The Tim Tebow Foundation sponsored its annual “Night to Shine” last Friday evening. The event was designed to give a prom experience centered on God’s love to people with special needs.
Daniel Ritchie, one of the presenters, was born without arms. At his birth, when he was not breathing, the doctor asked his father, “Do you want us to let him go?” He grew up to become a speaker and author who earned two college degrees and is married with two children. He eats, drives, and writes with his feet.
Ritchie notes: “These people with special needs are just that—incredibly special in both the eyes of God and in our eyes.”
Tim Tebow has a similar story: because his mother’s placenta was not attached at the time of his birth, doctors urged his mother to abort him. The doctor who delivered him described his survival as “the greatest miracle [he had] ever seen.”
Ritchie and Tebow survived our culture’s instrumentalist worldview: people have value to the degree that they function in and contribute to society. You are what you earn and possess, how you look, and how well you perform.
By contrast, as St. Augustine noted, God loves each of us as if there were only one of us. In recent days, he has been making this fact clear in surprising ways.
Asbury revival ending
The continuous revival services that began at Asbury University on February 8 have come to a close. A Fox News article reports that the revival brought over fifty thousand visitors to the services, including students from over two hundred schools.
When the daily services concluded, one student said, “We don’t want to stop this. Why would we want to stop something that is so good and so pure? What God wants us to do now is take this, take what we’ve experienced and take everything that God has filed with us and to move and to go out with it.”
This is apparently happening. According to the Fox News article, “The revival had already caused ripple effects, not just throughout the nation but throughout the world. Whispers of revivals have cropped up in local news stories across the globe. In some areas, the whispers have turned into song and prayer.”
One Asbury student is not surprised: “We all have a spigot to the water of life in us. We just have to learn to open it and pour it out wherever we go.”
“It’s something that no one ever expected”
The spontaneous nature of the Asbury Revival is especially noteworthy. One Asbury employee said, “We have been crying out for a revival here at Asbury for the past ten to twenty years. And to be part of the generation that brought it into being is just remarkable. It’s something that no one ever expected.”
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s weekend article amplifies this theme. He cites an 1822 letter in which Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I trust that there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die an Unitarian.” However, less than a year earlier, a young man named Charles Grandison Finney had a transformative encounter with Jesus.
As Douthat writes, “This experience set Finney on a path that would help bury Jefferson’s confident hypothesis—toward leadership in an age of revivalism, the Second Great Awakening, that forged the form of evangelical Christianity that would bestride nineteenth-century America.”
Douthat then applied his point to the current context: “Whatever the Asbury Revival’s long-term impact, the history of Finney and Jefferson is a reminder that religious history is shaped as much by sudden irruptions as long trajectories, as much by the mystical and personal as by the institutional and sociological.”
He concluded: “If you’re imagining a renewal for American Christianity, all the best laid plans—the pastoral strategies, theological debates, and long-term trendlines—may matter less than something happening in some obscure place or to some obscure individual, in whose visions an entirely unexpected future might be taking shape.”
“You really cannot stop something that you didn’t start”
The reason movements of God are unpredictable is that God is unpredictable. Here’s why: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28–29).
Daniel Ritchie, Tim Tebow, and the Asbury Revival are examples of his surprising, omnipotent grace. They make this point: If you can predict it, control it, and take credit for it, God probably didn’t do it.
When Asbury President Kevin Brown was asked about the “end” of the revival, he wisely replied, “You really cannot stop something that you didn’t start.”
What Jesus did with Galilean fishermen, tax collectors, and persecutors of his church, he wants to do today with your life. To the degree that you are holistically surrendered to his will (Romans 12:1–2), you will be able to testify, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Can God use your life to forge an “entirely unexpected future” for our secularized culture?
Can Jesus send you anywhere to do anything?
If not, why not?