Face Down

January 14, 2013

by Brian Robertson

In 1857, an event took place that changed the spiritual direction of America. Similar to present-day happenings, the financial state of America was in turmoil. In August, the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed. This reverberated throughout the U.S. and especially Wall Street as 55 banks held interests in the company. Furthermore, a tanker reportedly sank at sea with 2 million in gold. On October 14, Wall Street crashed. If ever America needed God in her history, now seemed the time. The Old Dutch Reformed Church on the corner of Fulton and William Street in New York City was a dying church in a changing area. To combat their decline, the church called Jeremiah Lanphier as a missionary to the ever-changing metropolitan area of New York. Lanphier prayed about the situation, and God led him to hold a noon-day prayer meeting. For his part, Lanphier distributed pieces of paper all over New York (and especially Wall Street) simply asking the question, “How often shall I pray?” His intent was to give businessmen the opportunity to pray during their lunch time.

The doors to the third floor of the Consistory building adjacent to the church for prayer were opened September 23, 1857. Twelve o’ clock came. Fifteen minutes passed. No one. Twenty minutes. No one. Thirty minutes. Still, no one arrived. Lanphier was devastated and wondered if this opportunity would fail. Finally, he heard several sets of feet on the old staircase. Thump. Thump. Thump. To his surprise, six men (including 1 Presbyterian, 1 Baptist, 1 Dutch Refomed, and 1 Congregationalist) arrived and began to pray. The next week, twenty men showed up. The next week forty. It was at this meeting the decision was made to begin a daily “Noon-day Prayer Meeting.” Thus, the revival was birthed.

This movement has been affectionately referred to as the “Layman’s Prayer Revival” because during these days (1857-59), preachers did not play a large role in the awakening. America experienced revival from New York to San Francisco; however, the farther away from New York (the center) the movement grew, the more it waned in its power and influence. During these years, 3% (1 Mil) of the population of the U.S. (30 Mil) was saved. If 3% of the U.S. was saved today, there would be more than 9 million people added to the local church.

I mention this awakening because, in terms of its numerical effectiveness, it was the most effective revival/spiritual awakening in the history of our country. What is ironic to me is the simplicity that was present in the revival. As Roy Fish states, the meeting consisted of the following: (1) Open a meeting by singing from three to five verses of a hymn. (2) Offer prayer. (3) Read a portion of Scripture. (4) Say that the meeting is now open for prayers and exhortations, observing particularly the rules overhead, and inviting the brethren from abroad to take part in the services. (5) Read but one or two requests at a time, requiring a prayer to follow, such prayer to have special reference to the same. (6) In case of any suggestion or any proposition by any person, say this is simply a prayer meeting and that they are out of order, and call on some brother to pray. (7) Give out the closing hymn at five minutes before one o’ clock. Request the benediction from a clergyman, if one be present.

When I was in seminary, I asked a question that no one yet has given me a very good answer to. If Jesus says, “My house is to be a house of prayer (Matt 21:13),” then why do we spend the majority of the time in worship in other matters? I confess, I am as guilty as the next person as minimizing the role of prayer in worship, but in a day where God’s people should be on their faces and knees in humility before the Father, why do we focus on other matters. Our country is struggling morally, spiritually, and economically. We need Christ and the power of forgiveness and reconciliation found in the cross. As a result, I believe in the centrality of the Word of God and that it should be proclaimed in every meeting. I also believe in creative worship through music, interpretive dance, drama, puppetry, etc. based upon the gifts of the people present. I have heard people argue about music styles and the length of the sermon, but I have never heard one person complain about the lack of prayer in our services. What would happen if our worship services became prayer vigils for our country and world. A time of intercession for our lost neighbors and family members. A time of weeping over the lostness of this age. . . . I am afraid many have forgotten the power of prayer void of an introductory, offertory, pastoral, and ending prayer to the service lasting a total of around 4-5 minutes.

I am excited when I hear about churches such as the Brooklyn Tabernacle, which have placed a high priority on prayer. They have witnessed drug addicts, alcoholics, smokers, pedophiles, homosexuals, transgendered people, murderers, and sinners come to faith in Christ simply because they have passed the church and heard their names mentioned as a matter of prayer. Oh, that our homes would be a place of prayer. Oh, that God’s people would be a people of prayer by praying wholeheartedly for the spiritual lostness in our culture today. The Psalmist says, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Ps 126:5). Remember God’s promise to His people found in 2 Chronicles 7:14. May God bless those who are obedient to His Word!

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David R. Brumbelow

Great message. Great reminder.
May God do it again.
David R. Brumbelow


An account of what took place at Asbury college in 1970

Ron F. Hale

Thanks for the history and for a challening article.

Now for your question:
“When I was in seminary, I asked a question that no one yet has given me a very good answer to. If Jesus says, “My house is to be a house of prayer (Matt 21:13),” then why do we spend the majority of the time in worship in other matters?”

My answer would be …because few will show up to pray on a consistant basis without the music, message, etc. It could be that we need to learn how to conduct prayer meetings in a more effective manner instead of the usual litany of sick folk.


    Brian Robertson

    You are correct Ron. “Because few show up to pray.” I remember what the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” One area where I feel the church struggles is her sense of needing to “know” “how” to pray. I serve a middle-sized church where so many do not feel comfortable praying in public, and in some cases, certain people believe they are “NOT” to pray in public or speak in church at all. Our people are sick and hurting and most certainly need God’s Word, as it is the greatest medicine our world could seek. Yet, how can we preach without bathing the message in prayer or asking God’s cleansing in our lives? Too often, the pastor is ready to preach, but the people are not spiritually ready to hear or respond . . .

Norm Miller

Thank you, Brian, for this timely medicine.
Historically, I recall no revival that began without prayer — or without following (whether or not intentionally) the 2 Chron. 7.14 protocol.
Wonder what would happen if Trad. pastors were to, in concert, make the sacrifice and call themselves to revival praying, and then challenge church members to join them….
Whereas we tend to complain about all the social or moral ills of our nation as if they lie at the feet of sinners, IMHO, the strong implications from the above pssg. put our nation’s ills at the doorsteps of our churches. The fact is, our nation is sick because our churches are sick. If we want our land to be healed, then God has told us what to do. And as a former pastor and the son of one, I know that a church is not very likely to be ‘revived’ unless the pastor’s life is clean and pure before the Lord.
Many times I heard my dad preach about how to start a revival, and I think he was quoting Moody.
The advice was: Get a piece of chalk; draw a circle on the floor; get inside that circle; ask God to start a revival within that circle. The point? I need to be revived first before I can call others to it.
Another note on the power of prayer particularly about God’s provision: read the biography of George Mueller. — Norm

Brian Robertson

Norm, You are right when you say no revival has ever started void of prayer. This is something I have preached for years. Interestingly enough, no revival was sustained solely through preaching, music, or creativity in life or worship. Prayer was the central line item. Though, we remember not great “people of prayer” through history, but we remember the men and women who, in times of spiritual awakening, were the most visible forms of the movement. These include, but are not limited to: Theodore Freylinghuysen, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, R. L. Torrey, Gipsy Smith, and Billy Graham. Each of these men is noted for his part [mainly due to preaching] in the revival. Names such as Praying Hyde, George Mueller, and Bertha Smith are people we may not associate with particular movements, but it is from these knees and hearts that much of the spirituality in the movements continued as many people sought God’s heart through prayer. If one wants to be a man of God, he must first be a man who is in tune with the Father through prayer. Good comment Norm.

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