Spiritual Renewal at Asbury University


God is moving again at a place familiar to those of us in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition. Following chapel service on Wednesday, February 8, students at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, remained for a time of prayer. According to the accounts I’ve heard, an original small group of around twenty students began sharing their burdens with one another, confessing their personal struggles, and repenting for their failures. The details of what followed are a little hazy, but several students and professors described Hughes Auditorium as a magnet: students were running from their classes, dorm rooms, and cafeteria to join a rapidly growing body of students in the auditorium. By the time I arrived on Monday, February 13, well over 2,000 people had gathered through the weekend in a time of sweet, quiet, prayerful worship, and loving community. 

The press has called it revival; Asbury leadership calls it an outpouring and extraordinary moving of the Holy Spirit, and student-led worship and confession. It’s best to leave it to the church historians yet-to-come to say whether or not “revival” is the appropriate term; time will tell. What I witnessed was worship, confession, repentance, renewal, encouragement, sharing of burdens, and a spirit of unity among believers.

What I witnessed was worship, confession, repentance, renewal, encouragement, sharing of burdens, and a spirit of unity among believers.

Like many of you, I first heard about this spiritual renewal at Asbury via social media. It blessed me that posts about Asbury outpaced the Superbowl by nearly double on my social media feeds on the Sunday before arriving at the Wilmore campus. As two of my pastor friends and I drove four hours to the campus, about fifteen minutes southwest of Lexington, my mind was contemplating what I might experience upon arrival. From what I had read and heard, I expected a subdued and peaceful atmosphere; not a hyper-emotional or loud environment like I’ve witnessed in some places. A thought stuck in the back of my mind: would I experience something strangely new, something quite different than I’ve ever known before? I wondered if some mysterious spirit would overtake me. I wondered if I might be compelled to do something I’d never done before. That thought perished the moment I entered Hughes Auditorium.

My first expectation was confirmed. Musicians were playing and singing quietly, reverently. People were kneeling in their seats or at the altar. Some were sitting, head in hands. Others were standing, heads lifted and arms outstretched. There was no hilarity, no hyper-emotionalism, no strange noises or sights, no running or shouting—just heartfelt worship and prayer and appropriate clapping of hands. Yet it was clearly not a regular church service. No one except the Holy Spirit seemed to be running the service, if it should be called a service at all. No one was amped up, out of character, or out of control. In fact, everyone appeared rather ordinary: singing, praying, worshiping, conversing, or just sitting quietly.

It took me fifteen minutes to relax, remove my analytical eyeglasses, and engage in worship. One of the singers, reading the lyrics from her phone, started singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” Suddenly I felt tears streaming down my cheeks. The music was so subtle I could barely hear the guitar and piano as we sang. The unison of voices sounded angelic. My heart was happily and unstrangely warmed.

We made our way to the front and I found a place to stand along the wall on the north end of the altar. Asbury staff with clearly marked identification were praying with people around the altar. Seekers were two and three deep at places along the altar. As my mind went back and forth between engagement and observation, I noticed that the Asbury staff was politely but firmly guarding the platform and the altar. The steps to the platform were never unattended. Staff moved up and down the altar, praying and encouraging each seeker. Twice I saw staff ask someone to pray more quietly or to calm down so as not to be a distraction. If someone had started shouting or running, it would have felt awkward and out of place. The staff’s vigilance was palpable and anointed.

I moved to the balcony to get a better vantage point of the whole auditorium. A few things stood out. Students were only about 10% of the crowd, but they were largely congregated in the center section toward the front. People were comfortable moving about, interacting with one another, or remaining alone, and somehow all of it combined to make a very loving atmosphere. The musicians were leading without being in control. Some loudmouth could have easily been heard above it all, but my feeling was that this crowd wouldn’t have tolerated it.

Revival, according to Jonathan Edwards, is an intensification and acceleration of the normal work of the Holy Spirit: emphasis on normal.

One of the most anointed moments was when David Thomas approached the podium and with a calm, charitable voice addressed the crowd. He welcomed everyone from students to onlookers, reminding us that this was an extraordinary move of the Holy Spirit upon the students of Asbury. He acknowledged that this would end at some time, but that revival, according to Jonathan Edwards, is an intensification and acceleration of the normal work of the Holy Spirit: emphasis on normal. He warned against comparing ourselves with others and said it is okay if some don’t feel anything at all. The Holy Spirit isn’t a feeling. He shared words of wisdom for about thirty minutes before leading three sessions of prayer.

I left a few hours later with a particular burden to pray for the students. Whether you have visited Asbury during these days, or any of the other college campuses where spiritual awakening is occurring, I would recommend praying in these ways:

  1. For God’s preservation of His work among the students, especially Gen Z.
  2. For God to protect these college campuses from attention-seekers and frauds, and grant wisdom and courage to campus staff tasked with turning them away.
  3. For confession, repentance, restitution, and reconciliation to happen in our local churches as it is at Asbury.
  4. For the spiritual renewal to be so impactful that our local communities will be impacted as they were in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19). 
  5. For believers to regain an appreciation for the normal, ordinary work of the Holy Spirit and means of grace.

David Fry
David Fry
Senior Pastor at the Frankfort Bible Holiness Church. PhD in Systematic Theology (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). MDiv in New Testament Theology (Wesley Biblical Seminary).