By David J. Gyertson, 1995 —
Throughout history, men and women have consistently exhibited a deep-seated need to know God and experience his presence. Even the most skeptical wrestle with the undeniable inward presence of a God-shaped vacuum. It is almost as if the longing for God and a relationship with him is a genetic mandate.
Fortunately, God’s presence continually surrounds his creation. Unfortunately, men and women are often insensitive to that presence.
But there are times in human history when God’s presence is unusually and undeniably evident. During February 1970, God brought such a season to the campus of Asbury College. While this was not the first in the college’s history, this revival was, to date, the farthest reaching – touching the lives of thousands of people, spreading its reviving fire and Great Commission passion to dozens of campuses and many parts of our world.
On the 25th anniversary of that “divine moment” in Asbury College’s history, we pause to consider God’s sovereign revelation of his presence as it is experienced in revival and renewal.
Revival and Renewal
Revival is the sovereign act of God’s mercy and grace toward sinners that liberates from sin and opens the door to full fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. Through Christ we are revived and raised from our death in sin to new life in him through faith in his death and resurrection.
Renewal represents the sovereign acts of God’s mercy and grace toward believers. In this experience we are confronted with the need to live empowered lives for witness, service, and holiness.
Revival confronts the sinner with the need for salvation and reminds the Church of our Great Commission mandate to take the revelation of God in Christ throughout the world.
Renewal confronts the believer with the need to be more fully set aside for holy purposes and service (sanctified) – reminding us of our Great Commandment responsibilities to live Spirit-filled lives marked by sacrificial love for God and our fellow man. These two major interventions of God are particularly important. They put us in touch with the heart, mind, and will of God.
We must, therefore, responsibly seek God for these sovereign works. Though we cannot manufacture them, we can prepare for them. When God moves in revival and/or renewal among us, we must be ready to fully participate and completely receive.
The sixth chapter of Isaiah suggests three identifying effects that accompany the revival and renewal God brings to his people.
- A Grander Revelation of God’s Nature
Renewal and revival open our spiritual eyes and ears more fully to comprehend the nature of God in creation, in the Scriptures, and in Jesus Christ. Our understanding of God’s nature intensifies in three ways.
First, his omnipotence is more evident (Isaiah 6:1-4). We see God high and lifted up, and we clearly discover that everything in heaven and earth is under his divine influence and control. In revival, worship, and testimony, we realize that his throne is the most powerful in all of creation. His “train” (his influence) fills all of creation. His spoken truth shakes the foundations and doorposts of our thoughts and imagination.
When revival and renewal really come, they reveal the absolute power of God to all who participated. All worry, fear, and doubt in his ability dissipate. Divine power is demonstrated and appropriated.
Secondly, revival and renewal amplify God’s holiness and reveal his motives and desires. While his thoughts toward us are always those of deepest care and purest desire, in revival we grasp a greater faith to really trust his plans and purposes for us. We discover that God is not only able (omnipotent), but he is also willing (holy).
Thirdly, genuine revival brings the revelation of God’s ready willingness to forgive and forget. To our amazement and relief, we learn intimately that God does not have to be begged or badgered. His nature is to respond immediately to sincere repentance (Isaiah 6:5). His response is to cleanse us at the altar of sacrifice, casting our sin into the sea of his forgetfulness for all eternity.
- A Greater Recognition of Our Need
Real revival and renewal also produce a greater recognition of our need. The power, holiness, and forgiveness of God shed a perfect light on the true nature of our separation from God. While each of us seeks to know God, we also fear the result of encountering God in his fullness. In psychology we call this an approach avoidance conflict. We instinctively know that revelation will be bi-directional. Not only do we see God for who he really is, we see ourselves for who we really are – sinners incapable of redeeming ourselves. As a result the call to revival and renewal is often received with mixed emotions. But we must come willing to see the whole truth about ourselves as well as the full truth about God.
True revival also reveals mankind’s universal desperation. We are brought face to face with both the fullness of God and the foulness of all mankind. While sin distorts and defaces the image of the Creator in every one of us, that divine imprint within us calls us to divine reconciliation. But we are unable to bring the reunion between God and ourselves to completion. History is full of the stories of desperate attempts to find God.
In renewal and revival we finally discover that though we cannot find him because of our limitations of ability and will, God is seeking us. He initiates the divine solution to our desperate situation.
In revival we finally admit that “It is not through works of righteousness that we have done but according to his mercy he has saved us” (Ephesians 2:9). And in renewal we discover that our righteous works are really “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6).
Finally, in personal renewal Isaiah embraced God’s solution to mankind’s deliverance. When revival really comes, we begin to see each individual as well as every cultural and ethnic group within God’s redemptive possibility and prerogative.
We discover that all of humanity is not just universally depraved but universally deprived. Our attitude is transformed from rejection of self and others to the redemptive acceptance of any and all who will admit their sin and embrace Jesus Christ.
- A Gripping Responsiveness to God’s Call
One of the humbling mysteries of revival is that God desires to include each of the redeemed in his most important work – the restoration of the relationship between himself and humanity. In renewal we realize that God has a place and plan for everyone in the greatest work of eternity – the reaching of the lost.
Genuine renewal demands a counting of the cost. In the intensity of emotion that comes from gratitude for all that God is doing for us, we, like Isaiah, may almost be too quick to respond with “Here am I, send me!”(Isaiah 6:8). But God mercifully sobers our emotion by asking us to first fully assess the price of committing to the Great Commission.
Isaiah was challenged to aggressively share the message of God within a culture unresponsive and resistant to his message. Not much has changed thousands of years later. The work of God’s kingdom demands courage, discipline, sacrifice, and commitment. We run a life-long marathon, not just the 100-yard dash. Our venue may change as time passes and aging limits, but we will be continuously about this Great Commission work until he comes to take us home.
During times of real revival and renewal, the commands and the demands of living a fully surrendered life confront us. We are faced with the challenge expressed in I Corinthians 10:31 – “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Revival’s Current Call
The signs of renewal are once again stirring on our campus, across the nation, and around the world. A great, earth-shaking, life-changing revival cannot be far behind. Renewal of God’s people often precedes the outpouring of great revival. Already the harbingers of what could be the greatest in-gathering of souls in church history are at our doors.
As you remember with us the great outpouring of God’s spirit on our campus 25 years ago, join with us today in asking God to do it again – and again – and again until the whole world has been touched – in and through you and our Lord’s Church.
David Gyertson was the president of then-Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, from 1993-2000. Previously, he served as the president of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Most recently, he served as Distinguished Leader in Residence at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is the editor of One Divine Moment: The Asbury Revival, 25th Anniversary Edition (Fleming H. Revell/Asbury College, 1995). This article appeared in the May/June 1995 issue of Good News.