10 Prayers That Changed the World
…and What We Can Learn From Them
By: Danny R. Von Kanel
Millions of prayers filter toward God across our nation. Many miss their mark. Others touch the very heart of God. With 83% of people saying they pray to God, according to Barna Research, it would be helpful to examine whose prayers brought dramatic change to our world.
The following 10 prayers were chosen because of their impact and are ranked accordingly. Consider the following in the areas of timing, testing, targeting, and trusting.
1.[i] The Haystack Prayer Meeting
Five students of Williamson College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in August 1806 met in grove of trees near the Hoosack River to debate the theology of missionary service. A thunderstorm crashed their debate and the students took cover in a haystack. “The brevity of the shower, the strangeness of the place of refuge, and the peculiarity of their topic of prayer and conference took hold of their imaginations and their memories.”[ii]
The Haystack Prayer Meeting is viewed by many scholars as the primary event for the development of Protestant missions in the subsequent decades and century.
The Second Great Awakening awoke a sleeping populace and spread from its origins in Connecticut to Massachusetts – finding ready kindling in Williamson College. The time ripened for God to intervene and ignite passions for the lost around the world.
Times of testing awaited the first American missionaries. The American Board of Commissioners on Foreign Missions, formed by some members of the Haystack group, sent five missionaries to India (including Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice) in 1812. Learning new languages, establishing school systems, and working with indigent peoples proved challenging, demanding, and not without setbacks.
The Haystack Prayer Meeting resulted in targeted missionaries being sent to the Near East, India, Africa, and China. By 1961, 5,000 missionaries to 34 different fields roamed the earth.
Numerous churches, organizations, missionary societies, and denominations emerged from the faith and prayers of the five haystack gatherers.
2.[iii] The National Day of Prayer for Dunkirk
War with Germany sat on the brink of defeat in 1940. 500,000 British and French troops lay trapped in a small coastal enclave.
On May 23, numerous political leaders, newspaper editors and King George VI issued a call for a national day of prayer to be held on Sunday, May 26.”[iv]
The result: Just 24 hours after the call for prayer, Adolph Hitler inexplicably ordered his armies to halt.[v]
Two days later the nation gathered to pray. On May 26, the men on Dunkirk were miraculously rescued.
At its bleakest hour, England prayed. No one says it came at an inopportune time.
With the nation about to capitulate to Hitler, it took fortitude and a belief God would intervene despite initial opposition to the National Day of Prayer.
The prayer specifically requested God’s deliverance for the men at Dunkirk
God’s people had faith. “Church attendance skyrocketed, including a large gathering at Westminster Abbey, during which people pleaded with the Almighty to spare their husbands, sons and fathers at Dunkirk.”[vi]
3.[vii] The Powerful Booth Knee Drill
William Booth, Salvation Army founder, introduced the knee drill to his soldiers. This amounted to a Sunday morning prayer meeting. Drills revolutionized his army.
The Salvation Army now works in 106 countries around the world. Nothing else but prayer can explain such explosive growth.
Booth, in 1865, gave up his comfortable London pulpit to meet the needs of the millions of the destitute, poor, homeless, and hungry – he knew he couldn’t do it alone. Fervent prayer gave the impetus for thousands of soldiers to take up the cause.
The knee drill was a way of life for Booth. James Lawson writes in Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians: “Some nights after being beaten and ridiculed he would come home and take his wife’s hand and say, ‘Kate, let me pray with you.’ After praying with her he would rise from his knees armed with fresh courage and hope.”
Prayers spiraled toward heaven for those Booth loved most – the hungry, poor, outcast, and destitute
In 1878, when the name was changed to Salvation Army, to the 1900’s, these knee drillers mushroomed; trusting God was their war cry.
4. [viii]The Schuylkill River Prayer by George Washington
George Washington prayer at Valley Forge changed the misfortunes of his army. As recorded by Isaac Potts, we have this account: “At the moment when friend Potts, concealed by the trees, came up, Washington was interceding for his beloved country.”[ix]
Washington’s soldiers, starved, without shoes, and demoralized from hunger, needed a miracle. God answered.
“One foggy morning the soldiers noticed the Schuylkill River seemed to be boiling. Thousands and thousands of shad, which were making their way upstream in an unusual early migration, caused the disturbance. Suddenly and wonderfully there was plenty of food for the army.”[x]
A brutal winter had Washington’s army in shambles. At no point in the war did they need divine intervention like Valley Forge.
