Reflections on Azusa Now
This past weekend an event called ‘Azusa Now’(which truly has caught the attention of the Church across the world) took place in Los Angeles celebrating 110 years since the Azusa Street Revival, which, in many respects, birthed the Pentecostal and subsequently the Charismatic movement in North America. Thirteen years ago, at the age of nineteen while on a short-term mission to the Los Angeles Dream Center, I had the opportunity to visit the house on Azusa Street where the revival began. Walking into the building I was overcome with the presence of God. At this point in my life experiencing the presence of God was not something rare or infrequent for me, however, I don’t know if I had ever experienced the presence of God that strong simply walking into a house.
As I walked through the house, I was overcome with the desire to live a life which would see God continuously moving in power, the kind of mind-bending power you read about in the book of Acts (Acts 2:41; 3:6-7; 4:31; 8:39; 9:40; etc.). Everything within me wanted this to be my existence and that of the entire church for that matter.
On Friday evening, the day before Azusa Now, I was spending the evening with some dear friends who have seen and experienced the miraculous in some incredible ways (seriously). Through the course of the evening we got on the topic of revival and signs and wonders which left me feeling inspired, but to be totally honest, I felt more like I had to preserve and protect my hope. I wouldn’t want that to get carried away again. I did that. I had hoped. I had dreamed. For 19 of my 32 years on God’s earth, I have been praying for revival, praying for an incredible harvest, for his kingdom to increasingly be made manifest on earth especially amongst the lost and the broken. That night I remembered doing prayer walks around my town for hours each night for most of the summer between grade 10 and 11 (and other things like this), however, I never saw what I had been longing for.
As we talked, I had to wrestle with my inner hopelessness. My adult years included good and bad church experiences, a tumultuous first 6 years of marriage, spiritual wilderness, the silencing of God’s intimate voice and all of it left my heart in a Proverbs 13:12 state:
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick”
I found myself heartsick and as a movement, we have discussed this passage frequently but this weekend for the first time it really struck me that this was highly applicable to me! This was the posture of my heart - still expectant because of the steadfastness of God, but hesitant to personally invest, to seek God for these things, fearing further disappointment.
On Saturday, our church had one of our bi-monthly prayer vigils which I went into it having tuned in periodically to Azusa Now and significantly feeling the toll the last few years had taken on my heart. The Lord graciously led me to Psalms 22:3 which says,
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”
This is a verse, which I have frequently heard during my time in the charismatic movement and I always thought it sounded nice, but often lacked weight and substance. As I prayed, I reflected on my class notes from a seminary class on the Psalms with Dr. Eric Ortlund, who writes this,
“While Israel’s praise doesn’t make Yahweh king – he is king on his own – the praise of his people brings that rule into its fullest realization.”
True, trusting, hopeful and reliant worship activates and empowers the sovereign rule and reign of Christ in our midst and should tangibly affect our lives. The very act of worship is a recalibration and submission of oneself to his ultimate lordship and reign. In many ways, this seems way too good to be true and I don’t know if I have ever praised my way to a tangible victory at least not that I can think of.
As I continued to pray into this, I decided to read the verses around it (duh).
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”(Ps. 22:1-5)
I don’t have enough of these prayers in my life.
Praise birthed out of pain, founded not in the fickle emotion of my humanity, but in the character and steadfastness of God, this is a praise that is pleasing to God.
My prayer life has been the first two verses. This continual frustration and lament about the seeming absence and distance of God, but too frequently it ends before the “yet” moment. The depth of my heart-sickness and hopelessness has made it painful to consider truly seeking the Lord for these things. My heart feels too fragile to get its hopes up again.
I wrote in my journal during the vigil, “In the midst of deep pain and emerging from a place of hopelessness and sorrow a true, albeit raw and vulnerable, praise comes forth from my heart. This is not birthed in hype or caught up in an exciting moment but it transcends my own pain and humanity, looking past myself, I can begin to see him for who he truly is, and praise him, simply because he is holy. I must praise him because he has proven himself to be faithful (v. 4-5) and no longer allow my praise to be deterred by the apparent contradiction between my theology and experience.”
I can't help but believe there are clues to a revival in this passage. There is often the journey through the wilderness before entering into a promised land season and God is calling me to stand firm in his faithfulness, truly praising him for who he is and what he has done. I believe God is calling those who, like me, have reserved hope, to engage again, from the desert, through songs of praise. Like King David, our laments and our painful prayers must still submit themselves to his absolute goodness and transcendent holiness, and in doing that, true praise and worship, he promises to be enthroned, establishing his kingdom in our very midst.