Jeremiah Lanphier and the Power of Prayer

Life in the Big Apple was just as busy In 1857 as it is today. The economy was prospering and the “good life” was on the horizon, but the threat of civil war loomed. A gentleman named Jeremiah C. Lanphier saw the city from a different perspective. Lanphier saw a deep spiritual need amid the hustle and bustle, the laughter and the parties. Lanphier felt that God would have him be an instrument of change in this metropolitan city. New York City was in dire need of spiritual life.

The old downtown North Dutch Reformed Church employed Jeremiah Lanphier in hopes that he would influence their area for the gospel. Lanphier began his assignment on July 1, 1857. He put together a folder announcing the church and the new ministry. He distributed this folder along with Bibles and tracts. While he found some success, he was overwhelmed at the enormity of the task. His prayer, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” led him to a novel approach.

Lanphier had found prayer to be a great source of comfort. He had noticed how the businessmen were “hurrying along their way, often with care worn faces, and anxious, restless gaze.” Lanphier presented the idea of a prayer meeting for businessmen to the church board. Their response was less than enthusiastic, but they agreed to allow Lanphier to proceed. Determining that the noon hour was the most feasible time for a prayer meeting, he printed and distributed a handbill publicizing the meeting, and he promoted the meeting with great zeal.

Lanphier’s handbill to promote the prayer meeting said: “A day-prayer meeting is held every Wednesday from 12 to 1 o’clock in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and Williams streets. This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call on God amid the perplexities incident to their respective vocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who find it inconvenient to remain more than 5 or 10 minutes, as well as for those who can spare a whole hour. Necessary interruption will be slight, because anticipated. Those in haste often expedite their business engagements by halting to lift their voices to the throne of grace in humble, grateful prayer.”

Lanphier also took out a full-page ad in the paper advertising the weekly prayer meeting and inviting all who could to come. The first prayer meeting was held on September 23. For the first thirty minutes, Lanphier prayed alone. Then he heard some footsteps, and for the closing moments of this historic prayer meeting, six men knelt to pray for New York. On the next Wednesday, they met again as planned, and the number grew to twenty. When they met during the first week of October, the men felt they should begin to meet daily for prayer; and so they did.

On October 14 more than one hundred people came. By the end of the second month, three large rooms were filled. The Fulton Street prayer meetings were under way. Lanphier had discovered a hunger to meet with God in the city. Other prayer meetings began almost simultaneously across the city. Many churches sponsored such meetings without knowledge of other activities similar to their own. Morning prayer meetings ings were also begun in churches in New York and Brooklyn. Within six months, fifty thousand were meeting daily in New York, while thousands more prayed in other cities. This was the beginning of what is called the Laymen’s Prayer Revival of 1857-58.

Too often we isolate ourselves in prayer, focusing on individual prayer. What if we met with others to pray in community for our communities, our cities, and our nations? What might God do?