|The Key to Revival
A couple of years ago, two members of our staff exhausted their abilities in a complex church dispute. They soon found that their failure had set the stage for a grand display of God’s amazing grace. This is their exhilarating testimony. It was written by Rev. Alfred Poirier, who serves as an adjunct conciliator and instructor for our ICC division. Alfred’s co-mediator in this case was Gary Friesen, our executive vice president. –Ken Sande, Founder
Originally published in Connections, a journal of the Presbyterian Church in America, and reprinted in 1997 in New Horizons, a journal of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Reprinted by permission.
by Dr. Alfred J. Poirier, former Chairman of the Peacemaker Ministries Board of Directors
I would like to share with you the secret of revival. Maybe you or your family is in need of revival. Maybe you are praying for revival in your church. Many of us are praying for revival in our nation’s churches. What is the secret? The secret can be summed up in a phrase taken from a book on personal revival: “The way up is the way down.”
That is the paradox of the Kingdom of God. Lose your life and you will find it. Humble yourself and you will be exalted. Be broken in heart and you will be healed. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). The mystery of the kingdom of God is that out of death comes life—eternal life. The world views this mystery as foolishness. Should we not rather take the offensive? Should we not assert ourselves? If we adopt Jesus’ program, won’t we become the world’s doormats, asking others to walk all over us? So the world argues, but the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man (1 Cor. 1:25). If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will discover the truth of what Jesus says for our own lives.
Gary Friesen and I were able to witness the reality of this truth in a dramatic way. A large church in the east had come to the point of splitting. Factions and divisions had formed within the church, rousing a sense of strife that permeated the entire church community. Some members had left the church, abandoning ship. The pastor was pitted against the church leaders, the leaders against one another and the congregation, and members of the congregation against the pastor.
These conflicts had been building for almost two years, and they finally erupted in full force at a congregational meeting. Words were spoken that never should have been expressed. When the pastor was slandered publicly, some in the congregation applauded in agreement while others murmured threats. Seeing the danger ahead, the leaders called Peacemaker Ministries and asked for help in restoring peace. This step offered a new ray of hope. The leaders realized they did not know how to resolve the problem. They were stumped, but they were seeking help.
Our first on-site visit was largely devoted to listening and teaching. Gary and I had to hear exactly what was happening. Moreover, we had to lay a biblical foundation for the way conflicts are to be resolved. In our teaching we stressed that what God required was a change of heart. James 4:1-2 asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” This truth is not as obvious as you might think. Too often when we are in conflict with another person, we think that the catalyst that caused the conflict was a specific issue. But the specific issues may be only the occasion or excuse for conflict. It is through our hearts that conflicts precipitate into fights and quarrels. So it was with this church: each person’s desire had escalated to the level of a demand. It was our job to present the truth of James 4, but it was God’s job to reveal it to each individual person. And He did.
When we returned three months later, we found that God had indeed begun to work in a number of hearts. The aim for our second visit was to prepare the church for a reconciliation service on Sunday night. We encouraged the church leaders to publicly confess their sins before the pastor, his wife, and the entire congregation. We also worked to provide an opportunity for the pastor and his wife, as well as the congregation, to grant forgiveness, confess their own sins, and affirm one another in Christ.
Gary and I had many meetings Friday evening and all day Saturday, speaking with various groups within the church. On Saturday night we met with the congregation and found that they were not of one mind. There was conflict over the real cause of their problems: Was it this issue or that issue, or was it each person’s heart? Gary was aiming toward their hearts, and the people resisted it. Again and again they tried to lay blame on something other than their own selfish, demanding hearts. But Gary was bold and persisted in presenting the truth. I even had a few moments of doubt about whether or not we had missed something in our assessment of their problems. The human heart is impossible to see, let alone understand. According to Jer. 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” While one could interpret that verse as God’s counsel not to delve into matters of the heart, that is not what Jeremiah is saying. Rather, he is exposing the real issue that each of us must address: our own sinful hearts.
Gary and I pressed on with the people Saturday night, but the church looked like it was going to split at any moment. I was praying, “God, show them their hearts—judgments, suspicions, anger, and bitterness.” Though we prayed, we could not see any softening. We went away discouraged that night. How could a reconciliation service take place after a display like that?
