The Power of Revival

I did my Doctor of Ministry degree at Asbury Seminary. Part of the reason has to do with an experience of a friend of mine who went to college there and an experience he had. On February 3 1970, the students gathered for chapel as they normally did. The service was scheduled to last for one hour. Instead, it lasted for 185 hours, 24 hours a day for a week. It began with a time of testimony in which one student after another came forward to talk about their Christian life. Gradually, students and faculty members found themselves weeping. People formed small groups in the chapel and began to confess their sins to one another, ask for forgiveness, pray and sing. The President of the Seminary, Dr. Kinlaw, was out of town and both fearful and skeptical about what was happening. When he returned, he went to the chapel, which seats 1500 people. Before he left, he was convinced.

My friend remembers people praying all night in dorm rooms, confessing sins, and sharing deep hurts with one another. News of the revival traveled around the nation, and people flocked to little Wilmore, Kentucky. When the service was over, students from Asbury shared their story in other places, and sometimes revival broke out there as well. Many of the students who were present went on to become pastors, missionaries, and church leaders. Those who were present testified that they could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Kinlaw put it this way:

“[Y]ou may not understand this, but the only way I know how to account for this [the revival] is that last Tuesday morning, about 20 minutes until Eleven, the Lord Jesus walked into Hughes Auditorium, and He’s been there ever since, and you’ve got the whole community paying tribute to His presence.”

Here I am, Send Me.

This post is a look at the events of Pentecost with an eye to the renewal and revival. If you are not a Christian, you may be wondering, “What is Pentecost?” Pentecost is fifty days after Passover. The Jews celebrate it as the “Festival of Weeks.”  The Festival of Weeks celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, which was thought to have occurred fifty days after Passover. The symbolism of the coming of the Spirit at the Festival of Weeks is important. On Sinai, God gave the law to Moses. At Pentecost, God gives the Spirit that enables us to fulfill the Law because we have been given new hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah foretold (Jeremiah 31:33).

Here is the way it is described in Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:1-12).

Promise of the Spirit.

Acts begins with the resurrected Jesus meeting with his disciples. For forty days after the resurrection, Jesus spoke with his disciples (Acts 2:3). One time when they were together, Jesus told them not to leave the city of Jerusalem but to wait for a gift—the Gift of the Spirit God would give them (v. 4). John the Baptist foretold that while he, like your pastors, baptized people with water, the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit (v. 5). The disciples thought that Jesus might be telling them that the Kingdom of David now would be reestablished (v. 6). Jesus told them they were not to know the future (v. 7). Going on, Jesus promised that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit; and when they did, they would witness to him in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (v. 8). Then, Jesus was taken up into heaven, after which two men appeared and promised them that Jesus would return (vv. 9-10).

There is a temptation to think that God needs help from us to accomplish his will. This is especially true of those of us who are by nature active, busy, and inclined to the view that “God helps those who help themselves.” While it is true that God often helps those who help themselves, this truth can blind us to a greater truth: All real progress comes from God and is based on the promises of God.

In the Old Testament, the prophets often judged the Jewish people because they tended to seek alliances with other nations, and especially with Egypt—a nation that had enslaved them (Isaiah 30:1-3). God does not want us to rely on our programs, our abilities, or ourselves. He wants us to rely on Him. As we pray for our families, our friends, our colleagues at work, and our neighbors, even about our own hopes and dreams, it helps to remember that, in the end, what happens is in the hands of God.

Preparation for the Spirit

After Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room in Jerusalem and for a period of days prayed constantly (Acts 1:12-16). Along the way, they discerned that they needed to replace Judas Iscariot who had betrayed Jesus and committed suicide (Acts 1:26). [2] Of course, the most important thing they did was pray.

As you can imagine, many people wondered about what caused the great Asbury revival. At least one skeptic wondered if somehow the administration and faculty had manufactured it. Here are some facts. First of all, there have actually been several revivals at Asbury. In the instance of the 1970 revival, as the President noted in his comments, there are always people praying for revival at Asbury. It is a Christian school and there are many charismatic students present as well as strong Christian children of Methodists and others. In addition, several months’ earlier, groups of students began praying for revival. They were usually groups of six, and each group of six recruited others to pray. They did pray for revival. They also prayed for one another, for forgiveness for sins, and for all those things for which people normally pray. [3]

Some years ago, there was a famous revival in Wales. The Welsh Revival was a part of the greater Methodist revivals of the 19th Century. Once again, there were faithful preachers preaching and faithful people praying for revival. One evening, a young man who had received a mighty calling from God went to his own church. He asked a few people to stay after the meeting and visit with him. He asked them to pray. Here are the specific things he asked them to do:

  • First, he asked them to confess their own sins and ask for forgiveness from God.
  • Second, he asked them to remove from their own lives anything that was not in accordance with God’s will.
  • Third, he asked them to be totally yielded to the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Fourth, he asked them to publically declare their faith in Christ.

There are things that preceded true revival: and prayer, confession, repentance, changed lives, and sharing the Gospel are the most central elements of all.

Proof of the Spirit

Revival and renewal by the power of the Holy Spirit is a tricky thing. Being Americans, we want a kind of visible proof. We think that revival would mean our church would grow; our lives blessed financially, our families healed and the like. These things do happen. However, they are not in themselves proof of God’s presence with a group of Christians. The proof is lives changed. The proof is people changing their lives.

At the end of this chapter of Acts there is a short description of what happened next. First of all, about 3,000 people were saved on Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Second, we are told that something just as wonderful happened. Acts 2:42 and following records:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).

The proof of revival is a return to simple Christian faith. The proof of revival is deep fellowship, including table fellowship among Christians. The proof of revival is wonderful, unusual, healings occurring—things we cannot explain. The proof of revival is a new generosity. The proof of revival is changed lives.

Where Do We Go from Here?

A lot of Christians are worried about the state of Christianity in America just now.  Here is what I hope we can remember from this post:

  • First, we have a promise from God that he will send his Spirit if we wait and pray.
  • Second, we know that God only sends his Spirit in response to prayer, confession, changed lives, and changed behavior among Christians.
  • Third, we know that we await that moment when God pours out his Spirit upon our congregation.
  • Finally, we know what to look for—Changed Lives and our first of all.
  • Amen.

[1] A Revival Account Asbury 1970 The Forerunner (March 31, 2008). My account is based on this article at Dr. Kinlaw’s story is on U-Tube.

[2] People often have questions about this vignette as well as about why it was necessary and if it was a mistake. Almost certainly, the disciples felt that their number (twelve) symbolized the renewal of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Therefore, it was necessary that someone be elected to replace Judas to return the number to twelve. Those who believe they acted unwisely generally believe Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was, in fact, God’s choice to complete the twelve.

[3] It is a bit more complicated than I have recounted. I suggest anyone interested hear Dr. Kinlaw’s 37-minute explanation of what happened at the U-Tube site mentioned above.

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