You’ve heard the news of spiritual awakening at Asbury University: an ordinary chapel turned into an ongoing service of praise and worship, confession of sin, and celebration of salvation, and has now garnered attention from all over the country and sparked similar stirrings of spiritual intensity in other colleges and universities.
Earlier this week when I saw clips from Cedarville University (where my son is a freshman) and heard of the evangelistic teams canvassing state universities in Ohio and Michigan, I couldn’t hold back the tears.
Is This Revival?
Asbury Theological Seminary president Timothy Tennent hesitates to call this “revival.” He writes, “Only if we see lasting transformation which shakes the comfortable foundations of the church and truly brings us all to a new and deeper place can we look back, in hindsight and say ‘yes, this has been a revival.’” Time will tell.
Yet there’s no doubt we’re witnessing something unusual, the intensification of God’s power demonstrated in Word and in worship, renewing hearts and lives.
It shouldn’t surprise us to see a work of God begin with college students. In 1802 at Yale College, a spiritual movement began with such power that more than a third of the student body professed faith in Christ. “The whole college was shaken,” wrote a freshman there. “It seemed for a time as if the whole mass of the students would press into the kingdom. It was the Lord’s doing, and marvelous in all eyes. Oh, what a blessed change!”
When Awakenings Happen
Whenever the Spirit of God gives God’s people a renewed sense of God’s presence—that compelling combination when we stand in awe of God’s majesty and feel overwhelmed by his love—we see multiple responses.
First, things get messy. When the Breath of God comes upon a place palpably, there are often unusual responses—whether intensified periods of prayer and praise, or immediate and accelerated works of God in healing (physically and spiritually), or a collapsing of one’s experience of time as a sense of eternity impinges upon the present. People respond with sincerity to the Lord’s moving, sometimes in unfeigned expressions of devotion that may seem theologically sloppy and yet issue from a pure-hearted love of God.
Second, revival-seekers always show up, and not all of them with pure motives. Hucksters arrive, seeking to bottle up the power and instrumentalize it for their own cause. Whenever the power of God is on display, some try to profit from that power. Just look at Simon the Sorcerer in the book of Acts.
Third, church people are often more critical and cynical than the world. Some are quick to sneer at the displays of emotion. They cross their arms and interrogate the events, analyze the theological precision of what’s said or sung, more worried about being “taken in” by a fraud than “taken up” by the Spirit. (Such was the case in first Great Awakening, with “old lights” and “new lights” dividing sharply over the source and results of the revivals.) Others who have been hurt by the church’s actions or inactions in the past or who have firsthand experience with imposters of spiritual manipulation remain skeptical.
Many questions arise in response to an awakening like the one at Asbury:
Is this real? How can we know if this is a genuine work of God?
What if some of the theology of some of the participants is off?
What if there’s spiritual manipulation going on?
How do I “test the spirits” in this case, from afar?
Is this just emotionalism spread by social media?
Isn’t God just as present wherever I am? What kind of fruit should we expect?
But I believe there’s a more pressing, burning question we should ask. It’s what Jesus posed to the paralytic waiting at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:
“Do you want to be healed?”
The burning question from Asbury isn’t about Asbury; it’s about you. It’s about your heart. It’s about your longing.
Jesus’s question to the paralytic seems absurd on the surface. After all, the man is sitting there hoping for a miracle, right? Of course, he wants to be healed!
And if Jesus were to ask if we want revival, I assume most of us would say something similar . . .
Can’t you see, Lord, that we’re faithful to give? That we pray? That we go to church every week?
Haven’t you heard how we sing every week?
Aren’t you aware of what we always say, that the only thing that will save our country or renew our church is a revival?!
Yet Jesus’s question hangs in the air:
“Do you really want this?”
Forget all the surface stuff we say about revival and our dependence on the Spirit.
It’s possible to say you want revival but deep down to not want the discomfort God’s presence might bring.
It’s possible to sing songs every Sunday asking for renewal while nursing grudges and bitterness you don’t want to be delivered from.
It’s possible to enjoy the division of the church, your theological tribalism, or the secret sins you harbor, or to take twisted comfort in your complacency—to become deadened to the church’s decline and apathetic regarding the future. The Spirit of God is not safe.
And so Jesus’s question remains: Do you want to be healed?
The paralytic comes up with all sorts of excuses for why healing is impossible. No one helps me. I can’t get down to the water. I’m all alone.
And we do the same. The church is too messed up. It’s impossible for God to work in that place! If revival were to happen, it wouldn’t look this way. If God were to move, he’d do it differently.
But the question remains: Do you want this? Does your heart leap at the thought? Do you want to be healed?
Thirst for God
“I do not understand Christian people who are not thrilled by the whole idea of revival,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones said.
I don’t either.
Whatever happens or doesn’t happen at the Asbury Awakening and beyond, may we be marked by a living thirst for a knowledge of the living God and an irrepressible desire to see him at work in power, doing whatever he and he alone can do—in us and through us. The thrill of orthodoxy results not in arms crossed but arms uplifted. And so we sing with Fanny Crosby, the little old blind woman whose song still resounds:
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
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