Ray Bringham doesn’t talk about himself very much. Not that he doesn’t like to. He loves to tell stories and can, in fact, recall images from his childhood as if they were yesterday, instead of eighty-something years ago.
No, Ray Bringham isn’t shy. He doesn’t talk about himself because “it’s not about me,” he says matter of factly, his smiling, clear blue eyes softening the intensity in his voice. “I tell people ‘don’t clap me’ when I’m preaching. ‘Don’t clap me!’ It’s not me that is changing their lives, it is the Holy Spirit. We don’t want a show. We want revival!”
Ray Bringham is all about revival. It defines him. It has been his driving focus for the majority of his 65 years in ministry.
Revival continues to be a driving focus of contemporary churches, as well. We sing about it, we beseech the Lord to bring it in our worship choruses, some churches even pitch tents and put it on the Master Calendar. Still, revival today seems to appear different from the historical revival of Oxford, the Great Awakening or Azusa Street.
What is revival? What does it look like? How will we know when it arrives?
Ray Bringham will tell you that revival is not so much a destination as it is the sum or product of an equation, and a very specific equation at that.
“It says here in Zechariah 12:10,” he says, quoting scripture as if he had a Bible in his hand, “that in the last days God ‘will pour out a spirit of prayer and supplication on the house of David.’ So He pours out a spirit of prayer.”
Two things are immediate when you’re in conversation with Ray Bringham: Be alert, because even a momentary mental lapse will put you several points behind, and know your Bible, because he uses scripture to underscore and support everything he says (or maybe it’s the other way around).
“’If my people, which are called by my name,’” he continues, now in II Chronicles, “’will humble themselves’ – there is the humility and prayer – ‘and pray and seek my face,’ they go together. But if there is no repentance, there is no revival. God doesn’t care if there are millions praying, if there is no real brokenness and heart-searching prayer, there is no revival.”
“’Search me, oh God. Know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me,’” he answers, without hesitation, making the words of Psalm 139 his own – memories of being a young boy vivid before him, listening to the fervent prayers of the men and women of the People’s Mission in Hutchinson, Kansas.
“I still remember being on my knees as a kid and hearing those people praying. It got to me, the prayer,” he recalls. “Whenever you pray, another element enters in. Most churches, I consider, don’t have corporate prayer. They have corporate worship, but not really corporate prayer. Corporate prayer brings revival. It’s the only thing that does. Every church I go to now, we start on our knees. No matter how big or how little the church is, I don’t go unless we can have some prayer on our knees first.”
This prayer model, this living embodiment of Psalm 139, took place when Ray Bringham was 11 years old, yet recalling its power and forcefulness brings an immediate and vivid image to him. You can tell by watching him that he can see it, and you wish you could, too.
“Humble yourself. Get rid of false pride. Humility is the essence of prayer. Look for humility. All great people are humble people. That’s number one.”
Prayer – heart-searching, soul-revealing, desperate-for-God prayer – is the foundation of revival, according to Ray Bringham. He is a student of revival. He knows what works because he has studied the history of revival with the same fervor as he has studied The Word. Charles Finney, David Wilkerson, Frank Buchman of the Oxford Movement, Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky – each example of spiritual renewal springing from the equation of prayer, leading to brokenness and repentance.
He says his friend David Wilkerson, pastor of Time Square Church on Broadway in Manhattan, N.Y., is a living example of a revival preacher today. Wilkerson recently led 4,000 pastors in three days of repentance.
“I preached there once on a Tuesday night prayer meeting to about 2,000 people,” Bringham recalls. “They prayed on and on, hundreds were praying around the altar when I arrived. It soon was a thousand or more. I felt a mighty spiritual wave hit me. When I stood up to speak, wave after wave of prayer power released that night.”
“I lead repentance meetings,” he says, simply. “I lead them and they stand and confess their sins for hours in churches.”
He recalls speaking last year at a church of about 700 in Nashville: “I dismissed the musicians and said we were going to get on our knees to start church, and we did. I shared a little bit of the Word of God in Nehemiah 9. The New Living Translation says, ‘For three hours they read the Word of the Lord, and for three more hours they took turns confessing their sins.’ All revivals start with public confession of sins. In Nashville, one confessed quietly to me, softly, adultery, fornication. They confessed porn, lust, anger and other sins. If you don’t confess to someone else, you don’t get free.”
At a church in Louisville, Kentucky, the prayer meeting lasted all night. “We prayed ‘til 4 o’clock in the morning, and a man came to me and confessed that he had killed two prisoners in Vietnam. He had never told a soul. A young pastor came to me in another state and said, ‘I touched my secretary. I should not have. I don’t want to do that any more.’ And it set him free. He saved his marriage and saved his ministry. It is the same principle as Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, Alcoholics Anonymous grew out of revival, the Moral Rearmament.
