Monday, September 2, 2013

Attending Prayer Meetings, Part 3: Their History

Prayer meetings have been a key part of evangelical Christianity throughout church history. It is especially noteworthy to point out that prayer meetings have been particularly influential in times of persecution and times of revival.

Though Beeke mentions many such examples of how persecution, prayer, and revival were inseparably linked (e.g. in Scotland, England, Holland, etc.), I will mention only two.

1. The great New England Revival in the 18th century

This revival was most likely the result of Jonathan Edwards' book entitled, "An Humble Attempt to promote an explicit agreement and visible union of God's people through the world, in extraordinary prayer, for the revival of religion and the advancement of Christ's kingdom on earth", written in 1747.

The reason Edwards wrote this treatise was that he realized that the revivals of the mid-1730s and the early 1740s would not reoccur until God's people engaged in earnest prayer for revival.

Edwards was inspired to write this in response to the great revivals that were taking place in Scotland, which was, not surprisingly, in answer to the intentional prayers of gathered Christians for God to revive their nation. This call to united prayer in Scotland, originally seen as a 2 year 'experiment', summoned Christian leaders and churches to unite all prayer groups and praying Christians in their nation to a common 'prayer strategy'.

They called for focused revival prayer on every Saturday evening and Sunday morning, as well as on the first Tuesday of each quarter. By 1746 they were so encouraged by the impact of their 'experiment' that they composed a call to prayer to the church worldwide to conduct a new 'experiment' that would last this time for seven years.

Edwards' chief text was Zechariah 8:20-22, where the prophet tells God's people that God's rich promises are meant to encourage His people to expect great success from corporate prayer. In Edwards' own words, "That which God abundantly makes the subject of His promises, God's people should abundantly make the subject of their prayers." He concluded that when believers persevere in united 'concerts' of prayer, God will grant a fresh revival, which "shall be propagated, till the awakening reaches those that are in the highest stations, and till whole nations be awakened."

As history proves, Edwards' treatise become the major manifesto for the Second Great Awakening in America in the late 1790s, as ministers took seriously the power of united times of corporate believing prayer. Even in subsequent generations, revival would break out in pockets of America as this tiny treatise fell into the hands of ministers willing to implement its subject in their churches.

Oh that this would be repeated in our own generation!

2. Prayer meetings conducted by C.H. Spurgeon

Though regarded as the "Prince of Preachers", anyone who has read C.H. Spurgeon knows that he was first and foremost a great man of prayer.

In the 1860s, Spurgeon organized prayer meetings at the Metropolitan Tabernacle at 7 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. every day. On Monday evenings, it is recorded that more than 3000 people would regularly attend. Beeke notes,
One evening a visitor asked Spurgeon what accounted for the success of these meetings. Spurgeon walked his visitor to the sanctuary, opened the door, and let him watch the participants. Nothing more needed to be said.
Though one of the most glorious ministries of the post-Reformation era, we must realize that Spurgeon linked the revival of God's elect not to the preacher's great eloquence, abundant abilities, or winsome character in the pulpit. No. Revival began in the "furnace room", which Spurgeon called the engine of the church. It was here where the seeds of revival sprouted, as the fervent prayers, entreaties, and supplications of God's saints were lifted up to their faithful, covenant keeping God.

It is also interesting to note that prior to Spurgeon's arrival in London, that for many years members in the church were praying for revival. These aromatic prayers were gloriously answered with the coming of Spurgeon, a young, inexperienced country boy, whom God would make His instrument to unleash the power of His preached Word and reap a great harvest of souls.

We could go on and on with examples in church history of how Christians, when gathered together for and united in prayer, saw great movements of God in revival. I hope these two samples will both whet our appetites and encourage us as Christians to make both private and corporate prayer more of a priority in our lives. We can sing and talk about revival all we want. But are we willing to give up our precious time to ask for it in corporate prayer?

As the hymn writer wrote, "Mercy drops round us are falling / But for the showers [of revival] we plead." Revive us O God!

In Christ, and for His glory in His [praying] church,
Pastor Ryan

P.S. Another noteworthy revival that should be read is the great "Business Man Prayer Revival" in 1757-58 in New York City, which would inevitably spread to many other cities in the U.S. Truly, it is amazing what can happen when God's people begin to pray together! For more info, just google it, or, you can read about it in Colin's Hansen's Book, "A God-sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir".

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