Saturday, February 18, 2023

My Experience at Asbury: Full Streams

See my previous article, When God Does it Again.

“I came to experience God. I think something big is going to happen. When a lot of people come in faith, expecting the Lord to do something, amazing things will happen.”

That’s what Rocky, from Asheville, North Carolina, told me Friday morning outside of the auditorium at Asbury University where revival continued into its tenth day. Rocky, an associate pastor at his church, came with their staff: “We expect the Lord to do something amazing. We came expecting God to give us something that we can take back to others.”

Striking up conversations with people, I continued hearing similar hopes among the crowd. And a crowd it was. On Friday morning at 10:30, at 34 degrees with a light snow, hundreds of people lined the sidewalk waiting for the doors to open at 1:00pm. Before long the line stretched for a half mile.

My pastor in college in the '90s showed us a documentary one Sunday evening of the 1970 Asbury Revival. It lit a spark in me to study historical revivals – and to begin praying for God to pour Himself out again in this generation. Like many other people, testimonies from the First and Second Great Awakenings, the 1857 Prayer Revival, the 1904 Welsh Revival, the Shantung Revival, and various campus revivals, to name a few notable ones, showed me what can happen when God shows up in a supernatural way.

Another documentary on the 1970 Asbury Revival was titled “When God Comes.” And that reality - God showing up - makes all the difference. One succinct mark of a genuine revival is the manifest presence of the Lord. Theologically, we know the omnipresence of God – He is everywhere. But, He does not show Himself at the same level and power everywhere.

We enjoy a sunroom at our house with five large windows. On cloudy and rainy days, the room reflects the outside reality. However, on sunny days, light pours into the room, giving it a whole different dimension.

Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid gave the church a gift in their book, Firefall: How God Has Shaped History through Revivals. They explain, “Revival is God’s invasion into the lives of one or more of His people in order to awaken them spiritually for Kingdom ministry."

And Stephen Olford called it a “strange and sovereign work of God in which He visits His own people, restoring, reanimating and releasing them into the fulness of His blessing.”

Welcome to Asbury University

Roy Fish said, "When the fire is falling, get as near as you can to the flame."

We first heard the news from Asbury last Wednesday, February 8, when chapel did not stop. One week later, after full days at church, my wife and I looked at each other and said, “We need to go.” So Thursday morning we packed up and drove seven hours to Wilmore, Kentucky. Through the day, I quietly sang in my spirit the song, "Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome," wanting to prepare myself for worship.

The little town was abuzz with activity at six pm, with cars parked on the street and in every available lot. Walking to the school, we saw dozens of people waiting in line to walk up the large outside stairsteps to Hughes Auditorium – the center of activity on campus. I’d heard of Hughes for thirty years – the same place God poured Himself out in 1970.

We waited in line about an hour. The 1489 seat chapel was packed. As people left, they called out a number of empty seats and let the same number in. The Salvation Army gave out snacks and coffee. A large mag screen outside showed the chapel service going on inside. And two overflow auditoriums were open for people not wanting to wait in line. A pleasant, friendly spirit filled the air with a strong air of excitement. People often greeted each other with, “Where did you come from?”

And people came from all over. We talked with people from all over the Southeast, Michigan, Connecticut, Oklahoma, and even heard of one woman who drove from Oregon. To date, I read that twenty-two colleges and universities have sent students to Asbury to experience the divine moment.

I met four male high school students who drove together from Nashville, Tennessee. One of them, Luke, told me, “We came to see what God is doing. It’s awesome.”

Another young man from Burundi, Africa, told me, "It’s a very rare moment in America, where people are so stuck chasing money, to see people coming together" to seek the Lord. Nova, who now lives in Lexington, said he knew he had to come.

As we stood in line, I told my wife, “I don’t know when I have had to stand in line to wait for a seat at an event.”

When our turn came, I quietly prayed, “Lord, help me experience You.” I did not want to get in God’s way or miss what He was doing. One of the most damning verses in the Bible speaks of Jesus’ visit to his home area: “And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).