With the success of the war and the survival of his army on his shoulders, Washington was tested like no mortal man could be.
Specific request for provision for his men, gratitude for God’s watch care, and guidance for fighting this war ensued from Washington’s prayer.
Washington trusted God. Potts told his wife, “But if George Washington be not a man of God, I am mistaken; and still more shall I be disappointed if God, through him,does not perform some great thing for the country.”[xi
5.[xii] The James McGready Prayer Gatherings
JamesMcGready, a Presbyterian and revivalist, during the Second Great Awakening in America, spear-headed and promulgated revival throughout Kentucky and beyond.
Prayer became the instrument for revival. On arriving, he read a covenant to his three congregations. The following is the part on prayer:
“…we bind ourselves to observe the third Saturday of each month, for one year, as a day of fasting and prayer for the conversion of sinners in Logan county, and throughout the world. We also engage to spend one half hour every Saturday evening, beginning at the setting of the sun, and one half hour every Sabbath morning, from the rising of the sun, pleading with God to revive his work.”[xiii]
This started the revival of 1800 and subsequent years to follow. Revival, surging in his blood, stirred his countryman while he became its spokesman, advocate, and premier preacher.
McGready’s prayer emphasis came at a time when the churches had a “low state of religious interest” and in need of revival.
The summer of 1797 saw one woman saved, but met with some opposition during the next fall and winter. McGready persevered with the Gasper River Meeting the following summer where revival spread.
McGready’s covenant and the prayers that followed, targeted his three churches in Logan County.
His memberships signed a covenant where they united their supplications for God to bring revival. They believe he would.
6. [xiv]The Erskine/Backus Arousing
John Erskine, a minister in Edinburgh, Scotland, sent a little book on prayer, a “Memorial”, to Jonathon Edwards espousing the need to pray for the revival of religion. Edwards, moved by it, wrote “An Humble Attempt”. Together, they contributed to changing mission history.
The end result brought about “A Call to Prayer of 1784”, arousing a national interest to pray and the establishing of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792. Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor in New England, in 1794 challenged pastors throughout America to set aside a day for prayer. Erskine and Backus with a focus on prayer, led to The Second Great Awakening.
Sin ran deep throughout America in the late 1700’s. Society reeked of irreligious and wild living. Erskine and Backus’ call for prayer came at the right moment.
In a time when Chief Justice John Marshall said, “The church is too far gone to ever be redeemed”[xv]
and Voltaire asserted and Tom Paigne mimicked, “Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years”[xvi]
, revival, even with concerted prayers, did not come easily.
These prayers targeted lost humanity and the condition of the country. They also pointed toward specific times for prayer by clergy and laity.
Backus, Edwards, Erskine, believed God …and so did their congregations. Revival blossomed when nurtured by such faith.
7. [xvii]The Prayer Walk (Berlin Wall)
In 1987, when President Reagan said, “Gorbachev, tear down that wall”[xviii]
, little did he know that God through prayer walks two years later would bring it down.
In 1989, groups of 10 or 12 assembled in homes on Monday nights to pray for peace – some 50,000 people by October. After that, they peacefully moved into churches and the streets. News reports said their numbers enlarged to 300,000, and on Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall fell.
These were peaceful demonstrations in the streets. Those who prayed, with some in East Berlin, proved faithful despite communist oppression.
They zeroed in on peace … and the wall coming down.
History proves they believed God. A leader of the Communist Party in East Germany said, "We had planned everything, we were prepared for everything, but not for candles and prayers."[xix]
8. [xx]The Jeremiah Lanphier Prayer
Jeremiah Lamphier, a missionary appointed July 1, 1857 in downtown New York, initiated “How Often Should I Pray” gatherings and reaped a whirlwind of revival.
Led of the Lord, he started lunch meetings where business people could meet for prayer. Numbers grew. “6.6 percent of the entire population of the United States was converted during the revival.”[xxi]
Our nation mourned during this time of civil war. Lives were lost; families torn asunder. It was perfect timing for a mighty movement of God. Some would say, “The North really did not win the war—prayer and a mighty revival did!”[xxii]
Lamphier had little testing. These prayer meetings became spontaneous. The convicting power of the Holy Spirit doused any opposition.
Businessmen and women of New York city claimed Lamphier’s focus for these meetings.
As people gathered to pray they believed God. Impromptu reproduction of prayer cells was the outcome.
