Reflecting on the recent Asbury revival, Bishop David Alan Bard invites us this Lent to look for spiritual transformation in both dramatic experiences and everyday disciplines…
The New York Times headline read: “‘Woodstock’ for Christians: Revival Draws Thousands to Kentucky Town.” Beginning with a chapel service on the campus of Asbury University on February 8, students, faculty, staff, and thousands of visitors have been in continuous prayer, hoping “to experience the presence” of God, in the words of one person. People have come from all over the country to share in this moment. According to the news story, “over two weeks, more than 50,000 people descended on a small campus chapel to experience the nation’s first major spiritual revival in decades.”
While it is too early to tell what long-term impact this moment may have in the lives of participants or our broader society, I trust God’s Spirit is at work in some way. I trust God can use this revival to transform. I very much appreciated this blog reflection by the Rev. Jack Harnish, Asbury graduate and clergy member of the Michigan Conference. He both affirms that God uses moments like this and asks us to look for long-term commitments to changing the world in the name and Spirit of Jesus.
Dramatic moments of profound impact. They are part of our history and heritage as Christians in the Methodist stream of Christianity. Methodism’s beginnings with John and Charles Wesley in England were filled with dramatic moments of intense spiritual revival. Some, perhaps many, of you have been part of dramatic movements of spiritual revival or have experienced personal dramatic moments when the Holy Spirit touched your life “like the rush of a violent wind” (Acts 2:2, NRSVUE).
My own journey with Jesus has had such moments. Giving my life to Jesus in August 1973 felt very dramatic. Some of my early formative experiences as a Christian were as part of a group associated with the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s, and there were dramatic moments. I remember my ordinations as both deacon and elder as profoundly moving and dramatic. I remember singing “Here I Am, Lord” at annual conference the year I was stepping away from pastoral ministry to go back to school for my doctorate. There have been dramatic moments while leading worship where my spine tingled and God’s Spirit was palpable. Those have included moments with you as your bishop. The night of my election as bishop and the service of consecration were deeply moving and dramatic for me.
I am grateful for such moments of dramatic spiritual intensity. They have had a profound and formative impact on my life. There is a place in all our lives for the experience of God’s Spirit as the rush of a mighty wind.
And we are just as profoundly shaped, even more profoundly so, as disciples of Jesus in the still, quiet moments and by everyday disciplines. The Methodism that knew dramatic revivals and camp meetings also promoted “methodical” discipleship. There is a method in the Methodist way of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In an introduction to the series of readings recommended from classics of Christian spirituality, John Wesley wrote: “Assign some stated time every day for this employment; and observe it, so far as you possibly can, inviolably. But if necessary business, which you could not foresee or defer, should sometimes rob you of your hour of retirement, take the next to it; or, if you cannot have that, at least the nearest you can.”
I read that John Wesley quote in A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, one of four yearly devotional guides written by Bishop Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck. It is the second in the series, and before 2022, I decided to work with these four books over four years as a structure for my personal prayer, meditation, and devotional reading. As Lent approached and I considered a Lenten discipline, I thought staying faithful to this practice would be sufficient this year. When I think about such everyday practices, I imagine God’s Spirit as a steady, quiet stream, a stream of living water (John 7:38) working, as such streams do persistently, to smooth the rough edges of stones or shape a landscape.
The season of Lent emphasizes everyday disciplines, ordinary practices that form and shape us, allowing God’s Spirit to smooth our rough edges and to form the mind and heart of Christ within us. In Lent, the image of God as a “sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12) seems most appropriate. Our everyday disciplines and ordinary practices are intended to attune our hearts and souls to listen deeply for the voice of God in the sound of sheer silence. If we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that sometimes while we engage in these practices, all we hear is silence. Not every day’s practice is a high spiritual moment. Yet we trust the practice matters, that there is some cumulative effect, that God in grace uses our showing up in these practices.
So, I invite you to a holy Lent and a holy life. Holiness of heart and life is both personally transforming and socially conscious. My commitments to justice, anti-racism work, building beloved community, and diminishing violence are rooted in and integral to my journey with Jesus. The struggle for justice is integral to a journey with Jesus, but it is not the whole of that journey. As integral are the daily disciplines through which God’s grace and God’s Spirit continue to shape and form me.
I offer here the Lenten blessing I gave on my Facebook page on Ash Wednesday. May this Lent be a time when you find new depths in God’s grace and love in Jesus. May you explore new depths in your soul and find forgiveness, healing, and joy. May you sense more deeply our connections as a human community and find new insight, courage, and wells of kindness so as to live in ways that heal, free, and create beloved community.