There have been times of revival in the past. In the 1860s over a million people were added to the church. United prayer seemed to be the spark. Here’s how it started:
“In September 1857, a man of prayer, Jeremiah Lanphier, started a businessmen’s prayer meeting in the upper room of the Dutch Reformed Church Consistory Building in Manhattan. In response to his advertisement, only six people out of a population of a million showed up. But the following week there were fourteen, and then twenty-three when it was decided to meet everyday for prayer. By late winter they were filling the Dutch Reformed Church, then the Methodist Church on John Street, then Trinity Episcopal Church on Broadway at Wall Street. In February and March of 1858, every church and public hall in down town New York was filled.
Horace Greeley, the famous editor, sent a reporter with horse and buggy racing round the prayer meetings to see how many men were praying. In one hour he could get to only twelve meetings, but he counted 6,100 men attending. Then a landslide of prayer began, which overflowed to the churches in the evenings. People began to be converted, ten thousand a week in New York City alone. The movement spread throughout New England, the church bells bringing people to prayer at eight in the morning, twelve noon, and six in the evening. The revival raced up the Hudson and down the Mohawk, where the Baptists, for example, had so many people to baptize that they went down to the river, cut a big hole in the ice, and baptized them in the cold water. When Baptists do that they are really on fire!”
Taken from J Edwin Orr, The Role of prayer and Spiritual Awakening
Among evangelical organisations unity may often be seen somewhere down the list behind truth and proclamation. However there is a mysterious other dimension that Jesus prays for his disciples, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” As a consequence unity among those who are Christ’s disciples is necessary, not merely an option. It is not ‘at any cost’ – the gospel and its truth are what define the basis of our unity.
Unity is a given, something to be maintained (Ephesians 4:3). It can be messy, but if we believe Jesus’ prayer the rewards are great.
United prayer has happened (and is happening) in many places. This small account of what happened in Hull in the 1860s has been an inspiration to work for similar and greater things now:
“There were united daily prayer meetings in the port city of Kingston upon Hull, supported by the established church and the dissenting denominations. Numbers of people were unable to gain an entrance to the central meetings, and so, many places of worship were opened each evening for prayer. A monthly united prayer meeting attracted more than 3000. As usual a rising tide of evangelism followed, and campaigns were still crowding halls in 1865 to excess, necessitating the hiring of the circus, at which ministers of different denominations preached. Other very successful campaigns were carried on throughout the year 1865.”
Taken from the Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain by J Edwin Orr