Text: 2 Chronicles 7:14 — …if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Introduction: Martin Luther once said, “The less I pray, the harder it gets; the more I pray, the better it goes.” That’s not only true for individuals, but for churches as well. Praying people and praying churches seem to have a spiritual vitality about them that many others lack. Prayer is the foundation for growth in the Christian life and the catalyst for both revival(when the church gets serious about being all that God wants us to be) and awakening(when those who are dead in their trespasses and sins come alive in Christ). Now, having lived in the south for a number of years, I was always amused when I would see a sign in front of a church, “Come to our Revival—August 3rdthrough the 10th”, as though it could be scheduled like a potluck dinner. The Hebrew word “revive” means to “make alive again.” Of course, this is exclusively a work of God. The role of prayer in revival is to bring ourselves into agreement with God’s willso that He will unleash the power of His Holy Spirit upon the church in ways not previously experienced(1 John 5:14-15 — And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him).
This morning I want to take a few moments and try to give you a vision for prayer that can unite us into becoming a praying people. I have two reasons for wanting to do this: First,I know that nothing of eternal value ever happens apart from sincere, God-centered prayer. Second,last week I asked you to make prayer a part of your daily routine and now I want to share why. For this message, I want you to know that I’m going to be leaning very heavily upon the work of a man who has gone home to be with the Lord, but is considered by many to be the greatest expert on the subject of prayer and revival,Dr. J. Edwin Orr. It is my hope that our Lord will use this history lesson to ignite in you an insatiable desire to see God do a similar work not only here at River Ridge Church, but in the churches in our area and all over our great country. Now for a history lesson.
Shortly after the American Revolution, a war that took its toll on everyone, there was a vast moral decline in the thirteen colonies.
- Drunkenness became epidemic. It was estimated that 6% or 300,000 out of a population of 5,000,000 were alcoholics.
- Public profanity was common place and of such a kind that would never have been spoken in public before the war.
- Women were afraid to go out at night for fear of sexual assault.
- Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.
Where were the churches when this was happening?
- The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining.
- The Baptists could only refer to it as their most “wintry season.”
- The Presbyterians met in general assembly and wrote a resolution in which they ‘deplored the nation’s ungodliness.’
- The Rev. Samuel Shepherd, a Congregational minister, reported that he had not taken one young person into the fellowship in 16 years.
- The Protestant Episcopal Bishop, Samuel Provost, quit.
- The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote that the church ‘was too far gone to ever be redeemed.’
- Thomas Paine said, “Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.”
What about our universities? Weren’t they originally established as places to train people for ministry?
- A poll taken at Harvard revealed that there was not one professing believer in the entire student body. In fact, the students managed to force the resignation of the university president and burned a Bible in public.
- At Princeton, which had been a much more evangelical place, and even elected Jonathon Edwards (of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God fame) as its president in 1758, there were only two believers in the entire student body and only five that didn’t belong to the filthy speech movement of the day.
- At Williams College they held a mock communion.
- Students put on anti-Christian plays at Dartmouth.
- Christians were so few in numbers in the 1790s that they met in secret and kept minutes in codes for fear of persecution.
What changed it all? A Movement of Prayer
- Some years before, a Scottish Presbyterian Pastor named John Erskinepublished a little book pleading with the people of Scotland and elsewhere to unite in prayer focused on bringing revival to God’s people.
- Jonathon Edwardssomehow got hold of the book. It had such a profound impact upon him that he wrote a response entitled: “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of all God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture Promises and Prophecies.”
- Believers in Great Britain were the first to embrace this call. William Carey and other leaders began what came to be known as the UNION OF PRAYER. It gained momentum and as a result, in 1792, the Second Great Awakeningbegan and swept through England.
- In America, a man named Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor, was inspired by what was happening across the ocean and made an urgent plea in 1794for prayer for revival to pastors of every Christian denomination in the country. Knowing their backs were to the wall, the churches responded with a network of prayer meetings on the first Monday of each month.
- It wasn’t long before revival came. In Kentucky, a state that had not held more than one court of justice in five years so that honest people were forced to form vigilante groups to fight for law and order, James McGreadybecame the man for the moment. A Presbyterian minister whose only claim to fame was that he was so ugly that he attracted attention, began to promote the monthly Monday prayer meetings.
