Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Prayer in a Time of Crisis

Dannah Gresh: We’re living through a crisis like we’ve never seen before, and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminds us it’s a time of great opportunity.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I believe God is wanting to use the dramatic events of the last few months to cause us to realize how desperately we need the Lord. Any faith we may have had in our government or political parties has long since disappeared. And in this time of fear and uncertainty, I’m asking the Lord to use all of these events to draw people’s hearts to Himself.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Brokenness: The Heart God Revives, for March 30, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

When our nation and our world faces a crisis, the people of God are given an amazing opportunity. We can show the world the power of prayer. We’re going to explore that today by listening to the story of the 1857 Prayer Revival.

We brought you this story before on Revive Our Hearts, but as we watched the world get turned upside down over the last few weeks, our team realized this story would take on a whole new resonance, and we wanted to play it for you again. I think it will inspire you to pray. It shows us that God can use regular people in powerful ways when they cry out to the Lord.

Let me set the stage: In 1857, the economy was humming, and people were making money, thinking the prosperity would last a long time. Just like early 2020, the stock market was booming back in the early part of 1857. But all of us have just seen how our expectations for the future can be shattered in a matter of weeks.

In 1857, there was no coronavirus, but there was a severe economic downturn and a stock market crash.

Lyle Dorsett: There was a financial panic that began in the Philadelphia Banks on September 25–26.

Dannah: This is historian Lyle Dorsett.

Lyle Dorsett: And these things spread all over the U.S.; they went up into Canada. And by mid-October, there was a run on a number of banks. And you have, certainly, from October to the end of 1857, what was known as the financial panic of 1857.

Man: New York Observer, October 15, “Thousands daily thrown out of work without a moment’s notice. Fortunes, which had been founded with rare skill and industry, nurtured through every previous change of season, crumbled or vanished like a dream.”

Dannah: Just a few weeks before this financial crisis, God had called a man named Jeremiah Lanphier to pray, and he was not a famous preacher.

Jonathan Brownson: Well, Jeremiah Lanphier was a businessman.

Dannah: This is Jonathan Brownson, who’s headed up prayer movements in the United States. He’s telling us about Jeremiah Lanphier, who God used in that time of crisis.

Jonathan Brownson: He moved to New York City to start a garment business, moved to a location that was kind of in the center of Manhattan. He was converted in a church in Manhattan at noon time, which has significance to the later part of the story. After his conversion, he was asked by the consistory or the leadership of the North Dutch Church if he would serve as a lay missionary for them.

Nancy: The church decided to hire this lay missionary because they were losing members.

Dannah: Church attendance had been shrinking for about a decade. At the same time, there was new excitement about cutting-edge technology and business.

Nancy: As the pace of life increased, people seemed less attuned to spiritual things, and disagreements over immigration and slavery created a deep sense of tension.

Dannah: Here’s Lyle Dorsett again.

Lyle Dorsett: In the 1850s, the nation was growing rapidly. There was a rapid growth of urban and industrial areas. Cities were booming. Industries were growing. Rail lines were being planted all over the country. A lot of workers were brought into the country to work.

And there were always tensions with these things. Anytime you have new people come into a country, or you have vast growth, it just dislocates people socially, psychologically, emotionally.

Nancy: In this environment, the new lay missionary got to work. This is how the church described Lanphier’s new role.

Man: “The consistory, anxious that in the spiritual destitution of this part of the city, suitable investigations and labors may be employed in order that the poor may have the gospel preached unto them, have obtained the services of a pious layman, Mr. J. C. Lanphier. He will devote his time and efforts to explore this lower part of the city.”

Jonathan Brownson: Jeremiah’s main objective or goal, when they hired him in July of 1857, was to go out knocking on doors of the neighboring residences and invite people to Sunday school and come to church and to fill the pews. So he began doing that in July of 1857 and worked on that for a couple of months.

And we don’t know all of what went on in his mind, but I imagine him being pretty exhausted after a lot of door knocking and deciding that he was going to start knocking on heaven’s door instead of on resistant earthly doors.

Nancy: Believers were meeting together, asking God to revive His people. This was essentially the same idea, only at noon.

Kevin Adams: That was the different thing about this prayer thing—the fact that it was a mid-day prayer meeting.

Dannah: This is pastor and author Kevin Adams.

