What was the world like when you were growing up? Hearing most people of a certain age talk was a much better place when they were young. As you ponder the question, I’d like to share my version, based on a recent experience.
Earlier this month, I was interviewed for a documentary about historic American revivals. What a delightful experience! My interviewer, Nancy Rogers, aside from being delightful, asked important questions related to my expertise—the First Great Awakening, the 1970 and 2023 Asbury University, and Azusa Street Revivals.
I tend to get animated when talking about times when God breaks into hard places and times and shared many stories from these outpourings. Then Nancy asked me a question neither of us had anticipated: “Why are you so interested in revivals?”
My answer came out of a deep place in my spirit and as I spoke, I wasn’t entirely aware of what I was going to say next. I told Nancy that when I was growing up, despite all the good things I was blessed with, the world was a pretty scary place. There were the assassinations of President Kennedy, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. There was a continual threat of nuclear war and the “last battle,” Armageddon, which often gave me nightmares. And every night on the TV news, commentators told stories of campuses and cities aflame and of the Vietnam War, for which there was no foreseeable end or solution, just mounting death and destruction. (Some of you will remember a song popular in the mid-60s called “Eve of Destruction,” which pretty much sums up what I’m saying.)
And yet, amid all that horror and despair, God chose a small college in a Mayberry-esque Southern town most people had never even heard of to bring a revival that spread throughout the country. People’s lives were transformed for all time, including the most hopeless and weary. One Vietnam veteran got up to testify, saying he’d never thought he’d set foot on a college campus, having been spit on by students elsewhere, but at Asbury, God’s people embraced and loved on him. He had found hope. At the same time, the Jesus Movement was breaking out in California, and contemporary Christian music was born—one of its founders was Barry McGuire, who had once sang “Eve of Destruction!” Wherever the story of the Asbury revival was told, revival broke out.
This is why writing and talking about revivals is so important to me, to bring people hope. We live in a weary, broken, sin-sick world. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in the 18th or the 20th century, in the 1970s or the early 2000s. Our condition is like a relentless, bone-chilling foggy day when, quite unexpectedly, the sun breaks out, and our hearts awaken to new hope. I was reminded repeatedly last February of how small we are and how big God is, how “He’s got this.” He truly is Lord of all.
And then, there’s Christmas. We may not know when or where revival will break out, but every year God gives us a “thrill of hope.” I love the lyrics of “O Holy Night,” how they speak of a world “in sin and error pining, ‘Til he appears, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”
God never leaves us without this hope. He fulfilled His promises to save His people in the birth of the Christ Child, and Jesus will make good on His promise to return and make all things new. In the meantime, He gives us glimpses of that perfect time and place through annual celebrations of the Nativity, and through revivals.
May you catch a glimpse of His glory and grace throughout this Christmas season, and carry its light into 2024.
Merry Christmas and Sursum corda!