A History of 24-7 Prayer Down the Ages Part 2

Second Millennium AD

"Our church has been changed for ever ... Dozens are coming back to Jesus, or are being saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. We are believing for an awakening that will usher in the greatest harvest the world has ever seen. 24-7 prayer has enabled us to be a part of it"

(Ann - Tennessee, USA)

It was in the 18th century that 24-7 prayer jumped the Atlantic to impact the ‘new world’ of America. Moravian missionaries left the 24-7 prayer meeting community at in Hernhutt, Germany bound for The Colonies of America and when they arrived they generally preached, prayed and practiced the radical community life they had enjoyed in Hernhutt. In Pennsylvania the Moravians established a number of these communities. Meanwhile Inuit tribes in Greenland first heard the gospel from these pioneering prayer warriors. So did thousands of slaves in the Danish West Indies. Tomochichi, chief of the Yamacraw Indians in Savanna Georgia, converted to Christianity and corresponded with Count Zinzendorf. The Moravian prayer watch was truly touching the ends of the earth.

England: John Wesley (1703-1791)

On 1st January 1739, John Wesley gathered friends to pray through the night, inspired perhaps by the Moravian prayer vigil which had impacted his own life so profoundly. That night of intercession was to change\\ the course of British and American history. Wesley famously recorded in his Journal how: ‘about three in the morning as we were continuing instant in prayer the power of God came mightily upon us in so much that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground’.

This 3 a.m. encounter impacted Wesley’s life profoundly, propelling him out from the prayer room like a meteor. Joined by the young fire-brand George Whitefield, John and his brother Charles, these three men would continue to impact Europe and North America for generations to come to this day. John taught and strategized, George preached and Charles composed some of the greatest hymns of all time.

Massachusetts: Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

While the Wesleys focused their attention upon England, Whitefield crossed the Atlantic several times to support the remarkable ministry of Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts, where localized revival fires had been burning since 1734. Whitefield’s arrival in New England helped spark the Great Awakening of 1740-41 that ran for a while in parallel with the British Awakening.

Interestingly The Great Awakening of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield stimulated the formation of many of America’s great Universities including Princeton by Presbyterians in 1746, Brown University by Baptists in 1764, Rutgers by Dutch Reformed in 1766 and Dartmouth by the Congregationalist Eleazar Wheelock in 1769.

The fuel for Edwards’ ministry and revival was his passionate and brilliant preaching married unremittingly to persevering prayer. In 1744 Edwards, who had recently been inspired by a prayer movement in Scotland, wrote a letter seeking to similarly mobilize American Christians to commit themselves to a seven year season of prayer. Much of his letter rings with contemporary prophetic relevance:

“One would think that each who favours the dust of Zion, when he hears that God is stirring up a considerable number of his ministers and people to unite in extraordinary prayer, for the revival of religion and the advancement of his kingdom, should greatly rejoice on this occasion. If we lay to heart the present calamities of the church of Christ, and long for that blessed alteration which God has promised, one would think it should be natural to rejoice at the appearance of something in so dark a day, which is so promising a token.”

In our ‘dark day’, as prayer burns ever brighter, perhaps we too can rejoice with Edwards at the unexpected appearance of ‘so promising a token’. It is timely then that Edwards continues with an exhortation for unity and determination:

“Let me beseech all who sincerely love the interest of real Christianity, notwithstanding any diversity of opinion and former disputes, now to unite, in this affair, with one heart and voice: and let us go speedily to pray before the Lord… We ought not only to go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek his mercy, but also to go constantly. We should unite in our practice these two things, which our Saviour unites in his precept, PRAYING and NOT FAINTING.”

Later in his letter, Edwards recognizes the potential for disappointment inherent to such protracted seasons of prayer and offers a word of pastoral caution relevant to any contemporary group setting out to mobilize 24-7 prayer: ”If we should continue some years, and nothing remarkable in providence should appear as though God heard and answered,” we are, says Edwards, to persevere regardless “willing that God should answer prayer, and fulfil his own glorious promises, in his own time; remembering such instructions, counsels, and promises, of the word of God as these: ‘Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart, wait, I say, on the Lord.’ (Psalm 27:14)”

Jonathan Edwards, the great revivalist, theologian and philosopher concludes his letter with an exciting challenge to the churches of America: “It is now proposed that this extraordinary united prayer should continue for seven years, from November 1746.” 260 years later, the cry is the same.

