A guy once told me the best thing I can do to keep my Kingdom instincts sharp is read the biographies of our spiritual heroes. I must have latched onto that statement in a big way because I love to read biographies! Have you ever heard of Leonard Ravenhill? His is my latest story to pick up. If you will, let me tell you some of it today.
Leonard Ravenhill was born in Leeds, England in 1907. His dad was a chronic alcoholic who came to Christ when Len was 5. The switch was turned on for good in his dad and he took up street preaching. One of his favorite times to preach was at 10 pm outside the bars. That got him arrested a couple of times!
Len’s dad created a faith-filled atmosphere for him to grow up in. Side note: we desperately need dads who will do this today! It’s not hard or complicated, but requires the man know the Lord and how to walk with Him. The training happens as you take your son along for the ride.
By the time Len was 20 he was sensing an invitation from the Lord into the ministry of the Church. He attended Cliff College, a school designed to equip and encourage young men as they entered the ministry. After just three semesters he and his friends set out to preach the length and breadth of England on foot! This took them to towns with very dead, lifeless churches. Some granted them permission to speak. Some kicked them to the curb. Either way, these faithful men spoke the Word of God and thousands came to Christ all over their country.
Len’s early ministry was shaped by these new converts and the work required to organize Churches for them. And this early ministry shaped him. He quickly experienced the demanding of work prayer and the burden of caring for souls. These two realities drove him to his knees for more and more time each day. This is a discipline he never relinquished. At the end of his life Len’s wife said some days he would pray for 18 hours at a time. This amazes me.
Ministry was so productive in England, other countries began calling on LR to come and preach their length and breadth as well. He made the trip to the US in 1951 and by 1958 he moved his family here. By this time Len was becoming known as an authority on revivals. He was apart of so many, Churches began calling him for prayer and preaching. He was not your run of the mill preacher. He never gave invitations. He did not make emotional appeals. He refused to do what he called “dog and pony shows.” He would just pray and preach. God used this simple, straightforward prophet to change hundreds of thousands of lives.
Len’s later years were spent in Texas. He and his wife, Martha, set up shop in Lindale, just outside of Tyler. Their days were spent visiting, praying with and counseling drop ins. Neighbors said upwards of 50 people per month came to see the Ravenhills. He established a weekly prayer meeting that would draw people from many states away. Somewhere between 50-100 people gathered weekly to pray for revival and spiritual awakening. Many well-known Christian leaders were apart of these meetings. Thousands of lives were changed as a result of Len’s prayers and simple teaching at these meetings.
As I read the accounts of his preaching I was not impressed. Nothing stuck out to me about his sermons. They weren’t flashy or philosophical. They weren’t pushy or emotional. He just spoke the truth. Once in First Baptist Atlanta he preached Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal son. In the middle of the sermon he admonished the dads, “It’s time for you to stop putting your kids in all kinds of ministry so you don’t have to teach them to read the Word and pray yourself.” Hundreds of dads flooded the altar in tears in that moment. As they slowly filed back to their seats, he spoke to the teens, “Once a year you tell your parents how great they are and the rest of the time you completely disregard their wisdom and boundaries.” Long lines of teenagers immediately began to form at the altar. As they receded, he spoke to the hard hearts in the room, “You can’t stop at a red light outside this building without being approached by a prostitute. The house behind this building is filled with all types of sexual immorality. When was the last time you touched the lepers God has placed all around you. Pastor, (Charles Stanley) come and pray for us right now, please.” As Dr. Stanley came to the microphone he was as white as a ghost. He said “I can’t pray. I can’t pray. The only reason this Church hasn’t reached out to the brokenhearted is because I have refused to. I’ve prayed “God rid this city of scum.” I can’t pray.” The room was filled with weeping. These are the kind of results Leonard Ravenhill’s preaching produced.
I have a lot of words. I’m rarely at a loss for something to say. Ravenhill’s story reminds me now more than ever that it is not my words or ingenuity that convicts or changes a heart. Only the Spirit of God can move a man for eternity. If I want to be a part of that I need to pray more and speak less. How about you?
God give us more men like Leonard Ravenhill!