Would we recognize a great awakening if we saw one? - Word&Way

Would we recognize a great awakening if we saw one?

So exactly what would a great awakening in America look like today? What might be its characteristics? How would it start? What might be its results? Who might be the first to notice it?


Bill Webb

Our cover package this week is produced by Word&Way’s New Voice Media partners and addresses this issue from various angles — historical, theological and possible contemporary manifestations among them.

Experts cannot agree on which historical sweeping spiritual events in the Unites States and beyond truly qualify as great awakenings. It is not from lack of study and analysis. Seminary students learn about great awakenings in church history classes. Studies on prayer and other spiritual disciplines remind us of the phenomena and prompt us to yearn for such visitations of God’s Spirit — at least for a season.

“If such widespread spiritual response is happening in Latin America, Africa and Asia, why not in the West?” we wonder. “Why not another spiritual awakening in America?”

Most who study spiritual awakening and great awakenings from the past agree on the impact of intense prayer. Jim Denison, theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, notes that prayer is one of two conditions common to previous awakenings. The other, he suggests, is a sense of desperation, something often missing among contemporary Christians in the United States.

So, is it appropriate to pray for spiritual awakening as an end in itself? Many have done so for years and years on end. Or is it, as some suggest, that spiritual awakening is a result of something else.

It is never wise to pigeonhole God, even if it is in the quest for something as powerful and contagious as spiritual awakening. God can and will accomplish His purposes any time and in any way He chooses. Looking for a sure-fire formula for a sweeping spiritual awakening may be a futile effort.

Most of us have witnessed in the lives and testimonies of spiritually mature disciples the truth of being like Jesus in even the least spiritual and seemingly mundane moments of our lives. If spiritual awakening is to come, surely it will blossom from Christ-like saints.

It’s one thing to be named after Christ, but what does it mean to look like Christ? Here are some of His qualities:

Compassion. Jesus wanted to make life bearable for some and joyous to all. Compassion prompted Him to respond to people in physical pain and emotional distress, meeting each at the point of need. He even responded to the cries of those who had been put away for the safety of the general population. He reached out to hungry people, not with a comforting Bible verse but with food. He took time to counsel the unsatisfied wealthy and even engaged a chatty Samaritan woman whose life had been a disaster. In fact, He sought out the kind of people from whom we are tempted to run.

Evangelism. The ultimate spiritual awakening on a personal basis is to know Christ and to be engaged in a day-by-day, eternal relationship with God. Jesus did it by saying the things God would say, thinking the thoughts God would think, doing things God would do, basically letting people see God. You can’t do that with a wimpy prayer life. Jesus didn’t.

Self-sacrifice. One of the barriers to sparking a spiritual awakening in America is the very notion of sacrifice — the very opposite of materialism. Jesus got the idea of sacrifice, but it certainly does not come naturally to most of us. Usually, sacrifice suggests we are more interested in the needs and comfort of others than ourselves.

Ironically, Christ’s self-sacrifice is what makes Him irresistible to pre-believers. Every Christian would like to see as many people as possible discover Christ’s love and the joy of serving Him. But I’m not sure any spiritual awakening was planned — at least not by people. Likely His plan for spiritual awakening is for those who call Him Lord to act like it. He’ll bless such faith commitments in ways that will amaze us.

Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.