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God’s presence in Kentucky is closer than you think

by Paul Prather | March 11, 2023 at 3:51 a.m.

A headline in the New York Times dubbed it a "'Woodstock' for Christians," the Woodstock reference being a quote from a Minnesota evangelist. See:

The evangelist was among 50,000 or more visitors who flocked to a small religious university in Wilmore, Ky., in February, eager to witness what they considered an unusually powerful visitation of God's presence there -- a spontaneous revival.

"Drawn by posts on TikTok and Instagram, plus old-fashioned word of mouth, Christians from across the country poured through a chapel on the campus of Asbury University to pray and sing until the wee hours of the morning, lining up hours before the doors opened and leaving only when volunteers closed the chapel at 1 a.m. to clean it for the next day," reported Ruth Graham, the Times' religion writer, in a Feb. 23 article.

By then, some scholars and worshippers alike were already describing the event as the nation's first major spiritual revival of the 21st century, she wrote.

You've almost certainly heard about this outpouring, as the university is calling it. It was reported by seemingly every news organization in the country. The revival began Feb. 8 at an ordinary, scheduled chapel service. It just kept going. And going.

Ultimately, the school announced that as of Feb. 24 no further outpouring services would be held on campus.

Asbury and Wilmore needed to return to some semblance of normalcy. The myriad strangers who'd shown up were welcomed by students and many of the townspeople. But the pilgrims' sheer numbers had become overwhelming.

I wrote a column about the revival a couple of weeks ago, but now that we've gotten a bit of distance from the immediate spiritual fervor, I thought I'd share a few further thoughts about what happened:

Start the eye rolls now, but I believe outpourings of God's presence can indeed be real, whether in mass venues, small campuses or individual lives.

As a young man in my 20s, I participated in the mighty charismatic/Pentecostal renewal then sweeping large swaths of the country.

There were excesses to be found, for sure -- hyper-emotionalism and sometimes just plain flakiness. But I'm convinced that the core of the movement was legitimate. It changed my life. Forty-five years later, I'm still preaching the Good News because of the power of God I experienced way back then.

I've studied historic revivals across the ages. Their effects often are lasting, loving and occasionally world-changing. I have no reason to doubt the Wilmore revival was as legitimate as other such outpourings.

While people of all ages and descriptions took part in the Wilmore revival, witnesses have pointed out that it was centered among Gen Zers, those born in the 1990s and 2000s, a cohort known for its record-setting disinterest in religion.

But, as Graham said, Gen Z "has also experienced extraordinary stress and loneliness." It's been battered by everything from political polarization and covid-19 shutdowns to a near epidemic of depression.

I have no clue what the long-term ramifications of this revival will be. But the society-altering First Great Awakening was birthed at England's Oxford University. Disillusionment and desperation among the young can lead, counterintuitively perhaps, to peaceable, joyous, far-reaching spiritual rebirth.

No, I didn't attend the Asbury event. Partly that's because I'm old and not crazy anymore about big crowds, traffic and limited parking.

Somebody asked why I wasn't going. "I have an Asbury revival nearly every morning at my kitchen table," I said.

The kitchen table is where I do my contemplative readings, Bible study and prayers. I feel God's presence there, electrifyingly so, time and time again, day after day.

It's not because I'm particularly holy. Nobody who knows me well thinks that. Ask my wife, for instance. And it's not that my kitchen table is some sacred shrine.

It's that God is always everywhere, all the time. You don't have to go to Asbury to find him.

"God is not far from any of us," St. Paul assured the pagan philosophers in Athens. "For in him we live and move and are."

Wherever you are, that's where God is. God's at my kitchen table. God's in your car during your afternoon commute. God's hovering over your baby's crib in the night, keeping watch. God's at your favorite cabin in your favorite woods.

God's as close as your beating heart. God's in you and you're in God.

Thus God's rarely hard to find, if you genuinely want to find him.

If there's anything I've learned in the decades since, as a younger Christian, I used to chase God around the countryside from one spiritual hot spot to another, it's that all places are equally sacred. Any place is a hot spot if you'll let it be.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, Ky. You can email him at

[email protected]

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