In the early 1740s a young printer in Philadelphia reached an agreement with an itinerant preacher from England to print his sermons and journals. Historians say the agreement made Benjamin Franklin rich and George Whitefield famous. With Franklin’s assistance in the printed word, Whitefield’s preaching sparked a spiritual flame that ignited Colonial America. In his autobiography, Franklin noted he could not walk down the streets of Philadelphia in the evening without hearing families singing Christian hymns. Many credit the Great Awakening for creating the values that later produced American Independence.
At noon on September 23, 1857, a businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier waited for others to join him for prayer in a room on Fulton Street in New York. Six people showed up. The next week, 20 came. Then 40. They started meeting daily. The crowd swelled to more than 3,000 following the financial panic of October 14. In less than 6 months, 10,000 businessmen were attending daily prayer meetings in New York. More than 10,000 came to faith in Philadelphia, 5,000 in Boston. At its peak, 50,000 people a week were professing faith in Christ. In Bethel, Conn. businesses closed for prayer. Led by laity and crossing denominational lines, the movement swept more than one million people to faith in Christ leading up to the Civil War.
During the Civil War a little-known shoe salesman from Chicago ministered among the Union troops. Afterward, he gave up selling shoes to win souls. In the last half of the 19th century, Dwight L. Moody preached to over 100 million people in the United States and the U.K. On one occasion more than 130,000 people assembled to hear him preach.
Following the Civil War, baseball became America’s pass time. A war orphan became one of the most popular players for the Chicago White Sox, arguably the fastest runner in the sport. After his conversion to Christ, Billy Sunday hit the “sawdust trail” and moved America with his passionate preaching. He is said to have drawn more press than WWI. And, like Moody before him, preached to more than 100 million people.
A tent was erected in Los Angeles in 1947 following WWII and an unknown evangelist named Billy Graham was invited to preach. The three week revival stretched into 8 and launched Graham’s career. For the next 50 years Billy Graham preached to over 210 million people in more than 185 countries. He became close friends with Martin Luther King, Jr in the 1950s and supported the Civil Rights movement. Graham became a spiritual advisor and confidant to every President from Truman to Barak Obama.
But what about the 21st century? In an era dominated by violence, prejudice, corruption, rising rates of suicide and addiction, our generation seems to be adrift without a moral compass. Who will God raise up to help us discover the spiritual truths that guided the generations that went before us?
God might choose, as in 1857, to spawn a spiritual movement without a central personality. More often than not, He chooses to work through uniquely gifted and anointed individuals as He did through John the forerunner who drew massive crowds to the Jordan. Whoever and however God chooses, our world is desperate for men and women of personal and spiritual integrity who can lift our souls to heaven.
Each of us can make a difference. When Jesus came, John preached, but Anna prayed (Luke 2:36-38). As did Simeon (Luke 2:25-35). Every day, with every honest decision, with every generous action, with every kindness, every act of forgiveness, and every prayer, each of us can help save a lost and dying world.