While preaching at Rockharbor, my home church in Costa Mesa, California, where thousands of students and young adults attend, I quoted the old Puritan John Owen on the need for personal holinessnot exactly the hottest topic today: "There is not a duty we perform for God that sin does not oppose. And the more spirituality or holiness there is in what we do, the greater enmity to it. Sin never wavers, yields, or gives up no area of one's life indeed is secured without a struggle."
Then I issued a call to confession. Suddenly the biggest guy in the auditorium charged the platform and dropped to his knees before me. He was sobbing so hard that people in the front row began to cry along with him.
Over the last three years, I have witnessed thousands of such confessions at churches and at more than 30 campuses, both secular and Christian. I've discovered that this generation of young men and women is crying out for revival.
I acknowledge that the statistics related to, for example, the sexual practices of today's generation are extremely alarming to their baby boomer elders, who thought they had broken all the taboos. According to Mark D. Regnerus's book Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, 2007), "[E]vangelical teenagers don't display just average sexual activity patterns, but rather above-average ones." But I've been learning that this depiction is far from the whole story.
When the Bottom Falls Out
My education in revival began in fall 2004. I had just delivered a speech to thousands of students at Azusa Pacific University. As someone who had struggled with sexual impurity and alcoholism before my conversion over three decades ago, I felt compelled to ask them to confess personal sin, to turn from it immediately and to turn to God passionatelywith all of their hearts. This was not my usual speech to Christian students. I had spent 20 years in youth ministry, working for two parachurch organizations as a high school campus leader and speaker, then traveling on the college chapel circuit for another five yearseither sharing my testimony or calling students to prayer.
But at that service, I stumbled over the power of confession. I called out the specific sins and then invited students to stop living dual lives. Hundreds of students began sobbing and falling to their knees. Before the meeting, I was warned they would run out for class promptly at 10:10. But now they seemed rooted to the spot. As at a Billy Graham crusade, they streamed forward. Stunned, I simply sat on the edge of the stage and took confessions of sin from dozens of students for over an hour. Most, if not all, of the students called themselves Christians. Joe Church, a missionary revivalist in Africa in the 1940s, had it right when he observed, "Revival is not when the roof blows off, but when the bottom falls out."
The bottom has been falling out all over the place. Last July, during an event named The Call, more than 70,000 students, young adults, parents, and ministers from all over the country met in Nashville to pray for 12 hours in a solemn assembly of confession and prayer for our nation. There have been seven previous gatherings of The Call since 2000, with a total attendance over the years of some 250,000. Another one is planned for next October on the Washington Mall. The young adult ministry of the International House of Prayer hosts regional prayer-and-revival meetings yearly. For over seven years, IHOP in Kansas City has maintained a prayer room that is open all day, every day, with worship and continuous prayer. Another ministry, Campus America, has begun a project to establish "unbroken prayer" on all 2,600 accredited colleges and universities in the country by 2010. In addition, there will be a national prayer gathering of students and young adults called Paradise '08 that will take place in the middle of a Kansas field on May 25no merchandise, speakers, or artists, just prayer, Scripture, and song.
On the Road to Revival
In January 2006, I determined to visit 23 state, private, and Christian college campuses in 11 states over 40 days, linking them in 24-hour prayer rooms in chapels, classrooms, dining halls, and on-campus apartments. Between January 20 and March 1, students prayed 960 consecutive hours for revival in America. I visited every prayer room during those 40 days.
It was an amazing journey. For example, at Carnegie Mellon, only 30 students covered their entire 24 hours of prayer for revival in America. At Mid America Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, the staff covered half of the campus's 48-hour "watch" in prayer.
But the greatest turnout happened at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I watched more than 400 students, including entire athletic teams, enter their prayer room to pray, from 8 p.m. to midnight. Many entered with big smiles but left in tears, saying that God had met them powerfully and intimately during their hour.
In addition to praying silently alongside students and faculty in the prayer rooms, I often spoke at chapel, evening services, or student-led gatherings. And whenever permitted, I followed the simple patterns seen in so many revival meetings in church history. These always include worship, prayer, and a non-negotiable call to confession of any and all sinwhether those attending are professing Christians, ministers, students, completely sin-ridden, demon-possessed, or lost. The result is always the samethe bottom falls out. Confessions of pride, eating disorders, pornography, and sexual immorality rush out of the mouths of innumerable students, as well as confessions of unforgiveness, same-sex attraction, jealousy, and doubt.
At Oregon State, in front of 1,000 students, near the end of my message, a young man approached me, uninvited. It was an awkward momentthe audience looked at me, then at him.
He asked to speak. I said, "Right now?"
He said, "Yes."
I don't normally relinquish the microphone without knowing what a person is going to say, but after I looked in his eyes, I went ahead. He told the audience, "I am the person Becky is describing. I'm a senior here. I'm getting married in six months and I plan to attend seminary. But I'm hooked on pornographyand I have been since the age of 11. If any of you are in the same place and want to fight this battle together, meet me at 7 p.m. tomorrow night in the lobby of Wilson Hall." Nearly 100 seats emptied and young men came forward to kneel and pray.
These scenarios have played out everywhere I visit, capturing Dietrich Bonhoeffer's explanation of public confession perfectly: "As the open confession of my sins to a brother insures me against self-deception, so, too the assurance of forgiveness becomes fully certain to me only when it is spoken by a brother in the name of God. Mutual, brotherly confession is given to us by God in order that we may be sure of divine forgiveness."
I stay after each meeting for one to three hours to hold hands, hug shoulders, kneel with confessors, or wipe away the tears from the faces of students who are sick and tired of their sin. They want immediate relief, divine forgiveness, and hope for change. At one evening chapel at Asbury College in March 2006, six professors spent over two hours in a hallway lined with armchairs, listening to and praying for students.
Students tell me that spiritual mentors who are "on fire for Jesus," consistent in their walks with God, who remained sexually pure in their own dating and marriage relationships, and who lived full-of-the-Holy-Spirit lives in front of them are rare. But they are longing for, begging for, older Christians to be solid spiritual mentors and parents to them, to pray powerfully for and with them. They don't need more programs. They want prayer and revival for their generation.
I've been to dozens of campuses in the past three years and seen that the younger generation has started what Finney called "a new beginning of obedience to God."
Is my generation ready to join them?
Becky Tirabassi (changeyourlifedaily.com) is the founder of Burning Hearts, Inc. She is the author of Sacred Obsession and Sacred Obsession Devotional (Tyndale House, 2006 and 2007).
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Other articles on holiness and revival include:
Holy to the Core | We're tempted by moralism because we've forgotten what God wants at the center. (May 9, 2007)
A Revival of Prayer | Author and speaker reports on students repenting of sin, seeking reformation. (Stan Guthrie interviews Becky Tirabassi, April 10, 2006)
Revival Fire | Christian colleges are among the few places left where traditional revival occurs, and Asbury is the most recent example. (February 24, 2006)
Becky Tirabassi's site has more about her and her ministry.
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