As we conclude a powerful week of prayer today in East Grinstead, let me encourage you with one of my favourite prayer meeting stories. Whether you have been to our meetings or you read this in another part of the world – allow these words to catch your attention.
On 21st September 1857, a businessman named Jerimiah Lanphier invited workers to join him for a Wednesday lunchtime prayer meeting. His purpose was to reverse a decline in church attendance & Christian living.
On the first Wednesday he paced up & down the room borrowed from the Dutch Reformed church, fear & anxiety growing as the minutes ticked by. No workers appeared, no prayers came, only his. Jeremiah persevered, he decided to pray the full hour as publicised. Then, as the clock turned 12.30, he heard the first steps into the room. Eventually six came, ready to pour out their hearts for those outside of Christ.
Twenty came the second Wednesday. Within six months, 10,000 businessmen were gathering daily in New York for prayer with the persevering Lanphier rejoicing that he had pressed through in that first half hour!
The writer John Piper says, ‘Undoubtedly the greatest revival in New York's colorful history was sweeping the city, and it was of such an order to make the whole nation curious. There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray.’
God was clearly working behind the scenes to bring together a set of catalysts for such an underground movement which so quickly fountained above the surface.
Those who came to the meetings were broken men & women. Another great depression had come like a thief in the night. Wall Street crashed on October 14th. Forget our own Credit Crunch & the Lehman Brothers – here the entire economic system of the country collapsed in just one hour!
Heman Humphy writes of that day: ‘Like a yawning earthquake it shook down the palaces of the rich, no less than the humble dwellings of the poor, & swallowed up their substance. Men went to bed dreaming of their vast hoarded treasures & awoke in the morning hopeless bankrupts.’
From that first half hour of torment, Dr Edwin Orr estimates that one million nominal believers had come back to Christ & one million more unbelievers had been converted in the two years that followed. 50,000 converts in New York alone. What began with six people spread nationwide, by 1859 to Ulster, down into Ireland, into Wales, Scotland & England. Over one million converts were added to the churches in Great Britain.
In this new day of austerity, where banks collapse & economies are often false – where are the Jeremiah Lanphiers who will pray, who will not despise the day of small things, & who will believe that God is already at work behind our backs to sweep in another lost generation?