In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about a revival that took place at Asbury University in central Kentucky last month. It began on February 8 as people remained at the conclusion of the Sunday morning service to continue to worship. Videos shared on Instagram and TikTok of people still singing and worshiping brought it to national and international attention. Eventually, thousands of people flooded into Lexington to grab their own experience of the worship service; there are even accounts of miraculous healings that occurred due to the revival.
There were no famous headliner musicians and no world-renowned preachers. It was simply a time for singing praises, worship, and prayer. After almost two weeks of 24-hour worship, the university officially concluded the revival on February 23, but not before other universities reported similar revivals breaking out on their campuses as well. Revival isn’t anything new to Asbury University though. In 1970, the university had a revival lasting for over seven days. And in 2006, there was a four-day revival.
While this is very exciting to see this enthusiasm in the church, there does exist a fair amount of skepticism regarding all of this. Given the number of false teachers and televangelists who work to pad their own bank accounts, it is understandable that people may question this kind of thing. We are told in 1 John 4:1 to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” It is good and prudent to be discerning about this movement and popular trend at Asbury before jumping on board with it.
So was this truly a “revival”? By definition, a revival is simply just “renewed religious interest.” In that case, it would definitely classify as a revival. There is definitely renewed interest in Christianity from this nearly two-week praise session. But how do we test this to see if it is truly from God?
On the one hand, it was great to see thousands of young people gathering to worship God. It is much better than thousands of people gathering to watch, say, a Sam Smith concert. Out of all the things that young people could spend their time doing, this was one of the best things they could do: gather together to worship the only God who is worthy of worship and collectively pray together.
On the other hand, maybe those thousands of people weren’t actually there to sincerely worship God. Maybe they were there as a way of getting on board with the next social media craze. Maybe it was just to increase and impress their Instagram followers. Perhaps even the other revivals at other campuses were only popping up as a bandwagon attempt to be as popular as Asbury University had become through all of this.
Perhaps some were gathered there for those reasons, but there are definitely worse things to jump on a bandwagon for. However, for those who did gather simply to be in on the social media craze in order to say, “I was there,” then their worship was not honoring to God. God isn’t honored by just “worship” if the worship is not directed toward Him. The object of our worship is the most important part of our worship.
Even as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, we are to worship in “spirit and in truth.” Worship is a wonderful thing, and I know God’s presence can be felt during sincere times of worship. But it must be balanced with the truth. Our worship must be done for the glory of God and to the truth of who God is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
We see that through the rest of what John said about testing the spirits in 1 John 4:1-3, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
In other words, we will know who is true and who is not by seeing what they say about Jesus.
Sadly, there are many churches today that are caught up in worship as an emotional experience, but they do not have truth in what they say about Jesus and what they believe about Jesus. In those cases, the congregations are more like the Pharisees than they realize. It may be harder for them to come to true salvation than the tax collectors…or those attending that Sam Smith concert. They may think they are honoring God because they had an emotional experience, yet they never learn who this God truly is, or they are worshiping their own idea of who God is, and thus, remain far from Him.
So what do we make of the Asbury revival? I think there were many who went to participate in a large gathering of true believers to praise, worship, and pray to God. There were probably many who went just to say they were there and grab a selfie without any thought toward God. There were probably some who went with skepticism toward God and just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. You know, probably no different than a church service on any given Sunday.
But hopefully what it did accomplish was to inspire young people to gather together to honor God and to encourage unbelievers to investigate this great God whom we call Father.