The Evangelical church is often preaching about, and praying and fasting for revival! They rightly see the mess we’re in and reason that a massive return to God will ease the suffering of everyone. Revival, for the Evangelical, includes the awakening of those already in the church and also bringing non believers into relationship with God so that they can be “saved” too. The United States has experienced five widespread Christian revivals in history; The First Great Awakening 1730-40’s, influenced mostly by Jonathan Edwards and his famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. The Second Great Awakening 1820-50’s, spread by Charles Finney’s fiery messages of repentance. The Third Great Awakening 1875-85, spearheaded by D. L. Moody and his message of the imminent return of Christ who loves you just as you are. The Azusa Street Revival 1906-1915, also known as the Pentecostal movement which reintroduced the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. The Twentieth Century Revival 1910-1950’s, which started with Billy Sunday and continued with Billy Graham and his crusades across America.
Revivals in this country began with the hell and damnation preaching of Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening. Here is an excerpt of his most famous sermon:
“The God that holds you over the pit of Hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire…It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity: there will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery…You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions and millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance…”
Jonathan Edwards had people writhing in the aisles begging for salvation from this angry god. I believe that nothing could be further from the truth than the view of God that Jonathan Edwards held. He was mistaken. But he, nonetheless, impacted and influenced history and his legacy continues in one form or another today.
About a year ago the church I was attending was holding prayer meetings for revival and teaching about former revivals for inspiration. My husband and I teamed up and volunteered to tell the story of Saint Francis, our favorite culture changer. Here is what we presented to our church:
“There is an interesting revival that took place about 800 hundred years ago in Italy. It was a miraculous revival, a move of God revival that started with one man who deeply believed and lived this verse from Galatians 2:20:
“I identify myself completely with Christ. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. CHRIST LIVES IN ME. The life you see me living is not mine, but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I AM NOT GOING TO GO BACK ON THAT!”
The man who deeply believed and lived that verse was St. Francis of Assisi.
Francis was born in Assisi, Italy around 1180, a privileged son of a wealthy merchant. He lived during the time when the Catholic Church was the only church in Western Europe. The church was choked to the point of death with corruption, wealth, rules and regulation. In short, it was so perverted by religion that it no longer represented the body of Christ. In fact the church was still conducting the infamous crusades at that time, and as a young man Francis fought in those crusades for Assisi against a neighboring state in Italy. It was a horror that wrecked him, but good came out of that wreckage. He was captured, and spent a couple of years in prison. Perhaps his spiritual conversion was a gradual process that began there in prison. When he was released, he went back to Assisi where he spent much time in solitude asking God for spiritual revelation and understanding. Interestingly, it was during a severe illness that God answered him! His eyes could now see, his ears could now hear, his heart began to comprehend.
Francis removed himself from his position of privilege in Assisi, out of his rich father’s house. He moved to the bottom of the hill that Assisi sits on, to an old broken down, caved in church called San Damiano. In doing so Francis literally went “low”, he took a lowly position. He became poor by choice. He wore a simple brown robe with a rope around the waist. He gave up all other possessions and became a beggar, completely and wholly dependent on God for all things, material as well as spiritual.
Francis began rebuilding the church, a literal rebuilding of the church of San Damiano stone by stone. But it was also a rebuilding that was spiritual, as he returned to a simple life living the simple gospel.
In the beginning those who were well off would have nothing to do with him. It was the outcast, the poor, and the lepers who were first drawn to Francis’ revival. Francis joyously welcomed them to join him in building the church, one stone at a time. Eventually, some of Francis’ former privileged friends came to check out what this crazy man was up to. Many of them ended up joining him, not because Francis tried to convince them or talk them into it, but because in Francis they saw Christ, the love of God. Simply, the love of God. It was what marked Francis and his revival.
Francis’ revival caused controversy. Many tried to put it out, even literally by setting San Damiano on fire. It was a sad and hard time. Because of the angst against him, Francis was summoned to Rome to see the Pope. The hope was that the Pope would put an end to this nonsense. The Pope asked Francis to write out a document containing the “rules” of his order. This is the “rule” he wrote, “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus and to walk in his footsteps” The Pope looked it over and said, “this isn’t a rule of a new order, this is simply the Gospel!” The Pope was so moved by Francis’ love for God and for all people that he came off his high throne and knelt, and actually kissed the dirty and bare feet of Francis. That meeting ended up being, not the humiliation of Francis, but the humbling of the Pope.
Francis truly became “Revival”. And because Christ was being made visible in Francis’ revival, others were attracted to it.
This revival was not announced with fanfare. He didn’t use many words to try to convince others to join it. He simply lived it. It was not dramatic, not rebellious, not starting something new, it was a returning to the simplicity of the gospel, the love of God dwelling in us and among us. Francis lived as one with Christ, completely emptying himself and completely receiving the filling of Christ. And so Christ was revealed through St. Francis. And Christ drew people to himself.
The Prayer of St Francis:
‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love,
For it is in giving that one receives,
It is in self-forgetting that one finds,
It is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
It is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.’
Today’s revival, I believe, will occur not if we “do” what Francis did, but as we come to deeper belief, like Francis did, in the reality of our union with Christ and simply sink into his Spirit.
John 14:16-20, quoting Jesus
‘And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper,
that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of Truth….you
know Him, for He dwells with you and will be IN YOU. I will not
leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the
world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live,
you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father,
and you are in Me, and I am in you.’”