Revivals have never been dominated by eloquent or clever preaching. If you had timed the meetings of old with a stopwatch, you would have found far more minutes given to prayer, weeping and repentance than to sermons. In the “Prayer Meeting Revival” of 1857-59 there was virtually no preaching at all. Yet it apparently produced the greatest harvest of any spiritual awakening in American history: estimates run to 1,000,000 converts across the United States, out of a national population at that time of only 30,000,000. That would be proportionate to 9,000,000 today falling on their knees in repentance.
How did this happen? A quiet businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier
started a Wednesday noon prayer meeting in a Dutch Reformed church here
in New York City, no more than a quarter mile from Wall Street. The
first week, six people showed up. The next week, twenty came. The next
forty . . . and then they decided to have daily meetings.
“There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, just an incredible movement of
people to pray,” reports J. Edwin Orr. “The services were not given
over to preaching. Instead, anyone was free to pray.”
During the fourth week, the Panic of 1857 hit; the bond market
crashed, and the first banks failed. (Within a month, more than 1400
banks had collapsed.) People began calling out to God more seriously
than ever. Lanphier’s church started having three noontime prayer
meetings in different rooms. John Street Methodist Church, a few doors
east of Broadway, was packed out as well. Soon Burton’s Theater on
Chambers Street was jammed with 3,000 people each noon.
The scene was soon replicated in Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia,
Washington, and cities throughout the southern United States. By the
next spring 2,000 Chicagoans were gathering each day in the Metropolitan
Theater to pray. A young 21-year-old, newly arrived in the city, felt
his first call to do Christian work in those meetings. He wrote his
mother that he was going to start a Sunday school class. His name?
Dwight L. Moody!
Does anyone really think that America today is lacking preachers,
books, Bible translations, and neat doctrinal statements? What we really
lack is the passion to call upon the Lord until He opens the heavens
and shows Himself powerful.
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn
Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in
a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend
of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the
Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge
throughout the world.