By Sarah Thomas Baldwin

On Feb. 8, 2023, after a chapel service at Asbury University, the Spirit of Jesus took residence in Hughes Auditorium with an outpouring of love, peace, and contagious joy. The first few days drew college students and young adults spontaneously in surrender to Jesus, confession of sin, repentance, testimony and newfound freedom from addiction and trauma.

Soon, news of the unplanned movement of God reached beyond the college crowd to people of all generations, and from Wilmore, Kentucky, to seemingly the ends of the earth. For 16 days, the presence of God moved upon us in a fresh and almost irresistible way, falling on the thousands of worshippers from more than 300 college and universities, over 30 states and at least 13 countries.

The press came, uninvited, and set up camp on the lawn of the university, eager for the story and the angle. Many of them found not a sensational scoop, but the peaceful, joyous presence of Jesus. A few weeks later, a reporter from the BBC came to campus. Settling back in a chair in my office, he removed his glasses and squinted at me, a combination of curiosity and open suspicion apparent on his face.

“Why did the students get all into a bother? Were they serving something special in the cafeteria that week? Was it a particularly sunny day?” The reporter tapped his pencil on his notepad, leaning in for my take on the story.

I paused, wondering how to put into words what I had seen and heard to someone who may never have had a spiritual encounter with Jesus. I can’t remember all that I said that day, but his question stays with me, reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ ruminations of Marley’s ghost in “A Christmas Carol” —  was it just “a bit of undigested beef”?

A few days after the resurrection of Jesus in the book of Luke, two apostles walked down a dusty road, pondering what had happened. The missing body, the women’s testimony of a vision of angels proclaiming Jesus was alive, and the empty tomb filled their thoughts and conversation. As they talked, they met someone who spoke and revealed the Scriptures to their minds and hearts, then broke bread over their meal, and then vanished. Their eyes now fully opened, the apostles turned to each other and asked, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us on the road?”

In those days of the outpouring of God on our campus, our hearts burned within us as the Bread of Life was broken and shared in our midst. The joy of fellowship in Jesus as the host and guest at a 16-day feast of the bread of Christ — broken for us, blessed, and given — opened our eyes in a fresh way to the glory and goodness of God.

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“We are mind, body, heart, and soul Christians.”

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Mind, Body, Heart, Soul

Our Wesleyan theological understanding of encountering Jesus is a full body experience. From John Wesley’s recorded testimony that his heart felt strangely warmed, to the renewed mind and intellect in how we think about God and the world, to the posture of our body in physical surrender at an altar, a raised hand in song, or the open hands of service, when we meet Jesus, we experience the presence of God in our full being. We are mind, body, heart, and soul Christians.

Without a renewed mind, emotional experience is in danger of emotionalism.

Without a burning heart, our faith may become only intellectualism.

Without sacrificial love worked out in service and surrender, our faith grows cold and lifeless.

The antidote for despair and loneliness in an increasingly virtual, screen-based, high-tech world is embodied experience with Jesus Christ alongside other believers. People came from all over the nation and the world to sit in uncomfortable wooden chairs and physically kneel at an altar to experience the outpouring of the love of Jesus in a physical manner, shoulder to shoulder with other believers. It was an anti-COVID isolation, anti-factional response to the division, loneliness, and fragmentation of our time.

People were drawn by their burning hearts to a unity of worship and experience with God that can only begin with a posture of humility and hope in recognition of our deep need for God. When we need unity as the people of God more than ever, real unity can only truly begin at the foot of the cross in surrender. Our shared political statement must be “Jesus is Lord.”

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“When we linger with Jesus in worship and taste and see the goodness of God, we are renewed in our spirit for faith and service.”

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Reminiscent of the journey of those two apostles to Emmaus, the experience of the burning heart is one of the signs of the presence of Jesus. Contagious, immersive, heavenly joy and peace washed over us in worship in those days. Our hearts did burn brightly together as we lingered in Jesus. Jesus set the table of worship, broke the bread, gave thanks, and our eyes were opened to His presence.

In the drive and stress of life, we often feel overwhelmed by the financial pressures, illnesses, heart-breaking poverty, ceaseless violence, injustice, and cruelty of the world. When we linger with Jesus in worship and taste and see the goodness of God, we are renewed in our spirit for faith and service. We need experiences of worship together in the presence of Jesus to nourish and grow our faith. We need shared “burning hearts” to fuel our discipleship and practice of faith.

For a few days, the world took note of the contagious joyful worship of Generation Z and then others. What sparked in these young adults, blazed around the world, and continues to burn today, drawing all of us to the presence of Jesus.

Gen Z might just have something for the church: Linger with Jesus, and share together in His presence.

The burning heart is still the cure for the heartbreak of the world.

Mind, body and soul immersed in the presence of Jesus together with surrendered hearts, singing simple songs, praying, confessing and testifying to what God has done is still the antidote to our broken down, isolated, fragmented lives.

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Sarah Thomas Baldwin, D.Min., is the vice president of student life at Asbury University and an elder in the Free Methodist Church USA. As a member of the core ministry team of the Asbury Outpouring, she got a front row seat to this spontaneous act of God and shares her personal story in “Generation Awakened: An Eyewitness Account of the Powerful Outpouring of God at Asbury,” which is available on Amazon. Visit sarahthomasbaldwin.com for her weekly writing and newsletter.

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