Calvary Road Baptist Church

ďTHE BENEFITS OF PROTRACTED MEETINGSĒ

 

It does the cause of Christ a great disservice for pastors to plan a series of evangelistic meetings, or a Bible conference, or a crusade, and then call it a revival. It is terribly erroneous to refer to meetings of various kinds that have been scheduled for the church as a revival, or for someone to say, ďWeíre having a revival.Ē David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was on target when he wrote that ďrevival is a definite action of God.Ē[1] Revival is a sovereign work of God that cannot be scheduled by any mortal. Furthermore, revival must be understood to be something which cannot be conjured up or ginned up at a time of our choosing. Mr. Finney was expressing his Pelagian[2] sentiments when he indicated that revival was the result of the right use of means.[3]

Allow me to relate from my own experience: I have heard Second Chronicles 7.14 referred to in the context of Christian revival since my early days as a believer: ďIf my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.Ē My wife and I were members of the Bethany Baptist Church in Whittier while in Bible college when the Life Action Revival Team conducted services at the church. Their name suggested they carried revival in their suitcases. However, Vern Brewer, Ed Hindson, Ed Dobson, Del Fehsenfeld, Jr., and Les Ollila did not carry revival in their suitcases. Their ministry was conducted with sincerity and seemed to show evidence of revival from time to time. However, their message was grounded in the belief that Second Chronicles 7.14 was the key to personal, congregational, and national revival.

It is clear, however, that Second Chronicles 7.14 does not suggest revival in the New Testament concept of the term. It is a promise given by God to those who lived under the authority of the Mosaic Law, a conditional covenant that does not apply to Christians of our day. Romans 3.19 substantiates this observation by reminding us ďthat what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law.Ē The closest thing to a Christian era revival to be found in the Old Testament would be the experience of the Ninevites in the book of Jonah, people who were not Jewish and were not in covenant with God, but who enjoyed a visitation from on high when they responded to the prophet Jonahís warning of Godís impending judgment with heartfelt repentance.

Therefore, rather than a pastor or a church scheduling a so-called revival meeting, I think it best to begin what I think is more correctly termed a protracted meeting. Though a pastor needs flexibility with such matters, a protracted meeting is a series of services that can be called on relatively short notice to a congregation for the purpose of prayer and strong evangelistic preaching. As the protracted meeting progresses, so long as God seems to be working in peopleís lives, which is to say that so long as people give evidence of coming under real conviction, so long as some hopeful conversions are occurring, and so long as the congregation is willing to put up with the fatigue and inconvenience for the results they are experiencing by continuing to show up each night with enthusiasm and fervor, the protracted meeting can continue. However, if there seems to be no indication of genuine conviction among the lost who are present, or if there seems to be no evidence that at least some conversions are occurring, or if the people are not enough encouraged by what is happening to support the protracted meetings with fervent prayers and eager attendance, then the meetings should be brought to an end. Why go a whole week when it is obvious after two or three days that God does not seem to be moving in peopleís lives in a detectable way? God is not our servant. We wait upon Him.

It was fifteen or sixteen years ago that we had our first protracted meeting here at Calvary Road Baptist Church. It ran about two weeks. Anointed evangelistic preaching was responded to by growing conviction among some, with some hopeful conversions, and with increasing attendance each night. When the hopeful conversions stopped and the attendance declined, I closed the protracted meetings down with a concluding service. Our churchís second protracted meeting began in an unusual way, when I was asked to preach at another church on July 22nd, two weeks after the conclusion of our annual summer camp. The meeting was joined by a number of you folks on July 26th. Things progressed so well that we moved the services with both congregations to our auditorium on July 31st. The services ran eighteen consecutive days, and concluded when sinners seemed to lose their conviction, when two days passed without any hopeful conversions, and when it seemed like the attendance would not hold up. That was August 8.

Rather than push things to the point where next time folks would dread the thought of a protracted meeting, it made sense to do things that way so that your feedback about the services (or what can be detected of God stirring you) was a key to how long things should continue. In other words, why subject anyone to the obvious inconvenience of a protracted meeting unless people are in general agreement that God is doing a work in peopleís lives, that God is doing a work that you want to be a part of, that you want to witness, that you want to support, and that you want to be in attendance to pray for? I think reasonable Christians are agreement with me about this. Therefore, so that we will be of one mind and heart about the possibility of protracted meetings again at some future time, which I have only gradually come to be persuaded should be an important part of our efforts to reach the lost, let me make mention of three advantages of a protracted meeting, three advantages of continual services held night after night during which strong evangelistic sermons are preached to the lost and fervent prayers are offered up by believers to God:

 

First, CONSIDER THE SPIRITUAL ADVANTAGES TO THE SINNERíS MIND OF PROTRACTED MEETINGS

 

Turn in your Bible to Second Corinthians 10, where we will read verses 4 and 5:

 

4      (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

5      Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.

