Well, regardless of whether or not the 2023 ‘Asbury Revival’ proves to be a genuine revival or not, it certainly has generated a lot of interest, both in Christian circles and the general press. Only time will tell if it’s genuine or not, and only God knows if any revival is actually a genuine revival.
Nevertheless, it is possible to define what we can call essential characteristics of a truly genuine revival. The revival research this old man has done through the years has revealed that opinions about what real revival is, and isn’t, vary. I read at least a half dozen articles about revival just today that I added to the revival folder in my files that already contained a sizable number of files from having examined revivals of the past.
Perhaps a good, if not the best approach to study revival might be to examine what happened on the Day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem.
Pentecost was originally one of the most important festivals of the Jewish calendar, commonly called the Feast of Weeks, and marked the end of the grain harvest. There was therefore a very large number of Jews from far and wide visiting the city in addition to the city residents.
In the New Testament, Pentecost marked the birth of the Christian Church. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ disciples as they were gathered together in a room, away from the crowd. The Apostle Peter, filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, preached the first sermon of the new church to a large crowd gathered in the streets of Jerusalem.
After having read quite a bit of material concerning revival, I found that there are several characteristics common to genuine revival, no matter when it has occurred, or might be happening today.
Awareness of God’s presence, and especially an awareness of His holiness and majesty
A fundamental feature in revival is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy, and might. As J. I. Packer explains, “God ‘comes,’ ‘visits,’ and ‘draws near’ to his people, and makes his majesty known.” It’s what we see in the prayer of Isaiah the Prophet recorded in Isaiah 64:1-2, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” We see an example of that presence in the first few verses of Isaiah chapter 6, when Isaiah he ‘saw the Lord sitting on a throne’ in the temple and heard the angels’ song — ‘Holy, holy, holy’— and cried out, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips’ (Is. 6:1-5). Revival begins with this searching, scorching manifestation of God’s presence begins and is sustained.
Responsiveness to God’s Word
When there is a sense of God’s presence, the authority and truth of God’s word is greatly magnified. The message of scripture searches the hearts of its hearers and readers and cuts to the very core of their being. That is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached the new church’s first sermon! Peter had studied the Jewish scriptures and that is exactly what he presented to the gathered crowd! When Peter told them, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 3:36), their immediate response was “. . . they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Sensitiveness to Sin
Peter’s words had cut deep into the heart and soul of Jewish listeners. As Packer tells us, “No upsurge of religious interest or excitement merits the name of revival if there is no profound sense of sin at its heart.” Peter’s listeners on the day of Pentecost were ‘pierced to the heart,’ which literally means “to pierce thoroughly, that is, (figuratively) to agitate violently (“sting to the quick”), (Strong’s Concordance). Completely shattered, the congregation cried out, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Knowing that conviction of sin is a means to an end, Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ. . . .” Peter showed them the way of faith, repentance, and discipleship through Jesus Christ, and three thousand were saved that day! (Acts 2:37-41).
Liveliness in Community
Another characterization of a revived church is the life, joy and power of the Holy Spirit. Fellowship with Christ becomes the clear center of our worship and devotion. When the glorified Christ is shown, known, loved, served, and exalted, love and generosity abound. There is also a profound sense of unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer. We see all of this in the newly birthed church in Jerusalem:
“42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).
Fruitfulness in testimony
Revival always results in evangelism, through personal witness as newly saved believers share the gospel message and their changed lives with others, and as God’s “sent ones”, such as the Apostle Paul not only preach the gospel message, establish new local churches wherever they travel. When God brings revival, “New life overflows from the church for the conversion of outsiders and renovation of society. Christians become fearless in witness and tireless in their Savior’s service. They proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by Christian values emerges. Also in revival times God acts quickly; his work accelerates. Truth spreads, and people are born again and grow in Christ, with amazing rapidity.” (Packer)
In summary, there you have a pattern of revival that is common to all genuine revival. “Christians in revival are accordingly found living in God’s presence (coram Deo), attending to his word, feeling acute concern about sin and righteousness, rejoicing in the assurance of Christ’s love and their own salvation, spontaneously constant in worship, and tirelessly active in witness and service, fueling these activities by praise and prayer.” (Packer)
As for the Asbury revival? It’s been announced that it is “ending” this week. As one article reported “Life will return to normal on the campus of Asbury University and in the town of Wilmore once this week is through.”
Again, I’m reminded of something Jordan Standridge said in a Cripplegate article:
“Only God knows if a revival is taking place. These pastors (who declared it a true revival) can’t know. The skeptics can’t know. It is only God who can cause a revival and it is only God who can know if a revival is taking place.”
Please pray for everyone who has been involved with the events at Asbury University and beyond; that God will indeed bring salvation and lasting revival as He the invades hearts and minds of many during these times.
Portions of this article were adapted from Marks of Revival, by J.R. Packer, and Essential Characteristics of Genuine Revival, by Erroll Hulse, both available online at Graceonlinelibrary.org
I have concerns about this so called revival; still I pray for people to really be saved even if its inspite of the hype
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