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Vance Havner (1901 – 1986)

Vance Havner grew up in the hills of North Carolina in the early twentieth century. Licensed to preach at the age of twelve and ordained at fifteen, this “backwoods” Baptist preacher spent his life calling people to true repentance. Boldly proclaiming the Word of God for seventy-three years, Havner came to be loved and known for his exacting style and ingenious wordplay. In the passage below, he draws pointed parallels between the people of God during Elijah’s times—the Mt. Carmel confrontation (1 Kings 18:30-39)—and the Church of his times. As Havner observes, fire from heaven falls on faithful prophets not on slick public-relations professionals.

The conditions today are just about much the same as they were in the times of Elijah. We’re living in a spiritual drought. There’s a famine of the hearing the Word of the Lord. Ahab and Jezebel sit in high places. Idolatry abounds. And yet God has His faithful remnant. We need an Elijah who can face Ahab and call convocation on Carmel, a confrontation with Baal, and a showdown with forces of evil.

We’re a little short on prophets. We need to rebuild the broken altar and put the sacrifice of a dedicated life thereupon. But before we can expect any fire from heaven, we must drench the altar. I’ve heard plenty of preaching about rebuilding the altar. I’ve heard sermons about presenting our body as living sacrifice. But the hardest lesson for anybody in Christian service to learn is that we cannot help God out in the slightest by warming up the altar in the energy of the flesh.

We try to start a fire of our own and think that’ll help out God’s fire. It won’t do it. We’re ashamed to be laughed at by the world. We don’t dare face the Midianites with Gideon’s band, so we mob-o-lize. We don’t mobilize, we mob-o-lize a multitude who know little and care less about spiritual warfare, who never have understood that the Bible is the Lord’s and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. We’re afraid to face old Goliath today with sling and stone. We want to wear the latest equipment, and Saul’s armory is working overtime. We must be up-to-date and borrow all the technique of the world to do the work of God. But you can’t organize revivals as you do secular things, as the world puts on its drives and campaigns.

You can’t run a church as you would a business corporation. You can’t work up mere human enthusiasm to put over the work of the Lord. We all give lip service, of course, to the Holy Spirit: “Not by might nor power, but by my Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). We sing, “Kindle a flame of sacred love in these cold hearts of ours” (Isaac Watts, “Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,” 1707). But actually we’re so wired up to our own devices that if the fire doesn’t fall from heaven, we can turn on a switch and produce some false fire of our own. And if there’s no sound of a mighty rushing wind, we’ve got the bellows all set to blow hot air instead.

But God answers by fire, not by feelings, not by fame, not by finances. You can blow up quite a blaze today on Carmel. We can do it, yes. But people are not crying out today, “The LORD, he is the God” (1 Kings 18:39).1

Footnotes :

1 Vance Hanver, When God Breaks Through: Sermons on Revival, edited and complied by Dennis J. Hester (Grand Rapids, MI; Kregel Publications, 2003), 54-55.