Taste and See that God is Good: The Asbury Revival

We spend far more time praying for renewal of our strength than soaring on wings like eagles.

I have noticed with some mild interest at what is going on at the chapel on the Asbury University campus in Kentucky. Posts show up in my Facebook feed daily, as I am connected to many Christians (and many other people too) on Facebook. One post today, shared from someone who has been there from the beginning, described it succinctly as follows:

“A chapel service that didn’t stop but continued spontaneously for 8 days now.”

Today has been ten (10) days since that spontaneous beginning, and I have been watching various live streams of the February 8th chapel service that is still going on. This is how it started:

How the Asbury University chapel started on February 8, 2023

I have seen doubters and critics, I have seen posts from people who jumped in their cars and traveled hundreds of miles to see it for themselves: this chapel service that started and has not stopped. It has continued around the clock for 10 days now.

I have seen hype. I have seen caution. Critics caution about emotionalism. Critics want to de-emphasize experience and double down on the Bible and doctrine. Critics say that an omnipresent God should not require a person to travel to a particular location to experience Him.

I have been cautious myself. I am also aware that a sovereign God does what He wants to do despite our understanding of scripture, and theology and the way things ought to be. I have experienced “moves of the Holy spirit”, myself.

I have experienced that people cannot dictate how, when, or whether the Holy Spirit moves. “The wind blows where it will.” We don’t put the Holy Spirit in our pocket like a rabbit foot. We don’t command or possess Him.

People have described what is going on at Asbury University as a revival. That term may conjure up images of a “tent revival” and flamboyantly crass preachers, artificially slick hair, words that drip like honey, and ecstatic chaos.

The Asbury Revival is characterized by a different atmosphere. The person’s post from today who has been there from the beginning said this:

“To quote Professor McCall, a theology professor at Asbury Seminary, ‘what we are experiencing now—this inexpressibly deep sense of peace, wholeness, holiness, belonging, and love—is only the smallest of windows into the life for which we are made.’”

As a child of the 60’s and 70’s, I am reminded of the hippies who wanted “Peace and love. Not war!” I think of John Lennon who imagined a world without war – and without religion – with only peace. Hippies, however, were a contentious bunch, and John Lennon was no saint.

Not that I blame them for dreaming or trying. It’s just that people are completely incapable of making these kinds of dreams come true. Just when we think we have created our utopia, it is already disintegrating and slipping through our fingers like a mirage we feel we can grab hold of.

I lived for several years in a communal house. It was a leftover from the flower children of the 1960’s who became the Jesus people of the 1970’s. I loved it, but it was no utopia. The reality is that people have rough edges. So, “iron sharpens iron,” but the sharpening isn’t always a pleasant process.

Yet, when people get together to devout themselves to following God together, to worship and pray together, to do life together, God is in their midst. These words of Jesus are as true today as the day he spoke them:

“Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 18:20

These words are true when our rough edges are rubbing against each other as much as when we “feel the love” (which may not be as often as we like). Even then, I have never experienced the intimacy with another human being as I have experienced when I have experienced the Holy Spirit “moving” in me, usually during times of group worship..

I have experienced the “inexpressibly deep sense of peace, wholeness, holiness, belonging, and love” described by the Asbury professor. It cannot be manufactured or trumped up. When it “happens”, words are difficult to describe it; the experience is life changing.

The experience is only truly life changing, however, if we recognize that the experience is not the point. The experience is a brush with God, who is the source of peace, wholeness, holiness, belonging and love.

If we walk away from the experience longing for another experience, we have missed the important thing. It isn’t ultimately the experience that we long for at all; we long for God, and relationship with Him.

If we chase the experience, it becomes ever more elusive. In our desperation and desire to repeat it, we may resort to emotionalism. We may even resort to trumping up experiences that are artificial.

We desperately need connection to our Creator and the lover of our souls.

The person whose post inspires my writing today made some interesting observations about “revivals” that have taken place in the short history of the United States: they happen in a ‘cultural moment”. They are unique to a generation. They are generally similar in organic spontaneity but specifically unique in their cultural context and effect.

Speaking from within that cultural context, while being aware of the cultural contexts in which other “outpourings of the Holy Spirit” occurred, the poster observed this about what is happening in Willmore, KY:

  • A tangible sense of peace for an [sic] generation with unprecedented anxiety.
  • A restorative sense of belonging for a generation amidst an epidemic of loneliness
  • An authentic hope for a generation marked by depression.
  • A leadership emphasizing protective humility in relationship with power for a generation deeply hurt by the abuse of religious power.
  • A focus on participatory adoration for an age of digital distraction.

She summarizes her thoughts poignantly:

“It feels as if God is personally meeting young adults in ways meaningful to them. My generation was formed differently then previous generations and so the traits of this revival are different then revivals of old. The new outpouring is not the signs and wonders nor zealous intercession nor spontaneous tongues nor charismatic physicalities nor the visceral travail. It is marked by a tangible feeling of holistic peace, a restorative sense of belonging, a non-anxious presence through felt safety, repentance driven by experienced kindness, humble stewardship of power, and holiness through treasuring adoration.”

This is the hallmark of a God who loves us intimately, who knows the number of hairs on our heads, and the words we speak before we even say them. God is intimate with the angst of this present time, because He intimately knows our individual and collective hardships that are unique to this present time.

