We often only realize that we are living through historic events by looking back on them.
Consider the Moravians. In 1727, this group of Christians fleeing persecution in the modern-day Czech Republic began a 24-7 prayer vigil. They couldn’t foresee that their non-stop prayer session would ultimately last for 100 years and launch a global missions movement.
Or take the example of John Wesley and George Whitefield. In 1738, in a New Year’s prayer meeting, where the men and others were gathered, at “about three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy” later wrote Wesley in his diary.” The preachers likely had little idea that in the ensuing months, they would start traveling across the UK teaching the word of God, a campaign that would mark the beginning of the Wesleyan revival and the First Great Awakening in the US.
Church history has taught us to never underestimate the long-term impact when God’s tangible presence comes upon a group of people; this understanding has led me to closely track the aftermath of the 2023 outpouring at Asbury University.
For those who need a refresher: One year ago this week, as a seemingly ordinary Wednesday morning chapel ended, 18 or 19 students lingered to worship and pray. Though the school in rural Kentucky has a history of revivals, few likely believed that this meeting would continue for the following 16 days, drawing over 60,000 people, including students from 300 university campuses and Christians from almost every continent.
While we have yet to see a global revival since Asbury’s concluded, there is more going on than our eyes can see. I believe that we have entered a season of spiritual preparation. I’ve observed parallels between this event and a biblical preacher who also hailed from the countryside and who also drew a crowd: John the Baptist.
Prophesied by Isaiah as “the voice of one calling in the wilderness” (John 1:23; Is. 40:3), John called the people to repentance and consecration. He was the embodiment of answered prayer and devoted his ministry to proclaiming that something greater would soon be following him. Seeing evidence of these elements all around the world provokes me to wonder what next global move Asbury might have heralded.
A call to repentance and consecration
From the wilderness, John the Baptist earned his nickname by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Crowds followed him into the desert to confess their sins, get baptized, and reconcile themselves to God.
In a similar way, crowds entering Hughes Auditorium were confronted with the state of their own hearts. Here is how David Thomas, who was in the core leadership team stewarding the outpouring, described it to me in an email interview:
For the first few days of the Outpouring, it seemed that repentance and forgiveness were almost all we could do. All over the room, people were making their way to another, tumbling over one another to make the first move of offering apologies, owning mistakes, forgiving grievances, and explaining misunderstandings. The front steps of Hughes were populated by people on their phones sending texts of reconciliation and restoration.
Thomas’s remarks were echoed by one of the transatlantic visitors. Al Gordon, a London pastor, reported feeling a weight in the air even in the parking lot.
“I was met with an overwhelming sense that I have to get right with Jesus,” he recounted. “Before I stepped into the chapel, I was crying out in repentance, confessing my pride, humbling myself before God.”
Asbury students led the way in modeling this wave of repentance. From the stage, hundreds shared their testimonies. Their stories would vary from simple things like, “I sensed Jesus inviting me to text a friend asking forgiveness for something in our relationship that was not quite right,” to dramatic transformations such as, “Three days ago I renounced witchcraft and gave my life to Jesus.”
Student leaders would also not allow anyone to lead worship who was not “authentically right with Jesus,” said Thomas. Instead of offering them and the guest speakers who came a standard green room, they created a “consecration room” where they were asked to receive prayer and ask for God’s forgiveness for any sins, prior to sharing anything from the platform.
A call to prayer
John the Baptist was born out of prayer, specifically those of his elderly parents. When the angel appeared to his father, Zechariah, his first words were, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” (Luke 1:13).
In the same way, there was an unwavering conviction among the Asbury leadership that “everything that happened in Hughes Auditorium those 16 days was the fruit of prayer,” said Thomas. When people entered the space in small-town Kentucky from other cities or continents, he would thank them for coming. But they would correct him. “Don’t thank me. I had to come. I had to get here and put my eyes on what I have been praying for all these years!”
“People from all over had been praying, and this story was theirs,” Thomas shared.
The prayer temperature globally has increased significantly this last year. The Asbury outpouring “released fresh hunger and fresh hope” in the life of Pete Greig, the founder of 24-7 Prayer, as well as among the ministry itself, which has 25,000 prayer rooms in 78 nations.
“There’s a rise in prayer,” Grieg said. “There’s a deeper expectancy.”
In New York City, Church of the City is organizing prayer events every morning, afternoon, and evening, Monday through Friday. Its pastor, Jon Tyson, visited the outpouring himself and was deeply impacted by it.
“It was extraordinary,” he said. “Having studied revivals extensively, I witnessed what I only had read about.”
This hunger for awakening has also been felt across the ocean. Three London churches have organized all-night prayer evenings held every other month, where around 1,000 students and young adults have shown up and called out to God for revival. The atmosphere is so dense with the presence of God, “you could light the air with a match,” said Al Gordon, one of their pastors. Another pastor, Pete Hughes, remarked, “And we’ve committed to keep going until we see an awakening in our city.”
A similar longing is seen on other continents. “Here in Australia, Asbury has caught many people’s attention,” said Mark Sayers, a writer and the pastor of Red Church in Melbourne. As a response to Asbury, the congregation opened a prayer room.
After several months, one evening “the room filled with the most tangible sense of God’s presence,” he said. “No one wanted to leave. Quiet, peaceful, unlike anything I have experienced in a prayer meeting or service. That moment radically changed a number of people who were there and significantly deepened our church’s spiritual life.”
Pointing to something bigger yet to come
John the Baptist was always clear that his role was to point to the one coming after him: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). He was also keenly aware that his ministry was a preparation for a movement that would follow.
In the same way, Asbury kept Jesus at the forefront with a countercultural message of “no celebrity except Jesus.”
Asbury leadership hopes that their experience will one day be part of a plethora of chapters about how many met God.
“We look forward to a day soon when there will be another outpouring story that will eclipse this one at Asbury,” said Thomas. “I hope that story will come from where you are—your city, your campus, your church and family, your own life.”
The leadership pointed to Asbury as being the opposite of Las Vegas. The saying goes that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But what happens at Asbury should not stay in Asbury. Instead, they called for the revival to go across campuses, churches, streets, and society.
“If it doesn’t get to the streets, if it doesn’t get to the nations, it didn’t get where it was meant to be,” stated Thomas.
No more business as usual
It is easier to recognize the beginnings of a movement of God when we are centuries removed. But what if we are in the midst of a new beginning? If God sends a global revival in our generation, surely you and I don’t want to miss it.
This is not a time for business as usual. It is an invitation to wherever God placed us, to prepare the way for the King. It is a call for repentance and to get straight with God in our personal lives, our ministries, and our vocations. How are we preparing the way in the places where God has placed us? How are our university campuses, local churches, and mission organizations preparing the way? For those of us in the marketplace and businesses, what are we doing to be sensitive to a work of God?
“God is closer than we think and more ready to move than our faith would often allow for,” wrote Gordon, the London pastor who attended the outpouring. “The ceiling is thinner than our eyes can see, and at some point it’s going to break open.”
One year has passed. And it is only just beginning. Will the global church be ready to make way for the King?
Sarah Breuel is the executive director of Revive Europe and serves on the board of directors of the Lausanne Movement.