By John Ensor
The exciting news from Asbury University in Kentucky is that they are going into their third week. The students there are praying, singing, reading God’s word, and encouraging one another in an unstoppable twenty-four hour spiritual revival. It has now spread to a few other Christian colleges like Cedarville University where I will be teaching a course there this summer and I am looking forward to seeing how this awakening is affecting them.
Today I wanted to comment a little bit about revival or awakenings and how I have seen them take place around the world. America has a history of moments where the people seem to have a spirit of repentance, a hunger for God, a willingness to draw near to Him most often with tears of repentance. In American history we refer to this original large development as the Great Awakening. It was spurred on by people like George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards who started this movement in the 1730s. The second Great awakening started to spread about 60 years later around 1795 all the way up to the 1820s. There was a general spiritual hunger in the beginning of this country.
One of the most interesting that has happened in the United States is called the Layman’s Prayer Revival. It started in New York City by a young, lay person who called for a day of prayer at this church in New York City. The first day that he handed out the flyers to businesses and such, no one showed up. Then, I think, around halfway through the meeting about five people showed up. The following day six people showed up, then twelve, and then it just kept growing from there. As it spread across the country, a movement of prayer with an emphasis on repentance, a lot of tears, and many people drawing near to God were added to the church. Roughly one million people were added to the church roles from 1858 right up to the beginning of the Civil War and about three million people were baptized in those two years. Of course, a great many of those people ended up dying on battlefields during the Civil War, but it was a sovereign work of grace to move many people towards a study of the word prayer and into a right relationship with God.
I came to Faith in 1972 and we were in the middle of another student awakening. At that time there was not really a name for it other than “The Jesus Movement” because so many people, particularly college students, were coming out of the hippie, drugs, rock, and roll movement of the 1960s. Many of these people were coming to faith because of the death they saw drug overdosing. People in this movement would dye their hair in funny ways and traveled the country singing maranatha songs, promoting the gospel among college and high school students, and started churches. This is when my friends and I took an interest in the gospel for the first time in our lives. I started studying the Bible with my high school friends. Can you believe that? In 1972, my friends and I would carry our Bibles in our belts and we would go into the library, sit down with people, and just talk about Jesus Christ and our faith. We were literally on fire for the Lord. Only later on, as we got older, did we realize that we were part of a movement of the Holy Spirit to bring many, many young people to faith in Christ during that period of time. So I am excited about what is happening in Asbury and Cedarville and is now spreading to more places as young people take the gospel seriously.
The Bible mentions a lot about revivals and how God will move on us. He will exchange our hearts. He will cause us to move towards him. He will remove a heart of stone and give us one that pants after him. That is the biblical language of conversion. But when it starts to happen with lots and lots of people, we tend to call it a movement or an awakening or a revival.
Here is another biblical description of what I think is happening in Asbury. Zechariah 8:21 says:
“The Lord of host: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself, am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.”
These were words that were given to the people of God in the Old Testament. In a day of great, physical famine, spiritual famine, rebellion, idolatry; the people of God did not look like they had any power whatsoever. Because of this, God said, “I will send a season of refreshing, a season of power, a season of grace,” and people will say to their friends, “Come, let us go and seek the Lord.” That is what happened to me back in the 1970s. I had friends who said, “Come, let us go talk about the Bible. Let us go talk about Jesus.” I had never heard of such a thing before. I did not grow up in a church, so it was all brand new. Once I came to know the Lord, I started to talk to my mom, dad, and my siblings. My mother came to know the Lord along with my siblings. All of them came to know the Lord and, to this day, they continue to follow in His ways.
Around the world you can go to places like China, Vietnam, Cuba, Columbia, all these places that I have been in just in the last couple years, and you will always find some people who are really interested in the Gospel. They have been readied and prepared by God, so to speak, to hear the message that you bring to them (in our case it is the gospel of life, the call to rescue the innocent, and bringing the good news to the guilty).
There are some places where it seems especially prepared for us. Last year when we went to Columbia, we saw this happen. We went to one city where 150 to 200 leaders were gathered together. As we began to teach them, you could just see the responses of the people were extra special. They began to weep. They began to grieve. They began to break up into small groups and study the very passages of scripture that talk about the value of human life, the shedding of innocent blood, the need to see the cross as the shedding of innocent blood, and the call to rescue the innocent. These very same topics are what we call our four questions.
During the assembly time, I remember one woman began to stand up and talk about her own abortion. She began to weep. We stood by her and let her tell her story with many sobs. As she told her story, you could see it began to spread around the room. Other women began to stand up and then the men began to stand up. Then the moment of breaking took place; the pastors began to stand up.
That is a great sign of awakening when the leaders themselves also begin to repent. I remember this one pastor who, I found out soon after, was not just a pastor, but he was sort of the leader among the pastors. He stood up and he began to weep and grieve his silence on abortion. Some of the other pastors came and listened to him, wept and grieved with him as he publicly stood up in front of his peers saying, “We need to lead better on the issue of life and to make known to our churches the gospel of life.” After this, these pastors, along with some pastors from other cities, communicated and together they made a commitment to train 357,000 people, in the next couple of months, on our four questions that talk about the value of human life, the sin of shedding innocent blood, the need to bring Christ to the crisis of abortion, and the call to rescue mothers and children. If you want to learn more about those four questions, you can go to our website and download them.
I do want to close these remarks about revivals and awakenings by mentioning that a couple years ago, I was asked to contribute an article on forgiveness, healing, and shame in the ESV Women’s Study Bible. When these feelings occur, it is often the beginning point for an awakening in an individual and the beginning point for a movement of God at a larger scale. Last week, we got permission from Crossway Books to make this article available as a free download. You can now go to our website and, on the resource page, download the article itself. It is only two pages long; it is titled Forgiveness, Healing, and Shame. As you think about what is happening in Asbury and as you pray for many young people to ignite their passion for God, weeping and grieving over their lack of interest in the gospel, and to rejoice in their newfound interest, you might consider reading this article. I think it will encourage you to experience all the fullness of God’s grace and forgiveness in your life. Pray for those students in Asbury and for this emerging awakening in our land. We could use it. God bless.