A few months ago, I heard this quote, “You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular the pastor is by who comes on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting.” The quote has stuck with me ever since I first heard it and I wasn’t entirely sure why.
Of course, one could easily take those words at face value and point an accusing finger at the institution of the church and say, “It’s all your fault! It’s not about the next big holy man or women of the hour, it’s about Jesus.” Which is true. However, as I thought about it I found that the Lord had another reason in mind. He was wanting to talk to me about prayer.
Primarily, God gives us insight not so that we have a great piece of knowledge to share with people but because He’s trying to deepen our relationship with Him. God revealing His heart to us is His way of drawing us closer to Him.
One particular hero of mine, who modeled these attributes, is an African American man by the name of William Seymour. I think he is one of the most underrated heroes of the faith and yet God used him to birth a revival that many historians believe was the primary catalyst for the spread of Pentecostalism around the world.
William Seymour was born in the south, to parents who were emancipated slaves. He was the eldest of ten children and had an insatiable hunger for God.
This hunger took him across America in search of God. He took jobs as a porter, truck driver, bartender and salesman and along the way he met a man named William Parham. William Parham had a profound influence on Seymour and helped give language to the hunger that he had inside of him; he believed that when you were baptized in the Holy Spirit the evidence of this would be speaking in tongues. Parham’s biblical justification for this is from Acts 2:4: “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
This was a controversial position to hold (and still is), so when in early 1906 Seymour was invited to preach at a small church in Los Angeles and spoke on this he was literally locked out when he came back the following day.
However, one of the congregants, a man named Edward S. Lee let Seymour stay with him and hosted prayer meetings led by Seymour at his place. Two months later and three days into a 10-day fast Edward Lee spoke in tongues. Seymour received the gift 3 days later, after a long evening spent in prayer.
Thus, the fire had started and before long a racially egalitarian move of God had taken hold of Los Angeles. People from all over came to see and receive and took the fire with them to the nations.
By 1914 Pentecostalism had spread to almost every major U.S. city and by 1907, missionaries from Azusa Street had reached Mexico, Canada, Western Europe, the Middle East, West Africa and parts of Asia.
Sadly, as with most great moves of God, men got their hands on it and by 1914 the Azusa Street Revival had all but died. There have been plenty of books and articles written about this great move of God, which I’d encourage you to read if you’re interested.
Seymour died of a heart attack on September 28, 1922. Some say he died of heartbreak as by the end his congregation had dwindled significantly, caused by infighting and division.
Seymour once said, “…I prayed for five hours a day for two and a half years.” That’s a lot. Yet people come to Azusa Street, not for Seymour but for God. God used a man on his knees who was unwilling to compromise on the burning conviction he had inside of him.
He could have watered down his message, especially when he was padlocked out of a church but he didn’t. He took his prayer meeting to a sympathetic congregants’ house and God came mightily and it changed the world.
Church it’s time to get on your knees and cry out for a move of God. Not for your denomination’s sake or personal vindication but for Jesus.
Men come and go but God doesn’t. God doesn’t care about being popular for popularities sake. We worship Him because by doing so it makes us more like Him and by being more like Him means being light to a world experiencing so much tension.
The nation and the world are ripe for a harvest and God wants EVERYONE to know Him.
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Read more at What kind of prayer moves the heart and hand of God?