09 May 2024

"What does it mean to live life with expectancy?"


Hughes Auditorium, Asbury University. It's Thursday, February 16, 2023, eight days into what many were calling a "revival." In the words of Sarah Thomas Baldwin:

At almost midnight that night, I notice as a Hispanic family reaches the doorway. Bundled in hats, coats, scarves, and mittens against the cold, the family enters with their faces full of joy, rubbing their arms in the warmth. Grandpa in glasses, mama with three little ones around her and her husband, and possibly an uncle or two pause before starting down the aisle. This family captures my attention. I wonder at the late hour, knowing this family stood outside in the chill for at least eight hours with these young kids. Grandpa's glasses fog, and the children start spinning around in excitement. The usher directs them to seats at the very front of Hughes, since those emptied.

As the family moves down the aisle, the expectancy and delight shine on their faces. The mama unzips the kids' coats as they walk, and the uncles and husband untangle scarves and coats, and grandpa wipes his glasses and shrugs off his coat. As they reach their row, instead of taking their seats and folding their coats under them, the family rushes to the altar, dropping their coats and scarves behind them, the whole family immediately kneeling. Grandpa, dad, mama, kids, uncles, all facedown, foreheads to carpet, hands reach out to touch the wooden altar rail in total awe of the presence of God. I take in their expectancy to meet Jesus, their joy at the altar, their tears, their delight in being in Hughes.

What kind of expectancy of God is this?

The deep part of my own heart ponders this, turning it over and over in my soul. What does it mean to live life with expectancy? Could my faith be this expectant, this joyful, this willing to wait on God for eight hours or eight years?

I want to live like this family at midnight, shrugging off my coat and scarf of the weather of busyness and distraction to get to the altar. I wipe away my own tears, knowing that I want to be full of expectation and joy to meet God at the place of surrender at the wooden altar in Hughes or at the altar of my heart even if the wait is long.

Sarah Thomas Baldwin's book, Generation Awakened: An Eyewitness Account of the Powerful Outpouring of God at Asbury, confirmed my happiest impressions of the events I first mentioned in this post back in mid-February 2023. Not only do I trust the author, but many other witnesses and reports reinforce those impressions. However, Sarah's account has huge advantages: her location in the very midst of the events, for starters. Also, her scope is the full event, beginning to end, along with sufficient context to understand similar events in Asbury's past, as well as some background notes on others involved in ministry and service during those February days. 

Near the very end of her book, she provides a fascinating description of what happened the day before this amazing awakening started: a powerful "witnessing circle" worship linked with Black History Month. Then, later that evening, the next day's worship leaders gather to prepare for the worship that would begin at 10 a.m. on February 8 ... and would continue, not for the customary 50 minutes, but for sixteen days.

Source: Facebook.

Sarah Baldwin does not claim to be an objective journalist. There is important journalism in this book: as in the sample above, many significant moments are carefully and vividly described. But she does not conceal where her heart is—namely with the students (she's vice president of student life at Asbury), and with the colleagues alongside her in ministry, and with the thousands and thousands of others who made their way to Wilmore, Kentucky, as word of this remarkable outpouring spread throughout the world, and with all those who shared the hopes and expectations of knowing Jesus among them (us) all.

Sarah's book is multidimensional. She describes events and their spiritual significance to her, but she does not leave out the emotional dimension. She relates how she feels overwhelmed at times; occasionally she just about hits the wall from exhaustion; tears come frequently; she misses her family during those extra hours she and her colleagues give up to serve the students and visitors. There's plenty of crisp realism: the fire marshall demands that the university control the numbers inside Hughes Auditorium or he'll shut it down. Food, toilets, trash, secondary locations for overflow crowds, coordination with police, and many other aspects of sustainability for an unexpected major event ... all these unromantic realities of those days are well covered in the book.

Notes I made while reading.

As Sarah recounts, the ongoing worship inside Hughes also required careful stewardship. It becomes a priority, a "plumbline," to protect the original nature of this outpouring (Asbury's leaders recommend reserving the term "revival" for future assessment) as the tender response of students to an unforced and unplanned blossoming of prayer and confession—the way it started on February 8. This means keeping "revival chasers," self-important Christian celebrities, and others with diverging agendas or more aggressive styles from pushing their way in, possibly hoping to exploit the opportunity. The path to the microphone was always monitored. Sarah and her colleagues faced hard decisions, balancing the free movement of the Holy Spirit with the safety of the students and visitors, and the physical limitations of the space. In order to give priority to Asbury students as the visiting multitudes threatened to crowd them out, Asbury instituted controls at the doors. Not every visitor could always count on getting into the auditorium. And those who waited hours for that chance, as the family described above had waited outside in the cold, needed care and attention, too. So did the increasing numbers of print and broadcast journalists, and the visitors who made their way to the overflow sites.

