Back when I was a kid, Southern Baptists held spring and fall revivals. We anticipated it, almost as much as dinner on the grounds. The dinners happened on Homecoming Sunday or on other special Sundays after church. Saw horses balanced the planks that formed the table tops and colorful, mismatched tablecloths reminded us of home. Garden flowers filled mason jars, while hugs filled old and young hearts, as we gathered on the grounds of our Southern Baptist church.
As for the grounds, it consisted of Georgia red clay and gravel with tufts of grass here and there for local color, I suppose. Cars and pickup trucks parked wherever, the earliest arrivals found shade under a tree. And kids ran every which way, getting yelled at to, “slow down and drop those sticks before you poke out somebody’s eye!” Old folks made their way on canes, assisted by the tender hearts and stronger arms of others.
All this happened while folks unloaded homemade feasts. Once all was set out, my Daddy, the pastor, asked us to find a place. And we all found a place to sit but better still, a place to belong. So, when it came time to say grace, we were already thankful. We knew the menu by heart. Sweet tea and the best food anywhere to reward our appetite. It fed more than our bodies. Love does that.
As for the revivals, they happened inside the church and, sometimes, outside under tents. Folks came from all over, partly to hear a new preacher, or the music but especially to hope for personal revival or for somebody they loved. But it was all the Sundays and especially, the Mondays in between, that prepared us for revival. Even as a kid, I knew I needed outside help. I needed God’s forgiveness, a fresh start, and more than twice a year.
God worked behind the scenes. And still does. During all those ordinary Sundays we sang hymns that took root in us somehow by God’s Spirit. We sang, “Revive us again, fill each heart with thy love. May our soul be rekindled with fire from above.” Then came the refrain: “Hallelujah, thine the glory! Hallelujah, Amen! Hallelujah thine the glory!” And from somewhere deeper than we knew we sang our plea,“Revive us again.”
We also sang during altar calls on regular Sundays, “Just as I am” or “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me.” Sometimes I heard that call, other times my mind and heart were elsewhere. But Jesus still calls and revivals still happen. I read about one just last week in the New York Times, of all places. Ms. Graham, the author, titled it: “Woodstock for Christians.” (2/24/2023) It happened at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, a college in the same consortium as Gordon College, the place Jud and I called home for 35 years.
Well, by now some of you know about this revival. You know that more than 50,000 people poured into this town of about 6,000. Why? A handful of college students started praying. And they sparked a holy fire. But why choose Generation Z, “the least religious generation in American memory”? And why now? The author wrote this revival wasn’t characterized by a sensational healing or other spectacular manifestations. “It was marked by overwhelming peace for a generation marked by anxiety. God sent Joy for a generation marked by suicidal ideation (preoccupation with death and dying, due to stress). And humility for a generation traumatized by the abuse of religious power.”
And now you know why I wept and weep for this generation, my grandchildren’s, their friends and maybe yours. You also know why my thoughts keep turning to a time when old folks, like I am now, knew when something was amiss. So, long before they pitched a tent or strung up a sign between two trees announcing The Revival, they prayed . They came on Wednesday nights and prayed when the only young folks there were the preacher’s kids because they had to come! That would’ve been me, my brothers and maybe a deacon’s kid or two.
They prayed when nobody but God saw their tears and heard their longings. These survivors of wars, droughts and the great depression knew there’s just so much one can do to make things better within and around. Their prayers and faith-full lives said, “Our hope and trust is in God to heal and revive us again.” Well, today’s revival came from young people praying. They, the least likely, reminded us God still sees and hears. God still calls and welcomes us to Come just as we are.
As I write, I hear the music of those altar calls. And I thank Jesus for saints long gone, as well as old and young people praying today. We need each other, not division. And as one who spent most of my life working with high school and college age students, I’m so grateful for the example of these Asbury students. May the fire they lit continue to spread.
Perhaps, you, too, need to hear God calling, “Come home. You who are weary come home.” I know it’s Thursday but God doesn’t just work on Sundays. So here I sit in my old green sweater, hunting words to speak the language of my heart, and God’s, hopefully. And the song, that took root in me as a young girl in Georgia, bubbles up to bid me once more, “Come, Jan. Just as you are.”
Maybe you want to sing along.
“Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt. Fighting and fears within without. Oh, Lamb of God, I come. I come.”
But it’s humbling to come and cry, “Revive me again.”
But love dares.
And the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of Jesus comes and revives.
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