Kevin Adams: Of course, there were prayer meetings, many prayer meetings, held at all different times in the past, but a mid-day prayer meeting was quite odd.

Nancy: The prayer meetings, initiated by Lanphier, were to take place at the same time of day that he had been converted.

Kevin Adams: What he felt very strongly was that he wanted the people (mainly the men who were working the business area of New York) during their lunch time to come out and to pray and to intercede. He really felt a burden for this.

Jonathan Brownson: The idea was that people would take five minutes or ten minutes, or however much time they could take, during the noon hour, and they would come over and share prayer requests or be able to be a part of the prayer meeting for a short period of time and then go back to their work.

Kevin Adams: So he started by talking to some of his friends. He handed out some tracts and then invited people to come along for the first prayer meeting.

Jonathan Brownson: September 23, 1857, was the first prayer meeting that was held under Jeremiah Calvin Lanphier’s leadership.

Kevin Adams: He waited for half an hour and nobody turned up at all! You can imagine how he felt.

Jonathan Brownson: I would imagine he was pretty discouraged after a half an hour of being there alone.

Kevin Adams: But by the end of the hour, five people turned up and began to pray.

Dannah: The stock market crashed two days after this initial prayer meeting. God knew people needed to pray, and He prepared this lay minister, who had no idea what God was about to do.

Jonathan Brownson: It didn’t take long for the meeting to multiply.

Kevin Adams: He said, “Next week let’s pray together again.” This time twenty people turned up. The week after that a fewmorepeople turned up.

Lyle Dorsett: A week later, the Fulton Street prayer meetings in New York met every day rather than once or twice a week.

Jonathan Brownson: I’m convinced that people in the city now had time to pray because they had lost their jobs, and they now were deeply aware of their need to pray because of what had been happening financially.

Dannah: And doesn’t that speak to us today? A lot of us are spending less time driving—many of us are working at home. This is an opportunity to take more time to pray. And with kids home from school, we can pray with them, too.

Now, here’s one important difference between the calamity of 1857 and the struggles we’re going through: When people lost their jobs at that time, they responded by gathering together to pray.

We’re about to hear about some of those large crowds, but we can’t gather together like that. We’re being instructed to stay home as much as possible. But I’m grateful for a couple of things: God can hear our prayers anywhere. And second, in 1857 they couldn’t video chat—but we can. God gave us new and creative methods to connect to one another in prayer during this time.

The important thing is that we pray as our first response to the crisis brought on by the coronavirus. That’s what happened among many in 1857.

Kevin Adams: There are always two results to disasters: One is to turn against God, and the other is to turn to God. And it seemed that a number of people did turn to God.

Jonathan Brownson: I think we see from the Lord Jesus Christ what’s going on here.

Jesus says, “It is almost impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus has very little to say positively about riches. “It is more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”

Jesus doesn’t love rich men or women less than others, but what He’s saying here is that we lean on anything before we will lean on Him.

Bob Bakke: If you were going to put a seed of revival anywhere, you would want to put it right in the heart of such calamity.

Dannah: This is Bob Bakke, who’s led prayer gatherings for Revive Our Hearts.

Bob Bakke: It’s easy to imagine why the Lanphier prayer meeting exploded because everyone, especially the lower Manhattans, were threatened with financial ruin, and it didn’t take long for all of New York to be showing up at the churches for prayer.

Man: In the revival in New York about twenty-five large prayer meetings were held every day.

Nancy: Soon, nearly every auditorium in New York City was being used at noon every day for prayer.

Man: Not to mention the regular or extra meetings held.

Kevin Adams: As time goes on, there is an increase in attendance and more and more people come along.

Man: In fact, 1,000 persons assembled during business hours to spend an hour in prayer.

Nancy: In fact,those prayer meetings spilled over the noon hour and ultimately the churches of New York City were crowded with people praying from early in the morning until late at nightthrough all hours of the day!

Kevin Adams: That is about 2,000 people praying in different parts of New York every single day.

Man: An even greater meeting numbering nearly 3,000 . . . 

Nancy: According to one account, the famous newspaper editor, Horace Greeley, set out to see for himself how many people were actually praying at noon. He drove from one location to another—one meeting to another. He lost count after 10,000 people.

Kevin Adams: It’s a growing thing.

