By Ryan Shaw, General Editor
On Wednesday, February 8th at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, a spiritual awakening erupted that lasted, day and night, for the next 17 straight days, characterized by the profound, contagious presence of God.
Though the protracted meetings at Asbury itself have ended, the spiritual power of the awakening have spread to college campuses across America. Some are calling this a precursor of another “Jesus Movement” in America and beyond.
As a student of historic revivals and spiritual awakenings I have been watching the firsthand accounts of this recent outpouring closely. God seems to be visiting His people once more, answering the deep cries of a desensitized generation and preparing His Bride for the future.
But what exactly is He preparing her for? Awakenings quicken God’s processes within His people, often setting them on a new spiritual trajectory that marks them all their lives. Through awakenings God accomplishes in a matter of hours what otherwise may take a lifetime.
Yet that inner transformation has purpose beyond its impact on the individuals. God’s Covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:2 declared, “I will bless you…and you shall be a blessing.” This is a core Biblical principle of true spiritual awakenings.
God visits us in profound ways, revealing Himself, setting us free, for the purpose of empowering us to go out, making Jesus’ name great where at present it is not known.
The history of the Church and mission is steeped in this principle. William Carey himself (1761-1834), the Father of the modern mission movement, came to Christ during the First Great Awakening in England.
Carey was a direct product of revival, spiritually influenced by Jonathon Edwards (the great revival theologian) and the journals of David Brainerd.
As a new believer Carey learned about the wider world as the British Empire was growing as a global power. Carey began praying for these far-off places, becoming convinced God was leading him to practically do something about the unreached millions.
No modern “missionaries” had ever been sent at this point in history. But through William Carey God established the concept of the formalized “sending structure” to send out laborers to the unreached.
The end of the 1700’s found many colleges in America slipping from their biblical foundations. This low spiritual climate was the backdrop of the Second Great Awakening. The awakening was brought on through a group of believers who had had enough of the low spirituality and called for fervent prayer against society’s massive problems.
God answered with a mighty downpour. The awakening moved across the Church as a whole but had a profound effect on the colleges of the day. In 1802, Yale University put out a report that stated one-third of their students had found faith on Christ. Radical prayer became a normal part of the student’s lifestyle.
It was in this setting of spiritual fervor in 1806 that five college students at Williams College in Massachusetts had been reading William Carey’s book, hearing his vision and the beginnings of his mission society. They regularly met for prayer, impacted by the Second Great Awakening in America, seeking God for the salvation of the unreached around the world.
On one summer day a thunderstorm drove these five students to shelter under a large haystack, yet they continued praying, offering themselves to reach the nations when they graduated.
Their inspiring story has become known as the “Haystack Prayer Meeting,” commemorated by the only monument to a prayer meeting in history, still standing on the campus of Williams College in Massachusetts, USA.
These students started the first ever student mission mobilization movement on a college campus in America, quickly spreading across New England. The result of their mission mobilization was the founding of the first ever American mission sending society (patterned after Carey’s) in 1810, called “The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission.”
These dedicated college students and their mission mobilization movement were the forerunner to the eventual Student Volunteer Movement (SVM), started in 1886, which is undoubtedly the greatest mission mobilization movement in history.
These student movements were influenced by the rediscovery that world evangelization was the direct responsibility of the Church and every generation of Christians around the world. And they were empowered by the spiritual dynamic released through the revival movements of the day.
And who can overlook potentially the greatest decade of revival ever in history, 1900-1910, leading to the 20th century being called “the century of the Holy Spirit.” Revival commenced in 1904 with the great Welsh revival (1904–1906) spreading quickly to other nations. “Wales was ablaze for God” with 20,000 converts recorded in the first five weeks of the revival and 100,000 in the first six months.
The decade of revival, sparked through the Welsh revival, touched all nations, crossing all major denominations—Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Congregational, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian—and was marked by hunger and thirst for God, extended worship in God’s presence, conviction of sin and the need for God’s mercy.
Many sensed God’s purposes for these revivals were to empower His people to fulfill the Great Commission. The unprecedented growth of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements that spread around the world during the 1900s is dynamic evidence of this possibility.
The Welsh revival was quickly followed by the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles (1906–1908), called the catalyst of the Pentecostal outpourings of the Holy Spirit, impacting every continent.
An estimated 520 million people were impacted through the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements worldwide, particularly across Africa and Latin America, changing the expression and understanding of Christianity globally in one century.
The “century of the Spirit” (1900’s) has been a huge part of God preparing the global Church today to be scattered to the unreached, obeying His commission.
Seeing glimpses of God at work again in awakening and revival movements today gives us great hope that increased mission and mobilization vision and activity will also be coming very soon.
We have moved into a new mobilization era where a primary focus of the Spirit is seeing the traditionally receiving mission nations of the world now emerging as senders. May God arise with power, awakening His Church once more and empowering her to be scattered among all the unreached, frontier peoples of the world.