As the current revival at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, continues unabated, and while some people debate whether or not it is too early to call it a revival, a quick survey of spiritual awakenings through history should encourage us that God is at work among the students, faculty and visitors at Asbury.
All Christians should take heart that spiritual awakening is not limited to a denomination, region of the country or even a region of the world. A move of God’s Spirit can happen anytime and anywhere.
Here are a few examples:
The Great Awakening (also called the First Great Awakening), 1730s–1740s. The first Great Awakening is most closely associated with the Northampton revival led by Jonathan Edwards, a Congregationalist pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts, where the town of 1,100 would eventually see more than 300 people saved.
During this same period, George Whitefield’s preaching was gospel fuel on an already burning fire. Whitefield would eventually preach to hundreds of thousands of American colonists.
The Second Great Awakening, 1795–1835. The beginning of the second Great Awakening is associated with the ministry of Presbyterian pastor James McGready and featured unusual spiritual manifestations. The Second Great Awakening focused on soul winning and encouraged moral reforms such as the temperance movement and the emancipation of women. The span of time during the Second Great Awakening included the ministry of Charles Finney, whose revival ministry saw an estimated 500,000 people come to Christ.
The Businessmen’s Revival, 1857–1858. Revival broke out in New York City after lay missionary Jeremiah Lanphier started a noon prayer meeting for businessmen. Building quickly, the prayer meetings spread across the nation. An estimated 1 million people joined churches as a result, and a large number of church members were converted from false beliefs to belief in Christ.
The Welsh Revival of 1904–1905. Although the beginnings could be traced to the ministries of Joseph Jenkins and Seth Joshua, this revival is most closely associated with Evan Roberts, a man of deep intercessory prayer. The Welsh Revival was marked by singing, prayer and a broad outpouring of God’s Spirit on people throughout Wales. Churches were filled with new converts, some say more than 100,000 in one six-month period.
The Revivals of 1905–1906. Welsh immigrants in Pennsylvania heard of the revival in Wales. It wasn’t long before an awakening began in Wilkes-Barre and spread to numerous other cities. By the spring of 1905, 10,000 people were believed to have converted to Christ in Methodist churches alone. The move of God eventually reached major southern cities like Louisville, Kentucky, and Atlanta, Georgia, while also touching lives westerly into Minnesota.
The Azusa Street Revival, 1906. Long associated with the Pentecostal movement it birthed, few know the Los Angeles area prayer meeting that was Ground Zero for the revival was founded by an African-American pastor, William J. Seymour. For three years, meeting three times a day, seven days a week, an integrated audience met to seek God. Through reports from missionaries about the Azusa Street Revival, within two years the movement had spread to more than 50 nations.
Post-World War 2 Awakening (the Youth Revival Movement and the Jesus People Movement). Led by preachers like Billy Graham, Torrey Johnson and Mel Larson, Youth For Christ, a national program, blazed a gospel trail in cities leading to an awakening among youth from coast to coast. Out of this movement, in 1951 Bill Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru). And Graham would go on to launch a crusade ministry that would see him preach to more than 100 million people.
Revival broke out on college campuses as well. Prayer at Wheaton College in 1950 sparked a revival that spread nationally. A revival on the campus of Asbury in 1970 did the same.
The Jesus People Movement was birthed during the troublesome and turbulent 1960s among a marginalized group of young adults known as hippies. Thousands of young people were saved and delivered from lives of drug abuse, sexual excess and disillusionment. One leader, Assemblies of God minister and founder of Teen Challenge, David Wilkerson, estimated that the movement eventually included 300,000 people.
Global Awakenings. Christians in the West should take care not to limit what we call awakenings to only those movements studied in church history classes. God is often at work in big ways around the globe in people who never make the news and about whom we rarely hear. The Chinese house-church movement alone counts some 100 million members. It can scarcely be described as anything other than a move of God.
Whether the current outpouring of God’s spirit at Asbury spreads to other campuses or cities remains to be seen, but God’s people should always pray to be revived by the Spirit and be prepared for the moment that day of outpouring comes.
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