Imagine being in the physical presence of Jesus Christ and choosing to not believe because He did not fit my expectations. McDow and Reid share, “An institution can be in revival even when some members are skeptical of God’s movement. . . . When revival erupts, the tendency is to expect all to receive immediately what God is doing, but this is never the case. Skeptics are witnessing things beyond their experience.”

The usher escorted Tracey and me to two balcony seats, which gave us a wonderful view of the auditorium. The place was packed. For three hours we joined with the crowd, sometimes standing and singing, other times sitting quietly. There was a tremendous sense of spontaneity combined with order.  Never did we feel like things were out of control. In fact, when we left, I commented on how amazed I was at how well the school administrated the event.

A speaker who was obviously scheduled would get up and testify or share some exhortations from the Bible. Then instrumentalists and a large number of college students would come onto the platform and lead us in singing for two or three songs. Then there would be quiet praying. During our three hours, a faculty member gave a very clear gospel presentation, with a strong emphasis on what Christ did for our sins, our need for repentance from our sins, and the need to follow Him. 

Giving an invitation, several individuals indicated decisions to believe in Christ, and they received a massive celebration from the crowd – and follow-up discipleship materials from Asbury after the public altar call. Another speaker talked to students about the need to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ, die to self, and live a surrendered life, followed by another altar call. In between “movements,” a student or faculty member would get up, welcome people, and give basic “house rules.”  We laughed when the student said, “The balcony is old, so if you are going to jump up and down or dance, please come down to the floor.”

I think I went with the expectation that it would be an emotional experience for me. I did shed a few tears, like when 1500+ people clapped and shouted exuberantly when five to seven people gave their lives to Christ. But overall it was not a strong emotional experience for me. I spent a good bit of time observing, wanting to see what happens in a time like this, praying quietly, and thanking God for what He is doing. And when we walked out of the doors at 9:45pm, the line was longer than it had been three hours earlier.

8 Observations from the Asbury Revival

Studying revivals and awakenings for three decades, what was happening at Asbury “checked the boxes” for what I know to be true about historical moves of God. Here are just a few of my observations about the movement:

1.            The manifest presence of God, coupled with a strong spirit of worship.

God was in the house. And people were worshiping Him. This is not about a speaker, music group, or showman. Jesus is center stage.

I’ve read in testimonies from previous moves of God, and I’ve heard multiple people say about Asbury in the past week, it is as if time stands still in the auditorium. We were tired after driving all day, but we were not bored. We were focused. Three hours seemed like just a little bit of time.

McDow and Reid write, “The normal response in the midst of a spiritual awakening is an awesome awareness of the presence of the Holy God. A holy hush literally permeates the atmosphere.”

Timothy Beougher observed this week, "Within the crowd there was a mixture of times of quiet deep reverence and loud vocal celebration."

2.      A stirring spirit of expectancy.

Miriam Cisneros of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, told me she drove and slept in her car for two nights. When I asked her why she came, she enthusiastically replied, “I am hungry. I want revival. I want to be a part of what is happening here.”

Ivan Litvac and his wife, originally from Moldavia, drove from Connecticut. When they left home, their six children gathered around them and prayed for them. Ivan shared, “I want more power and more fire.  We want to take it with us. We want to be a part of what God is doing. There’s a new song here, and we want to flow in his presence.”

Bill Elliff, who has written a series of excellent articles, day by day on his blog, on the Asbury Revival. He explained to Baptist Press how the Asbury community has an expectation of God working:

“It seems to me – I’m not an authority on this – it seems to me that that particular school has an openness to this, a bent towards this. They want to see God come.”

“They believe in experiential spirituality, and I do too. And I’m not talking about charismatic theology, as much as just heart theology … and heart experience. And there’s a deep emphasis on prayer, and on surrender.”

Elliff also sees a faith component in the mix at Asbury.

“They are looking for and expecting God to move because of their past,” Elliff said. “I think across the board in America, because we haven’t seen a nationwide movement since 1970, and prior to that 1904 in the Welsh revival that dramatically affected America, because we haven’t seen that personally, most of us, then we don’t pray big."

“We can’t fathom that 15 percent of the population could come to faith in two years like it did in the first great awakening. So, we don’t even ask for it.”

