By Keith Manuel, Evangelism Associate
A revival is often remembered for its results, not its beginnings. History records the results of the Third Great Awakening that swept America in a wave of prayer from 1857 to 1858.
The estimate is that during the aforementioned two-year period, as many as one million people surrendered their lives to the Lord during this movement also known as The Layman’s Prayer Revival. Comparatively, some say that would be the same as ten million people being saved today.
Most great revivals are known for dynamic preachers or evangelists. The Third Great Awakening is known for a businessman who accepted a challenging opportunity for ministry – Jeremiah Lanphier.
The North Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street in New York City was experiencing change. The church had declined as members relocated because of the number of immigrants moving into the old neighborhood.
However, church members couldn’t bear to see their church abandoned. The Consistory, the church’s governing board of elders and deacons, enlisted Lanphier to begin a program of visitation to reinvigorate the work.
Lanphier agreed and set out to reach the neighborhood in hopes of revitalizing the church. He found the people to be less than excited. One day while walking the streets and praying, God put it on his mind to have a prayer meeting for businessmen.
Being an industrious fellow, Lanphier printed 20,000 handbills to pass out and post in various areas around the neighborhood inviting men to come at noon to pray. The following is a portion of the text of his handbill:
A day-prayer meeting is held every Wednesday from 12 to 1 o’clock in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and Williams streets. This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call on God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who find it inconvenient to remain more than 5 or 10 minutes, as well as for those who can spare a whole hour. Necessary interruption will be slight, because anticipated. Those in haste often expedite their business engagements by halting to lift their voices to the throne of grace in humble, grateful prayer.
ALL ARE INVITED TO ATTEND.
On September 23, 1857, having passed out the 20,000 handbills, Lanphier opened the doors of the church for prayer. No one came.
Instead of having a meltdown, Lanphier began to pray. After 30 minutes, one man joined him in prayer. By the end of the hour, five others had joined the two in prayer. They decided to meet again the next week. Twenty people attended. The following week, 40 people attended.
On October 10, a second major stock market crash occurred, putting many out of work and causing businesses to shut down. On October 14, over 100 people met with Lanphier for prayer. Soon, overflow crowds had to move to a Methodist church down the street. Within six months, 10,000 people were meeting for prayer around New York City. Over the course of the revival, prayer meetings were started all over America.
Unlike some revivals, characterized by emotional outbursts and excess, this prayer meeting was somewhat rigid. Lanphier posted seven rules to guide their praying.
The meetings started with the sounding of a bell in a business-like manner. The attendees sang several verses of a hymn; a general prayer was offered; a portion of Scripture was read; one or two prayer requests were read and then someone prayed with the particular requests in mind. If anyone prayed longer than five minutes, the bell would sound reminding the one praying to stop. Prayer concerns about controversial topics were not allowed and ruled out of order. A closing hymn was offered at precisely five minutes before one o’clock and a benediction was given by a clergyman.
No one could imagine how God would use Lanphier and the subsequent meetings that started. Businesses shut down all over the city from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. because so many people were attending the meetings.
The major newspapers of New York City devoted full-page stories to the revival. Chicago’s Metropolitan Theater had 2,000 people meeting daily for prayer. In Pennsylvania, reports were given of 150,000 people attending a meeting over a four-month period with 10,000 conversions. Lives were changed all over America.
Through one man’s prayers, God moved a nation to pray. May God put prayer on the mind of another person and bring revival to our land.