“Bill Wilson discovered he wasn’t free from his sins until he confessed them to someone else. John Wesley required it. In small groups every week they confessed their sins and held one another accountable. The Catholic church has a sacrament built around reconciliation. You go to the priest. I tell them go to your priest and confess. But, the priest can’t forgive you. But, God will. But, you need to confess to someone else. You carry that with you until you confess it in some way to one other person. I put them public because that’s what I do. I didn’t plan to do that. I never even dreamed that it would happen. I’d never been in a meeting like it. I started with everybody doing it Sunday night because I read John Wesley did it, so we did it. I often wondered if it would ever happen again. It’s happened ever since.”
As if confession were hard enough, Bringham says that reconciliation is part of repentance.
“Two things bring revival,” he explains, “public confession of sin and public reconciliation. When people come and reconcile with one another in a public way, it’s reconciliation. In Cincinnati, the pastor said, ‘come and preach in my church, the church is about to divide.’ They’d been fighting for four years and he couldn’t do anything about it. I preached a sermon on judging others. It got them.
“The Holy Spirit did it. I just stood up there and talked and I never waved my arms or shouted or anything. I don’t do that. But, the Holy Spirit worked on them, and a woman came down and she got up and said something. Another woman came down and embraced her and there was reconciliation. Then, that’s all I saw was reconciliation. There was confession there.
“Then I saw a man step out in the aisle and then another man and another man and another man. Just spontaneously the church board walking down to the front and standing there weeping, asking the pastor to forgive them, trying to ask the church to forgive them. It was all over. Reconciliation and revival. The pastor said ‘We have a miracle. God did in one hour what we couldn’t do with four years of trying.’”
And where there is confession and reconciliation, there is also restitution.
“Do restitution wherever you can. Where we’ve done wrong and we owe somebody something, we need to restore. That’s what Zacheus, said when revival came to him suddenly up there in the tree. He said, ‘I will restore fourfold.’ There needs to be restitution whenever revival comes – lots of bills, unpaid bills, start being paid. That was one of the steps of the Moral Rearmament of Frank Buchman.”
Bringham emphasizes that revival is also a process. Just as the process brings renewal, so too is renewal a daily experience.
“I’m praying all the time. I have certain times I pray. But, I pray continually. I pause during the day. The psalmist said, ‘I praise God seven times a day.’ And he said he prayed morning, noon and night. So, I spend more time praying probably in the middle of the night than I have any other time. Because, after I rest for a few hours, then the spirit is dealing with me and my mind is clear. I spend time then with God and He speaks to me. Listening is a big part of prayer.”
So is that what revival looks like? Prayer and repentance, repeating the process day after day? Not at all. Bringham says that it is the sharing of Christ that is the real mark of revival.
He recalled a recent plane ride where he sat next to a young woman who claimed to be a reformed Jew. An hour later – an hour with Ray Bringham – the woman had heard his testimony, had heard about the healing power of the Holy Spirit, and had been prayed for.
“When we got to the baggage, she was over there with her husband. She said, I’ve been missing something. I’m going to have to read the Old Testament. I’ve got to read the New Testament. I’ve got to read some of the Psalms you’ve been telling me about. I have a Bible at home. I’m going to start reading my Bible. And, then she said she was interested in going to church, to visit a church somewhere. I referred her to a church, and when she got to the baggage, she was way over in another section, and pretty soon I saw her with her husband walk over there, and she said, ‘Fred, I want to introduce you to a man who changed my life in one hour on the plane.’”
Ray Bringham will tell you this story and hundreds like it, and although he plays a role in each, he will remind you continually that they have very little to do with him. They have everything to do with the power of God’s Word to change lives, to renew and to restore.
If you meet Ray Bringham, ask him for his business card and read the back. You’ll find there a prayer:
Lord Jesus, I come before you just as I am. I am sorry for my sins. I repent of my sins. Please forgive me. In your name, I forgive all others for what they have done against me. I renounce Satan, evil spirits and all other works. I give you my entire self, Lord Jesus, now and forever. I brought you into my life to be my Lord and Savior. Cover me with your precious blood and fill me with your holy spirit.
“Say this prayer faithfully,” Bringham says to his guest as they prepare to part. “When you come to the point where you mean it with all your heart, something good spiritually will happen to you. You will experience Jesus. He will change your life in a very special way. You will see.”
Ray Bringham has seen enough to know what he’s talking about.
Ray Bringham is president and founder of Prayer Summit. He lives with his wife Mildred in San Marcos. He started a nationwide businessman’s prayer at The Movement in San Marcos. It meets Tuesdays at noon. He can be contacted at (760) REVIVAL (738-4825), or [email protected]