When I arrived on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, in the fall of 1977 to begin my Master of Divinity degree, one of the first things I was asked was, “Have you heard about the revival of 1970?” I had not.
The word “revival” was not something I had been familiar with growing up in a middle-class Methodist Church (not yet “United” Methodist), in a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. I had a vague idea that it was some weeklong event in which a church invited a preacher to come and “revive” a complacent congregation. But I had never attended one.
It wasn’t long before I was duly instructed about the famous “Asbury Revival.” On February 3, 1970, in the Hughes Auditorium at Asbury College (the undergraduate school across the street from the seminary), a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit broke out during a regular morning chapel service. Non-stop prayer and an outpouring of spiritual gifts took control for 185 hours.
Classes were canceled and students and faculty devoted themselves to prayer and fasting. From that fervent prayer revival came amazing testimonies of commitments to Christ, confessions of sin, miracles of healing, broken marriages restored, and calls into ministry and the mission field.
Newspapers and TV stations across the country flocked to the tiny town of Wilmore to cover this phenomenon. Prayer requests poured in by telegram and telephone. Local church attendees, seminary students and curious neighbors packed the Hughes Auditorium to experience this supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit. It was described by one observer as “a weight of glory covering the campus.”
The will to seek God with all our hearts
Surely, we long for that today, and from time to time we experience these kinds of extraordinary signs of God’s Spirit on the move. There could be more of it if we just had the will to seek God with all of our hearts.
When we pray “Come, Holy Spirit,” as we do every year during our annual observance of Pentecost, do we know what we are asking? As the saying goes, “Be careful what you pray for.”
Praying for the movement of the Spirit involves commitment on our part and a willingness to radically shake up our “business as usual” forms of worship and practices of holiness. It isn’t about God coming down and fixing things for us. It is about humbly submitting to being changed and turned around. And yes, it is about sacrificing some of our comfortable ways of keeping God in a safe little box on the shelf of our hearts.
First and foremost, it requires an enormous amount of committed prayer and attention to the disciplines of our faith.
What happens when God shows up
When God shows up, as was seen at Asbury College and on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 2, this is what we will experience:
1) Confession – When confronted with the presence of God in the temple the prophet Isaiah declared, “I am lost, I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) On the Day of Pentecost, after Peter preached to thousands, the listeners were “cut to the heart and cried out, ‘What shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37)
A sudden, keen awareness of God’s presence always unleashes an acknowledgement of sin and a desire to repent (which means to turn around 180 degrees and go the right way). Are we willing to come clean with God and confess the sin in our life? Sin is a sure-fire way to prevent the flow of God’s power. Confession and repentance heal the soul and open the floodgates of revival.
2) Financial reckoning – The manager of the Asbury Seminary bookstore testified to how many debts were paid off and stolen books were returned during the revival of 1970. Another sure sign of God’s Spirit working in our life is how we manage our temporal affairs.
Members of the early church were moved by the Spirit to share all of their earthly possessions in common; so no one had any need. (Acts 2:45) Can we take an honest look at our checkbooks or bank account statements and share our means in ways that can help others to simply live? The Spirit provides in abundance as the grip of greed and consumerism is released from those of us who have the world’s possessions.
3) Justice – Micah 6:8 declares that we are to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.” Justice is first because it is God’s priority that all are regarded as equal, beloved and uniquely gifted for the good of the whole. God doesn’t prefer some groups of people over others. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit always gives us the power to overcome and dismantle barriers of race, gender, class, ability, age and sexual orientation.
On the Day of Pentecost diverse languages were spoken, sons and daughters prophesied, young and old had visions and dreams and God’s Spirit was poured out on all the people. (Acts 2:17)
How is that manifestation of the Spirit working in your church, in your life? How can we break down barriers of division that we have created to keep ourselves safe and comfortable with those who look and think like us? The Spirit calls us to be the “salt and light” the world needs—the flavor and flame within to create equity, inclusion and justice for all people.
4) Faith sharing – After the Asbury revival there were over 2,000 witnessing teams sent out across the country and around the world. They comprised students at the college who had experienced the revival. They gave testimony to God’s power, and that testimony caused even more revival in many other places. More than 130 Christian colleges and seminaries saw a dramatic increase in enrollments during that revival era of the 1970, a time of turbulent social change in our society.
One does not have to go to seminary or engage in professional ministry to share one’s faith. Tell your story of what the Lord has done for you. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. God uses our hands and feet and our words to spread the Good News of salvation and everlasting life. If not you, who will do it?
As we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” this year on Pentecost Sunday, remember what that means for you personally. You are asking God to:
- convict you of sin and repair the wrongs in your life;
- to truly give God control over your money;
- to work for justice in this world, (starting with any exclusivities in your church and personal life); and
- to go out and tell—in your words and deeds—the “old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
- “God in Our Midst” by Howard A. Hanke, www.revivalfocus.org, March 10, 2020
- “Beautiful Feet” www.romans1015.com, June 22, 2018
- One Divine Moment: The Account of the Asbury Revival of 1970, edited by Robert E. Coleman and David J. Gyertson
- Read another, 50th anniversary account of the Asbury Revival and its lasting impact, published in 2020 by Church of God Ministries.