Read His Words Before Ours!
“Indeed, God is my salvation;
I will trust him and not be afraid,
for the Lord, the Lord himself,
is my strength and my song.
He has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2)
As I listened to these words pouring from the mouth of a 16-year-old boy, I could only marvel at the transformation that had taken place.
He was participating in a training camp for young people who were going to be junior leaders at summer camps. For the past few days, he had been lively and confident, joining in with all the tasks, but that morning it had been obvious something was wrong. He had been silent and sullen, brushing away any attempts to discover what was bothering him. Then he had disappeared…
He was gone for over an hour but, just as we were beginning to worry, he returned, grinning from ear to ear, insisting I listen to this chapter from Isaiah because it described exactly what had just happened for him!
It turned out that although he had known about Jesus all his life, he had never really responded, putting his faith in Jesus. That morning he had been challenged and, as he took some time to walk and talk with God, he had finally taken that step, and it had changed everything. Something had awakened within him and where there had been knowledge, there was now passion and a genuine, living faith.
It was amazing to witness this transformation in just one individual; I can only imagine what it would be like to see thousands dramatically changed, but, during the Great Awakening that’s exactly what happened.
It was one of the most significant events in 18th century church history; a series of revivals across Britain and North America during the 1730s and 40s. It came at a time of growing discontent among many in the church about compromise and a relaxing of standards, and there was an increasing desire for revival.
But when it came it was not a work of man, but of God.
As Jesus put it:
“The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound,
but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.
So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Jonathan Edwards, a minister in Northampton, Massachusetts, was one of the key people God used. Troubled by his perception that people were too concerned with worldly matters and that some were looking to good works for salvation instead of God’s grace, he began preaching a message of salvation by faith alone. (like Martin Luther 200 years prior) Edwards preached with passion and energy and saw many converted to faith in Jesus.
Meanwhile, in the UK, a group known as the Holy Club was meeting at Oxford University. John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield were key figures in this group, which focused on spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study, as well as serving those in need. It was only after genuine conversion experiences they were transformed and went on to become key figures in the revivals.
Wesley’s conversion experience came in 1738. After returning from a failed mission trip to Georgia, he encountered some Moravians, who challenged his ideas about faith and caused him to feel there was something missing. His description of the experience that followed has become well-known:
“In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. ” (Journal of John Wesley)
Following his conversion, Wesley’s preaching took on new life. He travelled as an itinerant preacher and set up groups to help his followers grow in their faith. This movement eventually gave birth to the Methodist denomination.
George Whitefield also became an influential preacher, both in Britain and America. Known for his ability to draw a crowd, he often preached outdoors as there was no building big enough for all those who gathered to listen. He often included slaves and Native Americans as he preached, which was rare at the time, giving the message that Christianity was for everyone, regardless of race or status.
The impact of the Great Awakening was widespread and long-lasting. Thousands came to faith in Jesus and, despite some opposition from traditionalists who opposed the revival, there was also a new unity between Christians of different denominations, with a common evangelical identity based on the Gospel and a willingness to work together to further God’s Kingdom.
But it all began with individual people.
As they encountered God, something was ignited within them, which in turn ignited the world around them. They had come to see and truly understand, as the boy at my training camp did many years later, that it was not enough just to have knowledge about Jesus. They needed to put their faith in Him and allow Him to transform them from within.
And that changed everything!
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!