Looking Back, Moving Forward

By K. Lynn Lewis

Revival. Awakening. Outpouring. Manifestation of God’s presence. Gentleness. Glory. Peace.

There are many descriptors spawned from the chapel service that began on February 8, 2023, in Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Thousands have shared their testimonies and opinions on media platforms far and wide.

Although these recent events are new, others have similarly met the Almighty in the past. How did they respond?

In the Bible. When God told Noah to “Build,” Noah did everything just as God commanded. Through his faithful actions, a remnant survived and the earth itself was blessed.

When God told Abram to “Go,” the seventy-five-year-old set out with his family on a new adventure to a new place that resulted in new names, new opportunities, and new challenges. Following that invitational encounter, Abram was never the same, and neither was the world.

When God appeared to Moses in bushy flames of fire, the 80-year-old first responded with questions, feeble faith, and less than wholehearted obedience. But, as their relationship developed and their shared experiences multiplied, Moses grew in faith, boldness, and holiness and led a movement that helped save a people, shape a culture, and build a nation.

When David experienced the unexpected anointing of the Good Shepherd through the obedient hand of a faithful prophet, he submitted himself to public service, to training (even under an oppressive mentor), and to active engagement in strategic military, political, and religious leadership in association with other key leaders. Though flawed, the godly spirit of his discipleship shaped the template of a kingdom for centuries, and that kingdom helped shape the world as we know it.

When the eventual Apostles first met Jesus Christ, they were ordinary men. But their encounters with the Messiah changed all but one of them into world changers whose lives planted seeds of faith and hope that continue to produce the Gospel harvest today.

When Saul met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he was blindly headed in the wrong direction for the wrong reason and with evil intent. He responded by repenting, believing, and dedicating himself to learning and living a life of wholehearted service to the Lord and others. His glorious encounter redirected his life toward traveling in the right direction with right reasons and godly intent. His passionate writings intended for training believers in doctrine, faith, holiness, and righteousness continue to shape individuals and movements of Christian faith throughout the Church today.

In Wesleyan History. On May 24, 1738, John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. Known as his Aldersgate experience, he felt he did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation, and an assurance was given him that Christ had taken away his sins and saved him from the law of sin and death.

Prior to that pivotal and life-changing event, however, Wesley had embarked on an unsuccessful religious venture and dating disaster in the pioneering coastal colony of Savannah, Georgia. Threatened with imprisonment and plagued by mounting legal proceedings against him, Wesley wrote of his hasty nighttime escape, “I saw clearly the hour was come for leaving this place: and as soon as evening prayers were over, about eight o’clock, the tide then serving, I shook off the dust of my feet and left Georgia, after having preached the gospel there (not as I ought, but as I was able) one year and nearly nine months.”

Among his reflections about his own lack of faith at the time, he lamented, “I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me?”

For anyone familiar with disappointment, failure, and wondering, two incidents during Wesley’s unfortunate foray offer potential insight.

Following his 16-week voyage from England to America in 1736, Wesley met a German pastor, Mr. Spangenberg, and solicited his opinion regarding Wesley’s own behavior.

“My brother,” Mr. Spangenberg responded, “I must first ask you one of two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”

Surprised, Wesley admitted he did not know what to answer. Spangenberg observed his response and further inquired, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”

Wesley answered, “I know he is the Savior of the world.”

“True,” Spangenberg replied, “But do you know he has saved you?”

Wesley answered, “I hope he has died to save me,” to which

Spangenberg added, “Do you know yourself?”

Wesley answered, “I do,” but admitted privately that he feared they were vain words.

Now, as then, it is probable that seekers will make inquiries of believers, especially those who drink from the wells of revival. Probing questions can often serve as productive prompts in people’s journeys of faith. Spangenberg – and others with whom Wesley conversed during his journey – was most likely nowhere near Aldersgate Street a little over two years later when Wesley finally came to faith. But the seeds of inquiry, reflection, and faith he planted in Wesley grew, matured, and eventually produced an abundant harvest that shaped and continues to shape people and nations worldwide.

Jesus often answered questions by asking deeper questions. Paul encouraged making the most of every opportunity with conversations “full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6). Peter encouraged vigilance to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15).

Found in his journal, Wesley had enlightening conversations with a ninety-plus-year-old Indian named Tomo Chachi (or Tomo-chi-chi), who had previously traveled to England with the Savannah’s founder, James Oglethorpe. On February 14, 1736 (a week after Wesley met Spangenberg), the old chief told Wesley through an interpreter, “I am glad you are come. When I was in England, I desired that some would speak the great word to me and my nation then desired to hear it; but now we are all in confusion. Yet, I am glad you are come. I will go up and speak to the wise men of our nation; and I hope they will hear. But we would not be made Christians as the Spaniards make Christians: we would be taught, before we are baptized.”

