Revive Our Hearts Podcast

— Audio Player —

The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakening

Leslie Basham: It's common to look back on past era's and idealize those earlier times, but it's not always accurate.

Dr. J. Edwin Orr: Not many people realize that in the wake of the American Revolution, there was a moral slump.

Leslie: This is Dr. J. Edwin Orr, a historian of revival.

Dr. Orr: Drunkenness was epidemic. Out of a population of five million, three hundred thousand were confirmed drunkards. They were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for July 19, 2018. J. Edwin Orr has provided a sobering picture of a time in history a lot of people celebrate. Some listeners might draw a comparison between that dark time and our own. That's why we need this message from Dr. Orr. He's going to tell us what to do when it feels like the darkness is coming at you from all sides. He's about to show us the power of prayer. Nancy, this talk from Dr. Orr is an appropriate follow up to Friday's program on revival.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Yesterday, we explored the importance of revival as part of our series on the True Woman Manifesto. Today we’d like to park a little longer on that topic by listening to a classic message from the late Dr. J. Edwin Orr. I actually had the privilege of knowing Dr. Orr personally. He was a leading historian on the subject of revival..

I had the joy of hearing this message for the first time decades ago. It was recorded back in the 70s, and I've listened to it many, many times over the years and have always found it to be so challenging and encouraging as well. As we hear how God has worked and moved in the past, it encourages our hearts that God could move again in a great spiritual awakening in our day.

Again, this message was recorded many years ago, so the sound quality isn’t great. But I think the message is timeless and so important today.

Sometimes when we look around at this nation and we see the great moral decline and we see huge issues within our churches and evangelicalism as a whole, we can get kind of despairing and think, It is so bad. I can't think of how revival actually could happen.

But in this message, Dr. Orr reminded us that around the time of the American Revolution, this nation as a whole was in a moral decline. But the problem was also seen in the churches.

Dr. Orr: The largest denomination at that time was the Methodists, and they were losing more members than they were gaining. The second largest was the Baptists. They said that "they had their most wintry season." The Presbyterians met in general assembly to deplore the ungodliness of the country. The Congregationalists were strongest in New England. Take a typical church—the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennox, Massachusetts said, "In sixteen years they had not taken one young person into fellowship."

The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians, who were even worse off. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning. He had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment.

The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, Bishop Madison, that "the Church is too far gone ever to be redeemed." Voltaire said, “Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years time.” And Thomas Paine preached this cheerfully all over America.

In case you think it was the hysteria of the moment, Kenneth Scott Latourette, the great church historian said, “It seemed as if Christianity were about to be ushered out of the affairs of men.” The churches had their backs to the wall—it seemed as if they were about to be wiped out. How did God change that situation? It came through the concert of prayer.

I must go back a little: There was a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh called John Erskine. He wrote a memorial. He called it, "Pleading with the People of Scotland and Elsewhere to Unite in Prayer for a Revival of Religion."

He sent a copy of his little book to Jonathan Edwards in New England. That great theologian was so moved, he wrote a response, which got longer than a letter, and finally he published it as a book. If my memory serves me right, the title of the book was as follows: A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of All God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. 

That was the title of the book, not the book itself. Nowadays, titles are often unrelated to the content. If you study weather, you don't read Gone with the Wind. It has nothing to do with weather. But in those days, a title was more like a synopsis of what was in the book. But don't miss the message of the title: A Humble Attempt [that was New England modesty] to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of All God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. That's what's missing from all our great evangelistic efforts. We must have explicit agreement and visible union of God's people in extraordinary prayer.

Now this moment began in England through William Carey, Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliffe and others. They started what the British call the Union of Prayer. The year after John Wesley died, the Second Great Awakening began and swept Great Britain. There isn't time to give you the details of that. But, in New England, there was a man of prayer named Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor. In 1794, when conditions were at their worst, he sent out a plea for prayer.

Take the colleges at that time.

