In the mid 1850s American culture was moving at a rapid pace. There had been a large influx of Italian & Irish immigrants, but they were staying in the large eastern cities and forming violent gangs. Churches were dividing over the issue of slavery. Economically, business was booming and in spite of the social problems that were brewing, it looked like the culture was moving into an age of prosperity.
On October 10, 1857 the stock market crashed. Banks defaulted and businessmen saw their fortunes vanish in a matter of several days.But God had a plan. Just 2 weeks previously God had laid it on the heart of a pastor to invite New York businessmen to pray with him over the noon hour. The first week he sat for a half hour by himself and then suddenly six businessmen showed up. They prayed together and planned to reconvene in a week. The next week 20 men came. In the coming weeks and months the businessmen’s prayer times grew to over 10,000 men. They had to place signs around to ask people to limit their prayers to 5 minutes or less and to avoid any controversial discussions or expressions.
The revival that God stirred in the businessmen of New York City spread to the cities across the country and on into the rural areas of the Midwest. The YMCA was birthed in Philadelphia, as were a number of other ministries that exist to this day. One of the most impressive traits of the “prayer meeting revivals” is the way that denominations came together and even preached from each other’s pulpits. I’m of the personal opinion that it was a missed opportunity to shed the denominational labels that still create so much division to this day.
The two things that really marked the revival of the mid 1800s were large prayer gatherings of ordinary people and unity between churches. I long to see both of these again in our day. I believe that if we saw a movement of prayer we would also see an expression of unity.
It is worth noting that the civil war followed right on the heels of the revival and I’ve always had some question about why those two events happened so close to each other. I could understand if the revival had followed the war, but why did the war follow the revival? The only way thing that makes sense is that history records that people’s hearts were so changed by the revival that they began to confront the cultural sins of their generation. That confrontation was met with opposition and quickly escalated into the worst war fought on American soil in our history.
Sometimes we think that revival would usher in an idyllic time of cultural peace and that our towns would look like Mayberry again. The truth is probably that if God blesses us with a nationwide revival we will suddenly be confronted with the sins of our generation and there will be many who repent, but there will also be many who will cling tighter to their sin. It is most likely that a revival in our day would be marked by unusual unity among believers and unusual conflict in the secular culture. I see look around and see both and it gives me hope that we may be on the verge of a large scale revival in the coming years.
My Prayer: Lord, give us a deep hunger to encounter You in corporate prayer. I plead for a move of Your Holy Spirit in the hearts of church leaders that brings us together and leads us to repent of our divisiveness. Help us to humble ourselves and reach across denominational lines in a unified repentance. Give us boldness and courage to address the sins of our generation and point people to Your Gospel.