Our Desperate Need for a Christ-Awakening:
An Interview with David Bryant
[Editor’s Note: David Bryant, one of the foremost leaders of the modern global prayer movement, recently celebrated five decades serving Christ. He has written numerous books related to prayer, awakening, and revival, and previously served as the president of Concerts of Prayer International as well as chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee. Today, he provides leadership to Proclaim Hope! and ChristNow.com—ministries that seek to “foster and serve a nationwide Christ-awakening movement.” David also offers a free 10-hour video training series, The Christ Institutes.
Recently, Christian Union interviewed David following his appearance as a plenary speaker at Christian Union’s Nexus Student Conference, which involved hundreds of students from Ivy League campuses on both coasts. He challenged students to be possessed by a vision of the greatness, glory, and supremacy of Jesus Christ and to ignite Christ-awakening movements on their campuses.]
Christian Union: As a young pastor, you were part of a Christian response to the fatal shooting of four Kent State students by National Guard troops in 1970. Can you tell us about that experience?
David Bryant: The first church I ever pastored was adjacent to Kent State University, and it was full of students. I stood on the campus the day students were killed. That tragedy changed the whole course of the Vietnam War. Because we had so many students we felt like we had no other choice but to start praying in a very serious way. Even though I had a seminary degree, I probably had never prayed more than ten minutes at a time in my life. We committed ourselves—a group of professors, businessmen, and others—to six weeks of prayer, four days a week, two hours each night.
In order to fill all that time, we prayed through the book of Ephesians, one chapter for each of the six weeks. We would read the chapter, get down on our knees with our Bibles opened in front of us, and pray out of what is written.
CU: How did those weeks of extended prayer transform you?
Two Ways Concerted Prayer
Transformed My Life
DB: It transformed my life in so many ways. My prayer life was totally transformed because we were taking God’s Word and putting it in our hearts, out of our mouths, and up to the throne. I’ve never been the same. I’ve always made God’s Word my main agenda in all the praying I’ve done since.
The second major change for me was that I had a Christ awakening because the book of Ephesians is really one glorious portrait of the supremacy of Jesus Christ. By the time we finished praying through Ephesians over six weeks, I had met Jesus in a way I had never known because the Spirit of God made him alive to me. My whole relationship with Christ was totally transformed, as well as my prayer life.
CU: And what was the corporate effect of praying together at Kent State?
Three Explosive Answers to Our Prayers
DB: We saw at least three major answers to prayer. One, there was greater unity. The campus ministries—Cru, InterVarsity, Navigators, Chi Alpha, and many others—came together in a way that we had never experienced before.
Secondly, we had an explosion in evangelism. Over the next four years, we saw hundreds of students come to Christ.
Finally, in our church we put up a map of the world and began to put flags in places where our students were going after they graduated. We realized that God was sending our students across the country and across the world. We were having a worldwide impact, just like the book of Ephesians suggested we ought to have. We were surprised by God’s grace as he was using us to touch the ends of the earth.
CU: How can this type of awakening happen today on our campuses and in our churches?
Some Thoughts About the Awakening
That Must Come—That We Must Pray For
DB: When people hear the word “awakening,” they usually think about revival. When they hear the word “revival,” they usually think about stories they’ve heard from things that happened in past generations. I’ve chosen to use a different term because I’m talking about something different.
The phrase I use is a “Christ Awakening.”
Everywhere I go, I sense the Holy Spirit is preparing for a Christ Awakening. I define it this way: “It’s when God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to reintroduce God’s people to God’s Son for all he is.” Everything else flows out of that encounter.
Every time a campus ministry comes together, every time a church comes together, he is there in his fullness—but most of the time, we don’t see him for who he really is.
Tragically, we’re not aware of his supremacy in all things, the magnificence of him—the one in whom Paul says are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
What we desperately need to do first of all is wake up to more of Christ, and ever more fully into all that he is, because it’s only that way that all these wonderful other things happen—whether it is social reform, evangelism of our campus, mobilization for mission. It comes out of a fresh encounter with the fullness of Jesus.
The supremacy of Christ is who he is today—ascended and sitting on the throne, alive, active, reigning.
Ephesians 4:19 says he’s filling the whole universe with his reign right now. In Ephesians 5:14, Paul is speaking to Christians when he says, “Awake you who are asleep, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” It sounds like, “Get out of bed!” A lot of Christians need to wake up, get out of bed, and move into a whole new life that’s focused on the glory and supremacy of Christ.
CU: At Nexus, you quoted J. Edwin Orr and John Stott in regard to revival, or the lack thereof.
DB: Dr. Orr, who earned three doctorates in the study of spiritual awakenings and church history (one was from Oxford University), defined revival as an outpouring of Christ on his people.
