Revival and the Rest of Your Life
Walking with Jesus in Ordinary and Extraordinary Times
The little chapel was on the fourth floor of the oldest building on campus, full of history and the enthusiasm of our small student-led prayer group. We spread out in the small room, one or two people in each of the short wooden pews, and some sitting on the worn yellow carpet that had been there for decades. Light streamed through the stained glass in the early evening, lighting up the room with a warm glow.
At the time, I did not know I was meant to be there, or how profound an impact these experiences would have on the rest of my life. That season was one of grieving and grappling with traumas and pressing questions. I’d been wrestling grief and anxiety at a level that severely limited my college social life, mostly because there was rarely a time I was not furiously wiping tears and snot from my face. I may not ever have been at those prayer meetings if it were not for a thoughtful and outgoing friend who I shadowed nearly everywhere on campus.
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Our friendship was born in a time of true need for me; a provision of God. We often spent hours together singing worship songs in the stairwell of our dorm. Gratuitous reverb and soul-satisfying harmonies bounced around the enclosed concrete, and infused hope into my sorrow. She strummed her guitar and we flipped through lead sheets I’d copied at my former church to keep with me at college, the songs stitched to a part of me I didn’t want to leave behind when I left home. It was the start of my understanding that hunger for God is not at all foolish.
The prayer meetings began as organically as anything can. My insatiable soul hunger had become evident in our stairwell sessions, and her fire for Jesus was unmistakable, youthful and naive as it might have been at the time. We had been between classes, and on the steps outside our main campus cafeteria, we converged with another student who was ablaze with desire to gather students together for prayer. She had a request for my friend. Would she be willing to lead acoustic worship for a student-led prayer gathering a few days in the future? Could we spark a revival with prayer for our school, city, nation, and beyond?
That sounded great, she said. I’m sure I smiled courteously next to her, ever the introvert, and I knew I would be there to sing and pray at her side.
That’s what led us to the little chapel.
Aside from whomever’s permission we’d needed to obtain in order to be there after hours, no one really even knew we were there or what we were doing. We didn’t know what we were doing either, but all of the students who gathered shared a simple longing to encounter God and pray for hope, healing, and holiness to become something we could see with our eyes in our generation, if not on a grand scale, at least in our own lives.
It was an informal, word-of-mouth thing; just a few students gathered with bibles in hand full of hope that deep and lingering prayer together might make a difference in ways beyond our understanding. The intimate setting left no room for spectacle or production. It was unbelievably simple. No real plan to guide the time. My roommate strummed her guitar and led songs. She often spoke aloud Bible passages she’d memorized or turned to in her open bible. Other students followed suit, vocalizing amens and yes, Lord’s. It turned into hours of spontaneous, fervent prayers for God to meet us there, for His Spirit to be at work among us.
Got met us there. He met me there.
I’d never prayed like that before. I’d only known prayer as a formal, solemn thing that never lasted more than a few minutes, especially not with a group. My church background was non-charismatic, and I was accustomed to very muted expressions of worship. These prayer meetings were different. The atmosphere was calm, free, and like a warm hug to the accompaniment of tender music that sometimes rose with fervor and declarative repetition. The power and presence of God were palpable. Compelling. Disarming. Restorative. For hours we continued on with worship and spontaneous prayers, students sitting, some prostrate on the floor, some standing with arms stretched out and tears falling as we sang and cried out to God for everything rising up in our hearts.
I’m fairly certain the first meeting lasted two or three hours. Despite the fact I’d never been to something like this, it was comfortable and there was nothing forced. I tasted of something unbelievably good…a relief from carrying my grief all by myself; a reprieve from the pressure to stuff all my unsightly emotions away from view. I could be open. Honest. I could receive the touch and the care of God.
Honestly, this was so different from my earlier experiences as a Christian, I felt somewhat puzzled. How was it I had followed Jesus for years, but never really encountered Him like this?
It was the first time I realized there was a whole lot I did not know about the presence and power of God.
This group of students met together again and again, several times a week for more than a year. There was never a master plan to pray pretty much all the time, but we did pray and worship, every chance we got, planning a day or two ahead to meet again in the chapel, or spontaneously gather the group for prayer in this dorm or that campus house.
At some point in the pleasant spring weather, we moved outdoors to the center of campus. God met us there, too. More students joined us. There were times of joyous worship, raising our voices together. There were times of intense prayer and deliverance. There was humility, confession, healing. The gatherings gave birth to a kind of hope I’d not previously known and recognition of a kind of power I could not dismiss. That season of student-led prayer precipitated what has become a lifelong commitment to prayer. Truth planted at that time has grown into full-fledged, mature faith and I have come away with a high value for scripture and a profound knowledge of the lengths God will go to reveal His heart for humanity. For me.
It may not have been a revival of historical note, but it was the beginning of something remarkable for those of us who were there.