The Facebook poster recalled the observation by Jesus that “no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” The new wine we see at Asbury University is a vintage for this present time.

We need to be cautious in our rush to analyze and categorize and critique. Autopsies are only performed on dead bodies.

I don’t know whether this is an isolated occurrence, or the beginning (or continuation) of a greater movement of God in this present time. I heard a person today speak about the same thing happening on another campus. I have seen a list of other places where similar things are happening, but I have not sought to verify them

One hallmark of God’s Holy Spirit causing “revival” is widespread, simultaneous occurrence in many separate and scattered locations. I suppose time will tell about what is happening now.

As with other, similar occurrences in the past, this time of intense experience of God by people who are fortunate enough to witness it firsthand will likely end. The experience will be embedded in the lives of those who lived through it, but the experience will be no guaranty of permanent change.

The Second Great Awakening (1820’s-185’s)) influenced  the temperance movement, the antislavery movement (as well as the Underground Railroad), women’s rights, the Salvation Army, the Adventist movement, and the YMCA. The Civil War also followed closely on the heels of the Second Great Awakening.

Other revivals in the United States led to other outcomes such as the beginning of the Methodist movement and writing of many hymns (1730-40’s in New England), Moody Church and Bible Institute (1875-85 in Chicago), unification among church denominations, “bringing together rich and poor, black and white, male and female”, and Pentecostalism (1906-1915 from California to Kansas and Indiana).

Those “those movements of God” settled into old wine in old wineskins as time went on. I see similar outcomes from other “spiritual movements” since the beginning of the Church resulting in the “old wineskins” of the many and various denominations we know have today.

But, I don’t want to discount these movements of the Holy Spirit, the blowing of the wind of God where He will go, in the cultural moment. My focus as I think about these things is on the big picture, the arc of what God is doing in the world, in time, in and through and among various cultures and people. We can only respond in our personal lives in the cultural moment and in locations in which we find ourselves.

Our response is more vital and significant in those long weeks, months, years – and throughout our lifetime – in which our experience is more wilderness than revival. Would that each of us would experience revival! Yet, a “long obedience in the same direction” is the ultimate goal (to borrow from the book title by Eugene Peterson).

Most of the time our lives feel like the friction of iron sharpening iron. We spend far more time praying for renewal of our strength than soaring on wings like eagles. We run until we are weary, and then we walk until we are faint. And then we keep going, trusting that God will renew our strength as we need it.

And sometimes, we just need a touch from God. We need the assurance if God’s presence. The Psalmist beckons us to “taste and see that God is good”! (Psalm 34:8) Blessed are those who take refuge in Him! Those who trust in God will renew their strength!

What is happening today, 10 days into a routine chapel service that began but has not ended.

Postscript: someone asked the question this morning: What do we need to do to create revival?

I am no expert in revival, but I have some thoughts. First of all, we don’t create revival. If it is anything we have done, it isn’t revival. It isn’t a movement of the Holy Spirit.

But, we are critical to the occurrence of revival. God desires to engage us in what He does. We must be ready and willing for God to “show up”. We must be “hungry” and “thirsty” for the presence of God.

The little bit that I know of revivals, historically, is that people gathered with intentionality to pray, asking God to do what He will: Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done!

But, the one hallmark of revival that I have noted is repentance: sincere, heartfelt, public repentance; people willing to be real with God and each other; people willing to lay their lives down before God openly, honestly, unreservedly.

And the fruit of the movement of the Holy Spirit is worship. Simple worship: our grateful response to a living God.

3 thoughts on “Taste and See that God is Good: The Asbury Revival

  1. You are right, it is not the experience or spiritual high we are seeking, but contact with the presence of the Living God. When that happens words cannot express what takes place, but to think that is what we will be doing and feeling in heaven for all eternity just blows me away.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your thoughts in this article and highlighting what is happening, as we speak, ‘across the pond.’ I’m particularly struck by the following:

    ‘The little bit that I know of revivals, historically, is that people gathered with intentionality to pray, asking God to do what He will: Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done!

    But, the one hallmark of revival that I have noted is repentance: sincere, heartfelt, public repentance; people willing to be real with God and each other; people willing to lay their lives down before God openly, honestly, unreservedly.

    And the fruit of the movement of the Holy Spirit is worship. Simple worship: our grateful response to a living God.’

    YES, repentance, absolutely. Corporate repentance as the universal Church…and lament on behalf of our fellow human creatures who do not yet know our great and glorious God, Yahweh Elohim, and His Son, the Christ Jesus.
    Paul said that he wanted to ‘know the power of His resurrection AND the fellowship of His sufferings’ (Phil. 3. 10.11). The two go hand in hand, two sides of the same coin, the currency of discipleship in the economy of God.

    We have wars (Ukraine) and rumours of wars; we have the ‘groans’ of creation (earthquake in Syria/Turkey); we have pestilence (COVID); we have our fellow human creatures in poverty of body and spirit, lost and confused in the epidemic of mental distress (health).

    ‘Come Lord, Jesus. Forgive us your Bride, we lament and intercede for your creatures and your creation. Have mercy on us O God…may Your will be done, Your good, pleasing and perfect will’ (Rom. 12, 1-2).

    All glory to Him,

    Liked by 2 people

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