Thoughts on the Asbury AwakeningFebruary 14th, 2023
Something special happened last Wednesday in the chapel of Asbury University chapel. The Lord began to move in the lives of a group of students. These embers have now been fanned into flame and there is clearly a definite move of God in our midst. We should not spend too much time looking for human causality, though there have been many praying earnestly for years for this. It is first, last and foremost a tribute to the grace of God to reveal himself and to call a new generation to faithfulness at a time when we most needed it. There comes a point when the people of God become tired of causal prayers and move to that point of desperation which opens us up in fresh ways to God’s surprising work. That is what I have experienced most over the past week in my own life.
I have been reticent to write blogs, or make a lot of public statements about this outpouring at Asbury because it is always better to stand in awe of something than to talk about something. I have been in Hughes auditorium or Estes, or both, every day and night, and it is like stepping into a flowing spiritual river. You sense the presence and power of God working in people’s lives. Since last Wednesday when the outpouring began, I have reflected many times on Jesus’ statement about the Spirit when he said, “the wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” This is not a time to “manage” this or to try to “shape” it. This is the time to simply receive from God’s hand.
Several people have commented on some of the differences between these sacred days and the more well-known outpouring which took place in February of 1970. A lot has been said about the impact of social media in telling the story, or about the focus on worship. However, a deeper look at this outpouring reveals that it has the same elements which are found in any authentic revival: people repenting of their sins; people being filled with the Holy Spirit; men and women finding reconciliation with God and their neighbor; people capturing a renewed love for Jesus, the gospel and the Holy Scriptures. All of the above has been happening here day after day.
Another similarity is that this outpouring has the same “inner” core and “outer” core as in 1970. There is the inner work of God in the lives of this younger generation. This is the focus of the outpouring. The leadership has wisely reserved the central, front section of the chapel for the students themselves, since this is their space and God choose to begin this work among them. The “outer” core are the hundreds of people who are pouring in from the outside who are catching this fire and bringing it back to their churches and communities. Both are important.
Another point regularly observed by those who have been a regular part of these services, is the solemnity and peace in the various places where this movement has spread around town. Sometimes we envision “revivals” as times when people hear fiery sermons and there are big outbursts of emotion. This move of God is marked more by quiet weeping than emotive shouting.
Despite the endless coverage in social media and the regular media which is calling this a revival, I think it is wise to see this, at the current phase, as an awakening. 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.” An awakening is where God begins to stir and awaken people up from their spiritual slumber. This is definitely happening not only in Wilmore, but as this move of God spreads to other schools and communities across the nation and even the world. There are many reports that this is what is happening. But, we must keep our hearts and eyes fixed on Jesus and ask for him to complete the work he has begun so that, over time, there is a lasting transformation in the lives of those who are being touched by God.
This is the reason why both the University and the Seminary have not cancelled classes. It is not because we are in a “business as usual” mode. Far from it. There is talk of little else in every chapel, in every classroom, in every hallway conversation, and, I suspect, in every home and apartment in the community. The desire is to “mainstream” renewal into the very fabric of our lives so that we are transformed right where we live, and work and study. We all love mountaintop experiences, but we also know that it must be lived out in all the normal rhythms of life. We have to live into this desperation for God to do what we cannot do We have to live into transformed relationships. We have to live into new patterns of life and worship. In short, we must embrace what it means to really live as Christians in the midst of a church culture which has largely domesticated the gospel beyond recognition. We will know that revival has truly come to us when we are truly changed to live more like him at work, at study, at worship, and at witness. David Thomas, who has been greatly used by God to shepherd this awakening, has reminded us daily that we should let God move us to a permanent place of transformation before God and the eyes of the watching world. In that sense, we are seeking to take was is clearly an abnormal move of God and ask how this can become normalized in a deep way.
Someday, we will look back on these days and thank God that he visited us in ways we will talk about for years to come. But, what we are doggedly seeking is not lasting memories, but transformed lives long after the lights go out in Hughes auditorium or Estes Chapel or all other places which are experiencing this work of grace. In short, it is not about “this place” or “that place” whether Wilmore or any other city. It is about Christ himself. None of us “owns” this awakening. But all of us must own in our own lives His work and his gracious beckoning to that deeper place. Come, Holy Spirit!
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