John Stott was probably the foremost evangelical leader in the worldwide church in the last half of the twentieth century. His final book was titled Radical Discipleship. Stott wrote, “If we want to be radical in our discipleship then we have to start with a radically larger vision of the supremacy of Jesus Christ.” When that vision saturates your life, then you have the essence of a Christ Awakening—and this results in a church or a campus movement populated with truly radical Christians.
From Mascot to Monarch:
Turning a Crisis Into a Christ Awakening!
CU: You have been quoted as saying that the modern church suffers from a “crisis of Christology” and that Jesus is treated more often “like a mascot rather than a monarch.” Please explain.
DB: I define the crisis of Christology as the dramatic shortfall in how we see Jesus for all that he is. This leads to a shortfall in how much we seek Jesus for all that he is, which leads to a shortfall in how much we speak of Jesus for all that he is. Our vision of Jesus is too small.
Recently, Michael Horton, a respected theologian, wrote a book titled Christless Christianity. He basically defined the evangelical church as marked by a strong dose of “therapeutic moralistic theism with Christ on the fringes.”
His observation of the evangelical movement was that it is moralistic—we’re trying to be better people. It’s therapeutic—we’re trying to heal one another’s wounds, and problems, etc. And it’s deistic in that we are dealing with God but hold him at a distance, where he feels less threatening.
In terms of Jesus, we keep him on the fringes and bring him in where we need him—to benefit us like a mascot helps out at a football game.
I often say that the reason for this “crisis of Christology”—this diminishment of the Church’s vision of the true majesty and supremacy of King Jesus today—can be found in the kind of “gospel” we’ve been preaching far too long. Too often people hear Christians saying, “Come to Christ for all that you need and don’t worry about coming to him for any more. After all, he’s there to meet your needs.” We end up presenting—and new believers end up following—a little Jesus right from the beginning.
In fact, the Bible’s message of the hope of salvation should sound like this:
Come to Christ by losing your life for his sake and the cause of the gospel. Go beyond making Jesus the center of what matters to you and all of your needs.
Instead, put yourself at the center of God’s plan for his redeeming, reigning Son, which is to make him Lord of heaven and earth and the fullness of life for all of us and for a whole new creation.
Come to Jesus; enter into a new life in Christ, trusting him as your loving, promise-fulfilling, soul-transforming, increasingly victorious Monarch. Fully given over to him for his eternal purposes is where you’re going to find what real life is all about. This is the Father’s offer to you. This is the Spirit’s gift to you.
There’s Every Reason to Be Hopeful
About a Coming Christ Awakening
CU: Finally, despite the challenges faced by the church, you still seem to be a messenger of hope. What are you hoping for?
DB: I don’t know where this is all headed, but I sense there is an impending explosion across this nation that will come from many directions, for which nobody can take credit.
I see this in a number of new developments, like the “Saturate” movement springing up in a number of cities across America—including here in New York City. We’ve just completed this week an unprecedented outreach by hundreds of churches working together reaching millions of New Yorkers in all kinds of creative ways with the gospel during seven days we call Jesus Week.
The Saturate goal is stated this way: “Saturate the Church with the supremacy of Christ so that the Church will saturate the City with the gospel of Christ.”
Another example: On May 3 of this year, we celebrated our National Day of Prayer. Christians were praying around one central theme of unity in the body of Christ. I was excited about that because we can really impact our nation with the gospel if there is unity—unity of vision of the glory of Christ; unity of purpose to see America come under a Christ-awakening movement; unity of prayer toward that end.
After all, the way we experience unity is through God answering the prayer of Jesus in John 17: “Father, I have put my glory in them so that they may be one as you and I are one.”
In other words, as God’s people wake up to the glory of God’s Son, we have every reason to abound in hope about so much more—that awakening to Christ has all the potential for drawing us together despite all of our differences, from every stream of the Church, to find a level of collaboration for the Kingdom that is impossible to have on any human level.
The more we experience a fuller, biblically-anchored revelation of the glory of Christ and share in that vision together, the better we will be able to join our hands, and our lives, and our labors in order to advance his saving work on every level of the life of this nation.
My great hope is that God is going to answer Jesus’ prayer in new and fresh and wonderful ways in this generation. There’s going to be a level of unity and out of that a mobilization of the Church that will impact our campuses and our nation for the glory of Christ in a way that I believe—and many other leaders join me in believing—will be unprecedented in the history of the Church. I live for that every single day.
I would invite everyone reading this interview to JOIN me in praying for this.
And, JOIN me in preparing to receive the answers to those prayers—answers which won’t leave any of us the same—as the Holy Spirit brings us into so much more of the riches of the reign of Christ now.[NOTE: This interview first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Christian Union: The Magazine (Tom Campisi, editor) that goes out to thousands of students on Ivy League campuses who are members of the Christian Union movement at their schools. Check them out!]