Pursuing the heart of God for the sake of our community.
(This information was shared at our weekly prayer meeting on Wednesday, April 21st).
As Laura and I were completing our evaluation process for planting a Vineyard Church, I had a vivid dream one night.
A Dream About Prayer
The dream began with a scene of a large church worship space and a small group of people (maybe 8 or 10) gathered in a circle in the middle of the space. The lights were off except for a light that shone over the group gathered in a circle. We were all praying. I remember it was a very powerful prayer time that left me energized and excited for what God was doing. The Holy Spirit was present in an intense way and the few of us gathered together were praying powerful and passionate prayers. There was a strong sense that God was with us and something significant was happening.
Then the scene shifted to the same large church worship space. However, this time all the lights were on and the entire space was filled with people. The choir loft was filled with various Pastors and Church leaders. There were people standing along the walls and out in the lobby looking in. The entire room was energized with the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was a community wide prayer meeting and everyone was pleading to have their turn to pray. I was running around with a microphone trying to make sure everyone was being heard.
I remember waking up from this dream with the thought on my mind that God wants to do something in Spring and The Woodlands… and it involves corporate prayer.
A Vision About Houses of Prayer
After some time, we had been released to begin the church planting process. Not long after, the COVID-19 Pandemic hit and we found ourselves in lock down. In fact, our first scheduled Sunday meeting was the same weekend we were all encouraged to stay home and lock down. So we quickly moved our meetings online with Zoom. One particular prayer meeting, we had some family members over and a few of our friends and church members were online. During the prayer time Laura began describing a vision she was having of a house with flames of fire hovering over the top of the house. The house was a meeting place for a prayer meeting.
While she was describing what she was seeing, I was seeing something very similar. I was seeing a typical street that you would see in The Woodlands. One particular house on the street had bright lights shining out of the house and hitting all the other houses on the street. Then I sensed the Holy Spirit say to me, “Don’t stop until My glory covers every street in The Woodlands.” I remember thinking, “How could this be? This is too big for us.
Over the next few weeks as I prayed about this, I began to sense that God wanted to raise up a home in each village in The Woodlands and in Spring that would be designated as a “House of Prayer.” A group of people in that village would meet there regularly for prayer with the idea of pursuing God’s heart for the community. I also sensed that God had two instructions for the group – Pray & Obey! Meaning to seek God’s heart… seeking out what he wants to do in that community/village and then to obey what He says or reveals.
I believe this is something God wants to do in our community. Our desires, which we believe spring from God’s heart, is that all of this would be done in cooperation and unity with other Bible-believing churches in the area.
The Prayer Revival of 1857
Recently, God has been drawing my attention to the prayer revival of 1857. It was also called the Layman’s Revival and some even call it the 3rd Great Awakening in the United States. I wanted to take a moment to just summarize what was happening then, because I believe it gives us some insight as to what God wants to do today – not that it will be identical but similar conditions and characteristics.
In 1857, the population in the United States was around 30 million people. There were 31 states including California.
Rise of Materialism
The expansion of the railroad across the United States was picking up momentum. There were already 9,000 miles of track in place. This was spurring on an economic boom. More businesses were moving from local community commerce to intercity and interstate commerce. Wealth was on the rise. During this time the gold rush was also in full swing out west. It was a general consensus among the churches that the nation was turning away from God and embracing its new found wealth in a pursuit of materialism.
Early on in the year, the controversial Dread Scott case was decided. Regrettably, it was determined that African Americans could not become citizens of the United States. This led to a public outrage in some parts of the United States and to relief in others. Ultimately laying the foundations for the Civil War. Needless to say, racial division and strife was on the rise.
Church Attendance Declining
In addition, church attendance was declining rapidly during this time period. Especially in the large cities of the northeast. In response, many churches started advocating for regular and special prayer meetings to call on God for revival, awakening and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Ontario, Canada, concerts of prayer were being organized and conversions were beginning to take place.
God Calls His People To Prayer
In New York, although many churches were leaving the inner city, one in particular decided to remain and be an influence in the city. This church hired a business man, who had been led to Christ in a Charles Finney meeting, to come and be a missionary to the city. His name was Jeremiah Lanphier. He began going door-to-door to businesses and homes to attempt to evangelize people. Having little success, he found himself sitting alone in a room at the church calling out to God for help. He believed God gave him the idea of holding a prayer meeting once a week during the noon hour and inviting all the area businessmen to attend.
About that time (August 1857), the Ohio Life and Trust Co. of Cincinnati, which had a branch in New York City had to close its doors due to embezzlement. This began a financial panic in the city.
In this troubled environment, Jeremiah Lanphier began to hold prayer meetings at the church during the noon hour. The first meeting was on September 23, 1857. Just a handful of people would join the prayer meetings at the beginning. But, Jeremiah stayed faithful and continued to meet every week.
