Pausing to Pray

Today we're celebrating the National Day of Prayer at a time when many Americans are fearfully questioning what's happening in our culture—and even asking whether our society can survive. In my book Loving God, I tell the story of another time when Americans feared that they were teetering on the brink of social collapse—and how a tremendous outpouring of prayer led to one of the greatest revivals in American history. The story begins in 1858, when a New York businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier started a weekly prayer meeting. In the beginning it was just a handful of people who met in a small room at the Old North Dutch Church in New York City. The weekly meeting soon turned into a daily one. Then other churches heard of Lanphier's group and began prayer meetings of their own. Within a few months, 10,000 people were gathering daily at noon for open prayer meetings in the streets of New York. The impact of that prayer was tremendous. Within 24 months, two million converts entered American churches. The revival spread through the Hudson River Valley and on to Chicago. Then it jumped the Atlantic to dance like fire across much of Europe, then on to South Africa and India. Today most Christians recognize that our society is in a tremendous crisis. Some people think we're no longer even able to maintain civil discourse. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, people are desperately asking a question that goes right to the very heart of the matter. Will the greatest experiment in self-government, the greatest experiment in liberty in human history, survive? For the answer to that, we need to look back to the time of Jeremiah Lanphier, a time when multiple social earthquakes were about to split American society wide open. An economic crisis loomed on the horizon. One of the country's two major political parties, the Whigs, was dissolving over the slavery issue. Abolitionists had turned violent, and the Civil War was about to erupt. Society was in chaos, and there was a very real fear that this boisterous young country would not survive. It was under the cloud of these national traumas that Jeremiah Lanphier bent his head to pray with a handful of friends—and thereby began a revival that affected the Western world for half a century. No, the revival didn't avert a massive civil war. But it did sustain people through the war. It prepared them for the enormous task of rebuilding the nation—to take on the huge challenges of the Industrial Revolution and of absorbing millions of immigrants who stepped ashore in the decades to come. One of America's greatest revival historians, the late Dr. J. Edwin Orr, argued that the great revival begun by Lanphier is what prepared America to become a world power. So when we see Americans questioning whether we'll even survive as a society, we ought to remember that we've been through all of this before. And that the answer to the problems that plague us today is the same answer that Americans discovered 140 years ago. How do you move a country out of chaos? You move it on your knees. You move it through prayer.


Chuck Colson



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