How do we define revival? That’s the question a friend asked as I joined Christians on social media abuzz with news of revival “breaking out” at Asbury University in Kentucky.
About twenty students gathered for a regular Wednesday morning prayer time, then found themselves unable to leave. Word spread about the tangible presence of God in the building and more students as well as staff joined. There was report that on all four sides of the building the wind was blowing into Hughes Auditorium. As word spread farther afield, students and staff from two dozen other schools made their way to the school in Wilmore. Saturday, the auditorium was standing room only with a crowd of over 3,000 and hundreds more gathered outside while non-stop worship and prayer continued in this remarkable sensation of God’s near presence.
I’m not an expert on revival, but I have experienced it. From my background in the Wesleyan Holiness and Pentecostal traditions of the Body of Christ, following are some thoughts on understanding revival I hope you will find helpful.
How do we define revival? My initial answer was social media short, and maybe a little academic and formal:
Revival is usually considered to involve personal awakening or personal renewal in relationship with God. When assessed in a group setting, it may or may not be evangelistic in nature. Reports from Asbury note what might be termed confessions, re-dedications, and new decisions as others have joined the original student weekly prayer gathering.
Revival literally means giving life again, restoring life from death. Paul writes that we were dead in our sins, revived―given new life―by God’s love and grace expressed in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). Similarly, in the parable Jesus told about the lost son and loving father the son who had claimed his inheritance and left home was declared by his dad to have been dead but alive again when the young man returned home (Luke 15:24).
Historically, when revival, with resultant changed lives, has taken place in a group setting it has been referred to as revival, awakening, or renewal. New life through shared experience by a community of people. Asleep to God and awakened by and to His love. The old made new.
Revival isn’t in the music, although revival may be inspired by and inspire music. Revival isn’t in the gathering, although revival may come from and generate gathering. Revival isn’t about the location, although revival may be geographically defined. Revival isn’t in the duration of the event, although revival may last for an extended period of time.
Revival is about new life; submission to God that influences the course of one’s living, life altar-ing that is life altering.
The first great communal revival took place in Jerusalem on Pentecost. In obedience to Jesus (Acts 1:4-8), His followers were gathered in prayer and waiting when they had an encounter with Holy Spirit that changed their lives. The fruit of that life altering experience was observable in the response of others to their testimony of what had taken place (Acts 2:1-41).
If there is any formula to revival it might be: obedience to Jesus plus prayer and waiting. How long must we wait? “It is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7)
What is the evidence of revival? The presence of Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Concerning sin, because people do not believe in Christ. Concerning righteousness, because there are areas of life in which we are not following Jesus, placing other things in life ahead of giving him all of ourselves (Mark 12:30), as we do not consider Him present in the situation. Concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world, Satan in rebellion to God, and those who opt to pursue the things of this world rather than the things of Christ’s kingdom stand condemned by their own choices (John 16:7-11).
The evidence of revival is also in the formation of new life. As Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) There is something in the revived that is inexorably altered by having been placed on the altar.
All of us who follow Christ have experienced revival of the personal nature. We are being conformed through life’s circumstances to be more like Jesus in our nature (Romans 8:28-29). The fruit of our new life is known in the growth of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control―the fruit of Holy Spirit’s effecting presence within us (Galatians 5:22-23).
Some have had the group experience described as revival, renewal, awakening. Many thousands made their way to savour the Toronto Blessing or Brownsville Revival in the 1990s and early 2000s. Some were revival junkies, relishing only the experience of the moment. More were revived, renewed, refreshed in relationship with God and affirmed or redirected in life plans.
Some of us have felt we missed revival in the group sense. As a family we had reason to delay attending a conference in Kingston by one day. When we arrived, the reports we heard were of a meeting that started in music and prayer before all were overwhelmed by God’s presence, falling on the floor. Several hours passed before any could move, or wanted to. I spent the rest of the weekend feeling I had missed it.
But had I missed revival? I missed a group experience, but not revival.
As Paul notes, revival happens in the individual who accepts Holy Spirit’s conviction and follows Christ.
Revival might look like Pentecost, or Hughes Auditorium, wind of the Spirit blowing and thousands being drawn to hear God’s message. Or revival might look like Sunday morning at your church when a prayer shared, song sung, or pastor’s word is caught by the wind of the Spirit into your heart and something in your life is surrendered to Christ’s Lordship.
If you think you’ve missed it, and you’re longing for Christ to do more, please know you haven’t. You’re in personal revival, even if you’re not in Wilmore, Kentucky.
The Spirit blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. (John 3:8)