Last week marked two significant moments—the season of Lent began worldwide and revival came to an end at Asbury University in Kentucky. The former is an annual observance dating back to the early years of Church history, the latter was a spontaneous extension of a worship service lasting over 16 days. The former has been passed down for centuries in liturgical practices, the latter went viral among students and young adults on TikTok. The former is marked by somber reflection, the latter was marked by exuberant praise. So, what do these two share in common?
First, the focus is on Jesus, not particular leaders.
Lent has been observed for centuries by Christians in nearly any context imaginable. Though most common in liturgical traditions, Lenten practices transcend any pastor, priest, denomination, or culture. It’s a time for personal and corporate reflection on the life-changing reality of a relationship with Jesus. Christ has died, is risen, and will come again. Therefore, He alone is worthy of devotion.
Similarly, the common refrain in nearly every account of the Asbury revival, including those from major mainstream media, is that a clear distinctive was a lack of “celebrity” or “platform.” The focus was on Jesus, not the school, a denomination, or influential leaders. The goal was not attracting crowds or drawing attention to any organization; yet the “no celebrity but Jesus” spirit to the gathering resulted in people from literally all over the country driving and standing in long lines to join the experience.
Second, the emphasis is on experience, not just beliefs.
Presence is important. For the revival, people wanted to experience firsthand an atmosphere of radical focus on Jesus. Other schools like Cedarville University in Ohio, Samford University in Alabama, and Lee University in Tennessee reported passionate gatherings of student-led worship on their campuses. A hunger to meet with God was motivating engagement among Believers. They believed that Christ was worthy of praise and that we have access to Him in prayer, Scripture, and worship as His people. People expressed those beliefs by gathering in-person to actively participate. They didn’t simply talk about God’s goodness, they demonstrated it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is a more somber experience. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent with smudging ashes on the forehead, a physical reminder of life’s brevity and a mark of repentance. Life is short. “From dust we came and to dust we will return;” so, what are we doing with our lives? The rhythm of repentance is essential in the life of Believers—not just an initial response to the gospel, but a continual reorienting of hearts and minds in the ongoing journey of following Jesus. Beyond the tangible act of ashes, Christians observing Lent commit to abstain from certain regular activities while intentionally doing others to express love for God and neighbor.
Part of what is so powerful about a 16-day worship experience or a 40-day season of prayer and fasting is that they are otherwise “normal” parts of the Christian life—worship, prayer, repentance, etc. In these experiences, part of our relationship with Christ is emphasized more intensely, giving us a heightened awareness of the gospel’s beauty. They embody what we already believe.
Third, the value is in personal surrender, not practical convenience.
There’s nothing convenient about Lent or revival, but Jesus is worthy. A chapel service that goes past its scheduled time is not convenient. Driving for miles to experience something in person is not convenient. Abstaining from good things is not convenient. Acts of sacrificial generosity or daily devotion are not convenient, but they’re powerful and worth it.
In Lent, we are called to count the cost of following Jesus. We remember His ministry and sacrifice. This 40-day period commemorates Jesus’ time in the wilderness before his ministry. As His disciples, we prepare for Easter by identifying with Christ’s selfless posture of humility. We are challenged to take up the cross daily, to follow Him, and to lay down our lives for others in tangible ways.
Fasting from eating, drinking, or other activities is a physical reminder of our total devotion to Christ as Savior and Lord. He is worthy of our lives. Revival is another outpouring of that reality. Prayer, reading Scripture, and gathering for worship all point to the incomparable worth of seeking first the kingdom of God. Both of these are characterized by a break from regular routines in order to experience God in powerful ways. We surrender our desires and empty ourselves to make room for the Spirit.
How will you and the people you lead experience Christ?
Do these three things characterize your faith and that of your church? True revival can’t be manufactured on-demand. True repentance and worship can’t be manipulated. What Lent and revival can teach us all—whether we participate in them or not—is that when the people of God are in a posture of faithful surrender, the Spirit moves. He may move through spontaneous worship or rhythms of prayer and sacrificial generosity.
Think about your life, your relationships, your small group, your church… Would people be attracted to the faith embodied by your actions? Do you even like what you see or are there areas needing surrendered to Christ? Are you wholeheartedly loving God and neighbor? Whatever you do, take time to consider how the Lord may want to work in and through you. Make room for the Spirit. Prioritize time with Him this week in a way that’s is out of the ordinary. He is worthy.
All of our discipleship resources emphasize experiential learning and spiritual rhythms. Be sure to check out free samples of our Rooted, Life in Rhythm, and Deep Dive resources. Also, keep an eye out for this month’s free resource—Your Ministry Year Timeline—and free online event—Build and Grow a Discipleship Culture. Both of these tools will help you consider key moments in the life of your church and how they relate to faith in action.