As with any move of God, some religious people – and some Christians – will critique it and oppose it. Sometimes, God moves in ways that we don’t expect. It doesn’t fit our carefully constructed theological system. And if not careful, we can be like the people in Jesus’ home – filled with unbelief in the very presence of the Lord.

3.      An emphasis on the gospel, conversion, and repentance.

During my three hours, I heard a clear gospel presentation. It was not a feel-good, self-fulfillment, God is here to make you happy and give you a great life. This was a “you are separated from your Creator because of your sin, Jesus paid the penalty for that sin, and you need to repent of your sins and turn your life over to Him.”

The leaders at Asbury are clearly wanting to lead people to faith in Christ. When we attended, those who responded to the gospel invitation included students and adults.

4.      A spirit of prayer and humility.

Roy Hession wrote, “Prayer is the foundation for revival, and testimony the spark that ignites it.”

Prayer permeated the atmosphere, modeled by the facilitators on stage, continued by worshipers all over Hughes, and maintained by people in groups outside of the auditorium. People gathered in the aisles for prayer. Prayer counselors prayed with people at the altar through the night. People spontaneously came to the altar for prayer. People all over the room prayed quietly. 

Many people shed tears. Occassionally you would hear someone crying or groaning loudly. Beougher reminds us that "true revival doesn't begin in ecstasy, it begins with agony. It doesn't begin with laughter but with tears."

The book Firefall explains, “While the length may vary according to the nature of the awakening, the participants will remember the experience for their lifetimes and will not be satisfied with anything less.”

My wife told me Thursday night, “This is what church should look like.”

Pride will destroy revival. A very real understanding exists at Asbury that this is an act of God, He has gifted them with a divine moment in time, and they are trying to be wise stewards of His blessing.

5.      Order, decency, and hospitality.

We were overwhelmed with how well the entire event is administrated.

Inside of Hughes there was order, but such that allowed expression. Volunteers were at every door. There were clear boundaries. There were plenty of people around to answer questions.

Outside of Hughes was amazing. A police presence existed. Nice, portable bathrooms, free coffee and hot chocolate, a food truck, and other details showed that they clearly wanted people there.

6.      Freedom and a spirit of celebration.

A wonderful spirit of worship filled the place. There was such freedom of expression – people standing or sitting as they wished, lifting their hands or sitting quietly, shedding tears, moments of a quiet, holy hush, mixed with moments of loud celebration with clapping and shouting. Occasionally a few people would dance in the aisles or jump up and down exuberantly.

But as mentioned before, never did anything seem inappropriate nor out of order. And it never distracted from the central theme of worshiping the Lord.

Outside on Friday morning, hundreds gathered, waiting. People enjoyed walking around and talking with each other. Some huddled in groups praying and worshiping as the live stream from inside was broadcast. There was never a sense of being unsafe or unwelcome.

I encourage you to read Tim Beoughter’s comments, which are linked in this article, about the excesses of revival vs. staying “in the main.”

7.      An emphasis on the lordship of Christ.

We live in a day with a huge emphasis on self-fulfillment. While not all of that is bad, a biblical worldview reveals that God’s biggest purpose is to glorify Himself – not just helps us live our best life now.

At Asbury, they are not just inviting people to find forgiveness of sins. There is a clear emphasis on submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ. In the time we were in Hughes, we heard a clear exhortation on “dying to self” and living the Spirit-filled life.

McDow and Reid write, “The ultimate result of awakening in the life of the beliver is submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. When Christ becomes enthroned, He impacts the total person, including emotions.”

8.      Spanning generations and races.

Hughes auditorium Thursday night was filled with white, black, Asian, Indian, and Hispanic people. I enjoyed watching an Indian middle-aged man near me singing, standing, crying, and raising his hands. We noticed people of all ages – couples bringing babies, children, teenagers, young adults, middle aged persons, and seniors. Families came together. Old men and women came on canes and walkers. Occasionally small children would cry o make noise. I noticed one older lady with a cast on her foot wheeling in on a foot stroller. This is not a “youth revival.” This is touching all ages and many races.

