Friday, May 8, 2009

The Layman's Prayer Revival

“Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” prayed Jeremiah Lanphier out of his passion for the salvation of the residents of New York City. On September 23, 1857, he knelt in prayer, alone, shortly after the noon hour. Lanphier’s intercession ascended from the upper lecture room of the Old North Dutch Reformed Church. His heart was broken for the purposeless, despondent masses of New Your. A single lay missionary, he had been wed to his ministry of personal evangelism, street preaching, and door-to-door witnessing. His burden for the throngs of people had forced him to his knees. Could he have ever imagined what would soon come about? Within a matter of months, more than fifty thousand people would gather daily for prayer! The Layman’s Prayer Revival proves Matthew Henry’s old saying: When God desires to do a fresh work, He sets His people to praying.

The power of prayer was demonstrated in the union prayer meetings inaugurated by Jeremiah Lanphier. Calls to prayer had begun in some denominations before the New York union meetings, but the most significant meeting began at the North Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street.

New York City was in deep spiritual decline. The old North Dutch Reformed Church downtown employed Jeremiah Lanphier to influence their area for the gospel. He had bee converted in the year 1842. He was a forty-year-old single businessman filled with enthusiasm. Like most leader of this revival Lanphier was primarily a layman.

Lanphier began his assignment on July 1, 1857. He put together a folder describing the church and commending his lay missionary work. He gave the folder to everyone he met. He passed out Bibles and tracts. While he found some success, he was overwhelmed at the enormity of the task. Thus, he prayed, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” This led him to a novel approach.
Lanphier had found prayer to be a great source of comfort. He had noticed how the businessmen were “hurrying along their way, often with care worn faces, and anxious, restless gaze.” He presented to the church board the idea of a prayer meeting for businessmen. Their response was less than enthusiastic, but they agreed to allow Lanphier to proceed. Determining that the noon hour was the most feasible time for prayer meeting, he printed and distributed a handbill publicizing the meeting. He promoted the meeting with great zeal.

Lanphier began praying alone at noon September 23, 1857. Soon one more joined Lanphier until by the end of the hour there were six. The following Wednesday there were 20, and on the third, 30-40. Those present determined to meet daily rather than weekly. On October 14 over 100 came. At this point many in attendance were unsaved persons, many of whom were under great conviction of sin. By the end of the second month three large rooms were filled. Prayer meetings were springing up all over the city and in other cities across the nation. The prayer meetings led to many conversions, and the revival was so popular that local papers reported the conversion numbers.

One of the most moving accounts came from Kalamazoo, Michigan:

At our very first meeting someone put in such a request as this: “A praying wife requests the prayers of this meeting for her unconverted husband, that he may be converted and made a humble disciple of the Lord Jesus.” All at once a stout burly man arose and said, “I am that man, I have a pious praying wife, and this request must be for me. I want you to pray for me.” As soon as he sat down, in the midst of sobs and tears, another man arose and said, “I am that man, I have a praying wife. She prays for me. And now she asked you to pray for me. I am sure I am that man, and I want you to pray for me.” Five other men made similar statements.

“The only place you’ll ever find power coming before prayer,” commented one elderly saint, “is in the dictionary.” The Layman’s prayer revival of 1857 bears this out. If God is stirring your hearts, pray for revival.

Pastor Jeremy Lee
Twining Baptist Church

This story comes from Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid. Firefall How God has Shaped History through Revival (Wipf and Stock Publishers 1997)

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