  • They took a poll at Harvard, and they discovered not one believer in the whole student body.
  • They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day.
  • Students rioted.
  • They held a mock communion at Williams College.
  • They had anti-Christian plays at Dartmouth.
  • They burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton.
  • They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard.
  • They took a Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and they burnt it in a public bonfire.
  • Christians were so few on campus that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know what they were doing to persecute them.

Isaac Backus addressed his pleas for prayer to ministers of every Christian denomination in the United States. The churches knew that their backs were to the wall. The Presbyterians of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania adopted it for all their churches. Bishop Francis Asbury adopted it for all the Methodists. The Baptist Associations and the Congregationalists, the Reformed, and the Moravians all adopted it until America, like Britain was interlaced with a network of prayer meetings, which set aside the first Monday of each month to pray.

It was not long before revival came. It broke out first of all in Connecticut, then it spread to Massachusetts, entirely without extravagance or outcry. Every report mentions this.

However, there were some differences. When the movement reached the frontier in Kentucky, those people were really wild and irreligious. Congress had discovered that in Kentucky there had not been more than one court of justice held in five years. Peter Cartwright, Methodist evangelist, wrote that when his father had settled in Logan County, it was known as Rogue's Harbor.

If someone committed a murder in Massachusetts or a robbery in Rhode Island, all they need to do was to get across the Alleghenies. The decent people in Kentucky formed regiments of vigilantes to fight for law and order, then fought a pitched battle with outlaws and lost.

There was a Scottish-Irish Presbyterian minister called James McGready whose chief claim to fame was that he was so ugly that he attracted attention. Nowadays, you have to be good looking to get attention. But McGready was so ugly that people stopped in the street and said, "What does he do." They said, "He's a preacher." Then they reacted and said, "A man with a face like that must have something to say." McGready settled in Logan County, pastor of three little churches. He wrote in his diary that "the winter of 1799 for the most part was weeping and mourning with the people of God." It was like Sodom and Gomorrah.

McGready was such a man of prayer that not only did he promote the concert of prayer every first Monday of the month, but he got his people to pray for him at sunset on Saturday evening and sunrise Sunday morning. In the summer of 1800 came the great Kentucky Revival. Eleven thousand people came to a communion service. McGready hollered loud and long, "Anyone come and help me." So Baptists and Methodists came, and the great Camp Meeting Revivals began and swept Kentucky and Tennessee, and then burst over North Carolina and South Carolina, and swept the frontier.

That was the turning point. Out of that Second Great Awakening—after the death of Wesley—came:

  • The whole missionary movement, all the missionary societies.
  • The abolition of slavery.
  • Popular education.
  • The evangelistic drive.
  • More than 600 colleges in the Midwest founded by revivalists.

Now conditions deteriorated in the middle of the nineteenth Century. Why? Sounds familiar: the county was seriously divided over the issue of slavery, just like the Vietnam War. Second, people were making money hand over fist. When they do, they turn their backs upon God.

A man of prayer, Jeremiah Lanphier, started a businessmen's prayer meeting in the upper room of the North Dutch Reformed Church Consistory Building in Manhattan. Only six people out of a population of a million showed up. But the following week there were fourteen, and then twenty-three when they decided to meet every day for prayer.

Then they filled the Dutch Reformed Church, then the Methodist Church on John Street, then Trinity Episcopal Church on Broadway at Wall Street. In February in 1858, every church and public hall in downtown New York was filled.

Horace Greeley, the famous editor, sent a reporter with horse and buggy racing round the prayer meetings to see how many men were praying. In one hour he could get to only twelve meetings, but he counted 6,100 men. And then the landslide of prayer began.

People began to be converted, ten thousand a week in New York City. The movement spread throughout New England, the church bells bringing people to prayer at eight in the morning, twelve noon, and six in the evening. The revival went up the Hudson and down the Mohawk. For example, the Baptists had so many people to baptize they couldn’t get them into their churches. They went down to the river, cut a big hole in the ice, and baptized them in the cold water. When Baptists do that, they are really on fire!