- Then McGready went another step further and asked his people to pray for him every Saturday evening and Sunday morning. In the summer of 1800, God moved in direct response to their prayers. McGready and two others preached for three days at the very first camp meeting. Eleven thousand people responded, attending a single communion service. Overwhelmed at what God was doing, he called for help from any Christian minister, regardless of denomination. They came and were infected by the same spirit. Soon the Second Great Awakening spread throughout the country and countless numbers turned to Christ.
- The impact upon America of this movement born of prayer was undeniable. Out of it came the modern missionary movement, a campaign that would eventually end slavery in America, the beginning of public education, a crusade for the improvement of prisons, the establishment of many orphanages, various Bible Societies, the Sunday School Movementand a renewed commitment to restraint in the use of alcohol. Unfortunately, the sin of slavery had not yet been abolished by those in power, and Americans were still enjoying general affluence (we tend only to pray when we’re desperate).These two factors brought the Second Great Awakening to a halt in the early 1800s.
It wasn’t until fifty years later in September of 1857, that God moved in a similar way when His people began to pray once more.
- Joseph Lanphierstarted a businessmen’s prayer meeting in Manhattan. Only six people came to the first gathering in response to his advertisement. The following week eight more showed up. The number jumped to twenty-three when it was decided that they should meet every day for prayer. In a few short months, enough people were attending these assemblies to fill three churches. By February of 1858, every church and public hall in downtown New York was filled.
- Horace Greely, the famous editor (Go west young man), sent a reporter racing around the prayer meetings to see how many were actually in attendance. In one hour, he made it to twelve locations and counted 6,100 men.
- People began to be converted to Christianity, 10,000 per week in New York City alone.
- The movement spread to New England where the church bells would ring every day at 8AM, Noon and 6PM calling people to pray. So many came to Christ, that the Baptists were forced to cut a hole in the ice of the Hudson River just to be able to keep up with the number of requests for baptism.
- The revival reached Chicago and a young shoe salesman went to the superintendent of the Plymouth Congregational Churchand asked if he could teach Sunday School. The man said, “I’m sorry, young fellow. I have sixteen teachers too many, but I will put you on a waiting list,” (a common problem in many churches today). The young man insisted so the superintendent said, “Well, start a class.”
- He did exactly that, taking boys off the streets to a beach on Lake Michigan where he taught them Bible verses and games. Within a year the average attendance was 650 with 60 adult leaders. You have probably already guessed that this man was L. Moodyand this was the beginning of his ministry … the effects of which continue to this day.
- More than one million people were convertedin twelve months out of total population of thirty million people.
That movement jumped the ocean to impact Scotland, Wales, England, parts of Europe and Africa, even so far as South India. It lasted for a generation, but then there was another need for revival as prayer subsided.
- In 1905 God started the church in America praying again. At Yale University, 25% of the student body enrolled in prayer meetings and Bible studies.
- In Portland, Oregon, 240 major stores closed from 11AM to 2PM each day, even signing an agreement so that no one would cheat and stay open to obtain more business, so that people could attend prayer meetings.
- In Atlantic City, the ministers reported that out of population of 50,000 people, only 50 adults were not converted (same as it is today!).
- In Paducah, Kentucky, the pastor of a Baptist church took in a thousand new members in two months and died of overwork. Now that’s how to get rid of a pastor!
Similar scenes were taking place all over this country. What was the catalyst for this awakening?
- The Welsh Revival(Wales) which started in 1904 was the instrument God used. Evan Roberts, a former coal miner was studying for the ministry when he heard a preacher deliver a powerful message from God. He and others were so moved they asked if they could attend his next campaign nearby. They were given permission.
- Classes were cancelled and at the next meeting, Mr. Roberts prayed that God would use him. A short while later he sensed that the Lord was leading him to return to his home town to preach. He left the school and showed up at his home church announcing to the pastor that he had come to deliver a message from God. The pastor was not so convinced.
- He permitted Roberts to speak to a small group of people at the end of a prayer meeting on a Monday night. Seventeen people stayed and were impressed with his simple message. Here’s what he said: “I have a message for you from God. (1) You must first confess any known sin to God and put any wrong done to others right (See Isaiah 59:2). (2) Second, you must put away any doubtful habit (See Romans 14:23). (3) Third, you must obey the Spirit promptly (See Acts 5:29). (4) Finally, you must confess your faith in Christ publicly (See Matthew 10:32).”
