Thoughts and Observations on My Experience at the Asbury Revival
By Zack Randles
*This was originally a post by Zack Randles published on Facebook. You can find the original link here: https://www.facebook.com/zackautumn/posts/10160285890256253
The year was 1997. I was in the 10th grade and there was a gathering at our house to pray over the start of a ministry to college students via a Thursday night Bible Study. My dad, who had pastored for 17 years and had been traveling the country as an evangelist since 1993, had partnered with John Strappazon, the college minister at First Baptist Church in Lubbock, TX, and they were discussing what to call this ministry. It was meant to be a shift in mentality for students—living for Christ instead of themselves with a laser focus on discipleship and worship. Lots of names were thrown out and I remember them settling on 2 possibilities: Covenant or Paradigm. They of course chose Paradigm. There were less than 10 people in the room that day, and 7 years later there would be upwards of 1600 gathering on Thursday nights! Students were saved almost every week, and it wasn’t just students—others in region found their way in and were saved too. Ministries started, missionaries were sent out, students were baptized and gave their lives to ministry, and I even met my wife through Paradigm! 🙂 It was revival! God had used that movement to train and later deploy a new generation of Christian leaders to run the next leg of the race. Why does the Lord often spark revival amongst college students? They are right at the beginning of their journey into adulthood, and considering what they will do with their lives. When a college student gives their heart to Christ completely, it has the potential to alter entire communities over the span of their life. They are Great Commission fulfillers—ready to be launched into action! We experienced that at Paradigm. And now, that is what I believe they are experiencing at Asbury.
On Valentine’s Day morning, I drove with 4 friends from DC to Kentucky (8.5 hours each way) to experience the Asbury revival with my own eyes. It was a very special time and while I was there, I made several observations. It is my prayer that those of you yearning for revival in your own communities might find these observations helpful in wrapping your head around what God is desiring to do in your individual context as well. This is not a checklist or a list of ingredients—it is merely a collection of observations. May the Lord use this for his glory!
The timing. The Asbury revival started after the chapel service on Wednesday, February 8– the week of both Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl. By American standards, you would never plan to start a revival gathering during this week. Why? Because the belief is that your community would be better served and your spiritual event would have a higher probability of success if you didn’t go head-to-head with these American culture juggernauts. God is grieved when we waste our faith meant for him on perceived probability. With Asbury, the dates didn’t matter. I am a massive football fan and I very much enjoy the Super Bowl, but if given the choice between experiencing a work of God and watching the Super Bowl, I would certainly choose the work of God. By the same token, I love my wife of 18 years. She is the greatest gift God has ever given me, but even celebrating our treasured relationship takes a close second to experiencing a work of God when he calls for it. Of our crew driving to Kentucky, only one was not married. One key element to this movement was clearly that it went head-to-head with these events and made believers address in themselves, ultimately, how bad do you want this revival? Enough to miss the Super Bowl? Enough to move your Valentine’s Day plans to another night? Don’t miss the beautiful truth that the timing of this revival makes a huge statement about God’s desire for his will to be our most important priority. The students at Asbury made that choice well, and they are reaping a harvest for it.
The attitude. From what I observed, you could sum up the attitude of students in a simple phrase— “just a little longer.” The whole revival began from a group of students staying after chapel to worship just a little longer. That same mentality carried them through days of worship and testimonies. In fact, this was actually my experience too. After hours of driving and feeling tired when we crossed the border into Kentucky and felt the encouragement of the Spirit saying, “just a little longer.” Once we got to the school, there was a line that was thousands long to get into the service and there was drizzling rain, but again the Spirit whispered, “just a little longer.” It was worth the wait. Revival seems to have an element of lingering with God just like you would linger with a dear friend. God honors that desire for more time in his presence, and like a close friend, the relationship changes in those moments—it becomes unhindered and more raw.
The stubbornness. This had a huge impact on me. People experiencing a revival are stubborn in the best way. They will not allow anyone to take the experience from them. While we were in line there was a point where lightning started to shoot around the sky and a man came outside the chapel to tell us that we needed to disperse and go watch the revival in an livestream venue to get out of the storm. No one moved. He then said, “I promise you Jesus is just as real in the live venue as he is in the chapel!” Theologically he wasn’t wrong, but we had driven all that way, waited in line for over an hour, endured the drizzle, and exhaustion—we could wait out a 15 minute storm surge to meet with God in that moment! I thought of Luke 18 and the blind begged being told by those leading the way to be quiet, and that he shouted all the louder because that was his exhibition of faith. Jesus could have healed him without speaking to him—that is theologically accurate— but quieting down was not what he was supposed to do. The guy at Asbury was trying to help, and no doubt exhausted from days of impromptu organizing, but we would not be deterred. Like Jacob wrestling with God, the pursuit of revival requires an attitude of , “I will not let go until you bless me!”
