During the spring of 1995, thousands of students on several college campuses were deeply impacted by an extraordinary move of God. Lives were changed, the lost came to faith in Christ, believers were revived, and ministries grew during this intense season of spiritual renewal. God had done something wonderful. In short, He had poured out His Spirit.
As a campus minister at the University of Wisconsin during that time, what amazed me was that I had rarely heard evangelical Christians talk about this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work. Sadly, this many years later, I don’t believe the situation has significantly changed.
Only a small minority of evangelical Christians seem to be aware that God does move with extraordinary power during certain times and seasons. The result is that very few are praying for a similar work of the Spirit today.
Is Outpouring Biblical?
The Old Testament prophets pointed toward a day when God would pour out His Spirit. God stated, “I will pour water on the thirsty land . . . I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3). “Afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people . . . before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Joel 2:28, 31 NIV).
Notably, this prophecy in Joel became Peter’s foundational explanation for the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21). But notice that Peter’s quote of Joel’s prophecy does not say, “In the last day,” but, “In the last days” (plural). Peter is declaring that the last days extend from this initial outpouring of the Spirit until “the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”
Peter was pronouncing not just an epochal event but the beginning of a new era. The outpouring of the Spirit did not end on the day of Pentecost; rather, it inaugurated a new season of God’s activity among His people. As Dr. Ray Ortlund, Jr. put it, “The entire Christian era, beginning at Pentecost, is one extended fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32.”
Further biblical support that the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was not a one-time event is seen by the fact that many of the same Christians who were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost were filled again in Acts 4:31. As Iain Murray says, “Here was an element of Pentecost which was clearly repeatable; there was a further giving of what they already possessed.” That’s why Paul would later exhort believers to ask for more of the Spirit in their lives and communities (Ephesians 1:17; 3:16).
The startling implication from these texts is that outpourings of the Spirit are an ongoing part of God’s plan to build the church and to advance His kingdom. You and I are living in the fulfillment of Joel 2 today. There is every reason to ask God for extraordinary outpourings of the Holy Spirit in our lifetime!
A Lesson from History
This biblical understanding of the outpouring of the Spirit motivated generations of believers to seek the Lord for repeated seasons of refreshing and revival. Samuel Willard (1640–1707), who served as one of the early vice presidents of Harvard College, stated, “If one generation begins to decline, the next that follows usually grows worse, and so on, till God pours out His Spirit again upon them.”
Jonathan Edwards, arguably the greatest theologian born on American soil, stated, “From the fall of man to this day wherein we live, the Work of Redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit of God.” And Jonathan Edwards knew firsthand of which he spoke—it was in his parish in Northampton, Massachusetts, that the spiritual fires of the First Great Awakening that would sweep through Colonial America in 1733–1735 broke out.
As Martin Lloyd-Jones, pastor of Westminster Chapel in London during the mid-20th century, taught regarding the outpouring of the Spirit, “The essence of revival is that the Holy Spirit comes down upon a number of people together, upon a whole church, upon a number of churches, on districts, or upon a whole country. It is if you will a visitation of the Holy Spirit.”
How else can we explain the great and sudden spiritual turning points that repeatedly mark church history? Outpourings of the Spirit of God are clearly seen in the record of revivals and reformation in the history of the church.
It’s Time to Remember!
Until recent decades, great outpourings of the Spirit were the reference points that shaped Christians’ future expectations of what God could do. Their belief in the possibility of another outpouring inspired fervent prayer and collective pursuit of God for more.
So what has happened to this teaching, as well as the corresponding experience of outpourings within the church today? Could it be that it has been so long since God’s people experienced a dramatic move of His Spirit that this reality has been forgotten? Could it be that the recovery of this lost reality could be the key to seeing our churches transformed and our communities changed?
As we reflect on the desperate days of broad declension in which we are living, it’s time to raise our level of faith in the transforming work that takes place when God pours out His Spirit in extraordinary power. It’s time to spread the word—to stir one another up to unite in seasons of fervent prayer for God’s manifest presence. In short, it’s time to make the words of the prophet Habakkuk our own:
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
 Accounts of a Campus Revival: Wheaton College 1995, edited by Lyle Dorsett and Timothy Beougher (2002).
 When God Comes to Church, p. 96.
 Pentecost—Today? p. 18.
* This article was originally printed in Revive magazine, “Draw Near” issue, copyright © 2011 Life Action Ministries.