People ask me what led to the outpouring of the Spirit known as the "Toronto Blessing." They want to know why Toronto, and why our church. I'd like to know too.
Obviously it's a sovereign work of God. We take no credit for praying this in and don't deserve it in any way. Let me explain how it came about.
EVENTS LEADING TO RENEWAL
Back in 1986, while Carol and I were pastoring our first church in Stratford, Ontario, I felt a call of God to plant a second one in Toronto. We explored the possibility, and started a home group in my mother's home in early 1987. During the summer of 1988 we began services on Sundays at Silverthorn High School in West Toronto with the members of small groups we had launched.
"Somehow battling the darkness had become our focus rather than dispelling it with light."
By mid 1991 we were sufficiently involved with the work in Toronto that we could turn over the pastoring of the Stratford church to our associate Jerry Steingard and commit full time to the new church plant in Toronto. We became deeply involved in the practical aspects of running a church during those days, and soon realized that we had run dry through ministering daily, counseling and doing inner healing and deliverance with people. People were growing and maturing, but it took several years for them to become relatively free inside. Somehow battling the darkness had become our focus rather than dispelling it with light. Inadvertently the devil had become too big, and God, too small!
In September of 1992 when an evangelist came to town with a very anointed ministry, Carol and I knew we needed to attend his meetings. What we saw there jarred us into remembering that we have a very big God who is able to save, heal and deliver. The lame walked, the blind received their sight, deaf ears were opened, and about 1000 people came to Christ.
"We fell in love with Jesus all over again."
Powerfully touched by the experience, we said to God, "That's what we want, Lord." As we prayed for God's direction, we felt Him say, "If you're serious, I want you to do two things: commit your mornings to prayer, and interact with others who are anointed."
We were serious, so in October 1992 we cancelled our engagements, and began giving our mornings to the Lord. We worshipped, read the Bible, prayed and spent time with Him for a year and a half. We fell in love with Jesus all over again.
We also invited guest speakers to our church. Their denominational affiliation didn't matter. If we heard they were anointed and used of God, we wanted them to come hoping we could learn from them.
A real breakthrough came a year later. We had heard about the revival in Argentina, so we travelled there in November 1993 with Ed Silvoso hoping some of it would rub off on us. In one week we attended meetings with many of the Argentinian evangelists, among them Hector Gimenez, Carlos Annacondia, and finally Claudio Freidzon, a leader with the Assemblies of God. We were most powerfully touched at his meetings, and we left them knowing something had been imparted.
Carol, who always received from God easily, was so powerfully touched by the Spirit, she couldn't walk. I had always had a more difficult time receiving. At one point, Claudio singled me out and said, "Do you want the anointing?" "Oh yes, I want it all right," I answered. "Then take it!" He slapped my outstretched hands. "I will take it!" I said. Something clicked in my heart at that moment. It was as though I heard the Lord say, "For goodness sake, will you take this? Take it, it's yours." And I received more of the Holy Spirit's anointing and power, by faith.
"Both Randy and I were apprehensive hoping God would show up in power, but uncertain as to what might happen."
We loved what we had seen and received in Argentina, and came back with a great expectation that God would do something in our church. Our expectation was met. First we saw an increase in divine appointments. At a Vineyard pastors' conference someone mentioned that people were being touched powerfully by God when Randy Clark, pastor of the St. Louis Vineyard, ministered to them. Randy too had been seeking the Lord's anointing, and had been touched by God at a series of Rodney Howard-Browne meetings in Tulsa. When I asked Randy to do four meetings at our church, he hesitated. "I don't know if I have four messages," he confided. He offered to do two and asked an associate pastor to do another two. Both Randy and I were apprehensive hoping God would show up in power, but uncertain as to what might happen. God was faithful. He showed up alright!
But the outpouring didn't look quite like we thought it would. We had been praying for God to move, and had assumed that we would see people saved and healed, but when ministry time came, everything exploded. God's power and anointing were ramped up from anything we'd ever seen. We weren't doing anything different, but the Father's blessing fell on the 120 people attending that Thursday night meeting, January 20, 1994. It hadn't occurred to us that God would throw a massive party where people would laugh, roll, cry and become so empowered that emotional hurts from childhood would just lift off. Some people were so overcome physically by God’s power they had to be carried out.
By the end of three nights I said to Randy, "You can't go." What we had seen in Argentina was now flowing in our own church. Making quick visits home, he stayed for a total of six weeks of meetings. During that time Carol and I were invited to speak at a church in a nearby city. When we did, the same happened there as in our church. We realized then that this wonderful anointing was transferable. Not only was it on Randy and on us, but it was on our entire ministry team.
Before Randy and his team came, they had prayed, and the Lord had given them a vision of a map of the world with a fire breaking out in Toronto and then consuming the whole map. God fulfilled this vision. Within days the word spread that God was visiting us powerfully. People streamed in from all over the world. Among them were many pastors and Christian leaders. They received prayer themselves and then carried the anointing to their own nations and denominations. The press in England dubbed this anointing the "Toronto Blessing."
By summer 1994 our original 400-seat hall in the warehouse facility became too small. People formed waiting lines by five o'clock outside the doors which opened at seven. But God intervened. In November 1994, a former conference centre on Attwell Drive, east of the airport, became available for rent.
The new location, seating over 4,000, was easy to reach from the airport and even closer to major hotels, some of which ran shuttle services to renewal meetings. Eventually we bought the building.
"I encourage you, press in, receive the Father's Blessing."
Since the outpouring began, more than 2,000,000 have visited us. Attendance at evening meetings reached over 2,000 a night, and attendance at conferences continued high with more than 6,000 registered for a recent Catch The Fire conference.
Today our facility has expanded to three buildings, one of which houses our School of Ministry. We also produce a television program called Catch The Fire, which airs weekly across Canada, the USA, and Europe. Our magazine Spread The Fire, is distributed internationally six times a year.
In 1996 we launched a new network of churches called Partners in Harvest, and Friends in Harvest, a fellowship for churches and ministries involved in revival.
To this day we continue to enjoy the Father’s Blessing and hold nightly revival meetings. Where is it all headed? I think God is up to something big. I believe we’re headed for the greatest harvest of souls the world has ever seen, and we want to be prepared. I encourage you, press in, receive the Father's Blessing. Then go for God's kingdom and spread the fire!
by John Arnott on Dec 31st, 1999
This article was originally published in "Looking Back", an issue or collection of Revival Magazine.