If you have been on social media lately, you may have seen reports about a revival breaking out at Asbury University. On February 8th, a routine chapel service ended, but students did not leave the chapel. They wanted to continue in worship. Some students began to stand and give testimony to God’s saving work in their lives. The extended worship session drew more students to return to the chapel. According to reports, the worship has continued for more than 11 days now. Thousands of people have driven to Kentucky from different parts of the country to sit in the chapel and worship with the student body. People are lining up for hours to experience what they hope to be an encounter with the living God.
As with just about everything in the world, this event has sparked considerable debate on social media. Everyone wants to give a hot take on the legitimacy of the movement. Is it real? Is it of God? I don’t aim to offer any commentary on that. I am not there. I don’t know exactly what is happening in that chapel. But I do want God to use this moment in my own life. I want to reflect on what revival is and how it spreads. I want to renew my own hunger for God’s manifest presence.
The Bible never uses the word revival, so, what are we talking about when we talk about revival? Is there a precedent for such a thing in New Testament communities of faith? The Bible doesn’t use the term revival, but it does use the term “filled” in reference to the Spirit’s work in our life. The book of Acts showcases moments where God’s people are uniquely filled with the tangible presence of God’s Spirit in order for the gospel to be more clearly spoken and received. Though every Christian is in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit when they come to faith in Jesus, there can be multiple moments throughout their lives where God fills them with the Spirit in a way that is unique and life changing. That is the case with the prayer gathering recorded in Acts 4.
After receiving the news that persecution was breaking out, the church called a prayer gathering. They lifted their voices up to God and prayed for boldness to continue preaching the good news of Jesus. Acts 4:31 tells us, “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Several times throughout Acts, the Spirit is described as filling particular Christians for particular moments of gospel witness. Peter was filled with the Spirit when he addressed the religious leaders (Acts 4:8). Stephen was filled with the Spirit when he calmly but boldly faced martyrdom (Acts 7:55). In Acts 13, spiritual awakening broke out among the Gentiles and the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. Luke describes the disciples in that moment as being filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:48-52).
When we ask for revival or for spiritual awakening, we are asking for God to manifest his spiritual work in an obvious and undeniable way. We are asking for him to fill us with his Spirit in a special way that empowers very clear proclamation of the Gospel and the receptivity of its saving message in the hearts of those who hear.
What is biblical revival? It is the sovereign will of God to pour out his Spirit on particular people at a particular time for the purpose of empowering and emboldening Gospel proclamation. Lets pray for this and long for this in our own churches.