Jonathan Brownson: This is hymn number one of the Fulton Street hymnbook, which was used by those who gathered at the corner of Fulton and William to pray, and it goes like this:

In thy great name, O Lord, we come,
To worship at thy feet;
Oh pour thy Holy Spirit down
On all that now shall meet.
Teach us to pray, and praise, and hear,
And understand thy Word;
To feel thy blissful presence near,
And trust our living Lord.

Nancy: The words of this song expressed the hearts of those who gathered together to pray. They weren’t just drawn together to get their financial troubles solved. They met because the Holy Spirit was compelling them to pray.

Jonathan Brownson: People were gathering, businessman were gathering together to say that they wanted and were needing the reviving of the Spirit of God in their lives and in their communities. The most important person at the meetings was not Jeremiah. It was the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Man: All sorts of denominations were involved together in praying.

Jonathan Brownson: This was an inter-denominational movement.

Kevin Adams: The first week involved at least three or four denominations, and there were at least six people involved in that first meeting in September. It continued like that.

Man: If there is any suggestion or proposition by any person, say, “This is simply a prayer meeting,” and that they are out of order and call on some brother to pray.

Jonathan Brownson: So it was clear from the start that these were to be union prayer meetings.

Kevin Adams: They wanted to put aside many of the arguments—and there had been some serious arguing in the church in the past twenty or thirty years.

They knew that God was answering prayer. And in the light of God answering prayer, they saw their differences as small, and they put them aside.

Jonathan Brownson: It was an interesting combination because there was a value placed on things being done decently and in order.

Man: Give out the closing hymn five minutes before 1:00.

Jonathan Brownson: But there was tremendous passion in the prayer requests themselves. And it’s just a moving experience to read through some of the prayer requests that came in and to see the heart that’s behind these petitions.

Woman: Dear brethren, for years I’ve been praying for the conversion of my husband and two brothers.

Jonathan Brownson: And so these prayer requests came from all over the world.

Woman: I pray for Christ’s sake that they may be brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus.

Nancy: And, as you’ve read a lot of these requests—hundreds or thousands of them, maybe, you’ve read—what’s the theme of them?

Jonathan Brownson: Well, there’s a consistent theme that fits with Jeremiah’s own passion for these prayer meetings. Since he found Christ—since he accepted Christ at noon timemany of the prayer requests are prayers for those who don’t know Christ.

Man: A young man residing in this city, who came a few years earlier from England, where his parents are now residing, he being the only member of his family unconverted, is presented by a Christian friend who desires his immediate conversion.

Jonathan Brownson: Oftentimes it will be, “Pray for a son. Pray for a daughter.”

Woman: She is a mother. Oh may she be turned to the knowledge of Christ and be able to bring up her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Kevin Adams: Not only were people praying forpeople, but non-Christians were coming to the prayer meetings and actually being converted in the prayer meetings. They began to seek God!

And then, of course, as the meetings grew, many who had prayed, came back and reported answers to prayer. So as the meetings developed, you had people asking for prayer, people praying, andpeople coming back and saying what God had actually done.

Jonathan Brownson: So it’s prayers for individual conversions, and it’s prayers for revival of churches and communities, which I think it is fascinating to think about the impact of those prayers on those communities and cities down through the ages.

Kevin Adams: It wasn’t just a prayer. I guess there were a number of people celebrating the Prayer Revival would just be tempted to think, “Right. The answer now is to have prayer meetings. Let’s throw preaching to one side. Let’s throw teaching to one side. Let’s put evangelism to one side, and let’s pray to God and let God do everything.”

I can imagine a number of people responding like that. But the reality of the situation is that Lanphier himself, while he does these prayer meetings, is actively involved evangelistically.

He is actively giving out tracts, for instance—something that worked in the mid-19th century. He is actively encouraging people from his church and from the churches he worked with to witness to their friends and to bring their friends along to meetings. He encourages all these sorts of things. He encourages people in their own churches.

What happened, of course, as the revival spread, the churches themselves got infused.

Nancy: The intensity of the prayer revival that began on Fulton Street, in the fall of 1857, waned after several months. However, there was a daily noon-time prayer meeting that continued in New York City for 103 years.

Dannah: And that prayer revival that began in New York City spread across the country, and people were called to pray everywhere. It’s something we long to see happen today.

