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!