On February 8, in an ordinary chapel service at Asbury University, Zach Meerkreebs preached from Romans 12:9–21. His message was a challenge to the students regarding divine love. About 20 students came forward to pray and remained after chapel. Over the next few hours, hundreds of others came to join them.
My Christ-Centered Experience at Asbury
Last Saturday morning, I sat down and read the personal accounts of many who were attending the worship at Asbury University, which at the time had been going on ’round the clock for nearly 70 hours. While I had a weekend full of activities planned, my heart was drawn. It felt too important to miss. After praying with my wife, I quickly packed a bag and asked my son, Samuel, and our assistant pastor, Matthew, to join me. Twenty minutes later, we were headed for Wilmore, KY.
We arrived a little after 1:00 PM. As I walked across the lawn in front of the Hughes Memorial building, I began to weep; I felt that I was on holy ground. Inside, there was a marked reverence and a sense of holy awe. Someone was reading Scripture at a microphone in the front. Someone else was softly playing piano in the background.
I walked directly to the front and knelt to pray at the old wooden altar. God spoke to my heart, and for the next nine hours, I had a front-row seat (literally) to what God was doing.
I heard testimonies of young people whose lives had been transformed in the past few days. During one structured testimony time, an Asbury leader asked us to observe the ABCs of testimony: A — It’s all about Jesus. B — Keep it brief. C — Keep it current (no life stories; just tell us what Jesus is doing for you right now). For 45 minutes the testimonies flowed, one right after the other, glorifying God.
One young lady with tears in her eyes shared, “Two years ago I was strung out and now I’m in my first revival!” Another girl shared her story of healing and deliverance: “A year and a half ago I was raped and since then my life has been a wreck. In the past few days, Jesus has brought so much healing to my heart.” There was a mix of young and old, black, white, Hispanic, Korean, and people from near and far. One missionary freshly returned from Africa said, “We’ve been weary from the battle on the mission field, but in just these past few hours, God has filled up our hearts again.”
In the afternoon we were led in a special time of prayer for the church. The prayer leader acknowledged, “I know that many have you have been hurt by the church, but God loves the church. Jesus died for the church. It is His bride.” Collectively we knelt and repented for our part in the church’s failure and prayerlessness. In a time of prayer for pastors and lay leaders, ten to twelve people I’d never met gathered around and prayed for me as a pastor.
The music throughout the day focused on the person and work of Jesus. It was a mix of songs, and many were familiar to me. “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” “Holy, Holy, Holy!” I found myself drawing closer to Him, focusing on the person of Christ and the work that He completed at Calvary.
As far as I could see, there was no central personality or dynamic figures leading the worship. The leadership was discerning without being controlling. For instance, halfway through the afternoon, a young man who looked to be about 20 years old was walking back and forth in front waving a flag that said “Jesus is King.” Two Asbury leaders were nearby, and I heard the exchange. “He’s not hurting anything. I think it’s ok. [Let him continue.]”
The altar was in constant use. People came and went, but it wasn’t distracting. The leadership emphasized the need to preserve the atmosphere for prayer. At 4:30 PM, they “dismissed” for supper, though hardly anyone left. “If you have a conversation, please take it outside,” a leader admonished the crowd as a swell of conversation began, “We want to preserve this as a sacred space.” The singing continued. Snacks and bottled water outside the sanctuary were available for anyone who was hungry, and at supper time there were boxes of pizza. It was one of the many sensible acts of kindness that I witnessed.
My daughter arrived that evening and told me later, “It wasn’t what I was expecting. It was so normal, so peaceful. Like God was just coming to sit with us. While the clock said we’d been there for two hours, it hardly felt like we had been there for 15 minutes.”
I witnessed nearly 2,000 people crowd into the auditorium for the evening gathering. There was more singing and prayer. Zach Meerkreebs preached from Joshua 2: “Consecrate yourselves because God is about to do great things among you.” It was a call to holiness and holy living. “In the Old Testament consecration meant something different than it means for us here tonight,” he said, “but some of you need to cut some things off in your life. Some of you need to get rid of some things.”
Before sharing the Lord’s Supper, another Asbury leader named David gave a message. “This act represents Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. It represents His body broken for you, His blood shed for you… While the world drinks to forget, as Christians, we drink to remember!”
What I experienced at Asbury University was focused on Jesus from beginning to end.
What I experienced at Asbury University was focused on Jesus from beginning to end. The room was filled with kids who were crazy in love with Jesus, worshiping the only way they knew how with the music that spoke to their hearts. “I know we have a lot of different backgrounds and worship styles represented here,” said James, one of the worship leaders. “We may be playing some songs that are not on your playlist, but these songs are not about you. They are about Him!”
The Mark of True Revival
Being around church all my life, I’ve seen and heard some crazy things. I’ve watched flamboyant personalities flame out. I’ve seen the aftermath of ugly church politics. I’ve seen good people do and say some things that I’ll never understand. I’ve witnessed conflict that did not bring glory to God. People have been hurt. Some of them are in eternity now and bore that brokenness to their grave. I’ve lived long enough to see that “all that glitters is not gold.” I’m more than a little skeptical. I know that not every “move of God” (so-called) is genuine.
So what is the mark of a true revival? This is a question that has long intrigued believers, and some of the best minds in Christian history have wrestled with it. Jonathan Edwards wrote a whole book on the topic, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in Three Parts. More recently Sam Storms has abridged and explained Edwards’ text in a helpful volume entitled Signs of the Spirit. One thing is clear: A genuine revival movement is connected to the work God accomplished in Jesus. It is part of the “stream” of work that God has been doing throughout history. It is connected to what He has already done. That stream is deep and wide. It has been flowing long before we discovered it (or were discovered by it).
A genuine revival movement is connected to the work God accomplished in Jesus.
True revival is rooted in the Great Tradition—that truth that has been accepted “by all, at all times, and in all places.” It is rooted in those essentials from which we all draw our unity. It is as old as the Apostles’ Creed, a river that finds its origin at Pentecost—perfect love filling each heart, a rock-solid conviction that Jesus is the risen Christ, sacrificed for His own, raised from the dead, and exalted into eternal glory. Our fellowship as Christians is in the cross. We live because He lives! It is that power of the resurrected Christ that unites our hearts in agape love.
Long before the “forks” in our church family tree, there was a root, a Christ-centered unity. At Pentecost, Peter stood up proclaiming boldly the eternal and incarnate Word: “know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Three thousand people were saved in a single day, and the fire that was lit in the upper room spread to the entire known world. “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6). It was all of God. It was spontaneous and often unplanned. It was beautiful. It was disruptive.
What we are seeing at Asbury is connected to what God has done before. He is calling His people to holy living and to perfect love. “Let love be without hypocrisy”—that was the truth from Romans 12:9 that compelled twenty students, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to stay and pray. It was a simple message without pretense. It was not “powerful pulpiteering.” It was God’s eternal truth being grasped and reclaimed by His people. And it was the magnetism of God’s love that drew me to Wilmore. It was God’s love that I felt as I sat in that chapel for nearly nine hours with brothers and sisters from countless different backgrounds. This love continues drawing together people from many traditions, bringing them back to their roots, and reminding us all that what unites us is greater than what divides us. This is not some ecumenical “check your beliefs at the door” gathering. We’re not pretending that we don’t have differences. But we are all connecting to the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who witnesses to Jesus.
True revival is a return to the root. It is a recovery of the heart of God revealed in Christ, and a move towards the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for His people, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). May God cause this fire to spread.