We first brought you this story on Revive Our Hearts in 2007, and listen to what Jonathan Brownson said at that time:

Jonathan Brownson: It’s really a question of whether we will pray out of desperation or devastation. Will it take some disaster, some financial collapse, to bring us to our knees?

Dannah: Well, now we are going through a disaster. Very clearly, it’s time to pray with the kind of intensity they showed in 1857.

I want to play you another quote. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth was talking about this story in 2016. In the United States, people were growing more and more divisive. They were worried about the presidential election, and acts of violence were filling the news.

Nancy: I believe God is wanting to use the dramatic events of the last few months to cause us to realize how desperately we need the Lord. We've watched horrific acts of violence and terrorism unfold around the world and even close to home. Any faith we may have had in our government or political parties has long since disappeared.

And in this time of fear and uncertainty, I'm asking the Lord to use all of these events to draw people's hearts to Himself. As we pray for revival, we need to realize that God, in His mercy, His kindness and His Providence may bring about whatever it takes to cause our nation to be desperate for Him—just as people were in 1857.

Dannah: Whatever it takes. We don’t know all of God’s plans in the middle of the pandemic and financial downturn, but we can use our current situation as a wake-up call to cry out to Him. We do pray that He will end the suffering people are going through, and we also pray He will use this suffering to call people to Himself.

Jonathan Brownson: We pray that God will have mercy. But that mercy may be shown in bringing us to a place of dependence.

Dannah: And that’s where we are—in a place of dependence. We don’t have to wallow in despair or be filled with worry. We can do what the church did in 1857—cry out to the Lord.

We can’t physically fill churches the way they did in the 1857 revival because we’re stuck at home. But each move of God has its own characteristics. He’s provided technology and video conferencing. So, there’s nothing to keep you from joining your hearts with others in prayer.

In 1857, God used Jeremiah Lanphier, a lay person to mobilize a prayer movement. That means God could also use you. What is He calling you to do in the middle of our current crisis? I can’t think of any better way to respond to what we’ve heard than to pray right now.

Lord, we do cry out to You. I cry out to You, first in praise that we have seen people rising up in prayer. I’ve heard stories of prayer gatherings that have been so small, burgeoning in the last few weeks. We pray that You would continue to do that. Multiply the prayers, Lord. Call them.

And, Lord, as You do that, would You root us and ground us in truth. Root us and ground us in love. And may that love be perfect so that it casts the fear out.

I pray that the lost world would look at Your Church and see peace. I pray that the lost world would look at Your Church and see helpers. I pray that the lost world would look at Your Church and see sacrificial givers as we provide practical needs and help to those who are most afraid and who are suffering.

God, we pray that You would end this terrible disease, but we also pray that You would use this to draw us to You.

I pray that You would speak to each woman listening, that You would tell her what she is called to do right now. Maybe it’s praying with her children or making a Zoom call prayer with her extended family or jumping on the prayer meeting that her church is hosting that she was reluctant to attend.

But, God, would You speak to her right now where she is. Would You help each of us to be obedient to what You are calling us to do. In the name of Jesus we pray this, amen.

Let me tell you about a way you can stay connected with the Body of Christ during this time.

I’m hosting a Monday night Bible Study for mothers and daughters ages seven to twelve. We’ve already started, but it’s not too late to join us. We’re studying how to overcome lies about beauty and worth. And maybe your daughter’s not struggling with those issues right now, but we want to fill her with so much truth about inner beauty and her worth in Christ that when the beauty and lies assault her, she’s so full of truth that there’s no room for those lies.

We’ve already started meeting, but it’s not too late to join us every Monday night. To learn more, go to ReviveOurHearts.com.

And here’s another way to stay connected to the Body of Christ:

Revive Our Hearts has a regular live video conference. Erin Davis and I will be hosting it, and we’ll be hearing from godly women with practical and biblical advice for dealing with this crisis. We’re going to open the Word of God together every day, and we’re going to pray together.

We’re hoping this is a daily encouragement to you. Like everyone, we’re adapting plans rapidly. And by the time I’m done recording this, some of the details may be different. So to get the latest on how you can join the livestream, visit ReviveOurHearts.com, and look for information on Grounded. That’s the name of this new live webcast.

Tomorrow we’ll hear from a sexual abuse survivor. Even after a terrible trauma in her life, she’ll tell you why you can trust God to write your story. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Calling you to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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