 

A familiar passage to most in our congregation, here we are told by the Apostle Paul of the difficulties he faced when dealing with the lost. The spiritual battlefield is the human mind. The obstacles the Christian minister faces are imaginations and high things in the sinnerís mind that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, much as a fortress resists those who would seek entrance. The lost manufacture their objections to becoming Christians, and justifications are conjured up in sinnerís minds for continuing in their sins. Imagine the scene where a sinner comes to hear a gospel sermon. Entering the room with no plans to respond to the gospel, he finds himself caught up in the message and wavering in his resolve to reject the gospel and refuse Christ. He finds that the preacherís persuasions are strong, as well as being undeniably Biblical. The sinner finds himself, just as with Agrippa in Acts 26.28, when he said to Paul, ďAlmost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,Ē seriously considering the claims of Jesus to Christ. However, when the sermon concludes the sinner does not come to Christ. Instead, he goes home, or distracts himself in some way. As it turns out, the next time he hears a gospel sermon he is not so much inclined to become a Christian as he was before.

What happened? If you consider the passage we have just read, it may dawn on you that during the interim between the first and second sermons the sinner heard, typically from one Sunday to the next, his corrupted mind was at work conjuring up reasons and justifications why he should not become a Christian. Using Paulís imagery, the sinner has erected a strong wall of fortification in his mind to resist the penetration of the gospel.

Even the Christianís mind can work this way, which is why it is so crucial to faithfully attend church services at every opportunity. Herein is a key to the success that can sometimes result from protracted meetings. Acts 5.42: ďAnd daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.Ē Notice that the pattern was what we would refer to as a protracted meeting, or many protracted meetings. It is obvious that no one can go on forever at this hectic pace, but it is the way they did ministry in the early days of Christianity. Consider that a typical sermon in our day usually lasts thirty to forty minutes, though sermons were noticeably longer in days gone by. Recognize also that a well-crafted and anointed message from Godís Word can function as a battering ram or a grappling hook to weaken the sinnerís resistance to the gospel. However, if sufficient time is allowed to pass between such sermons, the sinnerís ever active mind has time to work without ceasing in its efforts to shore up its defenses against the truth. Protracted meetings, on the other hand, are useful in that the illicit resistance to the gospel is more quickly torn down by frequent exposure to strong preaching than sinners can resist by shoring up their vain imaginations justifications in their thinking to resistance the truth. After so many days of such preaching, the sinnerís mind is sometimes left without any effective denial of the truth, and spiritual light actually enters into his previously closed and darkened mind. It is at this time that he comes to Christ. In some cases, that is what happens. Thus, it becomes easier to understand why some few will respond to the gospel the first time they hear the saving truth. They have had no cause to erect barriers to gospel truth. However, once the gospel is heard but not responded to, the sinnerís mind will begin to work against the truth. It then becomes important to preach sermons so frequently that many sinners cannot erect mental barriers to hide behind and resist the truth. Such can occur in protracted meetings.

 

Next, CONSIDER THE SPIRITUAL ADVANTAGES TO THE SINNERíS AFFECTIONS OF PROTRACTED MEETINGS

 

We know that conversions do not always result from someone being convinced that he will go to Hell when he dies and that Jesus is the only way of salvation. The logic and the rightness of a well constructed gospel argument to a sinner is one thing, but the sinnerís desire to become a Christian, the sinnerís desire to be liberated from bondage to sin is quite another thing. How do protracted meetings prove helpful in dealing with this matter of a sinnerís affections?

May I first make the point of asserting that absence does not make the heart grow fonder? That bromide sounds good, but it is a lie. In actuality, the longer someoneís heart is removed from any object of desire the weaker that heartís desire becomes. With that in mind, turn to First John 2.15-17:

 

15     Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16     For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

17     And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

 

It is clear from this passage that love of the world is antithetical to loving God, and that exposure to the world in which we live both entices oneís lusts and provokes oneís pride. If you love the world, you will not love God and if you love God, you will not love the world. Wherein, then, lies the benefit of protracted meetings? It is similar in effect to spending time at camp, where the distractions and the enticements of the world are greatly minimized so effective gospel preaching will be conducive to bringing about the conversion of those attending camp. Of course, the problem with such a camp is that the kids attending so frequently have so much fun at camp that they are distracted from their serious spiritual needs by the fun and activities they are enjoying with their camp friends. However, this is the price you pay for making camp attractive enough to actually attend. The benefits of camp are twofold: First, your audience is not so much immersed in the things of the world if the camp is conducted properly. No radio, television, text messaging, neighbor kids, or those diabolical video and computer games that do so much harm to kids are clamoring for the camperís attention. As well, at camp there are so many more opportunities to preach sermons, several sermons a day, in an effort to bring people to Christ.

