In 2008, God spoke to Cindy and me about re-digging the wells in the Holiness movement. While that is our calling, I believe that all of us should be involved in bringing renewal and revival to the Church. The biblical basis of this is found in Genesis 26. God appeared to Isaac and told him to sojourn to a specific land, and while there God said that Isaac would be blessed and prosper because of his father’s (Abraham) obedience to His laws and statutes (Gen. 26:3-5). Sure enough, Isaac sowed in the land and reaped a mighty harvest that made him and his family very wealthy.
There was a problem, however, that confronted Isaac. The Bible says, “Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped up by filling them with earth” (Gen. 26:15). Water was crucial to life and especially to a large family with large flocks and herds. At one time, those ancient wells dug by Abraham flowed abundantly with clean, fresh water. They represented life; God’s abundant provision for Abraham and his family. But those wells had been stopped up with dirt, so in order to dwell in the land that God placed Isaac in he had the task of re-digging those ancient wells (Gen. 26:18).
I can’t read Isaac’s story without thinking about our assignment as Spirit-filled believers specifically within the Holiness movement. Our forefathers pioneered a movement built on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Meetings where the manifest presence of God’s glory resting upon people was once thought to be normal. Sometimes there’s a pushback these days from people who believe that somehow we’re being influenced by a new (neo) Pentecostal wave. But as I read the accounts of early Nazarenes and Methodists, I wonder if we’ve drifted so far from our heritage that we don’t remember what our true roots and heritage actually looked like.
C. B. Jernigan, a former District Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, wrote a book entitled, Pioneer Days of the Holiness Movement in the Southwest. His book chronicles the events in the late 1800s leading up to the formation of the Church of the Nazarene. He writes of people instantly being born-again, sanctified, falling to the ground (sometimes for days) under the power of God, healed, and delivered; meetings would extend for days, and the conviction of God upon people would cause them to scream aloud, run to the altar, shake, or fall prostrate in the dirt.
Jernigan’s book revealed three consistent characteristics with these early well-diggers. First, they were relentless in their preaching of holiness. In spite of ridicule and persecution, their message never changed: sanctification, purity, and deeper cleansing. It was deeply understood and commonly taught that one’s nature could be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, and that the carnal, self-centered propensity of sin could be crucified (see Gal. 5:24). Many argue today if one’s sinful tendencies can truly be dealt with by the power of God. As a result, we find the message of entire sanctification rarely preach with conviction. This ancient well of entire sanctification has been stopped up by man’s opinions and scholastic rhetoric that believes people really can’t be cleansed, transformed and delivered. But those in Christ, Paul said, become “a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Second, these early well-diggers functioned with extraordinary power, and that power was recognized by believers and non-believers alike. Like the early church, “fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43) of those who were around these Christians because people realized that they were possessed with a presence that echoed the book of Acts. Sometimes that power was tangibly manifested through extraordinary healings or deliverances. Sometimes that power would prevail upon people in such a way that they would run to churches to get right with God. God’s power would overtake a village or city, too, causing people to live with a sacred reverence. Miracles, healing, and supernatural graces were common and expected of these early believers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I believe this ancient well desperately needs unplugged, too. The dirt of human programming and worked-up strategies have left us barren and burned out. Too many churches reflect Paul’s decree of being a mere form of godliness without the power (2 Tim. 3:5).
Third, they were desperate for God and that desperation never waned. Their hunger for God made them willing to sacrifice time, money, and resources for greater encounters with Him. They lived with the mindset that God’s glory had to be stewarded for increase, and whatever they experienced in a meeting or service could be greater in the next one. So they always gathered with an appetite for more of God, and they expected an encounter with His manifest presence. I’m saddened these days when believers have to be cajoled and persuaded to press into Jesus. Too many gather lethargically with little anticipation of having an encounter with Him. We must re-dig that well and make it normal again to pursue God’s presence with a passion. Blessed are those, Jesus said, who “hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Let’s learn to live with a hunger and thirst for God’s presence and His righteousness.
Jernigan wrote, “These were like the days of the Acts of the Apostles, and if people would go whole souled into the Word of the Lord today as then they would see the same results.” In all actuality, our responsibility and call to re-dig the wells didn’t start with our forefathers but began with Christ’s commission to everyone who is called His follower and that includes you and me. Jesus commissioned us to do what He did and even greater (John 14:12). Let’s examine our wells and see if they flow with the same presence and power of God like we see in the book of Acts. And when those wells are cleared out again, let’s continue to flow like rivers of living water sourcing people wherever we might go (John 7:38); and, let’s live with a determination to never let these wells become stopped up again.