This Week's Teaching: "Is the Asbury Revival a sign of what's to come?"
Click above image to watch
Almost two weeks ago the chapel service at Asbury University broke out into repentance and prayer, and it kept going. Immediately people starting calling it a revival. And people like myself starting weighing in on whether it was a revival or not.
I didn't. Not right away.
I just think it behooves us to go slow in declaring such things. The pressure is great to judge quickly and decisively. This world rewards that. But quick judgment isn't usually our best discernment.
As I've said elsewhere, I believe there is such a thing as holy skepticism and cynicism — the kind that is devoted to honoring God by pursuing truth and understanding with hope, but with humility that suspends judgment, even at the risk of being misunderstood. I mean, most people think of "skepticism" as "suspicion" or "distrust" or "doubt." It can be coupled with that, but it's not necessarily that. For me it's just a decision to be thoughtful in declaring judgment one way or the other about something.
So I chose to just watch and observe. I watched the sermon that kicked it off. I watched documentaries of past revivals at the same location. I watched the videos of what's going on there. And then I recorded my thoughts about it. For whoever is watching and listening.
I'm honored and humbled to have your attention.
(Watch above while reading below.)
The temptation is to weigh in quickly. Whenever someone says there's revival, we want to weigh in quickly and help to decide what's going on. I had the same impulse, the same instinct when I heard about the Asbury Revival because people right away were saying revival has hit, and the evidence that they were giving was that chapel went long and it shows no sign of stopping. That was the evidence.
And I wanted to know, okay, what are they talking about? Is it an unusually responsive worship service that keeps on going or is it something else?
As I think through revival, revival is bringing back to life something that has died. That's the best way to think of revival. Now, looking through scripture, you don't have revivals, not by that language, but you do have an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We see it in Acts 2, of course. We see it in different places. And you see it in the Old Testament, you see where God works with his people to bring them to a special sensitivity to his working. And it comes through repentance, a laying down of my life for the Lord. And it comes through all sorts of demonstrations of that repentance.
So when I heard about Revival, "revival has broken out," I wanted to know, okay, are we talking about worship or are we talking about repentance?
I have said for the last couple years, revival is coming. But I also said, it won't be the revival of hype and hubris. It won't be the revival of big concert worship services with motivational speakers. It won't be that. And it won't be the revitalization of institutions, even small institutions like churches. And it won't be the restoration of America to Christian values only. Like if that happens, that's a good thing, obviously, but that's not gonna be what revival is. It won't be who wins the presidency and all that.
I said, revival is coming, but it's not going to be the revival of hype and hubris. It's going to be the revival of self denial and my willingness to lay down my life, lay it down, to lay down my life in service for and surrender to and submission to Jesus. The willingness to lay down my life in love for Jesus, for my brother and sister, and even for my enemy.
That's what revival will look like. That's what I said a couple years ago — a year and a half ago probably I said it the first time publicly. And so I was looking at this Asbury revival and I think that we all — if you listen to the influencers, the social media and all that — everyone has to say it is or it isn't of God. And I just think it behooves us to go slow on it. Why do we have to know right away? Why can't we just watch? Why can't we just observe? And that's what I've been doing.
I'll tell you my first instinct these days, like I've taught here, my first instinct is skepticism and cynicism about human nature and never cynicism about God.
So God can do this, absolutely. But my first thought was, okay, are we calling something revival because we so much want it to be revival or is it really revival? And just knowing human nature tends to rush in and declare things that aren't necessarily.
And so I withheld judgment. I suspended judgment. I looked openly. I called out my own cynicisms that bumped over into negative cynicisms. And as I've looked at it I've found joy that God is really doing something.
The marks of it — ironically, there's not people like me leading the thing. There's not great preachers. If you watch the sermon that started it off, it's a classic bad sermon. Sorry whoever you are. But the cool thing is the guy started off by saying — and throughout it said — I don't want you to remember me. So I'm not even saying his name (even though I remember that it's Zach).
And the music. Well, it's like, not great. Like there's not people who have made a name for themselves by being great presenters or great worship people, and all that, it's just God doing something. And that is cool. That is one indication that God is doing it, and it's not just another fabrication of us.
So part of my understanding of this is that, I've led worship thousands of times — two or three thousand services, I don't know. I've led worship way more than I can count, for close to 30 years. And I've preached more sermons than I can remember. And I know what it is — now I'm not saying this with cynicism. I'm saying this from a behind the scenes perspective.
Please hear me. In the same way that my wife can bake in a way that causes me to feel emotions. I can make music in a way that causes people to feel emotions. That doesn't make it bad. In fact, the church is saying to the worship musicians, please help us feel something that we are perhaps too inhibited to feel on our own. Please help us feel something. And so I believe that the music can do that, and we can actually give our attention to things as musicians. We can actually create services that cause the church to feel and respond and become especially attentive to God and what he would have us do. And that's not bad. And so I know what it is to do that.
I also know what it is to stand in front of a big crowd and talk to them where you could hear a pin drop, like they're just hanging on every word. And I know what it is to get a crowd to all shout hallelujah. I know what it is to get a crowd to all get on their knees and pray. I know what it is to get people to come forward. Like I know what that is. I'm talking from behind the scenes. There is a thoughtfulness to it that doesn't make it wrong. It makes it good. It makes someone a good speaker. It's like we don't show up to people who haven't formed their thoughts or don't know how to make a persuasive case. Why would we listen to them?
And so from that, from the behind the scenes thing, when I hear that there's a revival, I go, is this just a really good music service where we're singing the prayers to God? And that's great. It's my prayer every time I lead in worship. It's like, "Please, Lord, cause people to respond to you."
And so is it just a prolonged example of what thousands of churches experience every Sunday? Is that all it is? Or is it something else? And I wanted to know, is it just someone who, man, he's got a gift to present in a compelling way to motivate? Is it just that?
And as I have looked at it, it's not that. So it's this revival, not of hype and hubris, but a revival of self denial. And a willingness to lay down my life for the Lord, for my brother and sister, and even for my enemy. And I believe this is the love of God being poured out onto, and out through us.
Now here's my prayer. It's not gonna go on forever. This service at some point, for some reason, it won't be going anymore. It's cool that it is going. It's just that's not where you live.
My prayer is that the same emphasis, the same attentiveness, the same sense of God's presence, the same desire to be poured out before God will move into the living room. That it'll exist where we make our decisions about how we talk to our family, how we treat each other, and what we put on the TV, and how we entertain ourselves. And all the things that we do when we're in the privacy of our home. The escapes, the habits.
My prayer is that there will be a great purification in our hearts as we lay down our lives, and that it'll be in the living room. And my prayer is that whether people continue to gather in large groups or not — like, I think that can be a beautiful thing — but my prayer is that all across the world, we will see fellowships, house fellowships, people gathering together, just gathering to share a common meal, to open scripture, just to let it speak to them, ask questions of it, to pray together, and to love each other in genuine fellowship. Ah, oh Lord, please.
This is my prayer that this revival will break out into that. Not because I have any stake in it. It's what I'm giving my life to these days, but not because I have a stake in it, but because I believe that will be the great witness — not to build new churches, not to throw great concerts, not to grow empires , but rather to become people of the Holy Spirit, people of the Word, people who love God with all we are and love our neighbor with all we have.
Oh Lord, may that be — may that be the fruit of this revival.