By Chris Chalmers
This post will look at personal revival and begin part one of a five-part series on the scope and depth of revivals as seen in church history. Then in this post I will finish with the relatively unknown story of a man who saw revival before the Protestant Reformation: Savonarola. If you would like to discuss any of this feel free to comment on our Facebook page (The Revival Network)
Since the first great revival on the day of Pentecost; the Holy Spirit has been working in and through the church in greater and lesser waves to bring salvation, healing and transformation to humanity. Often this work is subtle and not immediately apparent to those without the eyes of faith. At other times this work is sudden, dramatic, and resulting in great numbers of Christians being revived, sanctified and filled with holy fire as well as many non-Christians being born again.
As we study church history and learn about these powerful moving’s of God’s Spirit amongst his people and beyond, we observe that the scope of this revival can be either small or great. The smallest end of the scale is revival which comes to an individual, often called “personal revival.”
Personal revival is a central part of every revival no matter the magnitude. When individuals or small groups of Christians begin to seek God with all that is within them anything becomes possible, but one thing God always seems to grant those that seek him is a degree of personal revival and he sets them ablaze with his love and fire. Luke 11:9 tell us “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; see and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
After the early church and before the 1700’s there were few revivals that had a national or an international scope. There were however many individuals who were revived and went onto to lead renewals in the church and reformations of the church. These people often started separate church movements, movements in the church, or were martyred by the institutional church. Some of these amazing men and women who experienced personal revival and who influenced the whole world were Francis & Clare of Assisi, Savonarola, John Hus and Martin Luther.
It is interesting to note that those who experienced widespread revival in the 1700’s and beyond were often walking revivals themselves. It was often the case that while they still lived, and prayed, that wherever they went the kingdom of God would come in power. Some of these men and women were: John & Charles Wesley, George Whitfield, Charles Finney, William & Catherine Booth, Maria Woodworth-Etter and Smith Wigglesworth.
All these men and women were so personally revived, surrendered to God and filled with faith and the Holy Spirit that God would often bring his manifest presence in power to groups of people, churches and sometimes whole nations where they ministered.
So, although we cannot determine, let alone predict, how great the revival we are praying for will be, we can rest assured that if we persist in prayer (with the persistent widow attitude; Luke 18:1-8) and seek God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, at the very least we will experience personal revival. And if we lead a church and the church accepts it, we can expect a revival in our church as well.
Although the extent to which this revival spreads beyond us is ultimately determined by God, we help determine how deep this work in us is. This also seems to be the mind of Frank Bartleman, an intercessor for the Azusa Street revival of 1906, who stated: “The depth of our repentance will determine the depth of our revival”. Any genuine measure of personal revival where we are filled afresh with the Spirit of God will lead to the same Spirit impacting those around us as well. I believe this is the meaning behind John Wesley’s famous quote: “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.”
Personal revival is at the heart of every revival and is something we can all pray for and expect.
To finish with, I would like to share the story of Savonarola, most of chapter six from the book Revival Fire (by Wesley Duewl), to encourage us along these lines.
What encourages me each time I read this story, is that no matter how spiritually darkened and post-Christian the West now is, personal revival is always possible for each of us. The depth of this revival in us is somewhat determined by us, just as it was for Savonarola. In other words, the degree to which we are willing to surrender wholeheartedly to God and cooperate with his grace working inside of us, determines how intimate with and filled by God we will be. And this “power from on high” (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:8) we receive when we are filled with the Spirit always leads to an overflow and an impact on the world around us.
A Monk’s Revival
When revival came to Florence, Italy, in 1496-98, God’s human instrument was the Italian Roman Catholic monk Savonarola. When Savonarola’s revival began, Martin Luther was just a small boy. Savonarola was shocked by the vice and immorality of the world about him in Italy and by the corruption he knew existed in the Roman Catholic Church. As a youth he would walk beside the River Po, singing to God and weeping for the sins, the injustices, and the poverty of the people about him. He wept and grieved over the lewdness, luxury, and cruelty of many leaders of the church. He would lie for hours prostrate on the altar steps in the church, weeping and praying about the sins of the age and the sins of the church.
