his appetite for God and for His glory, for the salvation of sinners, and for the outpouring of the Spirit on the ministry of the Word had become an overwhelming hunger. All thought of his belly forgotten, he gave himself to intercession. That night, the church met to pray. More officers and their wives were present than usually attended. While the total numbers were not particularly large, as the oldest member of the group began to plead with God to revive His church, the stillness and gravity that fell upon the group of twenty-five or so was overwhelming.
When the hour came to conclude the meeting, Jones—shaken and humbled by the awareness of the presence of God—thanked everyone for attending and suggested that he would remain to pray on. Any who wished were welcome to join him. No one moved from their places, and for two more hours a torrent of intercession and praise and confession and thanksgiving poured from the lips of this small band. Tears and smiles and warm embraces, but few words, marked the reluctant conclusion of their time together at the throne. This would be the first of many such meetings in the weeks ahead.
On Thursday, Jones heard from his excited youth worker that she had discovered about ten small groups of three or four teenagers meeting together at various times before and after school to pray together. No one had told them to do it. No one had organized their meetings. Most did not know of the existence of the others. But since the pandemic ended, these students were moved to know God and walk with Christ, as well as seek the conversion of their peers.
Weighing all this, Jones resolved to set aside his sermon series preaching through Jeremiah, and preach a short series on the person and work of Christ instead. When the second Sunday after Covid-19 arrived, the church-house was almost full, with many who had been infrequent attenders, and several Jones didn’t recognize at all. The service, unlike the first Sunday, had little of the air of celebration. People were attentive, certainly, and Jones thought the singing strong and engaging, but he confessed himself disappointed as he rose to preach. He read his text: Hebrews 7:25: “[H]e is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” He found himself able to outline both the readiness and power of Christ to save any and all who come to God by Him with a pressing urgency, and, for the first time in his ministry, his preaching took on the character of true pleading, as he pressed his hearers to turn from sin and seek Christ.
Tears soon began to flow on almost every pew. Gentle sobs and audible “amens” were heard on formerly stolid Presbyterian lips. After the service, as usual, Jones walked to the door to greet the people. But only a few came. Peering back inside Jones found almost everyone had remained, most returning to their seats with heads bowed to pray. A few were gathered in hushed groups earnestly talking about what was happening. Returning to the congregation, Jones asked two of his elders to remain in the sanctuary to lead the people in prayer, and then he announced that he would be in the fellowship hall to meet with any who would like to talk or pray with him. He especially urged any who were aware that they were as yet unconverted to come and speak to him.
At first only two or three came. Jones was elated. This was more than he had seen in the eight years of ministry thus far. He pointed each to Christ, explained again our predicament without Christ, and the glorious provision of God in Christ for sinners. He prayed with them and sent them home. But soon the two or three turned into ten or fifteen more waiting quietly to meet with him. That Sunday, Jones and his elders labored for three hours more, with only an hour to rest before the evening service.
The same thing happened on the fourth Sunday, and by the fifth Sunday the neighboring Baptist church had begun to see similar phenomena. Christians reported new zeal for God and love for the lost. Private Christians developed new initiatives in their own neighborhoods to pray for and reach out to those living nearby. Churches across denominational boundaries that professed a shared faith in the biblical gospel and in the inerrancy of Holy Scripture began to share the workload of growing numbers of anxious people seeking counsel. Pastors who once looked at their colleagues with jealousy, now rejoiced to see the gospel prosper under their ministries.
The awakening lasted for three months and spread to several nearby communities. Jones and his colleagues did all they could to keep it out of the press and avoid sensationalism. There was very little hysteria or fanaticism that accompanied the work—the churches experienced revitalization and refreshment. The Lord brought 250 people to saving faith at the Third Presbyterian Church alone, and many others were added to nearby congregations as well.
O God, how we long for reports like these in the days to come. Rend the heavens and come down! Pour out afresh the Spirit of Christ upon the means of grace that they might be mighty in the hearts and lives of your people. Purify and revive your church, O Lord! Glorify the name of your Son in the conversion of many, in the wake of the pandemic. Make your ministers holy, repentant, devoted shepherds, and bold, urgent, and effective evangelists. May your Word be manna from heaven and water from the rock for a parched and hungry people. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.”