Later, when Mr. Wesley urged Tomo-chi-chi to act on becoming a Christian, the observational chief replied scornfully, “Why these are Christians at Savannah! Those are Christians at Frederica! Christians drunk! Christians beat men! Christians tell lies! Me no Christian” (found in Charles Colcock Jones’ Historical Sketch of Tomo-chi-chi, 1868).

Herein we see that even “heathens” understand the need for teaching, as well as expect godly examples of that which is taught. We recall the startling comment centuries later made by Mahatima Gandhi to missionaries, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

May we drink deeply from the well of experience, dive deeply into studying God’s Word, and live lives that evidence conversion and sanctification so that no one can say of us, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16).

Recent revival history. The aftermath of the famous 1970s Asbury Revival offers additional insights. My wife and I had the opportunity to live and work at Asbury College while I attended Asbury Seminary for three years. She served as Resident Director for the 250 female students of Glide-Crawford dormitory, located at the entrance to the drive that passes in front of Hughes Auditorium. We will never forget our first night on campus when students arriving for the fall 1986 semester gathered spontaneously in our dormitory’s huge parlor for an informal time of worship and prayer. We were blown away by the godly spirit of beauty, harmony, holiness, and joy abundantly evident among our students that evening. And we enjoyed similar experiences at the college and seminary over multiple years in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the staff, faculty, students, alumni, and families that we met who were associated with one or both Asbury institutions were influenced by the 1970s revival and others, and their lives reflected the glory of God over the following decades and continue today worldwide.

I later served as pastor of a church that hosted a group of Asbury students back in the early 1970s. My congregants shared with me the powerful impact of their visit, including numerous members of their church (mostly younger adults and older teenagers) who believed in Jesus and accepted him as their Lord and Savior. Eventually, some in the congregation started a new church, a dynamic K-12 Christian school, and various other non-profit ministries. In my experience, the fruit of the 1970s Asbury revival in that town included the revitalization, creation, and growth of multiple ministries and hundreds of individuals living admirable lives of strong faith in their circles of business, education, healthcare, ministry, politics, and more.

My own journey, influenced and nurtured by the same spirit of the Lord abundant at Asbury, has included an amazing array of opportunities and adventures around the world. Like many Christians, I have sought to live out my faith in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit in my careers and avocations, the latest including helping start and serve as president of The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas.

Recent revival history indicates that the fruit of what has taken place at Asbury will seed, grow, and produce abundant harvest over decades and probably centuries. At the same time, Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) will characterize this one as it has others throughout history. In the meantime, we rejoice that God is exalted among the nations.

Responding to revival. In response to a move of God, our local congregations need to be mindful to do five things.

1. Create opportunities for people to worship, including space and time to be still, so that more will come to know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). Through our preaching and teaching we can nurture faith and belief in the name of God’s one and only Son so that people will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

2. Offer Christ. “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:19-23).

3. Study God’s word. “The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

4. Teach about holiness. “As obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:14-15).

5. Love wholeheartedly. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

When the human heart is touched by revival, we are wise to follow the teachings of the Apostle Paul. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17).

K. Lynn Lewis is an ordained clergy member of the Global Methodist Church and serves under appointment as president of The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas. Dr. Lewis may be reached at Lynn.Lewis@TheBibleSeminary.edu.

Thousands showed up in Wilmore, Kentucky, to be part of the revival in February. Photo by Suzanne Nicholson.

1 Comment

  1. How can you have a revival, when people are not Biblically informed on what it says. You need a tranformation. Paul tells us we need to be Ambassadors for Christ not disciples. Which Gospel should the Church preach” There are two verses that use the word Gospel.
    1) Matt. 9; 35 mentions the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. 2) Paul mentions the Gospel of the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 4. John 3: 16 a widely used Scripture does not include the Resurrection, therefore John was wanting Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Paul, is wanting Gentiles, mainly, but anyone who would believe that the work of the Cross & Resurrection will save you. This is called the Gospel of Grace as Christ has done all the work for your Salvation. Paul gives us a warning in Galatians 1: 8 – 9, if we preach another Gospel besides the one Paul gave us, including an Angel preaching another Gospel, we are accursed. Paul repeats the warning for emphasis and importance. How many Altar calls include the Resurrection is to be part of your Salvation belief?

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