- Roberts was then asked to preach every night. Great crowds packed the church. Shopkeepers closed early to make sure they would be able to find a seat. A reporter was sent and described vividly what he saw: a strange meeting which closed at 4:25 in the morning, and even then, people did not seem to be willing to go home.
- The next day, every grocery shop in that valley was emptied of food by people attending the meetings and on Sunday every church was filled.
- In five months, 100,000 people were converted throughout the country. Five years later, J. V. Morgan wrote a book to debunk the revival. His main criticism was that of the 100,000 who joined the churches in the five-month period of time, only 75,000 (3/4ths) still stood in the membership of those roles five years later!
- The social impact was unbelievable! Judges were presented with white gloves because they had no cases to try.
- District councils held emergency meetings to discuss what to do with the police since there was no crime. In one place the sergeant of police was asked, “What do you do with your time?” He replied, “Before the revival, we had two main jobs, to prevent crime and to control crowds, as at football games. Since the revival started there is practically no crime. So, we just go with the crowds.” Someone asked, “What does that mean?” The sergeant replied, “You know where the crowds are. They are packing out the churches.” “How does that affect the police?” “We have seventeen police in our station, but we have three quartets, and if any church wants a quartet to sing, they simply call the police station.”
- As the revival swept Wales, there was a wave of bankruptcies, nearly all were taverns as people quit drinking.
- There was a slow down in the mines. So many miners were converted and stopped using bad language that the horses that dragged the coal trucks could not understand the men’s commands because they were no longer profanity-laced.
- The revival also raised sexual moral standards of the people so that the illegitimate birth rate dropped 44% within one year. It was this revival that spread to Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, Africa, Brazil, Mexico and of course, America. As always it was born through a movement of prayer.
Today we are in desperate need again of revival and awakening here in America.
- One in every eight Americans meet the criteria for being labeled an alcoholic (about 12% of the total population verses 6% in the second half of the 18thcentury).
- In 2016, almost nine hundred thousand babies were aborted for the sake of convenience and the unwillingness for sexually active couples to accept responsibility for their actions.
- The number of crimes, especially, violent crimes, has nearly tripled since 1960. In 2016, there were over 4,200 bank robberies in our country.
- Just short of 25 million Americans now admit to using illicit drugs. The use of heroin has reached epidemic proportions and the federal government budgets 4.6 billion dollars to battle the opioid crisis.
- In 2017, there were 6.9 new marriages per 1,000 people and 3.2 divorces (www.cdc.gov). About 7% of all Americans are now choosing cohabitation over marriage, ten times the number who are getting married every year.
- Each year about 10,000,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 contract a sexually transmitted disease (www.cdc.gov).
- Bankruptcies are nearing an all-time high with 819,000 filings in 2016.
- Less than 20% of all Americans attend church each week. This means that 4 out of 5 people have found something more fulfilling to do.
- Each year somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 churches close.
- Add to this the polarization of our country so that we are more divided than at anytime prior to the Civil War and you get the picture!
Conclusion: It is time for us to pray and to join with others who are doing the same.2 Chronicles 7:14reminds us that “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
- The conditions– If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves(this is our way of saying that we have problems and only God can resolve them) and pray(this starts withconfession of sin) and seek my face(to seek God’s face is to be in fellowship with Him which requires repentance) and turn from their wicked ways.
- The promise– I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. This was a promise God made to Israel but it can also be applied to the church. Humility, confession, fellowship with God and repentance should be the norms for us as well.
If you’re here this morning and you want to be a healthy and holy Christian, then I don’t see how you can avoid the call to pray! It’s incumbent on every believer who earnestly desires more of God. And when there is critical mass of believers who fall to their knees, well, that’s when we can expect to see God bring revival and awakening just as He has done in the past in response to movements of prayer. And you and I both know that this is what it is going to take to see our country grow and change for the better.
This morning, I would like to challenge each of us to make it a goal to spend personal time every day for the next twelve months praying for our church, our communities, our country. I’m calling this the three Cs. If you’re willing to pray for each one (church, community and country) faithfully in 2019, I’d like you sign up at our prayer table after the service today or sometime next Sunday. Then, it will be our responsibility to provide you with a weekly email update of requests so you that you can bring each one before the Lord.
It’s about to get real exciting here at River Ridge Church. I can’t wait to see what the Lord will do when we will ask Him to revive our hearts and awaken the souls of millions here in America and around the world.