Just two weeks later, it was becoming clear that the financial conditions of the city and thus the country had progressively worsened. By October 10th, the stock market crashed and 18 of the major banks in New York suspended operations. There was a full blown recession in place and business were beginning to fail. Unemployment was rising quickly and people were in a panic. Murder and suicide were on the rise and people were turning to desperate means to make a living.
People Began To Turn To God
As a result, after some time, Jeremiah’s noon-day prayer meeting was beginning to see larger numbers of people attend. So much so that Jeremiah had to begin putting some rules in place to govern the meetings. For example: People were restricted to 5 minutes to share a testimony or pray and they had to let others speak up before they could have the floor again. Also, no controverted topics were allowed to be discussed.
The numbers continued to grow until the meetings were happening daily and were held outside under tents to accommodate the crowds. It was estimated that at its height there were 150,000 people gathering for prayer.
Prayer meetings began to spring up in other cities as well and the prayer movement began to spread all across the country. Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, etc… Churches in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Iowa, California, Connecticut, Virginia were reporting “spiritual outpourings.”
It seemed to be clear that this prayer and revival movement was a sovereign work of God and was crossing denominational lines, racial lines, and socio-economic lines. The people were crying out to God and asking, “What must I do to be saved?” It was estimated that after a 2 ½ year time span over 1 million people were converted. Charles Finney, the great American Evangelist, was recorded as saying, “This was in the winter of 1857 & 1858; and it will be remembered that it was a time that a great revival prevailed throughout the land in such a tremendous manner, that for some weeks it was estimated that not less than fifty thousand conversions occurred a week.”
A Unique Move Of God
The defining characteristics of this Revival was: 1) Laymen led – this was not led by great preachers and evangelist, or charismatic personalities as in the past. 2) Prayer was the key – not great and inspiring sermons. 3) The Holy Spirit initiated the conviction and the conversions spontaneously; they were not manipulated or coerced by emotional means.
Just a few quick testimonies to illustrate this point:
1) Edwin Orr, great evangelist and revivalist, relates the story of a visiting merchant to New York city who was selecting goods when noon came. “He requested the city wholesaler to work through the noon hour” so that he would be able to return to Albany by the evening riverboat. “He was resolutely told, ‘No! I can’t help that. I have something to attend that is of more importance than the selling of goods. I must attend the noon-day prayer meeting. It will close at one o’clock, and I will then fill out your order.’” They both attended the meeting and the visitor was converted. When he returned to Albany, he immediately began a noonday prayer meeting in the state’s capital.
2) At a prayer meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a request was read: “A praying wife requests the prayers of this meeting for her unconverted husband.” A burly man stood up and blurted, “I am that man. I have a praying wife and this request must be for me. I want you to pray for me.” No sooner had he sat down than another man arose with sobs and tears to claim, “I am sure that I am that man, and I want you to pray for me.” Within a few minutes, three other unconverted husbands had stood and asked for prayer.
3) From Christian Equippers International Spirit-Led Evangelism textbook on Revival: “A schoolboy in class became so troubled about his soul that the schoolmaster sent him home. An older boy, a Christian, went with him, and before they had gone far led him to Christ. Returning at once to the school, this new convert testified to his teacher: “Oh, I am so happy! I have the Lord Jesus in my heart.” These simple words had an astonishing effect; boy after boy rose silently and left the room. Going outside, the teacher found these boys all on their knees in a row along the wall of the playground. Very soon, their silent prayer became a bitter cry: it was heard by another class inside and pierced their hearts. They fell on their knees and their cry for mercy was heard in turn by a girl’s class above. In a few moments, the whole school was on their knees! Neighbors and passersby came flocking in, and as they crossed the threshold, they all came under the same convicting power. Every room was filled with men, women and children seek God.
As a young minister during the renewal of the 1990’s, I experienced similar moments where, in response to sincere and passionate prayer, God would sovereignly move and people would respond without any prompting or persuasion. I hope to tell these stories sometime soon, because they were truly amazing. I believe the Holy Spirit wants to do this again in the very near future and I believe He is calling us to prayer in preparation.
Pursuing The Heart Of God For The Sake Of Our Community
Yet, what is very important in the days ahead is not that we seek God for revival, awakening or an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; but, that we seek His heart… we seek Him. I believe if we pursue the heart of God for the sake of our community, He will answer us… He will reveal to us what is on His heart and we will see Him begin to move powerfully.
So, let us not despise the day of small beginnings. It begins with the 8 or 10 that will gather for prayer. Interestingly, the phrase “despise the day of small things” comes from Zechariah, chapter 4. In that same chapter are these words… “Not by strength or by might, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”
Laura and I are open to feedback, suggestions, ideas and anything that God may be saying to you concerning this. We know God will share His heart with anyone who is seeking Him. So, let us know what God is saying to you.
For His Kingdom and His Glory!