Editor’s note: This article was first published March 5 by Bill Elliff on his website’s blog. Elliff is the founding and national engage pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. He also serves on the Prayer Task Force at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Ten days ago, the doors were closed at midnight in Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University. It was the final service open to the public in what had been an unbelievable 16-day, 24/7 invasion of God upon the campus. Students came from over 200 campuses across the nation out of their thirst for God. The final Collegiate Day of Prayer broadcast went to millions across the world.
But is the revival over? The massive attention on social media about Asbury has slowed. To those whose only source is such media, it might seem so.
But nothing could be further from the truth. My brother, Tom, told me recently, “Dissolution is often about dissemination.” Read Acts 8:4. All attention had been on the extraordinary work of God in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands had come to Christ in short order. But persecution arose, and the Christians scattered and went everywhere preaching the Word of God. Dissolution for greater dissemination. The gospel exploded from one city to the whole world.
Although the thousands are not converging each night in Wilmore, Kentucky, a far greater movement is happening in an innumerable number of colleges and churches. These reports are not as dramatic as Asbury, and many are in different shapes and forms. But there is an undeniable stirring happening everywhere. Like a tsunami that travels miles underground and explodes on the shore, the rising tide is building rapidly.
Those who love Christ and long for His work are experiencing a heightened sense of His presence. Worship services are extending. Prayer meetings—both large and small—are happening in high schools, colleges, churches, and small groups. And reports are coming in of an unusual number of conversions happening, 30-60-100 fold. It’s still embryonic in light of history but seems to be a cloud the size of a man’s hand. The fascinating thing is that reports are coming from everywhere.
My brother, Tom, met last week with a group of men he’s prayed with for 38 years. He simply shared about what God was doing. When it was time for a brief prayer time (usually given to everyone’s concern for routine issues) no one moved. They were in awe of what God was doing. The leader got up to dismiss the group, but they would not leave and it led to a fervent time in God’s presence and prayers for revival and awakening.
One of our church staff members sent us a note yesterday from Hawaii, where she was on an anniversary trip.
“Just got to the beach in Hawaii for the first time and watched several college students get baptized in the ocean! I think it was 20 or more before it stopped! They are still out there singing hymns to the Lord! God is on the move!”
Henry Blackaby and Claude King, in their historic study, “Experiencing God,” said that we must “find out where God is moving and join Him.” Aggressive cooperation with God is the daily recipe for a godly life, but in days of God’s extraordinary movement, our spiritual ears should be even more highly attuned to His activity. What is God doing, and how can we join Him? Notice five observable movements.
1. GOD IS REVEALING HIMSELF
Revival is nothing more nor less than God making Himself known. We refer to this as His manifest presence. In days of historical revival, He chooses to do this in ways that even the unbelieving can see.
The headline of the Denver Post during the 1857-58 nationwide revival that was marked by tens of thousands stopping everywhere to unite in prayer daily and 1 million people coming to Christ in one year read:
“ENTIRE CITY PAUSES TO PRAY EVEN AT THE HIGH TIDE OF BUSINESS AS THE SOUL RISES ABOVE SORDID THOUGHTS”
(subtitle) “Remarkable Outburst of Gospel Sentiment Provoked by Revival”
It seems that the pathway to this fresh revelation of God is to tarry, to wait on Him, and to look to Him. Don’t look to a method or formula. Look to Jesus and settle for nothing less than a fresh, life-changing encounter with Him. In days of His extraordinary movements, He shows Himself with stunning clarity, and a nationwide awakening flows from millions of fresh encounters with the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Do you long to know Him? Is your soul thirsty for His presence in such ways that you will do anything to experience Him? To fall in love with Him all over again?
2. GOD IS REVIVING HIS CHILDREN
To “revive” means to “bring to life again.” In the light of God’s manifest presence, we see (just as the students experienced at Asbury) the astounding beauty of the Lord. We are in awe of his glory and humbled by His holiness. When this occurs, we will find ourselves gladly repenting. Repentance becomes a glad delight, not an arduous duty. And such an encounter with God brings repentance without regrets.
This is why those at Asbury sang with utter abandonment for 16 days. Standing in Hughes auditorium on that final night, I was so caught up in worship that I could hardly speak. When presented with the gospel, I watched many stand with joy to confess Him and their friends running across the room to embrace their new brothers and sisters in Christ. Others bowed low in worship, washing their Redeemer’s feet with their tears.
Isn’t this what you long for? Or are you content with merely formal Christianity? If COVID did anything for us, it showed us that we are powerless to control anything and that the world’s fare doesn’t touch the deepest longings of our souls. Only Jesus can save us and He is doing that across the nation at increasing speed.
