America’s greatest prayer outpouring began on September 23, 1857, in the Old Dutch North Church in New York City. A former businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, was hired by the church to visit neighborhood homes. His outreach was not that successful, but a new idea dawned on him while he made his rounds.
Lanphier felt businessmen might like to get away once a week for a short period of prayer. Most businesses closed down from 12 Noon to 1 p.m. So, he came up with the noontime prayer meetings and handed out pamphlets entitled, “How Often Shall I Pray?”
Six businessmen eventually arrived at the first prayer meeting. The following week, twenty men showed up. The numbers increased each week until October 14, 1857, when one hundred showed up, but on that particular day, something else happened: a financial panic hit America. Banks closed. Railroads went bankrupt. Thousands of New Yorkers lost their jobs. Businessmen rushed to the meetings.
The prayer meetings were soon held on a daily basis and other places opened their doors for noontime prayer meetings.
Within six months, ten thousand businessmen attended over one hundred and fifty different prayer meetings in New York City on a daily basis. And across the nation, the Spirit of Prayer started meetings for businessmen in Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Louisville, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, and countless other cities.
This prayer outpouring is known as the Businessman’s Prayer Revival or the Layman’s Prayer Revival. The revival continued full strength for over a year and even continued in the Confederate Army’s camps during the Civil War. It is estimated that as many as six percent of Americans were converted during this revival.
Okay, consider this: this great prayer revival did not stop the Civil War from happening nor did it blunt the extreme judgment meted out on the Southern states. Why not?
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,”says the Lord,“who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)
Our prayers and intercessions have one limiting factor: the Lord Jesus Christ. We begin with His name on our lips and end with His revelation in our hearts. We will never go past the limits He sets for us in our prayers and intercessions. Never!
So, when zealous believers say that we can pray all of America’s problems away, I clench my teeth and bite my tongue, hoping they are correct and knowing they are probably not.
You see, often the Lord wants us to build roads with our prayers for us to travel on during bad times rather than bridges to bypass them.