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David Collins writes:

The Marks of Visitation

God moves neither by whim nor by chance, but always in accordance with His eternal purpose. It is the wider plan of God that forms the backdrop to every move of Godís Spirit. He not only comes to bring blessing but to advance His Church one more step toward the realisation of His ultimate goal:

"...to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" Ephesians 5:25-27.

Moves of God are not cyclic, simply reclaiming the same ground each time. They are tidal in nature. Even when ground seems to be lost, the next wave surges to higher ground. That higher ground is spelled out clearly in Ephesians 4:13:

"...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
The men of Issachar were commended because they "understood the times and knew what Israel should do" (1 Chronicles 12:32). Paul prayed that we would have a spirit of revelation to "know the hope to which he has called [us]" (Ephesians 1:18). Only by understanding the context of Godís plan for the Church can we grasp the implications of what God is doing in our day.

This Present Time

The last two decades have seen a phenomenal move of Godís Spirit around the world, touching the far-flung corners of Asia, Africa and South America. Such is the explosion of Godís kingdom in these regions that the overall rate of church growth there has outstripped that in the West. There are now twice as many Christians in what was once called the Third World than there are in the West.

The West, in contrast, has experienced negative church growth. The last fifteen years have seen a spiritual drought ravage vast sections of the Western Church. The tide of Godís Spirit seemed to have receded, leaving many churches feeling dry and parched.

Low Tide

Many pastors have sought to keep church programs going under difficult circumstances, wrestling with a lack of commitment from believers. Others have become disillusioned as they have seen high-profile leaders fall. In Australia alone, 10,000 people have left the ministry. Churches are haemorrhaging their members at a frightening rate.

The watershed of this tide reversal came in the late 70s and early 80s. Whereas the early 70s had been marked by a message of unity in the Body, the next decade saw a change of message. It was the era of the megachurch, of self-promotion, of competition between churches. Church leaders would openly vie with each other to become the greatest in the city. Churches would be planted specifically to build on top of other churches. Some pastors would phone each other weekly to boast of church attendance and offerings. The meeting mode shifted from worship to entertainment, with the emphasis on attracting as many people to attend as possible.

A Decade of Hype

The Church had entered a decade where success was measured by outward indicators - the level of church attendance, of finances and of decibel output. The problem is that these indicators can be manipulated without the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Lord was dethroned from the centre of church life, usurped by self-interest. The activities of the church were engineered around the comfort zone of peopleís lives, catering to the senses. And in the midst of all this activity and busyness, few people noticed the receding presence of the Holy Spirit.

For some years now, however, it has been noticed. A cry has been rising from the Western Church to the Throne of God - and it is in answer to this cry that God has begun to move. Like to the Laodicean Christians, the Lord is speaking to us in the West:

"You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see" Revelation 3:17-18.

Preparing the Ground

Into the midst of this dryness, the Holy Spirit has come to revive, encourage and breathe life back into much of the deadness. He has manifested Himself in numerous ways but one of the principle ones has been that of laughter and joy. This has brought tremendous emotional healing to His Body, acting like a medicine (Proverbs 17:22) to long years of self-imposed isolation from Godís presence. The ark of Godís glory is returning and great is the joy in the camp.

I have been privileged to see, over a spread of many years, a number of sovereign visitations of Godís Spirit. What I have observed is a few common characteristics - the marks of visitation:

A revelation of the Lord

It is the nature of a move of Godís Spirit to elevate the Lord Jesus. It is a revelation of His holiness, His goodness, His grace, and His awesome presence, which sets the pace for the visitation which follows.

Deep repentance

Every revival in Church history has been marked by deep repentance. This is not a negative, but an integral part of the work of God to bring lasting change. God targets not just obvious areas of sin but also the underlying attitudes of the human heart. Without this deep work of the Holy Spirit, no move of Godís Spirit lasts the lap.

Great joy

Joy is a common mark of visitation. But it generally breaks out upon a foundation of tears. This is a deep joy, not a "bubble-and-froth" variety that barely skims the surface. Joy is a fruit of the deep work of Godís Spirit.

Spontaneous signs

Anyone who has seen visitation notices the spontaneous nature of the moving of Godís Spirit. Hand in hand with repentance, there is spontaneous deliverance from evil powers, followed by manifestations like visions, healing and dramatic miracles. In all of this, however, the Holy Spirit is unpredictable. There are no formulas of ministry which work, save for being sensitive to what God is doing at a particular time. It is not in the laying on of hands, the projection of the voice, the right words to say. Rather it is little more than attempting to keep pace with the work of God in progress.

Selfless unity

One characteristic of every visitation we have seen is the breaking down of barriers between believers, ministers and churches. This is because true visitation cuts to the core of self-promotion and selfish ambition.

The voice of God

The central thread of each visitation has been the prophetic voice of God speaking into His Church through the five-fold ministry of Ephesians 4:11. It is the message, not the signs, which form the central thrust of the move of Godís Spirit. Like in the book of Acts, it is the message of Godís grace which the Holy Spirit confirms with signs and wonders. "...the Lord...confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders" Acts 14:3 (see also Mark 16:20).