3. GOD IS REFORMING HIS CHURCH
Many are saying we need reformation, not revival. It is a false dichotomy. How could we have one without the other? Although I have lived and died for the correct handling of the Word of God for over 50 years, it seems the great need for our dying churches is not merely Biblical orthodoxy but a reformation of experiential religion. We need a reformation of our wineskins that will open the door for the King of Glory to come in. We need a reformation in the church that will include …
- A reformation of PRAYER
- A reformation of HUNGER FOR AND IMMEDIATE OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S WORD
- A reformation of HUMBLE LEADERSHIP
- A reformation of SPIRIT-FILLED DEPENDENCE
- A reformation of TRANSPARENT REPENTANCE AND CONFESSION
- A reformation of REGULAR TESTIMONY
- A reformation of SPIRIT-LED, UNPRODUCED WORSHIP
- A reformation of GOD-INITIATED (EVEN SPONTANEOUS) MOVEMENT, NOT ROUTINE PROGRAMMING
- A reformation of RADICAL GENEROSITY
- A reformation of UNASHAMED WITNESSING
- A reformation of UNCEASING ATTENTION TO HIS PRESENCE!
- A reformation of AWE AND AMAZEMENT (which was mentioned over 40 times in the New Testament)
Are you ready for this type of reformation? Are you tired of business as usual and longing to see your life and church described by the words of Acts? A reformation where God is experienced and known and glorified and the kingdom advances with accelerated power?
4. GOD IS REDEEMING A GENERATION
The next generation is marked by incredible confusion and anxiety. They do not know if they are men or women. There are more addictions, perhaps than at any time in history. Even unbelievers are astounded by the level of “mental health” issues in homes and schools. All of our best education and medical solutions are not touching the acceleration of suicide and self-harm.
Revival changes that. As I sat in Hughes auditorium, day after day, and heard testimony after testimony of radically, instantly changed lives by the power of God, I realized what God was doing.
Every pastor, missionary, educator, medical worker, mom, dad, and businessman this world needs is coming out of this next generation. They are worse than ill-prepared to lead with their current emotional and spiritual dysfunction. But a nationwide movement of revival could bring healing in an instant. It can (and has) redeemed not only individuals in the past but whole segments of society. God wants to change a generation for their sake and for the generation that will follow them. This is why God has sent nationwide awakenings in America every 40-60 years—every generation.
My brother, Jim, wrote recently …
“If you told me that the young adults in your church were meeting together for long periods of time daily to repent of sin, exalt Christ, sing worshipfully, read Scripture, hear at least one message daily, tell others about Christ, give and receive many scriptural exhortations, and to fully enjoy the Lord, (even if there is some immaturity here or there) I would be ecstatic!”
“And, then, I would also encourage you to mentor all who would be interested, learn and listen to them, answer questions, guide, speak the gospel clearly, teach the nature of conversion to Christ, instruct about true and false conversion, the walk in the Spirit, freedom from sin and contagious joy in Christ. In other words, I would say, “Work in the Spirit and with the Spirit in what He is doing. Don’t miss this amazing moment.”
Are you interested—really passionate about—the next generation? Do you see how critical it is to pray unceasingly for them and for the kind of spiritual movements that would redeem them, heal them, and propel them to Jesus and fervent ministry with Him? And are you willing to live with their weaknesses (as they have lived with yours and mine since birth) and help them to greater godliness? And are we ready to release ministry into their hands so they can learn and grow just as we did?
5. GOD IS RAISING AN ARMY!
If you study revival history, you will notice God’s endgame. It is provable that almost every great acceleration of missionary activity has come after seasons of revival and awakening. The Moravian missionaries sprang from the Moravian “Pentecost,” as it was called, as God interrupted a normal Sunday with an unusual outpouring. This led to a 100-year prayer meeting and our first modern missionaries who left their shores with their worldly goods packed in coffins, planning never to return. William Carey sprang from the Second Great Awakening, as did the Haystack Prayer Meeting that launched a fresh wave of missionaries.
God loves His children and manifests Himself so they may return to Him. And as they respond in repentance and humility, their hearts begin to beat in unison with His. And His heart is for people from every tongue, tribe, nation, and people.
Could it be that the result of a world being completely shut down during the COVID pandemic has led to worldwide desperation? Could this lead to a worldwide cry to the only One who can save us and a worldwide spiritual awakening? And could this—Oh, Father we pray!—lead to the greatest missionary force being raised in human history that could reach every tribe, tongue, nation, and people and then the end would come? We do not know, of course, but can we pray to that end?
Are you concerned about missions? About a lost world? If you are, you must not criticize something that seems to have the potential of a national, perhaps worldwide, spiritual movement that could result in the salvation of millions. Even with any excesses on the fringes, we should cry out to God to continue and raise the next great missionary force to finish God’s great Kingdom agenda.
AND YOU …
Every nationwide spiritual awakening has been experienced by millions but also missed by millions. There are many who will discount what is happening and even seek to abort it. The phenomena of social media could be used by God to rapidly advance revival, but also used by the enemy to rapidly discredit it and seek to stop the activity of God.
He is standing at the door of your life and your home and your church knocking, just as He was to the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:20. Will you open the door to the One who loves you more than His own life?
And will you do it now?