London: The Salvation Army (1865)

Converted through Methodism, William Booth and his wife Catherine founded the Salvation Army in London in 1865. From the start, the movement was marked by the marriage of practical care for the poor with a passion for prayer. Booth, perhaps recalling Wesley’s historic prayer meeting on 1st January 1739 would hold all-night prayer meetings in which ‘people were struck down, overwhelmed with a sense of the presence and power of God’.

Wisconsin: The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration

In contemporary America, a little-known order of nuns in La Crosse, Wisconsin are responsible for the longest-running prayer meeting in the history of this continent: they have been praying around the clock, without pause since 1878. For more than 125 years The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have had at least two sisters on duty in rotating shifts to fulfill the hundreds of prayer requests they receive each week. “Can you imagine,” asks Sister Malinda Gerke, “what this world would be like if there was no-one praying 24 hours a day?” It’s a good question!

Global: 1890’s-1900’s

The revival historian J. Edwin Orr describes “springs of little prayer meetings which seemed to arise spontaneously all over the world, combining into streams of expectation which became a river of blessing” at the end of the 19th century”. As a result of so much prayer prior to its inception, the 20th century dawned upon many extraordinary, localized prayer revivals ranging from passionate seasons of intercession at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to the gatherings of hundreds to pray each day at Mukti School in India. We see then what we see today: a snowballing effect in prayer around the world, so what happened next should encourage us enormously as we pray at this time…

It was surely in answer to so much persevering prayer that in the first decade of the 20th century, we witnessed the most remarkable global outpouring of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost. Revival movements shook Wales, North America, Korea, China, Scandinavia, India, Indonesia and many other parts of the world. More than five million people in these nations turned to Jesus between 1900-1902 alone. The Welsh awakening of 1904 triggered a domino effect around the world. Between 1905-1906 the Christian population in India grew by 70% while in Japan the church doubled and in Indonesia it trebled. But we now know that God was simultaneously stirring a passion for prayer, night and day here in North America that would impact many millions more to this day.

Los Angeles: Azusa Street (1903-1906)

It began in an unpromising back street of Los Angeles with a 24–7 prayer room. Here, at 312 Azusa Street, according to a cynical report in the Los Angeles Times, a bizarre new religious sect had people “breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand.” If that failed to grab the reader’s attention, the article then described how, “Colored people and a sprinkling of whites compose the congregation, and night is made hideous in the neighborhood by the howlings of the worshippers who spend hours swaying forth and back in a nerve-racking attitude of prayer and supplication.”

This ‘nerve-racking attitude of prayer’ was, in fact, heralding the re-discovery of a spiritual force that would impact the world and change the church. For three years 24-7 prayer continued, day-and-night at 312 Azusa Street until the summer of 1906 when Pentecostalism was finally born in an explosion of controversy.

“Meeting night and day continuously for three years, Azusa Street was an all-inclusive fellowship… By the power of the Spirit, a revolutionary new type of Christian community was born.” (Richard Foster)

Few generations have come closer to fulfilling the Great Commission than the one born in the great prayer movements of the late 19th century that went on to witness awakenings from Azusa Street to the Welsh valleys. Some respected commentators have even suggested that it took nothing less than two World Wars to resist the might of the missionary force born from the global outpouring of persevering prayer at the start of the last century.

The Call to Watch and pray

As we give ourselves to this global season of 24-7 prayer we don’t know what the future holds. Perhaps there will be spectacular Pentecostal outpourings, or perhaps there will be quieter consequences of so much prayer. That’s up to God. We pray, because Jesus asked us to. 'Could you . . . not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asks his disciples. “ Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.' (Mat 26:40-41)

It was his darkest moment, there in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus needed his three best friends like never before. Instead, they slept. As we keep watch through the hours, the tides and the seasons of testing and turmoil, we draw near to Jesus in a very special way.