Protecting the Core. This was a new revelation for me. As the revival began to gain notoriety in the media there were no doubt many high-profile preachers showing up wanting to offer a word during the gatherings. Heck, I was ready to preach if they needed it! But as of today, as I write these observations, the speakers for the revival have been the professors from the University and the students giving their testimonies. It revealed a powerful truth that even though God is using this movement at Asbury to spark revival elsewhere, it is still THEIR revival! The student testimonies were so special. One young man talked about being a skeptic when the revival first started, but that he had grown to understand what God was doing, and he had been awakened spiritually. One student from Brazil spoke about how he had been praying that this revival would spread to the people of his home country, only to come to a realization that the Lord was calling him to be willing to be the missionary. People literally started standing up in the crowd and bringing money to this young man so that he could purchase travel. The young man was so emotional. It was beautiful! The global element of the revival was still deeply rooted in the local body of believers and what God is doing specifically with them. Inspiration globally came from the students processing their faith locally. Which brings me to the professors, and the collegiate ministry people for Asbury university… watching them defer the limelight to the students in the while protecting them from outside forces trying to press in and hijack the core of the revival was masterful. Their gentle leadership and guiding hands resembled the hands of Christ in my humble opinion. It was like they were carrying the weight of the revival on their own shoulders so the students can simply experience it. I was inspired. I can only hope do the same for our people in DC.
Control vs. Order. Control is the great enemy of revival, because the Holy Spirit cannot and will not be controlled! However, what I experienced at Asbury was not total anarchy either. It was orderly, and that was very insightful. A movement of God like this cannot be controlled, but buildings have fire codes, cities have traffic laws, and area businesses still needed parking spots for their livelihoods— God knows that and does not expect us to disregard those things in our pursuit of revival. It was evident that people from all over the city and region had showed up to help establish order without seeking to control what the Spirit was doing. I think there are some churches and ministries out there that fear a real movement of the Spirit because they believe it will lead to a moment they are not prepared for and then they will end up doing more harm than good. Asbury is a special place for revival, because they have experienced it in the past. They were the site to a great revival in the 1970s, and many of those people are still alive and knew some of the things that would need to be organized should the Spirit decide to move again in a similar way. Thinking through logistics either in advance or on the fly is a very godly thing, but allowing logistical struggles to govern whether or not a revival is going to happen is a wicked spirit of control rooted in selfishness. Think about it. One of the real Champions of this entire revival was whoever it is that runs the chapel facilities at Asbury. That person could have said after an extra hour or two of worship that it’s time they started to wrap things up so that they could go home to be with their family, but they didn’t do that. Instead, they established an orderly procedure so that the students could stay as long as they wanted. Order, not control! That person is worth celebrating in this beautiful story! A couple of years ago I had the privilege of getting to preach at the largest youth camp in the country at Falls Creek in Oklahoma. It’s always been a place of revival for me personally. I was even baptized in the swimming pool years ago at Falls Creek! A week of camp there will see anywhere from 8000 to 12,000 students, and more than 100 churches are represented. It’s like a small town invades the campground every year. Falls Creek requires incredible order so that the camp can run properly, but they masterfully find ways to keep from controlling the movement of the Holy Spirit. During the service, hundreds come forward each night to be saved, and it takes great order to make sure those students are received by trained counselors ready to clearly and confidently point students to Jesus. Orderly but not controlling. Falls creek also engineers their church group gatherings right after the large worship services so that if the church group times go long or even all night, they are allowed to follow the spirits moving without controlling the other thousands that the spirit may be dealing with differently. While at the Asbury revival, my brain drifted to thoughts of the apostle Paul and his words to the church at Corinth about orderly worship. That church was also experiencing a great revival in its very existence, but instead of trying to control it, Paul decides to help them organize and develop some order. It begs the question, Do you leave room for the Spirit to move, or have you Stifled the Spirit’s work by making him fit your box?
Our role. After singing to the Lord for hours in the Asbury chapel and smiling ear to ear in the joy that comes from experiencing God on the mountain top, I approached the Lord with a question… Why did you have me come to this? I would travel 17 hours round-trip and miss Valentine’s Day with my wife and kids for that amazing moment. The friendship and fellowship with God was so sweet and the time with my travel companions on the van was also deeply needed, but I felt like there had to be some deeper reason. It was in that moment that I felt the Spirit say, “to cheer them on”. Of course! This was their Paradigm! This was their time to make commitments to Almighty God that would shape their families and communities for generations to come! This was their time to receive callings to fulfill the great commission through mission work and ministry. revival can happen in so many different ways in so many different places in so many different frequencies… And it’s Asbury‘s turn! For God to send a movement of this caliber on a stage this large, he must have something truly extraordinary planned for those Kentucky students! I can’t wait to see what it is, and I promise you that I will be watching with Great anticipation! So I challenge you— support revival in all of it’s forms! Encourage young people as they cry out to God for the first time! Don’t be the controlling hands that wring the life out of the movement that will undoubtedly have flaws and shortcomings—be the shoulders that hold back the hatred of the enemy so that these students can be in this moment of revival “just a little longer!”
Thank you, Lord, for the revival taking place at Asbury! May you spark revival all over the world as people see what you are doing there! And God, may those students never forget the glimpse of heaven that you’ve given them. May it sustain them as they tackle the no doubt impossible tasks you will call them to attempt in your name!
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common