What troubles you most: the war in Afghanistan, the thought of small groups in more than sixty nations plotting their part in terror attacks in their quest for world domination, the AIDS plague, the breakup of so many marriages, the general moral and spiritual condition of our time, the drug and alcohol toll on both youth and adults that claim more lives annually than all the current military conflicts large and small?
Next question: “What can we do about these perplexing problems that defy the solutions suggested by the acclaimed experts of our time?”
Historically, in times like these, we’ve turned to prayer with amazing results.
As the eighteenth century dawned, North America was in a sad spiritual condition. Morality was in swift decline and churches were having little impact on the lives of members and communities but better days were ahead.
In 1727, twenty-four year old Jonathan Edwards, a recent graduate of Yale, was called to assist his grandfather, the pastor of the Congregational Church of Northampton, Massachusetts. Two years later, his grandfather died and young Edwards became the pastor of one of the largest, wealthiest and most cultured congregations in New England.
Concerned about the spiritual temperature of his church, Edwards began to pray for a spiritual awakening. In 1735, his prayers were answered, bringing what has become known as the first great awakening in America. Lives were changed, marriages were strengthened, churches were filled and crime declined so much that courts were often closed because there no cases to try. Big problems had given way to big prayers and the answers made history.
In his book about this first great awakening, author James Stewart pointed out that it began in the ordinary course of a faithful pastor’s ministry, adding: “The blessing was not the outcome of a well-organized and highly-advertised evangelistic effort. It was a supernatural work of God in answer to the prayers of a godly leader of his flock.”
When John Wesley was born, in 1703, moral and spiritual conditions in England were deplorable. Wesley lived nearly a century and Kuiper, the historian, wrote that England at the time of Wesley’s death could hardly be recognized as the place into which he had been born because the Wesleyan revival had transformed it. The strong emphasis on prayer and outreach to formerly neglected people had changed everything.
North America’s greatest spiritual awakening came in 1858 and had its roots in two sources: noon hour prayer meetings started by Jeremiah Lanphier, a quiet businessman turned missionary for the North Dutch Reformed Church in Lower Manhattan and evangelistic meetings held in Hamilton, Ontario by Dr. Walter and Phoebe Palmer.
Within six months, ten thousand businessmen were gathering daily for prayers in New York and during the next year one million praying people became active in churches. Great problems were confronted by great prayers and these praying ones won, with the effects reaching many other parts of the world.
We must dare to pray big prayers to solve the big problems we’re facing today.
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org