Corruption in business. Corruption in politics. Greed. Immorality. Occult practices. Atheism. Agnosticism. Apathy and indifference to God.
Sound familiar? Probably. But this isn’t referring to the current state of our nation. This is the way things were in the US all the way back in 1857. But they didn’t stay that way. Why not?
The First Prayer Meeting
In July of 1857, a single merchant gave up his business in order to reach people on the streets of New York City. When the going got rough and the enormity of the task overwhelmed him, he would turn to prayer for comfort and revitalization.
As he watched businessmen pass him on the streets “hurrying along their way, often with care worn faces, and anxious, restless gaze,” he had an idea. Maybe prayer could do the same thing for them as it did for him. So, he began a weekly noonday prayer meeting for businessmen.
The first meeting was held on September 23, 1857, and six people attended. The next week 20 people came. By the third meeting, they had 30-40 people and decided to meet daily. Within 6 months, 10,000 New York businessmen (out of a population of 800,000) were meeting daily to pray in various locations.
The revival spread from New York to Philadelphia and Boston. Newspaper headlines all over the country spread the news as prayer meetings began to pop up in every major city. Soon, flames of revival burned throughout the entire United States and even into Great Britain.
In Chicago, one newspaper reported, “So far as the effects of the present religious movement are concerned, they are apparent to all. They are to be seen in every walk of life, to be felt in every phase of society. The merchant, the farmer, the mechanic—all who have been within their influence—have been incited to better things; to a more orderly and honest way of life. All have been more or less influenced by this excitement.”
The revival continued to spread until the beginning of the Civil War in 1860. Some say that even the war didn’t stop it. They maintain that 150,000 Confederate soldiers were converted and by the end of the war more than one-third of the Confederate army were professing Christians.
In all, over 1 million people came to Christ through the revival that started with a prayer meeting. At its peak, 50,000 people a week were being saved. The number of people who joined the church in 1858 alone amounted to almost 10% of the nation’s total church membership.
What Caused The Revival?
What did those New York businessmen do that sparked such a flame that it filled the entire nation with revival? Who were they?
In a sense, they were nobodies. They were not pastors and preachers. They were not trained Bible scholars. They were just simple people, willing to get on their knees in prayer. But what did they pray?
Most of their prayers were for salvation. People would write down their petitions for prayer for lost family members. Others would wander in from the streets and ask for prayer for their own salvation. In the Midwest, a bunch of women got together to pray for their unconverted husbands and every last one of them got saved.
They were such simple prayers, but the Spirit of the Lord fell on them in such a way that passersby were impacted and overcome with conviction themselves. There were no miraculous signs and wonders, no charismatic fiery preachers. There was just a deep sense of love among believers, regardless of denomination or social class, and prayer.
As we’ve been discussing during our Sunday services, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says,
If My people who are called by My name will 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.
That isn’t just a word for the ancient people of Israel. That isn’t just a word for the businessmen of 1857. That is a word for us, a word for right now. What could our prayer meetings start?