This message is the cutting edge of the visitation. In describing the preacher of a past visitation, George Whitefield, J. C. Ryle wrote:

"His sermons were life and fire; you must listen whether you liked to or not. There was a holy violence about him which firmly took your attention by storm. 'I have not come in my own name. No! I have come in the Name of the Lord of hosts (and he brought down his hand and foot with a force that made the room ring) and I must and will be heard!'"

It is the prophetic impact of Godís word, not just to the Church but to the world, that will carry a revival beyond the Churchís walls. In each and every visitation we have participated in, one of the key questions is:

"What is the message?"

A visitation without a message is no visitation.

Influx of souls

The ultimate mark of a true visitation of the Holy Spirit is the turning inside-out of the Church. Godís Spirit overflows the four walls of church life and brings deep change to the community. It is the daily multiplication of believers out in the community (Acts 2:46-47), rather than a weekly increase at the Sunday meeting, that shows that the deep work of the Holy Spirit is having effect. True visitation results in believers being energised and galvanised in their homes, in their workplaces and in the streets.

What we are presently seeing is not the sum total of what God wants to do. But it is a wonderful beginning. It is a ploughing of the hardened ground (Hosea 10:2), bringing a refreshing and an opening of hearts, but the full visitation that God is intending to bring will be evidenced in repentance as the result of a deeper revelation of the work of the Cross and will outwork in a dramatic change in the surrounding community. This does not devalue what God is doing now. It simply places it in the perspective of Godís long-term plan.

A Deep Work

There are two levels on which God is moving in His Body today: on the individual believer level and on the leadership level.

The Believer Level

The response of many Christians is one of excitement. The blessing of the Holy Spirit, so long missed, is beginning to blow across the Church again. There is a very real danger, however, that we miss the main thrust of what God is wanting to do by concentrating on the blessing alone. God loves to bless His people. But behind the blessing He has a wider purpose. The danger is when we focus on the blessing alone and miss the reason God seeks to bless - so that we might be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2). God wants us to receive more than just blessing. We must move beyond the blessing to the purpose.

The Leadership Level

Focusing only on surface-level blessing can open churches up to the abuse of manipulation. This has been a characteristic of the tidal nature of visitations in recent decades. God brings a genuine move with special manifestations. But if manifestations become the focus of attention, two dangers arise:

  1. Manipulation (either innocently or deliberately) to produce the outward manifestations; and
  2. The hijacking of a genuine move by self-seeking leadership.

The only answer to these inherent dangers is the nature of the message we preach.

The Message

At the core of every movement of Godís Spirit is a greater revelation of Jesus and of the work of the Cross. Only the pure message of the Cross and Resurrection will release the grace of God to bring about a deep transformation. The message of the Cross is twofold:

Christ died for me

This part of the message of the Cross deals with a personís sins - the barrier between us and God. This part unlocks our eternal salvation.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" Romans 5:8.

Yet many Christians have only had a revelation of one part of the Gospel. While they understand that theirs sins have been dealt with on the Corss, they still struggle with the old self. But the Gospel is complete. Not only did Christ die for me, once for all, but also...

I died in Christ

This part of the Gospel deals totally with our self. It strikes at the original deification of self that took place at the fall by crucifying that old self in Christ (note Genesis 3:5). The apostle Paul had a dramatic revelation of the crucifixion of the old self on the Cross. He declared:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me..." Galatians 2:20 (see also Romans 6:6-11).

Many Christians, without realising it, bring an "unresolved self" over into the new life. It is this unresolved self which causes all the problems - on both an individual level and a leadership level - in the Church. As Godís Spirit begins to move, if the old self is unresolved, then the visitation is short-circuited. It either peters out or swings to self-centred extremes.

Quantum Leap

God is moving. But Godís goal in this move is to bring deep and lasting changes in His Body. He is seeking to take believers beyond entertainment to worship, beyond the blessing to the purpose.

A new kind of leadership is on the rise - genuine servants of the Body who seek not their own elevation but the good of the Church at large. There is also a new kind of believer being birthed - one who is not self-focused but instead is enthralled in the purposes of God. These two "quantum leap" changes are the plumbline against which a lasting and society-changing visitation is measured. Ultimately, these two changes - not the manifestations themselves - are the marks of a genuine moving of Godís Spirit in our day.

David Collins has co-authored a special training manual called "Back to the Gospel," which outlines in a clear and concise manner the four parts of the Gospel which make up the whole Gospel for the whole Christian life, an experience "from first to last" (Romans 1:17).


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Copyright & copy; 1995 David Collins. All rights reserved. May be freely used and reproduced by the Christian Church for the non-profit purposes of study and training only, provided all copyright information is included. May be resent only with copyright, authorship and contact information intact.

Unless otherwise stated, all scriptures quoted in these articles are from the New International Version of the Bible, & copy; New York International Bible Society, used by permission. Other versions referred to are: KJV (King James Version), NKJB (New King James Bible), TLB (The Living Bible), Amp (The Amplified Bible) and The Message. All versions used by permission.

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