Sunday morning I preached on John 17:20-23. This passage is one of my favorites, because it records for us Jesus’ prayer on the night he was betrayed. Jesus really allows us to see his heart, and his heart is for us to be one and to love one another as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. I preached earnestly, out of my deep desire that they see the truth.
More meetings followed that afternoon. Even the leaders did not appear to be making the kind of progress we thought was needed. Only three leaders said they would make individual confessions. That was a good start, but there were twenty-two others. I was asking, “God, can you turn the hearts of this people and grant them broken and contrite hearts?” We would have to wait until that evening to see.
The evening reconciliation service came. Here it was. What would it look like? We knew there were a few people who planned to confess that night. Would their confessions be made sincerely, or would they be offered just for show? How would the congregation respond? What would the pastor and his wife say in response?
We began the service with a few songs, and then I gave a brief talk, establishing a framework for the way the service was to be conducted. When I finished, the entire leadership body, twenty-three people, walked up and faced the congregation. One of the leaders was the first to step to the mike. He began to read aloud the corporate confession of sin that the leaders had put together. Then he took his eyes off his notes and looked straight at the pastor and his wife and said, “We have sinned against you and caused you great pain.” You could tell by the tears in his eyes and the quiver in his voice that he was speaking from his heart.
Then another leader stepped up, confessed his sins, and sincerely asked for forgiveness from the pastor and the congregation. And then another leader. And soon more spoke. We had expected two or three, but a least seven or eight came forward.
We did not hear confessions weakened by the words “if,” “but,” or “maybe.” Instead, we heard each one admit specific sins. You might think this would be a sure way for someone in a position of leadership to lose the respect of others. But in my eyes, and in the congregation’s eyes, these men grew in stature. We saw the truth of 1 Peter 5:6: “Humble yourself and God will exalt you.”
After the leaders had made their confession, it was the pastor and his wife who next stepped up and addressed us all. Up to this point, we did not know what to expect. In fact, the pastor’s wife had told us that if the service had been a week earlier, she would not have even attended. But she was a different woman that night. She shared how she had been hurt, something the congregation needed to hear. Then she began to admit her own sins. She looked at each of the leaders and confessed, “In my heart I’ve murdered each of you men. I was so wrong. Please forgive me.” How free she looked after that! Her bitterness had been taken away.
Then her husband, the pastor, spoke. He, too, granted the leaders forgiveness, then he confessed his own sins. Though he had the opportunity to lecture the leaders and the congregation, instead he focused on his own pride and ambition. It really humbled me as he shared sins of which I have been guilty.
Finally, the members of the congregation had the opportunity to speak. It began slowly. First one here and another there repented of sin, divisiveness, and hardness of heart. Then it seemed everyone wanted a chance to approach the mike. One confession led to another. Everyone pointed at himself or herself. Each one became his own chief accuser. As the confessions continued, it was evident that the Holy Spirit was stirring their hearts.
Eight o’clock came and a gentle quietness fell upon us all. I closed the meeting with prayer, but I felt unsure about ending the service. It seemed that God desired for something more to happen, and it did.
As I dismissed the people, I could tell they yearned for more. I suggested that those who wanted to stay could just turn around and greet each other. They did. In fact, they hugged and wept and confessed and forgave each other for so long that Gary and I finally made a quiet exit. We knew these people were in good hands, God’s hands.
I wish everyone could have seen the revival Gary and I were privileged to witness! It began when individuals humbled themselves, confessed their sins, and rose to love each other anew. That is actually the only way God brings revival. The way up is the way down.
I myself was humbled that night. I saw the pride in my own heart. I saw the great grace of God, who saved and saves and shall save a wretch like me. I thanked the Lord for how often others have overlooked my sin, and, when necessary, confronted me in order to restore me.
God is not through with any of us yet. There are great things He has for all of us. And now I know how He will bring them: by leading us down so that He may then lift us up.
Dr. Alfred J. Poirier pastors Rocky Mountain Community Church, PCA, as well as serves as adjunct instructor for Peacemaker Ministries on issues involving conflict counseling and mediation. He completed his D. Min. in counseling at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA in 2005.