As we have seen, this model of watchfulness and presence was the very heartbeat of tabernacle and temple, represented by the flame that burned continually on the altar. The priests, with their faithful schedule of worship and sacrifice, kept that flame of God’s presence burning perpetually for many generations. They did this because to them, this flame represented the very heart of the nation’s identity, rooted as it was in relationship with Yahweh. As we pray 24-7 we too are tending the flame of God’s presence at the heart of our community, fulfilling a priestly role for the people all around.

Isaiah predicted a watchman people who would one day give themselves no rest and give God no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes her ‘the praise of the earth’ (Isaiah 62:6–7) and Jesus himself lived a life of perfect watchfulness, continually attentive to his Father. Practically, this often meant praying right through the night (Luke 6:12).

And beginning with the Upper Room in Jerusalem, God’s people have been inspired ever since to maintain prayerful vigil, creating communities and environments of intentional intimacy with our Father in heaven: Holy Space in which we can walk and talk with God as we did once upon a time in the Garden of Eden and as we will again in heaven, one day soon.

Back to the future

Recent years have witnessed the emergence of many other exciting expressions of persevering prayer including:

  • Pastor Cho’s famous prayer mountain in Seoul, Korea;
  • Brother Roger’s Taize community in France where 10,000’s of young people have been gathering since the 1950’s to pray three times a day with the resident monks.
  • Mike Bickle’s International Houses of Prayer based in Kansas City;
  • Sister Kim Marie Kollins’ Burning Bush International which is mobilizing 24-7 prayer amongst the world’s 100 million renewed Roman Catholic Christians;
  • Che Ahn’s The Call which filled a number of stadiums around the world for days of prayer and fasting.
  • The Global Day of Prayer which connects millions of Christians around the world in a focused day of prayer.

At such a time as this, witnessing this global mobilization of prayer, we can perhaps look to the future with cautious excitement. ‘What will God do in answer to so much prayer?’ we may wonder! God’s Kingdom, when it comes, probably wont arrive in the way we expect or even want it to. But viewing history with the eyes of faith through the grid of past prayer movements, it is easy to find the correlation between seasons of intercession and the extension of God’s kingdom in the world: 

He heard Anna’s life-long prayer vigil as she interceded in the temple night and day – a one-woman 24-7 prayer warrior! And when, after 400 years of silence from heaven, God gave us his Son it was, perhaps, in answer to the persevering prayers of people like Anna.

He heard the night-and-day prayers of the disciples in the Upper Room. And so, at a moment in time, in answer to prayer, he gave us the church.

He heard the prayers of the Acoemetae besides the Black Sea and of the martyred centurion St Maurice in Switzerland. He heard the continual chorus of intercession rising from those faithful monks at Bangor in Ireland and Bobbio in Italy. And so, in answer to so much prayer, as the Roman Empire decayed, a light shone brightly in the European Dark Ages.

He heard the prayers of the Moravians in Germany, the Wesleys in London and Jonathan Edwards in Massachusetts, sending revival to England, Ireland and America.

He heard the prayers of a handful of young people in Blanerch, Wales and sent the great Welsh Awakening. Within 2 years 100,000 people had turned to Jesus.

He heard the prayers of the saints gathering night-and-day for three years at Azusa Street, scorned by the media yet baptized by God in power.

And now, as we pray together, connected as never before by modern technology, we can be sure that God still hears; that our prayers rise to his throne like the incense from the golden bowl in both the tabernacle and the temple.

Joining the line

Tracing so many examples of incessant prayer down so many years (only a few of which we have been able to mention here), it becomes clear that 24–7 prayer has been God’s idea from beginning to end. He has always mobilized movements, moments and entire communities like us to intercede without ceasing. Isn’t it amazing to think that by giving ourselves to 24–7 prayer in this way, we are actually standing in a long and remarkable line of Christian community, raised up to intercede in every generation until the day that dawns with Christ’s returns?

“Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand.” (Rev. 8:3-4)

c. Extracted from Pete Greig; The 24-7 Prayer Manual (Cook Communications / Kingsway Communications)