Parallel to the events and chronology, she is also meditating on their meaning for her, for her family, for us. On almost every page she has a moment of turning inward and pondering the wider and deeper implications of what she is witnessing. It's this quality of careful description leavened by reflection, prayer, and candid self-examination that makes the book so compelling to me. I too want to ask myself, what does it mean to live life with expectancy? Is my faith this expectant, and this ready to receive?

Sarah's book describes how this widely-circulated photo came to be. Photo by Sarah Baldwin.  

In the context of the spiritual hunger evidenced by the Outpouring at Asbury, I found the following essay by Alan Amavisca very thought-provoking. Alan is the mission director of the North Country Project. Many thanks to Alan for permission to repost his essay here:

For Want of Hunger  

To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.—Mark 4:11, 12

A parable is not a delivery system for an idea…rather a parable is a house in which the reader or listener is invited to take up residence. The reader is encouraged to look out on the world from the point of view of the story… —Kenneth Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, p. 87

His teaching concluded, Jesus climbed wearily out of the boat and trudged up the bank of the Sea of Galilee towards town. He did not get far, however. Once alone, his puzzled disciples—along with others who shared their confusion—cornered Jesus. “What in the world do you mean with these parables, Jesus? Where are the divine rules and laws we seek? What do you expect us to make of these stories?”

His answer has troubled some readers and listeners for generations. Alluding to Isaiah 6:9, Jesus told them the parables served to keep the lost at bay. Or so it would appear.

I have read this passage hundreds of times and each time it troubles me anew. Is Jesus truly holding the door shut to keep people out? Then I recall the parable itself and the brilliant insight shared with me by a rural Guatemalan farmer and pastor.

I was in a mountain village teaching indigenous pastors how to do Bible Dialoguing. When we looked at this passage, one pastor commented, “This parable has never made sense to me. When I plant corn, I always shape a small cone, poke a hole in the top, drop in three seeds and cover the hole back up.” Then he mused, “I would never toss seed on the road or into the brambles.”

In that moment, my Guatemalan brother revealed the heart of God to me.

The sower did not scatter cautiously—the seed went everywhere…even among those without the least interest in the Good News of the Kingdom. I once heard a young woman announce after hearing the message, “Even if you could PROVE to me that God exists, I would not change the way I live!” But the Good News was preached to her nonetheless.

After Jesus preached, the confused but spiritually hungry sought him out and asked questions. The smug and self-satisfied shrugged their shoulders and wandered back to their affairs, unimpressed with the Nazarene storyteller. The former got what they were looking for (an explanation); so did the latter.

When I step into the “house” of this parable and look out the window, I see the spendthrift generosity of God spreading the message of grace everywhere—where both the spiritually hungry seize it, and the hard-hearted stonily reject it. I also see myself: sometimes hard and unyielding to the seed, sometimes choking it, sometimes (hopefully more consistently) allowing it to have its way with me. And on most days I also recognize myself among the confused but spiritually hungry, asking questions and waiting for His answers.

What stones or thistles in my own life suppress my spiritual hunger and so throttle my fruitfulness?

Young Adult Quakers are invited to gather at Jordans Friends Meetinghouse and Centre, August 21-25, at Beaconsfield, not far from London, UK. Information and registration form are here. Additional information (new since I last mentioned this event) is here: "Where Two or Three are Gathered." (PDF.)

"Are Nuclear Weapons Moral? In Search of Orthodox Christian Thought on Deterrence and Disarmament," with an invitation to Orthodox Christians to participate in a survey. (However, let's not forget the late Jim Forest, Orthodox friend of Friends.)

Another friend of Friends: Palestinian Christian leader Elias Chacour. Thanks to Daniel Wilcox for this interview with the archbishop. The full interview is here (PDF), starting on page 16.

Anat Matar remembers Walid Daqqa, a prisoner with a ‘heretical belief in life,’ who called Anat his Jewish sister. (With thanks to Sharon Gustafsson for the link.)

It’s hard to be optimistic and believe in life when there is so much destruction and death in our region, but the refusal of death is a fragile faith in life. And fragile faith is preferable to surrender.

Going to the Dogs: John Kinney of Spokane Friends Meeting, on Matthew 15:21-28.

Mavis Staples, with Rick Holmstrom on lead guitar, "Wade in the Water."

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