Spiritual Highs and the Ordinary Life

By now, you’ve probably heard about what happened at Asbury University for nearly two weeks; secular as well as Christian news outlets have been talking and writing about it. Some have called it a revival, while some prefer the term “outpouring;” others are skeptical, at best. This movement, regardless of what you want to call it, has spread to at least six other universities as well.

My purpose in this post is not to decide which term best fits what has happened at Asbury University; it is, to start with, to examine what people who were actually a part of it have been saying about it. The event began on February 8, when ~20 students and the worship team decided to stay past the end of the regular chapel service. One student began to confess his sins, which I was very encouraged to read about. Here’s what Alexandra Presta, a senior, wrote on that first night: “To confess, reconcile, heal and allow prayers to be spoken over us — He knew what we needed to do and helped us do it.” More on confession later. There was lots of singing and praying (including some in tongues) throughout the 13 days; there was an instance (caught on video) of what may or may not have been a demon being cast out of someone; and there was some preaching. Many students have talked about the spiritual and accompanying emotional high of being a part of it.

At least one student says that there was consistent preaching of the Gospel, but other students have contradicted that claim. Samuel Sey, an op-ed contributor for the Christian Post, says that he has watched hundreds of video clips of the event and has yet to see a clear presentation of the Gospel; he admits that doesn’t mean people weren’t preaching the Gospel there. However, what one unnamed student said is troubling: “Unfortunately, I have first-account experience and conversations with people who are attending and speaking on the ‘greatness’ of revival who are actively living in sin (to be blunt).” This gets at the heart of the issue: true revival results in, among other things, confession of sin and repentance from it, meaning that people will then live in increasing obedience to Scripture, which they will also have a greater hunger for. One would not expect everyone who was part of the Asbury event to repent, but certainly one would expect even more stories as time goes on of attendees repenting from sin. While I certainly can and do understand the strong emotional component of such an event, emotion in and of itself means next to nothing if it’s not accompanied by life change. For some, that could be very noticeable change, especially if they have just come to faith in Christ, while for others who were already Christians, the changes might be less noticeable, but no less significant.

Over Christmas, my wife received a book called A Theology of the Ordinary from a long-time friend. Julie Canlis, the author, writes about “a theology that values slow growth over dramatic change and the ‘ordinary’ as essential to our spiritual maturity.” Canlis quotes Michael Horton, who writes in his book Ordinary, “My concern is that the activist impulse at the heart of evangelicalism can put an enormous burden on people to do big things when what we need most right now is to do the ordinary things better.” Canlis goes on to write, “These modern conferences and movements give people an expectation that growth happens only when we are away from our local church, away from the people whom God has placed in our lives.” And here’s another quote from Samuel Sey, the writer for the Christian Post: “It’s concerning, however, that so many of us are seemingly bored by ordinary worship at a local church that produces an extraordinary change in one’s soul.”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul writes, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Have you heard that at any conferences recently? Back in the late 1990s, most of what the Promise Keepers men’s movement encouraged men to do was very much in line with these two verses. However, many contemporary Christian conferences (especially ones geared toward youth) use fog machines, lights, and other special effects to supposedly heighten the attendees’ experience in large-group settings. In fact, at a church that my family and I used to be a part of, after a good-sized youthful contingent had attended such a conference, the church leadership decided to incorporate “fog” into the services. Essentially, the church was trying to duplicate the experience of those who had attended the conference. However, I am reminded here of John 3:8, where Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Thankfully, the use of fog did not last more than a few months.

When my son was 13 and my daughter 10, my wife and I took them to a Third World country for seven weeks during the summer. I had a short-term teaching contract, while my family was along “for the ride.” Our first Sunday there, we attended a small, informal gathering/service of American believers in a place that I suppose many Americans would consider dingy; it was not a church building, either. Our son told us later that he had really experienced the presence of the Lord then and there. My daughter had cried before we left the U.S. because she was going to miss the first month of the school year (she was in a year-round school), but as we were preparing to return to the U.S., she asked if we could stay there (in the Third World country) forever. Both of them practically begged us to go back there, so three summers later, we did it again. The Lord does not need services in “church buildings,” and certainly not fog machines, to do His work in human hearts. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Here’s a question we all need to ask ourselves: When we attend Christian conferences or similar events, what happens when we return home? Do we come away from them refreshed, even more ready to live in loving obedience to the Lord through serving others in “ordinary” daily life, or do we focus more on the admittedly wonderful experience, already looking ahead to the next one? For the Asbury students (and others) who were part of the 13-day event, will their lives change? Will some stop “living in sin?” Will others rededicate themselves to living for the Lord in more “ordinary” ways? If so, then the Lord will have done His work in the hearts of at least some of the attendees–some would say because of the event, while others would say in spite of it.

16 thoughts on “Spiritual Highs and the Ordinary Life

  1. You state: “The Lord does not need services in “church buildings,” and certainly not fog machines, to do His work in human hearts.”

    I agree. Here is a bit I wrote about Christian giving, from a book I am still working on.

    “Christians during the first few centuries did not bring their donations and offerings to “Church” buildings where they met each week, for they had no such buildings; designated as used only for church services for 200 or 300 years after Christ’s resurrection.

