My husband and I have been in ministry in the Pacific Northwest in some form or fashion for almost 20 years. There have been some encouraging moments of watching people fall in love with Jesus and live their lives boldly following Him. But to be honest, it has been a lot of hard stuff too. There have been a lot of people who have rejected me and shown animosity toward me for being a Christian. I have watched Christians walk away from God. But in each context, I have ministered in, my heart breaks more for those suffering without the knowledge of Jesus. My heart hurts for Christians who are desperately trying to connect with God, but just don’t know how.
As I read how the early church spread in the book of Acts, I felt a longing in my soul. How I wish my community could experience a revival like I see in the book of Acts. To witness the Holy Spirit moving powerfully, transforming lives, and furthering God’s Kingdom. Has a revival like that ever happened in other places in history? Could a movement of the Holy Spirit be possible in my context?
I began to study history and look closer at the Bible and found that the answer is a resounding yes! It has happened time and time again in the two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth (and even before Jesus in the Old Testament). As I’ve studied the Bible and looked back over the history of the church, I’ve noticed a pattern with each revival: they are always preceded by prayer.
One example that blew me away was the story of a man named Jeremiah Lanphier. He was a former businessman who loved the Lord and felt called to help a small church in Manhattan. His ministry began in 1857 at a church that was struggling to survive after a huge fire displaced many people in their community. As new businesses and immigrants began to move into Manhattan, the city experienced a season of cultural change. A financial crisis loomed and many people seemed indifferent to spiritual things. On top of that, many churches moved out of the downtown area, but a few remained including the church that hired Jeremiah, the North Dutch Reformed Church. Jeremiah had experience in business himself and he wanted to try and reach the businessmen and immigrants working and living alongside them, to help them know and love God.
At first, Jeremiah tried getting to know people in the community and inviting them to church, but to no avail. After several weeks, he decided to change directions and started offering a time and place for people to pray during their lunch hour. His hope was that a time of prayer would be a blessing for stressed-out businessmen and workers and an opportunity for them to share their burdens with God. Jeremiah kept the format simple, with just a few songs and scripture reading, followed by praying. People could come and go as they pleased, staying only as long as they wanted.
The first prayer meeting he offered was September 23, 1857. Out of the hundreds of flyers and invites he made, six people showed up. But he was not daunted by the small numbers. He continued to offer the prayer time on Wednesdays at noon. After just three weeks, the number rose to over 40, so they decided to offer prayer time every day. Within 5 weeks, there were around 100 people coming every day to pray.
Then other churches started offering similar prayer meetings. By March of the following year, thousands of people were gathering to pray every day and the movement had spread to other cities. People from all walks of life were coming to Jesus. God was on the move in a hurting and broken United States, all because one man offered an opportunity for people to pray.
This pattern of turning to God in prayer, and then watching the Holy Spirit sweep through and change lives, has been around since the beginning of the church. In Acts 1, Jesus gives his disciples some final instructions before he heads back to heaven to be with his Father. They were to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from the Holy Spirit to go tell everyone everywhere about Jesus. (Acts 1:8).
After Jesus left, they didn’t put together a complicated evangelistic plan, or create elaborate outreach programs. Neither did they wait in their homes, isolated from one another. Instead, they gathered together and prayed (Acts 1:12-14).
One of those days, when they were gathered together, the promised Holy Spirit showed up and empowered all who were there to be Jesus’s witnesses. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter, an uneducated fisherman, preached the first gospel sermon, and 3000 people were saved. The rest of them were empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak in other languages, all to accomplish what Jesus had told them.
From the beginning, we see that when God’s people wait on Him in prayer, at the right time, He empowers them to accomplish amazing things that help transform the broken world around us. If you read through the book of Acts, every time you see the word prayer, try underlining it in one color and then underline every act of the Holy Spirit in another color. You will see prayer always precedes a movement of the Holy Spirit and the bold, world-changing actions of Christians.
God himself creates revival movements through the work of His Spirit and He does so when we wait in prayer for Him to do so. Jeremiah Lanphier and the disciples in the early church were both tasked with growing the church and in both cases, they didn’t know how to do it. So, they waited on God in prayer.
Jeremiah found that his own efforts to evangelize weren’t working, so he chose to simply offer an opportunity for people to come together and pray. And even when the first prayer meeting was smaller than he probably would have liked, he kept at it, knowing it would be a benefit to those who came, whether that was six people or a hundred. And at just the right time, God opened the floodgates, and thousands of people began following Jesus.
For the early church, Jesus told them first to wait, and then they would receive power to accomplish their mission. But they didn’t just wait by going through the motions of their jobs and then going home at the end of the day. They waited in prayer together. And when God decided it was time, He empowered his disciples with his Spirit, and the Gospel began to spread like wildfire to the ends of the earth. And today, we get to be a part of that very same commission that Jesus gave so long ago!
History contains so many incredible stories of the Holy Spirit powerfully working among His people. But how can we experience that same kind of powerful Holy Spirit revival in our lives? Maybe we begin by following the examples of the Christians who have gone before us and create space for it. We set aside time with no other agenda than the opportunity for people to commune with God in prayer and see what He does.
It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. Start with being simple and consistent.
In my home church, we offer a one-hour prayer time similar to Jeremiah Lanphier’s. We sing a few songs, read a Scripture to center our minds and break up into groups to pray. It’s something that could be done anywhere, at your church building, in your home, in the park, or in a space where you work. All you need is a regular time and space for people to be able to come together to pray and see what God does. I can only imagine what will happen when there are groups of people lifting their voices to God everywhere.
As we regularly come together into the presence of our Creator, to know Him and be known by Him in prayer, we will see the movement of the Holy Spirit flood into our lives and the lives around us. May we set our minds and hearts on Him and boldly join Him where He is working.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21