Lord, what will you have me do?
One hundred and fifty-five years ago, a quiet, unassuming businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier uttered this simple but sincere prayer. He had just been left behind by the North Dutch Reformed Church located on Fulton Street in New York City. The relocating church had experienced dwindling attendance but hoped Jeremiah could revive the property as a mission.
The church’s problems reflected a dwindling interest in God and religion throughout the nation. In 1857, the United States had also lost much of its recent prosperity through a major economic recession. Added to this were major social problems, foremost slavery, which continued to deeply divide the nation.
As Jeremiah prayed this prayer, he sensed that God wanted him to start a prayer meeting. He quickly printed and distributed flyers to businessmen who passed by the church. The flyer announced a one-hour prayer meeting at noon every Wednesday. When the first prayer meeting started, Jeremiah was the only one present. Twenty minutes later, he remained alone. Finally, at 12:30 p.m., five gentlemen came in and joined him in prayer. The next week, there were 14 and the following week, 23. The prayer meeting was experiencing modest but steady growth.
Suddenly, the United States was rocked by a major Wall Street crash. Stocks plummeted causing a bank panic. Many of the rich became destitute overnight. Hundreds of businesses fell into bankruptcy. Over 30,000 workers lost their jobs in New York City alone. The entire country seemed to be collapsing.
Those meeting for prayer decided to start praying daily. Soon there was a dramatic change. Within three months, over 300 similar prayer meetings started in New York City with over 50,000 people praying for one hour. Soon this prayer revival expanded to other cities throughout the United States. It eventually spread to nations in Europe, Asia and Australia. Within months, millions experienced a rekindling of their love for God and their fellow man.
This spiritual revival became a catalyst for resolving many social problems such as poverty, worker’s rights, alcoholism, slum housing and racial bitterness. Numerous social organizations like the Salvation Army and YMCA were formed or expanded. Dr. Livingstone, D.L. Moody and William Booth became great leaders during this spiritual and social revitalization. To this day, the Fulton Street Prayer Revival stands as one of the most spiritually transformational and socially beneficial movements in this nation’s history.
There are many parallels between the challenges of 1857 America and this present day. If only we were assured of a similar outcome! At this critical moment in our nation’s history, I am reminded of the importance of a simple prayer given from a sincere and humble heart. Such a prayer can change the very course of our nation when connected to the Lord’s plans and purposes.
As we near Election Day, let us turn our hearts to God and pray, “Lord, what will you have me do?”