Summary: Faithful, believing, heartfelt prayer is a game-changer.
“Ask and You Will Receive”
After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, in which evangelist D.L. Moody’s church was destroyed, he decided to take a trip to England as a sort of educational sabbatical while the new sanctuary was being built. He wanted to learn from some of his British counterparts in ministry.
Although he wasn’t looking for preaching opportunities, a fellow minister asked if he’d speak one Sunday at a church in London and Moody accepted the invitation. That Sunday morning, however, was a very discouraging experience for him. The entire service felt ice cold and it was obvious to him that the congregation was spiritually dead. They were stone-faced and visibly bored with the message--and in turn, Moody was utterly disheartened. Unfortunately, however, he was already committed to returning to speak at the evening service, too.
Yet, to his great amazement, the spiritual atmosphere of the evening service was completely different. The Spirit was stirring the hearts of the congregation as Moody spoke, and this time they were listening intently to every word. Moody knew he hadn’t done anything different to account for the change, and he was at a loss to understand what had happened.
When he finished preaching what had been an anointed sermon, he asked all who would like to become Christians to rise so he could pray for them. Hundreds of people stood all throughout the sanctuary. Moody looked at them in astonishment and asked them to be seated again, thinking they’d misunderstood what he was asking of them. He then explained about the cost of becoming a disciple.
After that explanation, he once again asked those who wanted to follow Christ to stand. Again, several hundred people stood. Still dumbfounded, Moody asked those who were serious about their decision to meet with the pastor the next evening. But the host minister was no more equipped to deal with the response than Moody. “What will I do with these people?” he asked. “I don’t know what to do with them.”
Meanwhile, Moody followed through on his plans to travel to Dublin that Monday. But Tuesday morning he received a telegram urging his return to London as soon as possible. “Come at once,” it read. “Church packed.” There had been even more inquiries on Monday than Sunday evening. Moody immediately returned and subsequently held meetings there over the next ten days, during which time 400 people were taken into the membership of that church. (This was just the beginning of a dramatic series of revival services Moody held throughout England during that trip.)
Only later was the source of this sudden and unexpected revival discovered. There were two sisters living together who belonged to that congregation. One was healthy and active, but the other suffered from a debilitating disease and had been confined to her bed for several years. One day, as she was bemoaning her condition, she realized that she could still pray. So she began praying night and day for God to revive her dead congregation. For a long time, nothing changed: the church remained lifeless, just as Moody had found it.
During this time, however, she also read a copy of an evangelistic sermon Moody had preached in America, and on that basis she began praying earnestly for God to send him to her church, even as unlikely as that seemed.
It so happened that when her sister returned from the morning service that Sunday when Moody first preached, she asked, “Who do you think spoke this morning?” When her sister was unable to guess after several tries, she was told, “Mister Moody, from America.”
Upon hearing that news, she turned pale and said, “I know what that means! I’ve been praying he would come, and God has heard my prayer. I would have fasted if I had known. Please leave me alone to pray. I don’t want any visitors, or any supper. I must pray.”
Her nearly two year of prayers were the reason Moody had come, and the source of the power behind his preaching in her church that night. Moody himself had known there was a hidden spiritual power at work that evening, and when he learned about this he sought her out on her sickbed to meet her personally.
Prayer is our special connection to God and his power. In Tennyson’s famous words, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” I’ve long believed that praying grandmothers are one of the most important forces for good in the world, and I shudder to think what life would be like without them. (I also think that would be a great name for a Christian band: “The Praying Grandmothers.”)
The Gideons receive thousands of testimonies every day from their distribution of the Bible around the world, with accounts of lives being saved and changed by the powerful truth of the Word of God. We only see their outward ministry, but most people don’t know that they meet for prayer every Saturday morning, faithfully calling on the power and blessing of God to anoint their work--and he does.