Why Does God Use Young Men in Revival?
Let no one look down on your youthfulness. 1 Timothy 4:12a
Jesus was thirty when he began his public ministry (Luke 3:23), and Peter must have been close to Jesus’ age when he began to follow him. Some say Saul of Tarsus was in his twenties when he was converted on the road to Damascus. Augustine was forty at his conversion. Savonarola, the fiery Italian preacher who took on the corrupt political and church leaders of 15th century Florence, was in his twenties when he was calling the city to repent. Martin Luther was thirty-four when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg. John Calvin was twenty-six at the first publication of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Charles Spurgeon was sixteen when he began preaching and was preaching to 6,000 people at the newly constructed Metropolitan Tabernacle when he was twenty-five. John Girardeau, the mighty Presbyterian preacher to the slaves of Charleston, SC, was thirty-four when revival broke out in his church in 1859. Evan Roberts, the leader of the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905, was twenty-six. The powerful Scottish Presbyterian preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne was twenty-nine when he died; as was David Brainerd, whom God used powerfully with the American Indians in the 1740’s; as was Brainerd’s cousin, James Brainerd Taylor, who was used mightily in the Second Great Awakening in the 1820’s in Connecticut. When revival broke out the first time in Northampton, MA, Jonathan Edwards was thirty-two. George Whitefield was twenty-one when he was preaching to forty thousand people in Moorfields outside of London and in Philadelphia. Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, both from Wales and contemporaries of Whitefield, whom God also used mightily as evangelistic preachers, were twenty-one and twenty-four respectively when they began their public ministries. Billy Graham was thirty in 1949 when God did mighty things through his preaching in Los Angeles. Jim Eliot, whom God used powerfully as a voice for the gospel, was martyred by the Auca Indians at the age of twenty-eight. Don Richardson, the missionary writer who wrote the popular book Peace Child, was twenty-seven when he began his ministry among the Sawi people of Papua New Guinea which resulted in mass conversions of these formerly stone-age people. And Erlo Stegen from South Africa, the instrument of mighty revival among the Zulu people at Kwasizabantu, was thirty-two in 1966 when God poured out his Spirit in remarkable ways, bringing conversions to thousands of Zulus. David Wilkerson was twenty-eight when he left his comfortable pastoral ministry for his street evangelistic work in New York City; and God did mighty things through him there.
Clearly there is a pattern here. God uses young men in revival. Why? Obviously anything I say here is mere speculation but surely this is worth our consideration. Why does God use young men in revival? I can think of several possible reasons. First, isn’t it true that young people often have an idealistic mindset, whether for good or ill!? No doubt these young preachers mentioned above had a holy zeal for Christ and his kingdom. They believed wholeheartedly what they were preaching. They had not yet been brought to cynicism by the affairs of the church and world. To go further, perhaps they had not yet been corrupted by the world, the flesh, and the devil; and because of this they tended to be purer, cleaner vessels through whom the Holy Spirit can work powerfully. And it could be they had child-like faith. Jesus told us that unless we are converted and become as little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:3). Part of our problem, the older we get, the more theology we read, the more we see the devastation of the lives of professing Christians who have wandered from the faith, is that we begin to mitigate the clear teaching of Scripture. We simply explain away the straightforward promises and commands in the Bible. Jesus says, ‘Ask and you shall receive’ (Matt. 7:7) and we don’t take that command and promise very seriously. He also says, ‘Until now you have asked for nothing in My name. Ask and you shall receive that your joy may be made full’ (John 16:24).
But I wonder if the greatest reason for God using young men in revival is this – they have nothing to lose. Think back to your early twenties when you were not yet married, just beginning your career. You probably had very little money, and even fewer possessions. You could probably load up everything in your car and move to a new city at the drop of a hat. You had no investments, no big career to hold you back. You had no wife or children so your responsibilities were limited. You were not running a company. No one was dependent on you keeping the company going so that they could get a pay cheque. You could take risks. Maybe you had lots of wins and lots of losses, but that was okay. None of these men mentioned above, as far as I know, had much money. They were not worried about keeping a congregation happy. They were fearless to preach the truth of the gospel in all its practical applications. They were not bound by needing to be home at night to help their wives put the children to bed. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
What does this mean for us today? Well, if you are young and not yet married, then treasure the freedom you now possess. I am not saying marriage is a bad thing. Of course a good wife is a wonderful gift from the Lord (Prov. 31:10), as are children (Psa. 127:3-5). But realize you have this window of time where you can give yourself wholeheartedly, 24/7, to the work of prayer, evangelism, and making disciples of the nations. I challenge you to ‘go for it’, ‘pull out all the stops,’ and ‘leave it all on the field.’
But what if you are like me, getting older with all these familial and financial responsibilities? I challenge you to heed the words of the Apostle Paul to the Colossians, ‘Therefore if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above; where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:1-3). If you are in Christ then you have been raised with him. You are in Christ Jesus now. Thus you are commanded continually, daily, to seek the things that are above, not the things of the world (see also Matt. 6:19-20). In other words, hold your possessions of time and money very loosely. Ask God daily to give you opportunities to give yourself away in sacrificial service. By all means begin with a tithe of your income and increase it from there, slowly but surely each year. Obey the promptings of the Spirit to give to particular ministries when a need is made known to you. Consider supporting missionaries and Christian workers who are labouring diligently for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. And finally, believe, really believe, that if you truly have Jesus then you have everything; and even if you lose everything in an economic downturn or some other act of ‘frowning providence’, you still have everything.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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