When the revival reached Chicago, a young shoe salesman went to the superintendent of the Plymouth Congregational Church and asked if he might teach Sunday school. The superintendent said, "I'm sorry young fellow, but I have sixteen teachers too many. I'll put you on the waiting list."

The young man said, "I want something now."

So he said, "Start a class." 

"How do I start a class."

"Get some boys off the street. Don't take them here; get them out into the country. After a month when you have control of them, bring them here and they'll be your class."

He took them to a beach on Lake Michigan and taught them Bible verses and Bible games. Then he took them to the Plymouth Congregational Church. The name of the young man was Dwight Lyman Moody. That was the beginning of his ministry that lasted forty years.

For instance, Trinity Episcopal Church in Chicago had 121 members in 1857 and in 1860, 1,400. This was typical of all the churches

More than a million people converted to God out of a population of thirty million in one year. And that revival jumped Atlantic, broke out in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, South Africa, and South India. Anywhere there was an evangelical cause there was revival, its effect was felt for forty years. It began in a movement of prayer, it was sustained by a movement of prayer.

That movement lasted for a generation, but at the turn of the twentieth century, there was need of revival again. There were special prayer meetings at Moody Bible Institute, at Keswick Conventions in England, in Melbourne, in the Nilgiri Hills of India, in Wonsan of Korea. All around the world people were praying that there might be another great awakening in the twentieth century.

Some people tell me we are in the midst of an awakening today. I certainly believe that the tide has turned. I believe we are on the move again, but I don't believe we've reached anywhere like what God has done in the past.

Let me give you two examples. First of all, let's take the student world.

One of the leaders of revival in 1905 was a young man named K. S. Latourette, who became the famous professor, Kenneth Latourette. He said when he was at Yale in 1905, out of the student body, twenty-five percent were enrolled in prayer meetings and Bible studies.

I live next to UCLA. There's a population there of 36,000. I don't believe there are 9,000 there enrolled in Campus Crusade, Inter-Varsity, Power and Light Company, and the other evangelical groups or in all the church groups put together. We haven't reached that yet.

As far as churches were concerned, the ministers of Atlantic City reported that of a population of fifty thousand there were only fifty adults left unconverted. Take Portland in Oregon: 240  department stores closed from 11 to 2 each day for prayer, signing an agreement so that no one would cheat and stay open.

Take First Baptist Church Paducah, Kentucky. The pastor was an old man, Dr. J. J. Cheek. He said, as he was committed to the revival that he was going to win souls to Christ. He took in 1,000 new members in two months and died of overwork. This Southern Baptist had a glorious ending to a devoted ministry.

That is what was happening in the United States in 1905. But how did it begin?

Most people have heard of the Welsh Revival which started in 1904. It began as a movement of prayer. I knew Evan Roberts personally thirty years earlier. He was devoted to God and a man of prayer. He was praying for revival in Wales.

Seth Joshua, the Presbyterian evangelist, came to Newcastle Emlyn College where Evan Roberts was studying for the ministry. Evan Roberts was twenty-six. He had been a coal miner. The students were so moved that they asked if they could go to Joshua's next campaign. So they cancelled classes to go to Blaenanerch where Seth Joshua prayed, “O God, bend us.” Evan Roberts went forward, and he prayed with great agony, “O God, bend me.”

He couldn't concentrate on his studies. He went to Principal Phillips, the pricipal of his college and said, "I hear a voice that tells me I must go home and speak to our young people in my own home church. Mr. Phillips, is that the voice of the devil or the voice of the Spirit?” Principal Phillips answered wisely, “The devil never gives orders like that. You can have a week off.”

So he went back home to Loughor and announced to the pastor, “I've come to preach.” The pastor was not at all convinced, but asked, “How about speaking at the prayer meeting on Monday?” He did not even let him speak to the prayer meeting, but said to the praying people, “Our young brother, Evan Roberts, feels he has a message for you if you care to wait.” Seventeen people waited.

