The Second Great Awakening was grounded in prayer as well, especially from intercessors like Daniel Nash and Abel Clary, who were pivotal to the success of Charles Finney’s ministry. Of “Father” Nash, Finney would later write:
I have seen Christians who would be in an agony [of prayer], when the minister was going into the pulpit, for fear his mind should be in a cloud, or his heart cold, or he should have no unction, and so a blessing should not come. I have labored with a man of this sort. He would pray until he got an assurance in his mind that God would be with me in preaching, and sometimes he would pray himself ill. I have known the time when he has been in darkness for a season, while the people were gathering, and his mind was full of anxiety, and he would go again and again to pray, till finally he would come into the room with a placid face, and say, “The Lord has come, and he will be with us.” And I do not know that I ever found him mistaken.
With Daniel Nash going before him into each town to pray before Finney arrived there to preach, Finney’s ministry reached its height in Rochester, New York, in 1830. The entire community transformed because of its excitement about knowing God. Businesses closed when church meetings were being held because there would be no one around to shop.
Bars and theaters closed because of the lack of patronage—former patrons chose instead to attend prayer meetings or Bible studies. Crime rates plummeted and charitable work flourished. Though Rochester was home to only about ten thousand people at the time, one hundred thousand were added to churches in the city and surrounding area. Where we are lucky today to see 20 percent of the converts stay faithful to church attendance after a revival meeting, more than 80 percent of those who made decision to follow Jesus during Finney’s meetings pursued God for the rest of their lives. Many also contrast what happened in England during the Great Awakening and what happened in France during the same period. With economic, social, and governmental problems being quite similar, England saw a great revival and France a bloody revolution. It’s easy to feel like you are accomplishing nothing when you bow your knee to pray for others, but the truth is, there is no greater power on earth than someone who will kneel in prayer with the resolve of that unknown rebel standing before those tanks. To stand in the spirit between evil and those it would crush is how the kingdom of God changes the world around us. It was at the center of William Wilberforce’s work to end slavery in the British Empire. It was at the center of George Washington Carver’s inventive genius to deliver southern sharecroppers from absolute poverty. It was at the cornerstone of the civil rights movement. It is one thing to stand in nonviolent protest and march against oppression, but only when that resolve is mixed with prayer do societies actually transform.
Just think of any organization or ministry that has touched the world for good, and you will see prayer at the foundation of it. The Salvation Army of the late 1800s grew from a single mission in London to having posts around the world in a mere two or three decades because the Salvationists practiced “knee drills”—prayer meetings—with military discipline. When General William Booth once received word that an overseas post was struggling to establish itself, he responded with a simple two-word telegram: “Try tears.” When the Salvationists there took the attitude of pleading for the people of the nation who were suffering to their prayer meetings, things began to change dramatically. There is a level of praise and prayer that is deeply beneficial to us as individuals. It keeps us on the path God has called us to and helps us experience the blessings and success that God wants for us. This kind of prayer is wonderful and indispensable in our lives. In it we do from time to time pray for others—especially our loved ones, friends, and coworkers—the people who touch our lives. We will lay our petitions at the foot of the cross on their behalf. This is intercession, and it is wonderful, but it is not the level of intercession I am talking about. I am talking about a regular, systematic, strategic defense on behalf of individuals or entire people groups suffering from the forces of darkness. I am talking about a prepared, enduring, unswerving determination to see freedom won for people we may never meet. It is not about individual requests for individual people—though that will happen in the process. It is about laying down your life for a period of time (hours, days, weekends, perhaps) to call on heaven to invade earth. It is to lay siege to institutions of darkness—poverty, slavery, oppression, hunger, crime, drug abuse, domestic violence, war, access to clean water, widowhood and orphaned hearts, divorce, you name it—and plead for deliverance in the court of heaven.
– ‘Till Heaven Invades the Earth