What can one unknown monk do in an age of immorality both in society and in the only church existing at the time? Although he was a devout Catholic, Savonarola’s prayers and spirit-filled life helped prepare the way for the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther called him a Protestant martyr. His life is another glorious testimony that one prayer warrior by the grace of God can be used to turn the tide and prepare the way for a mighty revival.
An Old Testament Prophet in a New Testament World
… [Savonarola] slipped away without first telling his family and entered a monastery to begin a life of fasting and prayer. He was desperate to see God send revival.
For years Savonarola studied Scripture, waited for God, and prayed. Suddenly one day God gave him a vision: the heavens opened and a voice commanded him to announce the future calamities of the church to the people. Filled with a new powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit, Savonarola began to preach to the people.
When the Spirit of God came upon him, the voice of Savonarola thundered as he denounced the sins of the people. Revival power gripped the whole area. Savonarola’s audience – men and women, poets and philosophers, craftsmen and laborers – all sobbed and wept. People walked the streets so gripped by conviction from the Holy Spirit that they were half-dazed and speechless.
On several occasions while seated in the pulpit, all in the church would see Savonarola’s face seemingly illuminated with a heavenly glow, and he would sit in the pulpit lost in prayer or in a trance for up to five hours at a time. The smaller churches could not hold the crowds that came to hear him, so for eight years Savonarola preached in the large cathedral in Florence, Italy. People came in the middle of the night, waiting for the cathedral doors to open so they could hear his message. Savonarola prophesied he would be with them only eight years.
The Spirit of the Lord was upon Savonarola. He prophesied that the city ruler, the pope, and the king of Naples would all die within a year, and so they did. For months he predicted that God would punish Florence with an invasion from across the Alps. King Charles VIII of France and his army crossed the Alps and prepared to attack. Savonarola went out alone to meet them. He faced the French army single-handed and twice persuaded Charles to turn back and not attack Florence.
The wicked city government was overthrown, and Savonarola taught the people to set up a democratic form of government. The revival brought tremendous moral change. The people stopped reading vile and worldly books. Merchants made restitution to the people for the excessive profits they had been making. Hoodlums and street urchins stopped singing sinful songs and they began to sing hymns in the streets. Carnivals were forbidden and forsaken. Huge bonfires were made of worldly books and obscene pictures, masks, and wigs. Children marched from house to house in procession singing hymns and calling everyone to repent and empty their house of every “vanity.”
A great octagonal pyramid of worldly objects was erected in the public square in Florence. It towered in seven stages sixty feet high and 240 feet in circumference. While bells tolled, the people sang hymns and the fire burned, reminiscent of Paul’s revival in Ephesus centuries before (Acts 19:18-20).
The corrupt pope, the cardinals, and the priests were outraged. In time, the political and religious enemies incited a rough mob against Savonarola. They battered down the doors of the sanctuary of the convent where he was staying and captured him.
Savonarola was severely tortured as his enemies tried to get him to confess to heresy … Finally Savonarola and two companion monks were brought out to be executed before a mob of thousands of onlookers. An awesome silence settled down over the crowd. Savonarola’s last words were, “Should I not die willingly for Him who suffered so much for me?” He then communed so deeply with God that he seemed unware of what was happening around him. He and his two friends were hanged in the public square, and then their bodies were burned.
One Man Can Change the World
One lone man, totally surrender to God, burning with passion for revival in the church and the nation and salvation of the people, had for several years turned the tide against evil in the church, government, and the lives of the people. If God could use one Savonarola to bring such a mighty revival at such an impossible time, what could He not do in answer to a movement of truly prevailing prayer by the thousands of believers and Christian leaders who love Christ today? But will we prepare the way of the Lord through prayer like Savonarola did? Will we feed on God’s Word and memorize much of the Bible by heart as he did? Will we spend the night and hours in prayer and fasting as he did?
Savonarola feared neither men nor demons. He exposed sin wherever he found it. He was a pioneer of the Protestant Reformation, though he was a loyal Roman Catholic even when the pope excommunicated him. Savonarola replied from his pulpit that we must obey God rather than man.