Turn Aside and See

Turn Aside and See: Our Experience at the Asbury Revival

Article by Stacey Tafao
In his book, The Saving Life of Christ, Major Ian Thomas writes: "The only ultimate source of divine activity in all spiritual life is God Himself – 'Christ in you the hope of glory' (Colossians 1:27). The church is so slow to learn. It admires and seeks to emulate the example of the mighty but so seldom takes the trouble to 'turn aside and see' the reason why."

At seminary, reading Thomas' admonition to "turn aside and see" marked me. On December 4, when RD used the exact phrase in his sermon, it woke something in me, and for the past two months, the phrase "turn aside and see" has been the beat of my heart.

So, a month later, after stumbling across reports on the revival at Asbury, I found myself telling the Lord, "I don't know what's happening or if it'll even still be happening when I arrive, but I want to be the kind of person who's willing to turn aside and see what you're doing." An hour later, my husband Elijah and I found ourselves barreling north on I-75, through rolling farmland dotted with stately homes, and arriving at Asbury.

Turning onto the campus, we spotted Hughes Auditorium, snagged a parking spot between two brick buildings, and walked toward the chapel. Slipping in through the back door, we found ourselves in a crowded sanctuary filled with quiet piano music and the hum of prayer. Making our way up to the balcony, we squeezed into seats, took a moment to orient ourselves, and began worshiping.

For the past several days, I've tried to put words to my experiences at Asbury for others when they've asked what it was like. I've wanted to be careful of what I say – after all, how can one accurately describe God's movement and presence? Carefully. Reverently. Leaving room for awe.

As I reflect on my time there, I offer a few observations:
Worship plows up fallow ground
In some ways, worship at Asbury was both similar and different from how I’ve experienced worship in other settings. It was similar to how I’ve worshiped overseas – equal parts desperate and hopeful, exuberant and reserved. But it was different than how we in the West tend to worship. It was stripped down. Bare. There were no concerns for either lighting or lyrics and likely very little in the way of rehearsals. There were no visual cues between musicians directing songs and no sense of timed-out services or set lists. As I watched various people take the stage and lead, I felt they had one foot in the room and the other in the heavens. It was as though God Himself led, and we all followed along.

There was a moment when we sang the chorus of John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves,” and to be caught up in continuing to sing “He loves us, oh how He loves us…” long after the musicians stopped playing was staggering. In one moment, God’s people moved past the idea of God’s love into the reality of it and couldn’t stop declaring the truth of it. And in so doing, the veil between heaven and earth lifted ever so slightly, providing space for them to know the love of God as never before.
The work of prayer is paramount
The atmosphere of worship provided fertile ground for the work of prayer. There was little thought about where praise ended and prayer began – they felt the same. I’ve watched my husband’s passion for worship and prayer throughout our marriage. As much as he loves to lead worship, he knows prayer is what’s central. I see the same thing in Spencer. And in Emily. And a host of others who lead us as worshipers.

Singing of and receiving God’s love for us as sons and daughters moved people to prayers of praising Him. Prayers of drawing near. I found myself moving from song to prayer and back again - receiving from the Lord a sense of His deep care over me to pouring out my praise before Him.

And at the hinge point was the work of confession.
Confession sits at the crossroads
During the time I spent at Asbury, there was little speaking or teaching from the stage. When there was, it was to prepare the people gathered for the work of confession. People were encouraged to stand and complete the simple sentence, “I confess _______.” As they did, the congregation would reply, “The blood of Christ covers you!”

When JC preached on February 12, he read James 5:16 and remarked, “Repentance brings forgiveness. Confession brings healing.”

I saw this firsthand. I saw the people who stood and confessed but do not remember their faces or form. I only remember that their confession was, in some ways, mine as well. For I, too, confess anxiety. I confess friendship with the world. I confess addiction. I confess fear.

And in confession, because He loves the brokenhearted, God came near.
Revival at Fellowship
In his book, The Pursuit of God, Tozer writes: “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present, or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted.”

He waits to be wanted.

Since coming to Fellowship, revival has been a constant thought and a cherished hope of mine. Not just because of my Southern Baptist roots but because of what happens when the people of God—and then the people of the world—experience the outpouring of God.

Could it happen here? Could our church be a place where the glory of God breaks through for a more profound experience of Him? And if so, how might we prepare for His arrival? Here are a few thoughts:

Start by looking for quiet opportunities to “turn aside.” Our arrival at Asbury was not to crowds milling about but to a hush. I fear that our preferences for bigger, faster, and louder may cause us to miss the movement of God. Turning aside doesn’t always mean driving three hours. Mostly it means making room to notice Him.

Then, when you’ve turned aside, plow deep, pray hard, and prepare for rain (Hosea 10:12).

Plow deep.
Right after seminary, there was a year or more when Shane and Shane’s Song “Yearn” was on repeat. The chorus says:

“Lord, I want to yearn for You
I want to burn with passion
Over You and only You
Lord, I want to yearn….”

I don’t know that I was always aware of what I was singing, but I was mindful of being utterly captivated and undone by the work of God, at how He is both inscrutable and imminently knowable. Wherever you meet with Jesus, begin preparing the soil of your heart. Ask Him, “Increase my desire for you.” And if you’re low on desire, ask Him to help you want to want Him. It all belongs.
Pray hard.
Get quiet. And in the silence, ask God, “Do you love me?” And hear Him reply in the affirmative because He always replies in the affirmative.

For some, the question you ask might be gutsier, “Why do you love me?” If you’ve lived with hard-to-please parents or your identity has been shaped by your performance (as mine has), you need to brave the question because you need to hear the response.

Why start with this question?

Because when you begin to know yourself as a beloved son or daughter, all bets are off. When you get close to the roaring fire of the Almighty and become convinced of His deep care over you and His Sovereign preference for you, you’ll be set ablaze. And whether or not revival fires break out across Fellowship, they’ll break out in your life.

But if we all become hearth fires? If we all began tending the fire in us, taking the dry kindling of our lives and touching them to the roaring fire of the Almighty? If we were all ablaze? Well then, nothing could hold back the movement of God in our midst.
Prepare for rain.
I was nearly on eye level from the balcony with the phrase “Holiness unto the Lord” emblazoned at the front of Hughes Auditorium.

It’s a phrase from the prophet Zechariah: “And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, 'Holy to the Lord.' And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts….”

Holy. Set apart. Separate from what surrounds us. Not because of our ability or work but because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

I hope that it’s only a matter of time before our worship, praise, prayers, and confession tip the scales and He appears in our midst.

Do you have to go to Asbury? No. But if you do, you’ll realize that knowing and loving Him is far easier than we make it out to be and that revival is more accessible than we ever imagined.

He waits to be wanted.

Stacey Tafao

Pastor of Spiritual Formation and Community