The 1840’s and 1850’s in the United States were largely marked by spiritual decline and lethargy.Why? There was widespread disappointment in the nation during the 1840’s as predictions for Christ’s return failed to materialize. There was also a widening sense of division throughout society and the church over the polarizing issue of slavery. Meanwhile, the nation was experiencing a surge in financial prosperity because of industrialization, railways, the gold rush, and farming abundance. It was good times for the USA, and Satan did not waste the opportunity to steal hearts with the promise of easy money.
But God did not turn His heart away from His people. He began to draw the hearts of many believers across the continent to pray. In July 1857, God sent a 48 year old businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier to start a missions work in downtown Manhattan, just off Fulton Street. Although church attendance was low in his city, as well as across the nation, Jeremiah did not give in to discouragement. He knew he had to pray.
He initiated a prayer meeting in the middle of the city at noon on September 23, 1857. That day, he began the time alone as he lifted his voice to the Lord. For 30 minutes he labored in prayer faithfully by himself. Finally a few others joined him that day, and they finished their time of intercession with 6 believers gathered.
In the 2nd week, something had changed. A great financial crisis had swept across the city causing many businesses to close down. At Jeremiah’s prayer meeting, the numbers swelled to 20 participants that day. The next week, that number doubled to 40 attenders, and they decided they needed to start meeting daily to pray. By November, they were holding three prayer meetings simultaneously in different locations.
They gathered simply to pray. They had simple rules: No long prayers. Everyone had an opportunity to pray if they felt led. Divisive debates were set aside. People prayed for one another and for the salvation of the lost by name. Those gathered held the deep conviction that only God could change lives and rebuild what was broken. They gathered to pray regardless of their denomination or theological distinctives or style of intercession. The unsaved would visit these meetings, and many would end up giving their hearts to the Lord. The businessmen were key in this move of God, becoming the most ardent in sharing their faith, giving testimonies of God’s handiwork, and praying for the lost.
Reports of revival started emerging in early 1858. It spread across the city and then across the country. Prayer meetings and evangelism powerfully took hold in new towns and cities. It even spread to cities in Europe and Africa and India. 6 months after the very first prayer meeting, 10,000 businessmen were meeting daily to pray in New York city. 50,000 were saved in that city during this time. What started so small, so humbly, by faith would continue to spread and to ripple its effects for years afterwards.
QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS:
1. Why do you think Jeremiah Lanphier was so convinced of the power of prayer? What motivates a Christian in any time of history to grow in their conviction and persistence in prayer?
2. The Fulton Street revival used simple rules in their original meetings that were unusual for their time. What is one thing that you could try in your own times of group prayer to increase your awareness of God?
3. The businessmen of the revival were marked by a bold and lavish faith in the Gospel. Which groups of believers in our city are normally overlooked but may possibly be ignited for God’s purposes of spiritual awakening?