For me, a real gem of this movement was not that I received something dramatic individually. It was watching so many people drawn together in the name of the Lord - the sense of "this is a taste of what heaven will be like."

The Implications of Revival

For years, I’ve told my churches that America has not experienced a nationwide movement since the 1904 Welsh Revival spilled over into the United States. That means there is no one alive who has lived through one.

Many people in our churches have not been taught about historical revivals and have no orientation to them. That’s one reason when an outpouring actually does occur, some Christians oppose it because they have no expectation toward it. They think revival is a series of meeting churches plan in the spring or fall. (View J. Edwin Orr’s The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakening and his History of Revival series.)

In some past revivals, it appears that people who experience it firsthand then go other places where a similar manifestation occurs. This happened in the 1970 Asbury Revival, when student teams went to churches and schools all over the country and similar outpourings of the Spirit occurred. That’s why, in this current movement, Christians from all over the country want to travel and get close to the fire.

Timothy Tennant wisely shares, "An awakening is where God begins to stir and awaken people up from their spiritual slumber. This is definitely happening not only in Wilmore, but as this move of God spreads to other schools and communities across the nation and even the world.  There are many reports that this is what is happening. [W]e must keep our hearts and eyes fixed on Jesus and ask him to complete the work he has begun so that, over time, there is a lasting transformation in the lives of those who are being touched by God. . . .

Someday, we will look back on these days and thank God that he visited us in ways we will talk about for years to come.  But, what we are doggedly seeking is not lasting memories, but transformed lives long after the lights go out in Hughes auditorium or Estes Chapel or all other places which are experiencing this work of grace."

Last Wednesday night, I told our church that for years I’ve believed America will not last apart from a genuine, God-sent revival and spiritual awakening. We live in dark, desperate times. The good news is that historical moves of God often come during dark, desperate times, when God’s people have been crying out to Him for a fresh touch.

Dr. Tim Beougher, former professor of mine at SBTS, wisely writes, “every believer ought to be on their knees in prayer, praying for God to do something. Our churches desperately need revival. Our nation desperately needs awakening. We ought to all be crying out to God, asking Him to do something new.

“If this movement becomes a spiritual awakening, it won’t just be Christians talking about it,” Beougher said. “Everyone in America will know what’s going on, because it will be transforming our culture.”

Beougher wrote his master’s thesis on the 1970 Asbury Revival and its impact on Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and coauthored with Lyle W. Dorsett, “Accounts of a Campus Revival: Wheaton College 1995.”

“Ultimately, I think we have to fall back on the sovereignty of God,” Beougher told Baptist Press. “I think G. Campbell Morgan said it well. He said, ‘We cannot cause the wind of the Spirit to blow, but we can set our sails to catch the wind when it does blow.’”

The Streams of God

Kentucky experienced a huge amount of rain this past week. During the last hour of our drive to Wilmore, we saw creeks and streams overflowing their banks. The psalmist wrote, "The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance" (Psalm 65:9-11 NIV).

I thought as we approached Wilmore, "The spiritual streams are full, and God is pouring Himself out."

May the Lord continue pouring Himself out - and not just at Asbury - but all over the nation and world. "LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known" (Habakkuk 3:2 NIV).

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See my friend Wayne Atcheson’s book, The Asbury Revival: When God Used Students to Wake a Nation.

See also some excellent commentary on the Asbury Revival from Tim Beougher, Bill Elliff, Timothy Tennant, Bryant Sims, and Lee Grady.

See God is Moving: 10 Observations from Asbury Revival by Rob Jackson

See 40 Days of Seeking God: For Revival, Elections, and Key Leaders by Greg Frizzell

View J. Edwin Orr’s The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakening and his History of Revival series.

Resources on historical revivals and spiritual awakenings: Firefall: How God Shaped History through Revivals by Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid; Fresh Encounter: God's Pattern for Spiritual Awakening by Henry and Richard Blackaby; Revival Now by James Burns with Tom Phillips



  1. The River of Revival has begun to flow. Thanks for sharing your personal experience of the Asbury Revival along with your insights from years of studying and seeking the Lord for Revival in our time.

  2. It was an Emmanuel Encounter.