Renewal in a College Community

By Brian Edgar

From time to time the Holy Spirit leads his people in such a way as to break down existing patterns of prayer and worship in order that he might renew his people. Sometimes this is because of inadequacies in the attitude of those worshipping, as we read in Isaiah 1:10-20 where God is tired of the sacrifice and worship of those who do not repent of their sinfulness. At other times the working of the Holy Spirit comes simply to give a renewed vision of the majesty and holiness of God, to refresh devotion and commitment and to lead people to a new understanding of his nature. This is a part of that continuous renewal of which Paul says, “let the  peace of Christ rule in your hearts… and the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish… and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.” (Colossians 3:15-16).  Such a time of renewal took place over three days in second semester 1993 at the Bible College of Victoria (B.C.V.). A special and unplanned period which  became a time of renewal, growth, conviction and great blessing. Yes, that was some time ago now, but remembering God’s faithfulness is a very biblical thing to do.

This article first appeared “Renewal in a College Community” in Renewal Vol.3-1 (1994)

B.C.V. is an interdenominational, evangelical college training people for ministry in Australia and overseas. Currently there are about 180 full time students and almost as many more part time students. Ever since its foundation in 1920 individual, group and community prayer and worship has been an important feature of the community life of the college. The priorities of the college are expressed as “Knowing, Being and Serving”. This means knowing God in personal relationship; being transformed to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ as Spirit filled people of compassion, faith vision and power, living holy lives in the personal and social realms; and serving God in the world, developing gifts for ministry for building up the church, meeting the diverse needs in our communities and proclaiming the gospel to unreached people. As a consequence of this commitment, time is regularly given over to prayer. Students and faculty are encouraged and led in prayer in daily chapel services, in fellowship groups, in lectures, at meal times, in faculty groups, in pairs and room groups on special prayer days (and nights) and in prayer cells for specific issues including healing, evangelism, community life and student ministries. People pray, sometimes with conviction and joy, at other times with doubts and fears but continually there are testimonies to the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is programmed as an important part of college life and God honours that commitment, but on occasions God wants to do something different.

A Desire for God

The recent time of renewal began with the work of the group responsible for preparing for a regular day of prayer and with a growing conviction among others that God’s Spirit wanted to move in a new way. One student, in a way which reflected the feelings of many, said, “my heart had already been prepared to meet with God – and I was not disappointed. For some time I had recognised the hunger in my heart and my need for God to refresh and renew my weary spirit.” In a number of people there was a desire for the presence of the Holy Spirit and altogether a number of  experiences indicated that the Lord wanted students to be involved in all night prayer to prepare for the day of prayer for the whole college.

A number of people would agree with the student who said, “For the last two years it has been an increasing prayer of mine that God’s Spirit would move across this nation, and more recently that I would experience more of God’s fullness in my life.” It is significant that a desire for God to work in this country in a dynamic way is connected with a willingness to allow God to work in a new way personally. It is difficult to communicate what one has not experienced. One student reflection said that although none of those who met the Lord on that day would claim for themselves the necessary qualities for spiritual leadership in this generation, nonetheless a start was made for “when God raises up spiritual leaders, He first judges them so that they may depend on Him alone.”[i]

The Presence of the Spirit

On a Tuesday about 140 of the college community gathered together in the chapel for prayer. After a time of praise and worship there was a time of teaching. The teaching was brief (only about 20 minutes), low key and even understated, but as people were invited to pray or to receive prayer, the effect was as tremendous as it was unexpected. What was planned as a 40 minute session became a four hour response to the presence of the Holy Spirit as he touched people’s lives and moved them to prayer, repentance, reconciliation, testimony, praise and commitment.  It is difficult to describe this experience in an article, it is something which needs to be felt. It was apparent to all who were present that this was a special time. The college community comprises diverse groups of people from a wide range of  denominations and traditions of prayer and worship. There are many prayerful people of all types but most had never experienced such a time as this.

The Holy Spirit convicted,  empowered, challenged, encouraged and renewed people. Forty or more people sought prayer and there was a tremendous ministry together. The day’s program was transformed. Replaced by the plans of the Spirit. Significant personal matters were dealt with that day and over the days that followed. For one student it mean that “God was convicting me of my doubt in the Holy Spirit’s power to work in and through my life… I knew I had once again to give the Holy Spirit permission to consume those parts of my life that had been preventing me from loving God more completely.” For many the infilling of the Spirit was such that they were overcome – sometimes with grief and repentance, at other times with joy, often with weeping and often with relief and rejoicing.

Over the next couple of days the ministry continued.  People were reconciled,  shared in prayer, ministered and were counselled. Then again, two days later when the college community was gathered together an opportunity was given for people to share testimonies of what God had done over the past few days. One hour became two, then three and four hours as those present praised, prayed and gave testimony to the experiences of the Spirit. It was a time for hearing about how people had been challenged about their prayer life, their relation to Lord, their  relation with others, personal attitudes and ministry challenges. Again there were tears and rejoicing for lives had been changed, barriers had been broken down, resistance overcome, forgiveness granted and blessings received. Although planned, lectures simply did not happen that day, such was the intensity of the moment that no none wanted to leave the chapel.

Lessons of the Spirit

In making some concluding observations on this experience while there are probably many things that could be said four points stand out.

1. Historic Connections: There is a connection here with the noted revival which took place at Asbury Seminary in the U.S.A. in 1970 and which had far reaching effects throughout America.[ii] The speaker at the start of the day of prayer was Rev. Mark Nysewander who was visiting B.C.V. with Rev. Richard  Stevenson. Both are part of the Francis Asbury Society (U.S.A.), a society focused on renewal through the Holy Spirit. Mark had been present as a student at the revival at Asbury Seminary in 1970 and is continuing that ministry through the Francis Asbury Society.

2. Future Influence: This experience at B.C.V. may or may not spread to other people and places, but whether it does or not it will continue to mean a lot to those who experienced it. Many future ministries will be enriched by this personal experience. Knowing through experience what  God can do in renewing a community is essential for communicating this to others and for preparing them for it.  The historic connection between revivals may continue as students and faculty better understand the power of God to move people and become more confident in ministering in his name.

3. A Gentle Ministry: It should be emphasised that the ministry exercised over these days was described variously as “a gentle ministry” with “no hype” while others were “surprised by the quietness” of the time shared together. It is no insult to those leading worship beforehand or to those involved in teaching to say that these things were not extraordinary in any way. There have been more articulate, more dynamic, more profound sermons preached at B.C.V. than these, and the worship was more restrained than it has been at other times, but the effect was never the same. Clearly the issue was not human hype, enthusiasm or ability but the providence of God who initiates and controls.

4. An Open-ness to the Spirit: While no one can command the activity of God it is clear, in retrospect, that there was a willingness on the part of many people, students and faculty, to be open to whatever God had to offer and a commitment to not allowing programs to interfere with the work of the Spirit. This open-ness had surprising implications for while many were looking for a wider renewal in Australia among others, God wanted first to work closer to home, with those who were praying. God deals first with his messengers and challenges and renews them to be the kind of servants he wants them to be.

[i]H.Holland, “An Extraordinary Day of Prayer” Ambassador: Official Journal of the Bible College of Victoria. No.151 (1993) 1.

[ii]R.Coleman (ed.), One Divine Moment: The Asbury Revival, (New Jersey: Fleming Revell, 1970)

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