Spiritual Awakening and Revival
26 February 2022 Mark 1:1-11
In the past couple of weeks the little town of Wilmore, Kentucky has been turned upside down by happenings on the campus of Asbury College. People have come from long distances to receive a touch from God. Indeed, a spiritual renewal has broken out at Asbury University. It began when students did not leave the chapel but stayed for hours seeking God in prayer, confessing their sin, and seeking the power and presence of the Lord God. I know one couple from Carmel who traveled there and came back reporting that the power and presence of God was tangible there. The Asbury experience was not engineered by preachers or professors but God choose to come with power upon students who met for prayer. We might think this is an unusual occurrence but God has come with power many times over the centuries to renew His church and bring salvation to people. Although some may debate this, I am using the terms revival and awakening as meaning the same thing. In this sermon when I talk about revival I am not talking about the time churches hire an outside evangelist to come to preach for a week. Revival is much more than that. It is a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The prophet Isaiah reported that God would send His messenger who will prepare His way. The messenger would be “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him (Mark 1:2-3).” The predicted messenger was John the baptist and he “appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin (Mark 1:4).” Numerous people from the countryside of Judea and from the city of Jerusalem came to see and hear the prophet John. What did they do? They confessed their sins, and were baptized in the River Jordan.” John called the nation of Israel to repentance and many responded to the message that God gave him to tell the people. This was an awakening that came to Israel in the early first century.
Such moves of God have happened numerous times throughout the 2000 year history of the Christian faith. God comes to people who are receptive and desirous to receiving a new touch from Him. Sometimes He comes to us in the quiet of our homes but other times He comes in power as we worship with others. Some call this move of God revival while others call it an awakening. There have been as many as five Great Awakenings in this land since the 1730’s. The First was in the 1730’s and lasted ten years. The Second Awakening began in the late 1700’s and lasted to the middle of the 1800’s. It was especially strong in the Northeast and the Midwest. The Third began in the 1850’s and lasted until the 1900’s. Dwight Moody of Chicago was one of the preachers in the Third Great Awakening. The Fourth Awakening began in the late 1960’s and lasted through the 1970’s. The Jesus Movement was prominent in this awakening. And a Fifth awakening is known as the Charismatic Revival and began in the 1980’s and continues today. All of these Great Awakenings had a powerful effect on both individuals and on various denominations in America.
In 1981 a pastor was appointed to a two-point charge, that is, two rural churches, near Muncie in Delaware County Indiana. He is one of the rare United Methodist pastors who have only served one appointment. In one of his churches, Union Chapel United Methodist Church, there were two women who wanted their church to grow both spiritually and in numbers. They met together frequently and prayed for revival. The church began to outgrow their facility and took a leap of faith and purchased a large car lot in Muncie. Over the decades the little church became Union Chapel Ministries and is now what we would call a mega-church. I have followed Union Chapel over the decades. The pastor who was appointed to the two-church charge in 1981 is still the Senior Pastor. He is one of the rare United Methodist pastors who have served in the same church for nearly 43 years. It all began with two women who prayed that their little church would grow both spiritually and numerically.
One of the most unusual spiritual awakenings began in 1905 in the country of Wales. At that time the country had a population of a little over one million people. Most worked in the coal mines or were involved in metal work. Prior to the awakening, on Sundays the churches were full of worshippers. However, there were those, both clergy and laity, which believed their churches needed more. While there were hundreds of revivalists leading the awakening, 26 year old Evan Roberts was a key leader. He left school at age twelve and began working in the mines. Later he became a blacksmith apprentice. He felt God was calling him for revival in the nation. He believed God wanted 100,000 people to become serious Christians in Wales. The Welsh Revival lasted from 1905 to 1906. Churches were filled with people seeking a deep experience with the Lord God. Worship services lasted for days. Miners came to work a half hour ahead of schedule and had prayer meetings down in the mines. Men were converted and their lives changed. They had a problem in the mines. The horses could no longer understand the commands of the miners. Whereas before they were rough and cussing, now they were gentle and did not use ugly language. This confused the horses. One miner recalled later, “It was a joy to go to work. Heaven came underground.” The awakening was not confined to churches.
The test of any revival or awakening is how people’s lives are transformed by Christ Jesus. Skeptics might discount it as emotionalism. One skeptic commented about the Welsh Revival saying, “It’s just all fizz.” Another replied, “But it is the fizz of the fuse that ignites the dynamite which explodes.” In Wales, the crime rate went way down and some courts did not have to meet as no one was arrested. While drinking to excess was a problem before the awakening, people stopped getting drunk. One commented that while water was not turned into wine, beer was turned into food and clothing for families. Shopkeepers reported that people paid their debts. People who had not spoken to others for years were reconciled and began speaking to each other. One of the characteristics of a revival is the change that takes place in people’s lives.
When the revival ended, did people go back to their old way of living? Of course, some did. However, historians of the revival report that many continued as faithful followers of Christ Jesus. Some became missionaries. Others became community leaders. Still others became teachers, preachers and doctors. In the 1980’s an historian of the revival was interviewing old folks who were alive during the revival. He asked a woman about those who went back to their former ways. The old lady replied, “I want to tell you this. The flame that started in my heart in 1906 is still a flame today in my heart. It has never gone out. The problem with today’s Christian is that there’s too much television and not enough heavenly vision.” Evan Roberts felt that God wanted a revival in Wales that would lead 100,000 people to come to Christ. That is about 10% of the nation’s population. In five months, God changed the hearts of 100,000 people.
There are certain things that are common to awakenings or revivals. One of the main commonalities with revivals is that they happen when people gather for serious prayer seeking God’s power and presence. For revival to happen, we need to seek God and be receptive. Like any good thing, we can reject it. English evangelist and author, Leonard Ravenhill, wrote: “As long as we are content to live without revival we will.” People need to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Revival tends to come during times of social upheaval when people recognize that they cannot by their own power fix their problems. Right now we are living in such a time. We see chaos all over the place. People are caught up in violence, drugs and lack morals. The signs of our time tell us we need God’s power and presence to deal with problems that are clearly out of control. The time is ripe for another great awakening. It is time for Christians to pray for a new awakening, a new revival.
Awakenings or revivals are something we cannot schedule or create. Revivals are the sovereign work of God. He is omnipresent, is everywhere, but there are times when he shows up in special ways to reveal his glory. One student of revivals writes, “A revival cannot be scheduled at all, because it is the work of God which he manifests himself in his own ways, in his own time, and to his own glory.” There is no formula for revival or awakenings like have happened in North America, Wales, at Asbury University in Kentucky and other locations. Revival is the work of God alone. When we pray for revival, let us pray believing that God will make himself manifest in strong ways.
Another characteristic of revival is that the focus on Jesus. The focus is not on the preachers, if indeed, a preacher is present. The focus is not on what I want to get from God. The focus is not in having a warm fuzzy feeling. The focus is on Jesus. The focus of revivals is not on the music or the songs. The focus is on Jesus. He told us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…”
The time is ripe for a great awakening. The problems facing us in this Nation are such that we cannot solve them on our own. Congress cannot solve them. The White House cannot solve them. The great universities cannot solve our problems. What we can do is pray for God to reveal himself in another revival. People need a powerful touch from the Lord. People need a new filling of the Holy Spirit. This season of Lent is a great time to begin praying fervently that God will come with power.
A sermon preached at Veterans Memorial Chapel
by CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, AUS (RET)