One Year Later“As an alternative, he proposed the hope and joy, whatever the circumstances, of a life instead given over to Christ.“
It was an ordinary chapel at Asbury University on February 8, 2023. But one ordinary chapel service continued day into night for an extraordinary 16 days. The message that morning was on radical love and radical humility out of Romans 12, or 30 calls to practice unselfish love in 13 verses. After chapel was dismissed, a few dozen students lingered to pray. The numbers swelled to hundreds by late afternoon and then to thousands in a matter of days as word spread. What transpired in the days between February 8 and 23 in Asbury’s Hughes Auditorium not only impacted students but drew an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 spiritually thirsty pilgrims from at least 40 states, 40 countries and 279 colleges and universities, including students from 114 state schools.
What could possibly have generated such an unexpected, unplanned spiritual awakening in such a conflicted and increasingly irreligious age? To start with, we live in an anxious age, and for Gen Z youth especially. According to Asbury University Chaplain Greg Haseloff, many students at Christian colleges and universities are having to deal with some combination of addictions, family turmoil, not measuring up to the perfect bodies and affluence of advertisements, loneliness, feelings of worthlessness and depression, suicidal thoughts, a decline in civil discourse (especially in politics) and too much time devoted to social media and its increasingly confrontational abuse online. San Diego State University psychologist Jean M. Twenge notes that adolescents’ growing use of smartphones and time spent on social media interfere with sleep and in-person social interaction, facilitate cyberbullying and provide access to self-harm literature. Dr. Twenge’s conclusion is that U.S. youth are “in the midst of a mental health crisis.” Summarizing the rise in adolescent angst, New York Times reporter Ruth Graham notes Gen Zers have “been battered by everything from political polarization to COVID-19 shutdowns to a near epidemic of depression,” compounded by the isolation of pandemic-generated online learning.
Asbury Collegian campus newspaper editor Alexandra Presta recalls, “I remember Asbury during 2020. Not only did the coronavirus keep us physically apart, but there were a lot of cliques based on majors, athletics, political preferences and more. Our loving God fought against it. He is a God of unity. Why else would His Spirit fall on a bunch of students on a random Wednesday?” According to Asbury junior Dakota Poole, “We’re learning how to love across greater boundaries and rifts. We’re learning about the effort love takes. If God is love, and He crosses boundaries, we’re called to do the same.”
Sarah Marshall, a former Asbury student from West Virginia, returned to campus within days of hearing of through-the-night worship on campus: “This was an invitation to experience Him and I accepted. I felt a relaxation and calmness like I have never experienced before. A stillness went throughout the chapel, and I couldn’t help but be fully present and attuned to God’s presence.” Freshman Dorcus Lara had just as profound an experience: “The Holy Spirit has brought healing in my heart from past trauma where I put up a wall…. Throughout the time of revival, multiple people have approached me to pray over me, and they would remind me that I am worthy and loved by God.”
Reflecting on the revival, Asbury University New Testament Professor Suzanne Nicholson writes, “Testimonies have been moving and powerful … Students have publicly confessed addictions to pornography, anger at God, bitterness of heart, despair as the result of difficult family situations, and so much more. For some of these students, I know their stories, and through the semesters I have seen their anxiety, depression, and deep wounds. Yet now they proclaim healing, joy and a deep love of God like I have never before experienced. This is not manufactured emotionalism.”
Still, Asbury’s spiritual awakening had its detractors, especially online. In answer to the often-repeated question, if what was happening at Asbury was truly genuine, students exhibited powerful, telling marks of the revival’s authenticity. One worshipper, and not of the Asbury tribe, told a Washington Post reporter onsite, “You can’t tell a bunch of college students that we’re going to pray together all night and share our secrets. You can’t plan that or engineer that.”
Asbury University President Kevin Brown had no way to know that his February 3 chapel would speak so directly to the blessings that would begin to flow five days later. In addressing “The Difficulty of Being True to Yourselves,” he gave students a penetrating critique of the sad shallowness of a life given over to self-absorption. As an alternative, he proposed the hope and joy, whatever the circumstances, of a life instead given over to Christ. Here he spoke of the paradoxes of faith that so confound the world, but which for thousands were at the heart of the spiritual gain that came out of the Asbury Revival of 2023: “When we empty ourselves, we become whole. In building love, we find freedom. Real freedom is to give ourselves to others and to give ourselves to our Creator.”
For Further Study
- The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer
- Everyday Saint: Rejecting Sin, Choosing Love by James K. Hampton
- What If Jesus Was Serious: A Visual Guide to the Teachings of Jesus We Love to Ignore by Skye Jethani
- 3 Big Questions that Change Every Teenager: Making the Most of Your Conversations and Connections by Kara Eckmann Powell and Brad M. Griffin