    The early church did not spend any money for buildings, upkeep, improvements, or maintenance as the modern church does, for they did not own physical structures to bring offerings or conduct services. Home-based worship was their modus operandi (Acts 2:46). The early Church shared their possessions, made the distribution of goods to those who had needs, and took care of widows. At first, they brought their gifts to the apostles and later to the elders, who then made the distribution of the donations and offerings to those in need…

    The concept modern Christians developed to erect a church building to hold worship services, meant that no official church or congregation exists without a building, has been around for over a thousand years. Considering that, most Christians would have a hard time relating to, or even how, without a building, or permanent place to hold services in, would the congregation survive, let alone thrive. And yet, with none of those things considered necessary today, the early Church flourished, succeeded, and grew throughout the world…

    Every Christian knows God does not need plush carpets, stained glass windows, cathedral ceilings, and a host of other things tithes are used to purchase. God prefers humble hearts, rather than ornate buildings. The early church was not concerned about pulpits, pews, organs, new carpets, offering plates, choir robes, pastor retirement or building funds, loans, or rent, etc. They had none of those things, nor did they need or want any of that stuff! Because those things were not necessary or crucial…”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I just noticed this in my spam folder, for some reason; it’s not spam! Thank you, Brother Michael, for your thoughtful comment. That Third World country I mentioned has some church buildings, but also many house churches that meet, well, from house to house. If every American Christian lived in a Third World country for a while, it would be a remarkable opportunity to experience spiritual growth.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Do you think that the comparative prevalence of church buildings in the Philippines is at least partly a function of Catholicism? It’s just a guess on my part, but I wonder if Catholics would be more “wedded” to church buildings than at least some Protestants are.


          1. I never thought about that before. But you may be correct. And because Catholicism is so deeply rooted here, I see a mentality and mind-set, that probably stems from that system, which seems to plague even born-again Christians. It’s hard to put into words. One symptom, never doing a complete or subpar job. Example, sweeping the floor after service, and not putting it in the trash, but leaving it piled behind a door. Being fully truthful in everything. A family from our congregation going to shaman because a family member was dying. Yes, it’s something I really can’t explain, but permeates the attitude of almost everyone.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The last example (going to a shaman) is particularly troubling, but all of the examples are very interesting. One thing I have noticed in the Catholic community over the years (the majority of my students were Hispanic and Catholic, plus I had two good friends who are Catholic) is being very wedded to tradition, sometimes without even being aware of why they do certain things. One of those friends, who had cancer, did almost exactly what the family from your congregation did, going outside the church to someone from another religion to seek healing. He was the head of his nuclear family, but I believe he was influenced by someone else’s bad advice; I don’t know if it was a family member. Admittedly, what he did doesn’t sound like “tradition,” but desperation; however, the example you mentioned makes me wonder.


              1. I have been reading “City on a Hill” by Philip Graham Ryken. I would like to quote a part that fits with your post.

                “The Obstacle: Worldliness

                “Not many people are willing to offer themselves as living sacrifices. The price is too high! Discipleship demands everything we are and everything we have, which is more then most people are willing to pay, including many Christians.

                Imagine what kind of influence the church would have on America if every Christian truly understood what it means to follow Christ. Imagine how it would change the political landscape, how it would affect the tone of public discourse and alter the legislative agenda. Imagine what a difference it would make for the urban poor, as entire communities were transformed by the power of Christian love. Imagine how it would affect media and the arts–everything from priorities on the evening news to the paintings in the latest show. Imagine what effect costly Christian discipleship might have on public education, business ethics, or the legal system. Imagine what would happen to the average family. Or imagine what worship would be like. Imagine how many young people would commit themselves to a lifetime of Christian service. Or just imagine the conversations one would overhear on the bus or down at the local diner –free and open dialogues about spiritual things.

                We can only imagine, because this is not what is happening…”

                Is this what is happening or going on with this “revival” or “outpouring” at the Asbury University? I can only imagine the good that would come from this, if it truly was a Holy Spirit filled revival.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Thank you for that extended quote. Time will tell what the Asbury event really is/was. I suppose you could say I’m “agnostic” at this juncture about it. Regardless, I have no doubt that some who were part of it will either come to saving faith in Christ or be strengthened in their faith.

                  Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Keith, It is still too early to know how the Asbury Revival will affect evangelical churches here in the U.S. Whether millions will know Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, whether the decline in church membership and attendance in the past two decades or so will be reversed, whether Christians will humble ourselves and confess our sins, whether Christian morality would have greater influence in American society, etc. I agree with you that theatrical devices such as smoke machines should not be used in church worship. This would make the worship service seem like a form of entertainment rather than glorifying the Lord and hearing his Word proclaimed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anthony, as I wrote in a comment to Michael, I believe time will tell what the Asbury event really was. I have no doubt that some who were part of it will come to faith in Christ or be strengthened in their already-established faith.

      I don’t see the sharp downward trend in American society reversing, but I do see, regardless of numbers, the American church becoming stronger as believers stand firm in the face of ever-increasing hostility. As always, I really appreciate your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. God can move anywhere in any way He wants. He works with unique individuals, in ways as unique as they are. I suspect what happened at Asbury is like anywhere else the Lord has moved. Some people met God and were changed for life, others had a passing experience that they’ll look back on with nostalgia and little else. It’s not so much the place as the people. Those who are seeking God don’t have to travel to the latest “revival” to find Him.

    Liked by 1 person

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