The Asbury revival
On February 8th, 2023, a routine chapel service at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky… kept going. As I understand it, something like 30 students remained in the auditorium to pray. Without flashiness, without formal leadership, without hysteria, some kind of spark was lit. Over time, more and more students joined them for prayer, spontaneous worship, and repentance. As I write this, the ‘service’ has been going 24/7 for ten days straight. Asbury opened up two additional chapels as numbers swelled, and apparently it’s now spread to other universities. This is apparently the third such phenomenon to occur during Asbury University’s storied history.
What’s going on at Asbury University?
The first thing I need to say is, I’m not on the ground in Asbury, though I’d love to be. I’m limited to watching footage and reading commentary, so my discernment is rooted in observation, not participation.
Second, people debating whether this is genuine revival are missing the point entirely. The word ‘revival’ doesn’t appear in scripture, so measuring what’s going on against a term we’re using to describe events that happened throughout church history isn’t helpful, for me at least. In many ways, I could care less whether this phenomenon lines up with a historical / human concept. To me, the better question is, “Is this God at work?”
There are three possible sources for what’s happening at Asbury: God, the devil, or human.
Believing the devil would prompt students to worship God, pour out their love for him, call out in prayer, repent for their sins, and celebrate the gospel is ludicrous. No, the devil didn’t start this, and he’s certainly not sustaining it. I’ve also seen radical generosity on display, much like we see in the book of Acts.
Similarly, believing this is a work of human emotionalism is naive to me. Emotions aren’t sustainable; they flood our bodies and run their course, leaving us physically depleted. Emotionalism would have burned out long ago.
The last option here is, this is from God. I truly believe it is a true move of the Holy Spirit.
A move of the Holy Spirit
The kingdom of God is a work of the Holy Spirit that expresses the work of Jesus. Where the Holy Spirit has full reign, the kingdom of God is fully realized: the fruit of the Spirit is manifest, and the gifts of the Spirit are at work.
When what we call “revival” occurs, I believe two crucial things are happening: The Holy Spirit is no longer being grieved (Ephesians 4:30), and He is no longer being quenched (I Thesssalonians 5:19). We grieve the Holy Spirit by doing things He doesn’t want us to do; we quench the Holy Spirit when we don’t do things He wants us to do. True moves of God remove both of those barriers; this is why revivals tend to follow a two-step process: repentance, followed by expressiveness.
Repentance addresses the ways in which our hearts, beliefs, and behavior have grieved the Spirit. With this dealt with, the Spirit of God can flow freely into and through us to apply the saving work of Jesus. Our posture towards God is healed and restored to it’s ideal place. Repentance is about letting God in. This is a beautiful and necessary part of personal and corporate renewal, and we’re seeing it at Asbury.
Quenching the Holy Spirit is about hindering what God is trying to express. A tour of biblical passages clearly shows that when we yield to the Holy Spirit, holy things come out of our mouths: praise, worship, prayer, tongues, interpretation, prophecy, encouragement, exhortation, teaching. People are also moved to do God’s will with heavenly boldness, and miraculous things occur. As repentance clears the path for God to move deeper within us, the natural outcome is that the Holy Spirit is given freedom to express Himself through us. Expression is about letting God out, and we’re seeing this beginning to manifest at Asbury, as well.
What about the weird stuff?
Just because this began with God, doesn’t mean everything that happens or will happen as a result is of God. Again, we return to our three options. Some of what’s expressed will be a work of the Holy Spirit. Other expressions will be corruptions or distractions from the enemy. And yes, some of what we see will be emotionalism or a product of human fickleness. Jesus said on this side of heaven, the enemy sows weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). The presence of weeds (either human or demonic) doesn’t mean there is no wheat; If we insist on perfect purity, we’ll uproot the good things God is growing.
The devil absolutely will plant seeds to corrupt what God is doing. That’s what the devil always does. Because revival phenomenon start with repentance and naturally progress into expressiveness, over time we can expect to see things manifesting we’re not comfortable with. An Asbury clip I watched yesterday showed a demon manifesting and subsequently being cast out, like in the book of Acts. The main thing to remember here is, God does not need to ask our permission to do things that make us uncomfortable or contradict our current understanding of the scriptures. Discomfort and fear are not discernment.
And again, our spiritual experience on this side of heaven is always a mixed bag. This is why John exhorted us to test the spirits—not to see if they are demonic, but to discern the presence of the Lord (I John 4:1-3). It’s also why the Apostle Paul instructed us to “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Look, stories of weirdness and excess will eventually come out of Asbury. It’s inevitable. I would just caution against looking for ways to discredit the good stuff by latching onto the bad. Bad elements don’t invalidate good things. It’s far too easy to throw the wheat out with the weeds or chaff, but that kills what God is trying to accomplish.
What’s the fruit?
Testing the fruit of a spiritual experience is vital, biblical, and wise. There really should be a downstream effect from a revival season. However, we shouldn’t assume God has the same purpose in mind for each move of the Spirit—which means the fruit God is looking for may be different in different seasons. There are certainly things we would expect to see over time: An ongoing love for God’s word; a missional impulse leading to people coming to Christ; lasting life-change and personal holiness. But again, insisting that God meets our personal criteria for what makes something “of God” isn’t appropriate. He’s God, we’re not.
What if it doesn’t last?
Nothing lasts, at least, this side of heaven. The outpouring at Pentecost didn’t last forever either! In fact, I don’t think the surge of power released in revival periods is meant to be normal. I believe these things are correctives, and once what God is aiming to correct has been corrected, the mountaintop experiences will likely fade.
Think of it this way: Revival is when people finally let the Holy Spirit do what He has been longing to do, and the backlog of work comes loose all at once, like unclogging a drain. This releases a flood of emotion and heart-change that restores spiritual equilibrium and health. This corrective is beautiful, messy, and necessary.
I’m not an expert in these things, and I probably have some of this wrong. But these are my thoughts, and I felt prompted to share them. Personally, I celebrate what’s happening at Asbury right now. And I pray for more! Only the renewing work of the Holy Spirit can turn the tide of our sin-sick culture. I certainly don’t want to stand in His way; in fact, I want to wade right into that river and go with His flow.
What stood out to you about this post? Do you agree? Disagree? Let’s talk!
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