Many today are confused and frustrated at the unrelenting waves of economic woes that are coming upon our nation. The recent downgrade of our nation’s credit rating, and the subsequent plummeting of stock prices has dealt an embarrassing blow to our nation’s esteem, not to speak of the depletion of the investments of millions of people.
I read recently about a similar economic collapse that occurred in 1857. It’s startling to see the similarities. After a period of expansion and prosperity in the US, a spirit of carelessness and speculation began to set in. Across the ocean other nations were facing financial panic. Before long our nation was plunged into severe economic depression. Prior to this there had been an explosion in credit activity. Greedy business people had borrowed outrageous sums of money to produce goods for which there was no demand. Banking institutions began to weaken and ultimately fail. Commercial activity came to a virtual standstill. Hundreds of thousands were thrown out of work. The Panic of 1857 was in full swing.
But many Americans began to question their materialistic lifestyle. The disappointment of temporal things began to cause them to hunger for something eternal. One leading business publication of the day encouraged weary business people to “steal away for awhile from Wall Street and from every worldly care, and spend an hour around mid-day in humble and hopeful prayer.”
Interestingly, just four weeks before that 1857 financial meltdown, God had quietly begun a work in the heart of a man in the heart of New York City. The North Reformed Protestant Dutch Church had just called a lay missionary by the name of Jeremiah Lanphier to minister in the neighborhood of their church. Lanphier was an active and energetic businessman who left his mercantile business to begin serving God in the city.
Dr. Roy Fish, in his book When Heaven Touched Earth, records the amazing events that unfolded:
“While making daily rounds, he observed the countenances of numerous businessmen hurrying along their way. Their care-worn faces and anxious, restless gaze made Mr. Lanphier think that a period of prayer at noon might provide a needed lift for such men.
“After exhausting limited means of publicizing such a meeting, the third floor lecture room of the North Reformed Dutch Church was opened for prayer on September 23rd at the noon hour. For thirty minutes, Lanphier prayed alone. At 12:30, a step was heard on the stairs. Soon another came, and another, until finally six men were there to inaugurate the Fulton Street prayer meetings. It was almost prophetic of a proper spirit of cooperation that would later pervade these meetings that, at the first meeting, the six men present represented four different denominations.
“At the second meeting a week later, twenty men were present. The meetings were calculated toward brevity. Everything was arranged for the man who could stay only five or ten minutes. No remark or prayer was to exceed the five-minute limit. Singing or hymns and the reading of Scripture interspersed other functions. One week later, between thirty and forty men were present, and the service was of such an encouraging nature that the decision was made to hold the meetings daily. On October 14th, over one hundred men attended the meeting, many of them unconverted. The meetings grew, and before the close of the second month, all three of the lecture rooms of the church were filled. Within six months of the beginning date, as many as fifty thousand were attending this and other union prayer meetings daily in New York alone. Within two years, the fires of revival had swept the entire nation, and some one million people had been added to the churches nationally.”
God is speaking to our nation. The convergence of the economic downturn and the repeated natural disasters (drought, severe heat, tornados, and floods) are no mere twist of bad luck. God wants our attention. Will we listen?