Prayer: Key to Awakening
By Dave Earley
The first major revival in America occurred in the 1730’s – 1740’s. It is now called the Great Awakening as godly repentance and true conversion swept through the colonies transforming society and revitalizing Christianity. In the early years of the divine outpouring, an estimated 50,000 people were converted out of a New England population of 250,000 (20%) As God’s work continued the number of Baptist churches grew from 9 to 400. Other denominations also experienced growth and multiplication.
America in Need of Revival
America in the 1730’s was in dire need of God. Gambling, drunkenness and sexual immorality were spreading especially among young adults. Churches were floundering were many unconverted members. Spiritual impotence was such that one pastor remarked that “religion lay as it were dying, and ready to expire its last breathe of life.”
In 1729, a twenty-six year old pastor named Jonathan Edwards took over from his grandfather the role as sole pastor of the North Hampton Church. It was one of the largest and wealthiest churches in colonies. Because of a lack of land in the area, many of young adults could not marry and start a family. They were wasting their time late at night drinking and in sexually immoral behavior.
A few in the church were fervently praying for a spiritual break-through and an out-pouring. Edwards began to preach against the sin and the nature of divine judgment in the face of resistance by his flock.
In 1734, Edwards began to preach the gospel clearly in a series of sermons on “justification by faith alone.” After two young adults died unexpectedly, his words finally were received and six young adults were converted including a young lady known as the worst sexual offender. Her changed life became the talk of the town. Within six months, 300 of the 1,100 people in town were converted (25% of the population).
When Edwards wrote of the events in his book, “A Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversion (1737).” He said, “The town seemed to be full of the presence of God.” He also said, “Our public assemblies were beautiful, the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone earnestly intent on public worship.”
The revival spread through-out New England. As the revival began to cool, George Whitefield, one of the leaders of the Great Awakening in England, came to America to preach in 1739. He and Edwards joined together and revival renewed, grew and spread through all the colonies as thousands more were converted.
Prayer: The Key to Revival
Later, Edwards began to tell others of the great importance prayer plays in revival. In 1743 he published Thoughts on the Revival in New England. In it he said,
“It is God’s will through His wonderful grace, that the prayers of His saints should be one of the great principal means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world.
When God has something very great to accomplish for His church, it is His will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of His people; as is manifest by Ezekiel 36:37.
And it is revealed that, when God is about to accomplish great things for His church, He will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication (see Zechariah 12:10).” – Jonathan Edwards
In 1746, Edwards began to sense that the extraordinary power and momentum of the First Great Awakening was beginning to wane. He knew that Christians needed to urgently pray. So he took it on himself to write a call to united prayer. The title of the booklet says it all, A Humble Attempt to Promote the Agreement and Union of God’s People throughout the World in Extraordinary Prayer For a Revival Of Religion And The Advancement Of God’s Kingdom On Earth, According To Scriptural Promises And Prophecies Of The Last Time (Jonathan Edwards 1746). The title says it all!
In it he stated, “That which God abundantly makes the subject of his promises, God’s people should abundantly make the subject of their prayers.” He also said, “There is no way that Christians, in a private capacity, can do so much to promote the work of God and advance the kingdom of Christ as by prayer.”
In the 18th century, America experienced a great spiritual awakening that brought in a huge harvest of souls as a result of united prayer for revival and the advancement of God’s kingdom.
We can’t we see the same? Why don’t we put revival atop our prayer lists?
It happened before, it can happen again!