Evan Roberts said to them, “I have a message for you from God. You must confess any known sin to God and put any wrong done to man right. Second, you must put away any doubtful habit out of your life. Third, you must obey the Spirit promptly. Finally, you must confess your faith in Christ publicly."

By ten o'clock all seventeen had responded. The pastor was so pleased that he asked, “How about your speaking at the mission service tomorrow night? Midweek service Wednesday night?” He preached all week, and they asked him to stay another week. Then the break came.

You say, "What do you mean? The break?"

I've read the Welsh newspapers of the period in the ecclesiastical snippets of the news: The Reverand Peter Jones has been appointed chaplain. Very interesting, but not earth shattering. The it said, "Moore Street Methodist Church had a very interesting rummage sale." But then suddenly a headline: Great Crowds of People Come to Loughor.

It said that for some days a young man named Evan Roberts was causing a great surprise. The main road between Llanelli and Swansea on which the church was situated was packed from wall to wall with people trying to get into the church. People were closing shops early to find a place in the church.

Now the news was out. They sent a reporter, and he described what he saw. He said it "was a strange meeting which closed at 4:25 in the morning, and then people did not seem to be willing to go home. The people were standing outside the church talking about what happened." Then a very British summary, he said, “I felt that this was no ordinary gathering.” The news was out the next day, every grocery store in that industrial valley was packed out, people buying groceries who had come to the meetings. On Sunday, every church filled. It went like a tidal wave over Wales.

I could tell you so much about it. There were a hundred thousand people converted in that movement. Five years later, Dr J. V. Morgan wrote a book to debunk the revival, his main criticism was, "of a hundred thousand joining the churches in five months of excitement of the revival, after five years only eighty thousand still stood." Only eighty thousand.

But the social impact was astounding. For example,

  • Judges were presented with white gloves, not a case to try—no rapes, no robberies, no burglaries, no murders, and no embezzlement, nothing.
  • District councils held emergency meetings to discuss what to do with the police now that they were unemployed.

In fact, they sent for the sergeant of the police and asked, “What do you do with your time?”

He said, “Before the revival, we had two main jobs, one was to prevent crime and the other to control crowds, as at football games. Since the revival started there is practically no crime. So we just go with the crowds.”

A councilor asked, “What does that mean?”

He replied, “You know where the crowds are. They are packing out the churches.”

“But how does that affect the police?”

He said, “We have three quartets, and if any church wants a quartet to sing, they simply call the police station.”

  • That revival swept Wales, drunkenness was cut in half.
  • There was a wave of bankruptcies, but nearly all were taverns.
  • There was even a slowdown in the mines.

You say, how can a revival cause a strike? It didn't cause a strike, just a slowdown. So many Welsh coal miners were converted and stopped using bad language that the horses that dragged the coal trucks in the mines could not understand what was being said to them. Transportation slowed for awhile, until they learned the language. When I first heard that story, I thought it was a tall tale, but I can document it even from Westminster Abbey.

  • That revival also affected sexual moral standards.

I had discovered through the figures given by British government experts that in Radnorshire and Merionethshire the illegitimate birth rate dropped 44% within a year of the beginning of the revival. So great was the impact of that movement.

That revival swept Great Britain. It broke out in Norway. It so moved in Norway that Norwegian Parliament passed special legislation to permit laymen to conduct Holy Communion because the clergy couldn't keep up with the number of converts who wanted to take Holy Communion. It swept Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Canada from coast to coast, all of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa, North Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Chile.

Here's the interesting thing: until 1973 no one knew about the extent of that revival until I published my book The Flaming Tongue. And it began through a movement of prayer. It began with prayer meeting all over the United States, and soon there came the great time of harvest.

So what's the lesson we can learn? It's a very simple one. It's that familiar text. “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). 

What's involved in this? God expects us to pray.

