The social impact of reformed lives was incredible. William Wilberforce, William Pitt, Edmund Bourke, and Charles Fox, all touched by this movement, worked ceaselessly for the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. William Buxton worked on for the emancipation of all slaves in the British Empire and saw it happen in 1834. John Howard and Elizabeth Fry gave their lives to radicaIly reform the prison system. Florence Nightingale founded modern nursing. Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, came to the rescue of the working poor to end their sixteen-hour, seven-day-a-week work grind. He worked to stop exploitation of women and children in coal mines, the suffocation of boys as sweeps in chimneys. He established public parks and gymnasia, gardens, public libraries, night schools and choral societies. The Christian Socialist Movement, which became the British Trade Union movement, was birthed. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed to protect animals. There was amazing growth in churches, and an astounding change in society came about because a man prayed and worked, seeing the establishment of thousands of similar prayer meetings, all united in calling on God for revival. Missionary societies were established. William Carey was one who got swept up in that movement. We speak of him as the "father of modern missions". The environment of his situation was that he was a member of a ministers revival prayer group which had been meeting for two years in Northampton in 1784 - 1786 he shared his vision of God's desire to see the heathen won for the Lord. He went on to establish what later became known as the Baptist Missionary Society. In 1795 the London Missionary Society was formed. In 1796 the Scottish Missionary Society was established, and later still the Church Missionary Society of the Anglicans was commenced.
The prayer movement had a tremendous impact, but waned until the middle of the 19th century. Then God started something up in Canada, and the necessity to pray was picked up in New York. A quiet man called Jeremiah Lanphier had been appointed by the Dutch Reformed Church as a missionary to the central business district. Because the church was in decline and the life of the city was somewhat similar, he did not know what to do. He was a layman. He called a prayer meeting in the city to be held at noon each Wednesday . Its first meeting was on the 23rd September 1857. Eventually five other men turned up. Two weeks later, they decided to move to a daily schedule of prayer. Within six months, 10,000 men were gathering to pray and that movement spread across America. Surprise, surprise! Within two years there were one million new believers added to the church.
The movement swept out to touch England, Scotland, Wales and Ulster. Ireland was as tough a nut to crack as any. But when news reached Ireland of what was happening in America, James McQuilkan gathered three young men to meet for prayer in the Kells schoolhouse on March 14, 1859. They prayed and prayed for revival within a couple of months a similar prayer meeting was launched in Belfast. By September 21, 20,000 people assembled to pray for the whole of Ireland. It was later estimated that 100,000 converts resulted directly from these prayer movements in Ireland. It has also been estimated that in the years 1859-60 1,150,000 people were added to the church, wherever concerts of prayer were in operation.
Many would be aware of the Welsh Revival this century. lt commenced in October 1904. It was spontaneous and was characterised by simultaneous, lengthy prayer meetings. 1n the first two months, 70,000 people came to the Lord. In 1905 in London alone, the Wesleyan Methodists increased from their base membership of 54,785 by an additional 50,021 people. Coming closer in time and nearer to Australia, in the Enga churches in Papua New Guinea there was a desperate spiritual state 20 years ago. To redress the situation, people there committed themselves to pray. Prayer meetings began amongst pastors, missionaries and Bible College students. It spread out to the villages. In some villages, groups of people agreed to pray together every day until God sent new life to the church. On 15 September 1973, without any prior indication, simultaneously spontaneously, in village after village as pastors stood to deliver their normal Sunday morning messages, the Holy Spirit descended bringing conviction, confession, repentance and revival. Normal work stopped as people in their thousands hurried to special meetings. Prayer groups met daily, morning and evening. Thousands of Christians were restored and thousands of pagans were converted. Whole villages became Christian, and the church grew not only in size but in maturity. In the Philippines in the 1980s, as a result of some people attending an international prayer conference in Korea, 200 missionaries of the Philippine Missionary Fellowship each organised prayer group meetings daily at 7.00 p.m. to pray for the growth of the church. They report that within a couple of years this directIy resulted in the formation of 310 new churches.
Spectacular growth is occurring in Argentina. Jose Luis Vasquez saw his church explode from 600 to 4,500 with a constituency of 10,000 members in five years following a visit from Carlos Annacondia. Hector Gimenez started his church from zero in 1983. His congregation now numbers 70,000. Omar Cabrera started his church in 1972 with 15 members. There is now a combined membership of 90,000 members. Peter Wagner, who is intensely investigating what lies behind such effective ministry, has anived at the conclusion that powerful intercessory prayer is the chief weapon. Much of it is happening in a Pentecostal, charismatic environment but the structure or doctrine is not the essential thing. Walter Hollenwager, a prolific researcher into Pentecostalism said that for them, from the earliest Pentecostals onwards, it was more important to pray than to organise (1972:29). Wherever that principle is invoked, amazing things happen. East Germany started to form small groups of ten to twelve persons committed to meet to pray for peace. By October 1989, 50,000 people were involved in Monday night prayer meetings. In 1990, when those praying people moved quietly onto the streets, their numbers quick!y swelled to 300,000 and "the wall came tumbling down. In Cuba in 1990, an Assemblies of God pastor whose congregation never exceeded 100 people meeting once a week suddenly found himself conducting 12 services per day for 7,000 people. They started queuing at 2.00 a.m. and even broke down the doors to get into the prayer meetings. Asked to explain these phenomena, Cuban Christians say it has come because we have paid the price. We have suffered for the Gospel and we have prayed for many, many years" (0"Connor 1990:7-9). When a group known as the Overseas Missionary Society saw that after 25 years work in India all they could report was 2000 believers in 25 churches, they adopted a new strategy. In their homelands they recruited 1,000 people committed to pray for the work in India for just 15 minutes per day. Within a few years the church exploded to 73,000 members in 550 churches.
Will we "pray the price"?
Today there is great pressure from many directions in our society to work harder, to become smarter, to produce results, or to be moved aside. The church in many Western countries is in danger of absorbing this mentality into its own attitudes and practices, forgetting that in the divine-human endeavour, success comes not by might nor by power but by a gracious release of God"s Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). Years ago, R. A. Torrey (1974:190) said, "We live in a day characterised by the multiplication of man"s machinery and the diminution of God"s power. The great cry of our day is work, work, work! Organise, organise, organise! Give us some new society! Tell us some new methods! Devise some new machinery! But the great need of our day is prayer, more prayer and better prayer." Friends, in the church in the west we now have the most up to date, state of the art technology available to communicate the Gospel. Yet comparatively little seems to be happening in so many countries. In terms of the growth and mission of our churches, could it be that whilst the world has learned to communicate with robots on Mars, in sections of the church we have forgotten to communicate with the Lord of the earth? If that is so, then our best course of action is to stand again with the first disciples and, like them, return to the Head of the church - Jesus Christ - and say "Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11 : 1).
David Bryant(1984)i Concerts of Prayer Ventura, California: Ventura Paul Y Cho (1984) i Prayer: Key to Re vival. Waco, Texas: Word. S D Gordon (1983) "Prayer, the greatest thing; Australias New Day, April, 40. Walter J Hollenwager (1972) The Pentecostals. Minneapolis, Minnesota:Augsburg. Greg 0"Connor (1990) "Miracles in Cuba; New Day, May. Devid Shibley (1985) i Let"s Pray in the Harvest. Rockwall, Texas: Church on the Rock R A Torrey (1974) i The Power of Prayer. Grand Rapids, Michigan Zondervan. Bob J Whillhite (1988) i Why pray? Altamonte Springs, Florida: Creation House.
Copyright Stuart Robinson. First published by the Australian Baptist Missionary Society, 1992. Used by permission.