9. The Prayer for the British Capturing Jerusalem
Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby commanded the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in World War I in the capture of Jerusalem.
A devout Christian, Allenby the night before “prayed that God would allow him to capture the city without doing damage to the holy places.”[xxiii]
It happened as he prayed.
Previous attempts had failed. Everything now seemed in place for victory. Timing was just right.
The terrain (three days of rain), his Turkish enemy, and the city itself tested Allenby.
The prayer most likely addressed the battle for Jerusalem the next day.
Allenby trusted God for victory. Though an avid calvaryman, after triumph, he walked into Jerusalem.
10. [xxiv]The Pilgrim’s Feast Prayer
The Pilgrim’s journey to America ended at Plymouth Rock on December 11th, 1620. In the summer of 1621 a severe drought brought suffering. The pilgrims called for a day of fasting and prayer.
The severe drought prompted the first Thanksgiving. Giving thanks for Gods bounty and provision prompted God’s response. “God answered their prayers and it rained at the end of the day. It saved the corn crops.”[xxv]
The pilgrims survived terrible storms, drought, and disease. Being a religious people, it was natural for them to thank God.
Though the actual prayer is not known, it most likely consisted of God’s blessing and thanksgiving for the harvest and request for rain.
Survival depended on trusting God while living in a hostile environment. The Pilgrims had faith.
These 10 prayers forever changed our world. History would read vastly different if it were not for Godly men and women praying. What can we learn?
1. Prayer works. If evil confronts us. Let’s pray!
2. Pray alone if needed until others join us.
3. Pray specific.
4. Trust God.
5. Wait on God’s timing.
May we be world changers with our prayers. Remember, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16)
[i]Ranking based on it affecting multiple countries and that it was long lived; In addition, it being spiritual heirs to: two Mission societies (ABCFM & Global Ministries); two youth organizations (Intervarsity Christian Fellowship & Student Volunteer Movement); and two denominations (United Church of Christ & Disciples of Christ) and 5,000 plus missionaries.
[ii]. The History of the Haystack Prayer Meeting,, http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:OCGc1iNTFlYJ:www.globalministries.org/resources/mission-study/what-is-haystack/the-history-of-the-haystack-pray.html+The+brevity+of+the+shower,+the+strangeness+of+the+place+of&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
[iii] Ranking based on it affecting multiple countries, was long lived, and for possibly saving democracy as we know it; also for saving 500,000 British & French soldiers.
[iv] Caren Burmeister, "‘Voyage of the Damned’ Remembered," United Press International, 4 June 1989, pg. 104
[vi] Ibid, pp. 104-105, p. 133.
[vii]Ranking based on its affecting multiple countries and that it was long lived; also for having churches in over 106 nations around the world, centers in cities throughout the United States, 455,000 membership, and being the largest distributor of humanitarian aid.
[viii] Ranking based on affecting a single country and for saving Washington’s men and possibly the American Revolution.
[ix] Beans 1884 History of Montgomery County, Chapter 14 part 2, The Revolution, note 14 –10, pg. 175
[x] George Washington, Father of our Nation, From a Documentary entitled: The Story Of America's Liberty
[xii]Ranking based on its affecting a single country and was short lived; also for its contribution to the Second Great Awakening in America.
[xiii]Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, Published for the author, 1867, pages 7-17
[xiv] Ranking based on it affecting a single country and being short lived; also for impacting the population of the United States at 3, 929,000 in 1790; dramatic changes in the moral climate; and key figures in the resulting revival.
[xv]J. Edward Orr, Prayer and Revival, http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal1/orr.html
[xvii] Ranking based on affecting two countries and was short lived; in addition, the emotional lift to people around the world; help in ending the Cold War; and encouragement to Christian’s around the world.
[xviii] "Reagan's 'tear down this wall' speech turns 20 - USATODAY.com". http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-06-12-reagan-speech_N.htm. Retrieved on 2008-02-19.
[xx] Rating based on it affecting a single country and being short lived; its contribution to revival nation wide; 6.6 percent of the United States population was converted.
[xxiii]PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Seven Reasons Why Israel Is Entitled To The Land - Senate Floor Statement by U.S. Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla), March 4, 2002
[xxiv]Ranking based on it mainly affecting the United States; also setting an example of Thanksgiving for future generations in America; marked the victory over the British
[xxv] Origin of Thanksgiving , http://www.thanksgiving-day.org/origin-thanksgiving-day.html