Revivals have never been dominated by eloquent or clever preaching. If you had timed the meetings of old with a stopwatch, you would have found far more minutes given to prayer, weeping and repentance than to sermons. In the “Prayer Meeting Revival” of 1857-59 there was virtually no preaching at all. Yet it apparently produced the greatest harvest of any spiritual awakening in American history: estimates run to 1,000,000 converts across the United States, out of a national population at that time of only 30,000,000. That would be proportionate to 9,000,000 today falling on their knees in repentance.
How did this happen? A quiet businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier started a Wednesday noon prayer meeting in a Dutch Reformed church here in New York City, no more than a quarter mile from Wall Street. The first week, six people showed up. The next week, twenty came. The next forty . . . and then they decided to have daily meetings.
“There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, just an incredible movement of people to pray,” reports J. Edwin Orr. “The services were not given over to preaching. Instead, anyone was free to pray.”
During the fourth week, the Panic of 1857 hit; the bond market crashed, and the first banks failed. (Within a month, more than 1400 banks had collapsed.) People began calling out to God more seriously than ever. Lanphier’s church started having three noontime prayer meetings in different rooms. John Street Methodist Church, a few doors east of Broadway, was packed out as well. Soon Burton’s Theater on Chambers Street was jammed with 3,000 people each noon.
The scene was soon replicated in Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, Washington, and cities throughout the southern United States. By the next spring 2,000 Chicagoans were gathering each day in the Metropolitan Theater to pray. A young 21-year-old, newly arrived in the city, felt his first call to do Christian work in those meetings. He wrote his mother that he was going to start a Sunday school class. His name? Dwight L. Moody!
Does anyone really think that America today is lacking preachers, books, Bible translations, and neat doctrinal statements? What we really lack is the passion to call upon the Lord until He opens the heavens and shows Himself powerful.
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.
Is it possible to really love the Lord, have a heart for God, spend time and money in His work, put God first, be dedicated to Him—and still hold on to areas of disobedience to the clear Word of God?
With all his heart Solomon wanted divine wisdom and discernment to know the difference between right and wrong. God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I shall give thee” (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon was given “an understanding heart to . . . discern between good and bad” (1 Kings 3:9). But God added this warning: “If thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days” (1 Kings 3:14). Solomon heard a powerful sermon from God Himself! He had the sermons of his father David ringing in his ears and also the example of his father’s sin and consequent judgment. He had the law and the judges, including Deborah, Samuel and the prophet Nathan. David warned, “Keep the charge of the Lord thy God . . . to keep his statutes, and his commandments . . . as it is written in the law of Moses” (1 Kings 2:3).
Solomon knew the Word. As a result of all God revealed to him, he wrote over a thousand songs and three thousand proverbs! In his proverbs, he warned against the evil power of strange women: “Her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell” (Proverbs 5:4-5). Oh, how he knew the Word! How good he was at preaching it to others. World leaders came to consult with him. But as wise, discerning, and God-blessed as he was, he still clung to areas of disobedience in his life.
Solomon took a single step of disobedience which eventually turned him into a hardened, sermon-proof, lust-driven man. He considered it a small indiscretion when he took the daughter of Pharaoh as his wife; to him it was just a marriage of convenience. He “took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David” (1 Kings 3:1). She was the strange woman Solomon warned against in his proverbs, the woman whose gate led to hell! The daughter of Pharaoh represents that single cord that still holds us to something of this world, a single, besetting sin that is not surrendered—that single compromise that always seems justified!
Prayer and humility, along with a hatred for sin, produces a “mind to work.” “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). True revivals of holiness always produce workers. Books and seminars and lectures don’t—but revival does!
When God is doing something genuine among His people, Satan conspires against it. “But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth, and conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it” (Nehemiah 4:7-8).
The enemy became very angry and conspired to come up against them to fight and to hinder! His tactic was to secretly infiltrate the body by sneaking up on them unexpectedly. “Our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease” (verse 11).
They planned to bring into their midst a secret army of pretenders in disguise. The enemy had no sudden, open, frontal attack, but rather said, “We will come in the midst among them!”
The tactic was inside sabotage! The enemy said, “They will never know it is happening.”
And Satan’s strategy has never changed. Even now he is sending his “angels of light” into gatherings worldwide with doctrinal sabotage and seductions.
How can we detect them? What is our safeguard? “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them” (Nehemiah 4:9). The key here is an intense hatred for sin, true brokenness, fervent prayer and constant vigilance—along with staying saturated with the Word of God.
Beloved, allow the Holy Spirit to probe your heart very deeply and very thoroughly, that you may walk wholly blameless before the Lord in this late hour.
In 1986 I walked through Times Square in New York City, weeping and mourning because of all the sin. I went back to my home in Texas, and for more than a year I wept and mourned. Then God said, “Go and do something about all the ruin.”
I had come and seen the destruction, but I was not fully broken until I was moved with hope to begin to rebuild the wall!
Have you been “viewing the ruin” in your own life? Like David, have you sinned and brought reproach on His name? Is there a breach in your wall, something that is not repaired?
Beloved, it is good to fall on the Rock (Jesus) and be shattered—to be broken into little pieces. When you see Christ in all His glory, the sight of Him will indeed shatter you. Even the good things in you—the talent, the efficiency, all your abilities—will be shattered when you stand before Him, helpless and drained!
Daniel said, “There remained no strength in me: for my comeliness (strength) was turned in me into corruption (ruin), and I retained no strength” (Daniel 10:8). Brokenness is the total shattering of all human strength and ability. It is recognizing the full reality of sin and the reproach it brings on Christ’s name!
However, brokenness is also recognizing this: “Stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent” (Daniel 10:11). It is the absolute assurance that things are going to change—that healing and rebuilding are going to come. Your ruins are going to be reclaimed for God!
It is a holy faith that says, “God is at work in me! Satan cannot hold me. I am not going to deteriorate or fall. My sin has grieved me, but I have repented. Now it’s time to rise and rebuild!”
Until you take hold of that hope, zeal and determination, you will not get past your tears. Your life may still appear to be a rubble heap, with mounds of dirt and broken-down places that need repair. But remember that you have His sword and tools in hand. And above you there is a big sign, posted by the Lord’s own hand, that reads: GOD IS AT WORK!
I once thought I knew what a broken heart was. I thought I had experienced much brokenness— until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to a deeper meaning of the word.
David said, “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Brokenness is more than weeping, more than sorrow, more than a crushed spirit, more than humility. Indeed, many who weep are not brokenhearted. Many who lie before God and groan are not broken in spirit. True brokenness releases in the heart the greatest power God can entrust to man—greater than power to raise the dead, greater than power over sickness and disease!
The Spirit said to my heart, “I will show you what God sees as brokenheartedness so that I can release in you the kind of power needed in a time of ruin.” This brokenness results in a power to restore ruins—a power that brings a special kind of glory and honor to our Lord in troubled times!
Brokenness has to do with walls: broken down, crumbling, ruined walls. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart. . . . Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem” (Psalm 51:17-18). God associated the walls of Jerusalem with brokenheartedness.
Let me show you an example of a truly brokenhearted man: “And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast I rode upon. . . . Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned” (Nehemiah 2:12, 15).
In the dark of night Nehemiah “viewed the wall.” The Hebrew word shabar is used here—the same word used in Psalm 51:17 for “broken heart.”
Some would think Nehemiah became broken when he “sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). Yet his weeping and confessing was only the beginning of the breaking. Nehemiah's heart was not fully broken until he came to Jerusalem, saw the ruin—and set himself to do something about it!