By Melody Green
One evening, in February 1979, Keith was poking through his bookshelf – pulling books out, scanning a few pages, then putting them back. I noticed that he kept at it, until one book seemed to capture his interest. Keith carried it over to his favorite chair – a $5 Naugahyde recliner we “scored” at the resale store – and kicked back to read for a while. I smiled and shook my head. Keith was always tackling books that frightened me off just by their size.
It seemed like he was only a chapter into it when he called me over.
“Mel, do you remember this book?”
It didn’t look familiar. “No what’s it about?”
“It’s all about revivals! Real ones!”
I did remember what he was talking about now. The book was called Revival Lectures and it was written by a 19th century revivalist named Charles Finney. One night about a year ago, Keith had phoned me from the road, sobbing into the phone. He had read me a whole chapter of that book over the phone! Keith had been reading more Finney lately and, tonight, he had rediscovered this particular book.
He went back to reading now – no long passages to read out loud, I guessed – and I got ready for bed.
When I walked out into the living room to say goodnight Keith was still engrossed in his reading. But by this time his expression had changed to total sobriety. Keith was so absorbed that he barely looked up as he mumbled a goodnight to me. I went in our room and turned out the light.
The next thing I knew Keith was shaking me awake. I was so groggy I could hardly understand what he was saying.
“Mel, wake up. You need to get up.”
“Uh … why?”
“It’s happened! Get up. We’re gonna have a special meeting right away.”
Our voices woke Josiah up and he started to cry for my attention. It was barely daylight and through the haze of grogginess I wondered what on earth Keith was going on about.
“I’ve got to go to the other houses,” he was saying. “I’ll be back.”
As I turned my attention to Josiah, the front door slammed and Keith took off in the gray morning light. One of the first places he went was one of the men’s dorms. Wayne Dillard and a few other guys were awakened the same way I’d been. Later on Wayne told me what happened when Keith shook him awake.
“As soon as I got my eyes half-way opened, I could see his face – it was like he was smiling form the inside out. He was radiant.”
“Wayne, wake up!” Keith said. “We’ve got to have a meeting.”
“Okay,” Wayne mumbled, “but what time is it?”
It’s about six. Listen, I was up praying all night. And I just got saved.”
“I just got saved!”
By the time all seven houses heard about the special meeting, our community was buzzing with curiosity. Having an early morning meeting was in itself a shock. Usually, no one even saw Keith before 10 a.m. because of his late night schedule. I watched everyone quietly drift into The School House – throwing questioning glances at each other. It looked like all seventy of us were there – crammed into the living room, and spilling over into the hall and kitchen, anxiously waiting to find out what was going on.
As soon as I saw Keith’s face I knew something big was going on. His eyes were clear and bright and his whole face was lit with a broad grin. Something had happened to him!
“You know I’ve been struggling with a lot of questions about my ministry and the Lord’s will for my life,” he began, “I’ve been really wanting God to be more real. Well, I was up all night and God showed me so much sin in my life that I spent the whole night weeping and crying to Him. I told the Lord I wasn’t going to leave until I had a breakthrough – no matter how long it took. Finally, it happened. I had a touch from the Lord like I’ve never had in my whole life. And I know I just got saved – I just got saved last night.”
Keith’s words stunned everyone just as much as they stunned me. I could see it on their faces. Just got saved? I thought, What have you been if you haven’t been saved? But Keith just kept talking, either ignoring or not noticing the wide-eyed surprise on everyone’s face.
“Last night I was reading Finney, and I just couldn’t get past a chapter called ‘Breaking Up The Fallow Ground’. God convicted me of so much fallow ground in my life – ground that’s hard and crusty and needs to be broken up for Him …”
Now the happiness in Keith’s eyes clouded over as they started to fill up with tears. Blinking them back, Keith pulled some sheets of paper out of his Bible and unfolded them as he kept talking.
“I’ve already gotten these things right with God, now I want to confess them to you and ask for your forgiveness because my sins have affected you. First of all, I know I haven’t been a very good leader. I’ve wounded some of you with my words and my crummy attitudes …”
Now Keith broke and really started to cry, but he controlled himself enough to go on.
“The Lord has also shown me areas of pride and unbelief in my life. I don’t pray enough, either. And I’m so undisciplined. I’ve been a bad example to all of you. I have no excuse except for being lazy and loving myself more than I really love God …”
He went on for several minutes, pouring his heart out crying.
“I know my sin has broken God’s heart. I know it’s hurt you, too – and I’m really, really sorry. I’m not worthy to bear the holy name of a Christian. Pleas forgive me.”
Then Keith picked up his Bible and read a scripture to us from Hosea: “Break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you …” Keith continued, “Fallow ground is ground that was once tilled, but has gotten hard and unusable. Before it can receive seed it needs to be broken up and made soft again. Finney says to break up the fallow ground of our heart we need to examine our motives, actions, and state of mind carefully.” Then picking up the Finney book, Keith read to us:
“Many people never seem to think about doing this. They pay no attention to their own hearts, and never know whether they are doing well in their walk with the Lord or not – whether they are bearing fruit or are totally barren. There are many professing Christians who are willing to do almost anything in religion that does not require self-denial. They are so far from realizing that self-denial is a condition of discipleship, that they do not even know what it is!”
As Keith was talking an awesome sense had been coming over me. Instead of thinking that the things he had done were so terrible, I found myself starting to search my own heart, thinking, if God put the searchlight on Keith, what does all this mean for me? By now I was starting to make a mental list. A long one.
Keith went on to read the whole chapter out loud to us. It was a real “outline” for a point-by-point examination of our own hearts. Finney said that “general” confessions of our sins were not good enough. Since our sins were committed one by one, as much as possible they needed to be repented of one by one – confessing to God those sins committed against Him, and confessing to others the sins committed against them. No short cuts allowed! Then Keith paused and seemed to take a deep breath before he continued.
“I believe God wants to do something powerful in all our lives. What God did for me, He wants to do for you. He wants all of us to have pure hearts that are soft and open to Him. We all need to humble ourselves and break up the ‘fallow ground’ of our hearts so God can be glorified. I believe we all need to have breakthrough with God. I really think we all need to pray now.”
Everybody bowed their heads and closed their eyes. Then Keith started praying a very powerful prayer and a hush fell over the room. In just a moment something began to happen.
Suddenly one of the women burst into tears. She’d been sitting on the floor and now she was on her face, her whole body heaving with uncontrollable sobs. A few others started to weep, and the next thing we knew we were all on our faces., crying, and calling out to God. Actually, some of us could do little more than moan. The feelings were so deep it was hard to even put them into words It was a gut-wrenching time of conviction and soul-searching. The sound of wailing started to rise and fill the room – and it went on and on.
We met again later that evening and over the next few days – day and night. We had hours of prayer, weeping, and humble open confession. Everyone was being broken. They had read their list of sins and asked forgiveness of God and those who had been affected. There was such an awesome sense of God’s presence in the room, sometimes overwhelming. And more often than not after someone shared, tears of sorrow ignited into tears of joy – and even as many broke through to God at deeper levels than ever before. They said they felt cleansed and refreshed in a brand new way – like their souls had just come alive and the weight of the world was lifted off their shoulders. It seemed like, one by one, this was happening to everybody.