But we must not forget what Jonathan Edwards said, when he said to promote explicit agreement and visible union of all God's people in extraordinary prayer. What do you mean by extraordinary prayer?

When you find people getting up at six o’clock in the morning to pray, or having a half-night prayer till midnight, that’s extraordinary prayer. When they give up their lunchtime and go and pray at a noonday prayer meeting, that’s extraordinary prayer. But it must be united and concerted.

It doesn't mean that a Baptist becomes any less of a Baptist, or an Episcopalian less loyal to the thirty-nine articles, or a Presbyterian turns his back to the Westminster Confession. Not at all. But they recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and they're prepared to pray together in concerted prayer that God may hear and answer. We haven’t reached that stage yet.

This national conference on prayer is unprecedented in some ways. It's a sign of the direction in which we are moving. It's what I call extraordinary prayer. But you folk who are here must take it back to your churches. When they are prepared to set aside time to pray for a spiritual awakening, that's when God is going to answer.

Now some people say, then that means it's up to us. No, you can't say that either. Matthew Henry said, “When God intends great mercy for his people, He first of all set them a-praying.” Even God is sovereign in this matter. But we must respond. He has chosen never to work without our cooperation. So whether your interpretation of revival is Calvinistic or Armenian, it's a very simple thing: You must pray and God will work. May God help us so to pray, amen.

Nancy: History is filled with examples of God responding to the prayers of His people. Dr. J. Edwin Orr has been showing us many of those examples. Although this message was given over forty years ago, how we need these reminders today to give us hope that God is still alive, He still works miracles, and He still responds to the prayers of His people.

It's so easy to be discouraged about the widespread, rampant sin in our world and everywhere around us and even in the church as well. That's why we need to remember God's people, that's ourselves, humble ourselves, when we pray, when we earnestly seek God, when we are willing to turn and repent from our wicked ways, God does hear from heaven. He'll forgive our sins, and He'll be able to use us as instruments to shine the beauty and the glory of His gospel to the world around us. 

Today’s program is part of an extended teaching series we’ve been going through on the True Woman Manifesto.

We’re able to air programs like this one in your area thanks to listeners who support the ministry financially. If you’ve been encouraged by today’s program and by the kind of teaching you hear on Revive Our Hearts, you can help us spread this message to other women who need to hear it by making a donation to support this ministry.

We generally experience a decrease in donations during the summer months. So your gift today will go even further in getting the message of freedom in Christ to women around the world. When you send a gift of any amount, we'll send you my book, Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together. Just ask for the book when you send your donation by calling us at 1–800–569–5959, or, of course, you can go online to to make your donation. When you do, be sure to ask for your copy of Adorned. That's our way to say "thank you" for you support of this ministry.

Lord, I want to thank you for Dr. Edwin Orr and how he gave his life for decades to spreading the message of revival and calling Your people to humility and prayer and repentance. I know he's now in heaven with You. But thank You this message that he has left and he has impacted my life over the years. Lord, thank You for the record, the reminder of how You do respond to the prayers of Your people, and how we see the role of prayer in revival and spiritual awakening.

I pray, Lord, that You'd make it our priority—starting with my own heart—to connect with You each day, to ask for Your direction and to call upon You earnestly to send forth Your grace and Your Spirit to revive our hearts, to revive the hearts of Your people, and to send a great spiritual awakening to our nation in this day for Your glory, and for the fame of Your name, and for the advancement of Your kingdom. I pray it in Jesus' name, amen.

Leslie: Nancy wraps up her in-depth exploration of the True Woman Manifesto tomorrow. I hope you'll join us then.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to know the power of prayer. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

From "The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakening" by Dr. Edwin Orr (c)1976 Campus Crusade for Christ. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Support the Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Darkness. Fear. Uncertainty. Women around the world wake up hopeless every day. You can play a part in bringing them freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness instead. Your gift ensures that we can continue to spread gospel hope! Donate now.

Donate Now

About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.