Following Jesus

Prayer for Revival

June 30, 2020 by

poster

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” —Oswald Chambers

On September 23, 1857, a middle-aged businessman from Albany, New York named Jeremiah Lanphier entered a hall he had reserved on Fulton Street in New York City belonging to the Old Dutch North Church. He went at noon, to use his lunch hour to pray.

Jeremiah had been asking God for guidance and found himself recharged by simple prayer. He decided to place advertisements and give out a flier he’d had printed, inviting other businessmen to join him in prayer for as much time as they could afford.

The times certainly called for God’s intervention. The nation was torn apart by political discord and the evil of slavery; civil war seemed inevitable. People’s hearts were consumed by hatred. The economy had collapsed; banks had failed, spreading chaos and panic. Major businesses were going bankrupt, and unemployment had skyrocketed. Many people were starving.

Moreover, false end-of-the-world predictions in the 1840s led to many mocking faith and a decline in church attendance. Jeremiah spent the first half hour of the noon meeting alone.

Yet he trusted. Jeremiah would later describe his intentions: “During the period which elapsed between my determination to establish the service and the first meeting, nothing occurred to give me the least hope of Christian Sympathy or support. But my trust in God, and my firm reliance on him, and feeling in my inmost soul that my purpose was in this humble way of prayer to honor him, I felt that such a meeting would become the instrument of his blessing to souls of men.”

Five other businessmen showed up for the last half hour of prayer.

Just three weeks later, Jeremiah’s prayer meetings had forty people in attendance and requests for daily gatherings. With the collapse of the stock market six months after the first prayer meeting, ten thousand people (out of a population of eight hundred thousand) were gathering for daily prayer in New York City alone, and there was interest and similar groups starting up in towns and cities across the nation.

Jeremiah’s meetings became known as the Fulton Street prayer meeting, or the Businessmen’s Awakening, since it was led and driven by working people from all backgrounds. Lawyers and doctors prayed alongside mechanics and messenger boys. Matthew Hale Smith, author of Marvels of Prayer, recounted:

At Fulton street, in answer to simple, fervent prayer, the sick have been healed, the destitute fed and clothed, the drunkards reformed, obdurate and hardened men subdued and converted, family alienations healed, prodigals brought back, business embarrassments removed, bad tempers mellowed, the very appetite for rum and tobacco changed.”

This layman’s movement evolved into the Third Great Awakening in America. This revival spread to the British Isles, Europe, and other parts of the world. It inspired the creation of faith-based social organizations such as the Evangelical Social Movement, the Bowery Mission in New York City, and in London, the founding of the Salvation Army.

Moreover, it paved the way for the evangelistic work of Dwight L. Moody, who over his preaching career is said to have addressed more than one hundred million people. Dwight Moody placed great emphasis on personal prayer and wrote that “Those who have left the deepest impression on this sin-cursed earth have been men and women of prayer. You will find that PRAYER has been the mighty power that has moved not only God, but man.”

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The prayerful work of this unassuming businessman from Albany, just north of where I live, has given me a lot to consider.

Prayer has simply become more fundamental for me over the last weeks. In our house we have prayed for more faith, for mercy for those suffering, and for justice for the oppressed. In desperation, we have prayed over the incomprehensible loss of life, for those families in mourning and facing financial ruin. And most of all we have prayed for the renewal of our world.

The Serenity Prayer has gone from being wise counsel lettered on the side of a coffee mug, to a mantra for hourly endurance as we all timorously continue through the experiences of this year.

God, grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference

In trying to find answers in troubled times, we were reminded that in the Bible when people and nations return to God in prayer and repentance, restoration and healing follow. When God instructs Solomon after the dedication of the Temple, he says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Dwight Moody said, “Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure.” So as together we face an uncertain future, may revived prayer guide our actions, and may we together look to God.

As Jeremiah discovered, when people do this, we never know what can happen.

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Jason Landsel

Jason lives in upstate New York at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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