Meeting God in a personal way together with a group of classmates in college was an incredible experience, but I’ll be honest, in the years since, I have encountered God in still more powerful ways as life has gotten more complex and more difficult with time. He has powerfully met me in sickness, in poverty, in deep sorrow, and in profound hardship; over and over again, supplying His peace and His strength when I had none of my own. It is something to proclaim we “have this hope as an anchor for the soul,” and then, when the torrential sea comes crashing and raging and the anchor actually holds, actually steadies you, actually serves as comfort, refuge, strength, and an ongoing, slow drip of healing to a desperately debilitated person…Jesus becomes all the more compelling. How can we not be changed, or rather, heartened by His presence in the midst of all our hardships?
I guess I’ve been pondering all of these things in light of the reports of revival at Asbury and other colleges around the U.S. I’m aware that some people are caught up in the experience, some are observing from the social media sidelines with their concerns, questions, doubts, or maybe a quiet longing for a similar encounter, and still others probably don’t care about what is happening at all. Reading about these developments has prompted me to dig up memories of my own encounters with God, as well as what I wish people understood about both a profound spiritual experience like revival, and all the ‘ordinary’ years that follow.
Here’s what I’ve learned since those college prayer meetings:
Mountaintops do not make a whole life.
I am (presumably) only halfway through my life, and I am astounded by how many surprises, turns, valleys, and summits there have already been along the way. I’ve been similarly astounded by how steadying it is to have the word of God hidden in my heart from years of studying it. The excitement, momentum, and intensity of revival-like experiences are powerful, but they are not sustainable through every season. Consider parenthood. Consider unexpected hardship. Consider prolonged illness or the discovery of medical issues. When new challenges enter the picture, so must new ways of walking with Jesus. Sometimes those new ways are not very comfortable…ok, so most of the time, I might say. But discomfort does not denote the absence of God. He is not far from us, though we may, at times, feel far from Him.
We shouldn’t be surprised when we cannot “get back” to that mountaintop place. God already knows what we need, now and twenty years from now, and He has left all kinds of treasures for us, directly in His Word, to light our way.
Part of the process of maturing in faith is learning the voice of Jesus so well, so personally, that we can discern it no matter what else is going on around us. In 1 Kings, God invited Elijah to behold His great power in wind, an earthquake, and fire, only to make it clear to Elijah that none of these were themselves indicative of the presence of the Lord. Ultimately, the Lord came in a gentle whisper, and I think this whisper is how God often shows up in the ordinary seasons of our lives.
“ The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:11-12 NIV
Posture is more important than location.
We don’t have to travel to a college campus hundreds of miles away to meet God, or see him move powerfully in our lives. His presence is with us at all times, no matter our current season of life, and no matter where we’ve been in seasons past.
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked abandon his way, And the unrighteous person his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7 NASB
A hunger for God is not at all foolish.
The spiritual riches that come with a life of devotion to Jesus cannot be overstated. God promises to fill those who earnestly those who desire Him.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 NIV
“Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” Psalm 31:19 ESV
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV
God’s promises are not empty words.
He is able to substantiate and deliver on everything He has promised to do. That doesn’t mean it will happen the way we expect, the way we would choose, or the way that makes sense to us…but I have seen His promises come to fruition many times in my own life, and I recognize that He is who He says He is, and His power is matched by no one. I can attest to the sufficiency and abundance of Christ.
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” Joel 2:32a ESV
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV
“The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘Lord, save me!’ The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 116:3-9
To those who are currently experiencing revival:
Do not stop seeking God when you go home. Even though life may feel more ‘ordinary’ when you’re not surrounded by hundreds of other people raising their voices in intoxicating worship, even though pursuing God in regular life will look different than it did in an auditorium, press on. Do not let anyone talk you out of what you’ve learned about the presence and power of God.
Consume the pages of scripture in every way you can, for yourself, and seek understanding of God’s character, His historical faithfulness, His plan for the rescue and redemption of humanity through His son Jesus, and His ongoing leadership in the lives of those who confess Jesus as Lord. You will gain incredible value from being in scripture. Read from a solid, widely accepted translation of the Bible. Participate in a healthy, Bible-teaching church congregation. You need the support and fellowship of other believers who have been through the fire of testing, and please hear me say, they need you, too. They need your stirred desire for God, your lived-experience of revival, and they need a fresh reminder that God is powerfully at work in younger generations.
As time goes on, you will encounter hardship. You will be challenged. You will be discouraged, disillusioned, and disappointed by many things, but from your time in the Word and your time seeking God in prayer, and the wisdom you gain from mature Jesus-followers, you will also have a serious foundation that cannot be moved no matter what comes your way.
“All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
To those who are longing for relief from your hurts, heartaches, and hardships:
Recognize that God longs to be your refuge. He does. There is nothing trite, insufficient, or empty in Him. He can handle your honest, ugly prayers that rise out of desperation. In fact, He may be waiting for them.
“In my distress I called to the Lord, I cried to my God for help. From his temple He heard my voice; my cry came before Him into His ears…He reached down from on high and took hold of me, He drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” Psalm 18: 6,16-19 NIV
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