by Dan Jones
Last week, I wrote about the moral decline in America between the First and Second Great Awakenings, immediately after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
But is it too late? Have we slipped too far? Aren’t things worse now than they have ever been?
I’m not here to argue that last point, but as for the first two questions, please consider the following:
The story of Jonah is familiar to us all. The LORD told Jonah to go to Nineveh “because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2b NIV)
The Bible does not record how wicked Nineveh was in this passage, but history does: They skinned their enemies alive, smashed children to pieces in the streets, burned children alive, tore people’s tongues out, impaled them, decapitated them, flayed them, and practiced all manner of horrific and gory barbarism.
And yet, God spared them when the king of Nineveh called everyone to humble themselves, fast and pray. (Jonah 3)
In Acts 6, the freshly-formed church was growing by leaps and bounds. One of the ministries of the new church came under criticism for neglecting some of the widows of the congregation, and the apostles chosen seven men of excellent reputation who were “full of the Spirit and wisdom” to oversee this important ministry so they, the leaders of the burgeoning church, could “give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
All throughout Acts, the Apostles repeatedly engage in corporate prayer, often meeting other believers in the Temple to do so.
Jesus Himself promises that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in the midst of them and whatever two agree upon on earth, it shall be done for them by the Father. (Matthew 18: 19-20.)
Throughout the history of the Christian Church, corporate prayer has been central.
I found an excellent study of corporate prayer by Franklin John called “Corporate Prayer Is a Prerequisite for the Greatest Outpouring of God’s Power.” (Unfortunately, I could find no information on who Franklin John is, but his points are valid.)
In 1857, during a time of spiritual decline, a lay man named Jeremiah Lamphier tacked up notices in New York City calling for a weekly prayer meeting on Wednesdays from noon till one. The first week, only six showed up, but within six months, the prayer meetings had grown to 10,000.
Within two years, the movement had spread to every major city in America and 50,000 people per week were coming to Christ.
Fervent prayer precipitated the Shantung Revival in northern China, from 1927-37 which brought an estimated hundreds of thousands to faith in a country that had been spiritually dead.
Similar times of revival have taken place in South Africa, Cambodia, Nepal, India, and South Korea.
In 1903, Methodist missionary Mary Culler White and Presbyterian missionary, Louise Hoard McCully started a prayer meeting in South Korea which soon spread to other missionaries. By 1907, the Korean church was growing dramatically.
Three other revivals have taken place since then and today, the largest churches in the world are in South Korea. Yoido Full Gospel Church has an average weekly attendance of over 253,000 people.
Enormous megachurches are also present in Chile, India, Nigeria, and El Salvador with average weekly attendance of over 100,000 people.
Pollster George Barna identified a number of churches that stood out from others because of impact. He examined features common in them and discovered that prayer was a foundation stone for all of them.
Or how about this:
In 1982, Pastor Christian Führer in the East German town of Leipzig began holding Prayers for Peace on Monday nights. On many occasions, less than a dozen people showed up. The communist East German government strongly discouraged its citizens from becoming involved in religious activities, but the meetings continued each Monday without fail.
On May 8, 1989, the authorities barricaded the streets leading to the church, hoping to put people off, but it had the opposite effect, and the congregation grew.
There were beatings and arrests of demonstrators at protest rallies in Leipzig, Berlin, and Dresden.
General Secretary Erich Honecker of Communist East Germany declared that the church should be closed. An article appeared in a local newspaper saying that the counter-revolution would be put down on October 9, 1989 “by whatever means necessary.”
The church was visited by doctors who told them that hospital rooms had been made available for patients with bullet wounds. So we were absolutely terrified of what might happen," Pastor Fuhrer said.
On October 9, 1989, the city of Leipzig filled with police and soldiers. Fear was palpable in the city.
According to a BBC report, “Up to 8,000 people crowded into St Nicholas Church, including members of the feared Stasi (secret police) who had been sent to occupy it.
Other Leipzig churches opened to accommodate additional protesters. About 70,000 people had now gathered in the city.
After an hour-long service at St Nicholas, Pastor Führer led worshippers outside.
The nearby Augustusplatz was filled with demonstrators clutching lit candles. Slowly, the crowd began walking around the city, past the Stasi headquarters, chanting "we are the people" and "no violence", and accompanied by thousands of helmeted riot police ready to intervene.
But at the decisive moment the police stood aside and let the protesters march by.
Pastor Führer said: "They didn't attack. They had nothing to attack for. East German officials would later say they were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer."
About 120,000 people took to the streets the following Monday. General Secretary Honecker resigned two days later. The dissidents became increasingly emboldened, with around 300,000 taking part in the protests on 23 October.
Exactly a month after the events of 9 October, the Berlin Wall came down amid scenes of jubilation witnessed around the world.
It’s not over until God says it’s over.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26 ESV)