Protracted meetings provide much the same benefit as camp, without the distraction of young people having so much fun. During a protracted meeting, life is oftentimes more evenly paced, with the evenings filled with gospel preaching rather than such things as television or video games. Thus, the impact of the world that comes through television, games, and texting or spending time with friends, is somewhat diminished. The world is by these means somewhat less attractive and serves to weaken the hold that a sinnerís love for the world has on his heart affections.

Since it is with the heart that man believes unto righteousness, Romans 10.10, such a strategy to loosen the worldís stranglehold on the sinnerís heart is crucial to bringing him to Christ. This is part of the explanation of Godís gracious use of the means of protracted meetings to save some.

 

Finally, CONSIDER THE SPIRITUAL ADVANTAGES TO THE SINNERíS BODY OF PROTRACTED MEETINGS

 

A gospel sermon can be used by the Holy Spirit to demolish a mental barrier to the truth in forty minutes, with a sinnerís mind requiring a number of days to reconstruct his mental barrier of opposition to the truth. Therefore, with a protracted series of services, it is possible that enough headway is made with the truth in the sinnerís thinking that he actually begins to consider becoming a Christian. At the same time, his heartís affections are beginning to incline toward actually wanting to be saved from his sins.

Protracted meetings can actually help in yet another practical way, which is counterintuitive to most peopleís thinking. Who could deny that attending a service every night is very inconvenient? Who could deny that attending a service every night quickly becomes not only tiresome, but also even disruptive to the normal flow of life? With these realities in mind, what you may not realize is the real spiritual benefit of this inconvenient, tiresome, and disruptive activity in which a sinner is repeatedly and imaginatively challenged to consider the claims of Jesus Christ and his own peril should he die without Christ.

My friends, recognize that it takes some effort to resist the truth. However, what happens when your routine is upset, when you get a bit tired, and when you are confronted again and again with what you cannot deny to be absolutely true, that you are lost and only Jesus saves? You might just wave the white flag of surrender and yield to the wooing of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the physical toll that protracted meetings takes on a sinner in terms of fatigue and disruption of lifeís routine can actually work to his spiritual benefit, because a personís mind can actually become just tired enough that he no longer has the energy to lie against the truth of the gospel.

We must be careful with this, since I make no reference to anyone being so tired he cannot think clearly. Isaiah 1.18, which reads, ďCome now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD,Ē shows the value of clear thinking when dealing with God about serious spiritual concerns. What I speak of is the excess energy and distractibility that burns off after a few days of protracted services, which results in the sinner actually paying closer attention to the preaching than during the first few days, and a loss of the mindís ability and willingness to create barricades from lies to resist the gospel.

Thus, that internal struggle that takes place when a sinner is under gospel preaching, when part of him wants to become a Christian while the other part fears the consequences of converting to Christ, can oftentimes greatly benefit from a protracted meeting. And in the end, the heartís affections are wooed enough by the Holy Spirit of God that he willingly casts himself into the arms of a loving Savior.

 

I am quite sure there are many other benefits from protracted meetings that are not as immediately apparent as these three I have mentioned this evening. However, these three reasons are substantial and worthy of our prayerful consideration. Therefore, should I call upon you to turn about and alter your schedule on a few days notice, and to inconvenience yourselves for a while for the purpose of a protracted series of evangelistic services, keep several things in mind:

First, keep in mind the benefits to the mind, the benefits to the affections, and the benefits to the body in a way that is not apparent to most people when a church holds such meetings. Second, keep in mind that most of the hopeful conversions in such meetings as these occur in the lives of people who are ordinarily unmoved and apparently immovable when services are held to a regular weekly schedule. Who knows? It may very well be that one of the greatest benefits of protracted meetings is the disruption of our personal schedules, and of getting some people out of the groove of their daily and weekly routines, so that they actually come to grips with the gospel of their salvation.

I conclude by pointing out that protracted meetings such as we had at the end of July and the first week of August fits a pattern that can be observed in the book of Acts, fits a pattern that God has blessed in past centuries, seems to have resulted in a number of recent conversions in our two congregations, and has also resulted in stirring the hearts of precious loved ones who I fervently pray will soon come to Christ.

Please keep these things in mind should we ever test the waters of Godís grace with another protracted meeting such as we recently participated in.



[1] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1987), page 106.

[2] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pages 89-90.

[3] Charles G. Finney, Lectures On Revivals Of Religion, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1868 reprint), page 13.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org