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Prayer Changed America's History
and Can Do it Again!

History offers hope for another spiritual awakening in the U.S.

By Dale A. Robbins

Today we face what seems to be a hopeless condition in America. Gross immorality has engulfed the land. Crime has taken over the streets. Sexual promiscuity and perversion fills our society. Drunkenness and drug abuse is everywhere. God has been rejected by most of our citizens -- virtually kicked out of our government and our schools. A few years ago, Billy Graham issued a profound warning, that “If God doesn’t soon bring judgment upon America, He'll have to go back and apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!”

How far it seems that the United States has drifted from its rich religious heritage. But many may not realize, that despite our nation’s Christian beginnings, in only a few short years after it’s founding it had already declined to a level of moral decadence and depravity that would rival today’s sad condition.

According to the late church historian, J. Edwin Orr, in the post Revolutionary War years, drunkenness was of epidemic proportions — of a population of four million, three hundred thousand were considered drunkards. Bank robberies occurred daily. Street crime, rape and murder was rampant and citizens were afraid to go out of their homes at night. Profanity was the worst imaginable, shocking in its filthiness.

The spiritual climate of the nation was disparaging. The Presbyterians met in general assembly to deplore the ungodliness of the country. Both the Methodists and Baptists were losing more members than they were gaining. The Lutherans and Episcopalians were struggling, and even considered a merger for the sake of survival. Episcopal Bishop of New York, Samuel Provoost, had confirmed no one for so long that he quit the ministry. Samuel Shepherd, a pastor in Lenox, Massachusetts, said that he had not taken one young person into church membership in sixteen years.

A poll at Harvard revealed that there was not one believer in the entire student body. At Princeton, only two believers were discovered among the students. Christianity was generally ridiculed. A mock communion was conducted at Williams College; Anti-Christian plays were performed at Dartmouth; In New Jersey, a Bible was taken from a Presbyterian church and burned in a public bonfire. Christians were such a minority on campuses that they met in secret and kept minutes in code so they wouldn’t be caught or persecuted.

The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote that the Church was “too far gone ever to be revived.” Kenneth Scott Latourette, the Church historian, said, “It looked as though Christianity were a waning influence, about to be ushered out of the affairs of men.” Indeed, it appeared that the church in America was an endangered species. By all indications, the nation had rejected the Christianity of their forefathers — sin and moral decay flourished. But something incredible occurred which changed what seemed to be an impossible situation. A revival of prayer erupted that changed the destiny of our nation.

The awakening of prayer seemed to first begin in the British Isles. In 1792, just a year after the death of John Wesley, a renewed spiritual hunger and revival began to take hold in Great Britain. John Erskine, a minister in Edinburgh, Scotland, wrote a little book on prayer which stirred the hearts of people. He along with another New England preacher, Baptist Pastor Isacc Backus, were instrumental in arousing a national interest to pray. In 1794, the spiritual climate in America was at its worst when Backus called upon the ministers of every American church to unite in prayer for the nation. God was with these efforts, and churches of every denomination responded to the national appeal. Soon, a network of prayer meetings emerged across the country, coordinated to pray in unison, beginning on the first Tuesday of January, 1795, and once each quarter thereafter.

Predictably, as people sought God, signs of revival began to be seen. It was first evident in New England, sweeping through Connecticut then on to Massachusetts. In Logan County, Kentucky, where sin was somewhere on the scale of Sodom and Gomorrah, a Presbyterian minister, James McGready, held unified prayer meetings every third Saturday and at sunrise on Sundays. In a letter he wrote that most of the winter of 1799, was spent weeping and mourning with the people of God. Finally in the summer of 1800, great camp meeting revivals swept Kentucky and Tennessee, then burst over into North and South Carolina and swept the frontier.

Some years ago, I visited Cane Ridge, Kentucky where one of these great camp meetings converged for six days in August of 1801. It was here that the Christian Church denomination, as well as other fellowships, marked their origin. The historical placards described how over twenty thousand persons, from all over the country, came together almost intuitively, without any promotion or organized campaign.

At night, the hills and fields of the sparsely populated Bourbon County glimmered with torches as far as the eye could see, as smaller cells of hundreds gathered simultaneously around bonfires to hear rousing sermons by any one of dozens of preachers until the late hours. Spiritual fervor was intense. The distant sounds of revival were heard in every direction from the bonfire gatherings. The hollows and ridges echoed with the barely audible, medley of preaching, repentant weeping and joyful praises. This was typical of the great American revival spawned through prayer, which restored America’s spiritual soul and brought God’s blessing for about a hundred years.

Yes, today America looks hopeless. It appears morally and spiritually bankrupt. But as we have discovered, there is always hope if God’s people will come together and pray. God has salvaged our nation before, and can do it again. As Matthew Henry once wrote, “When God intends great mercy for his people, he first of all sets them praying.”

Let’s not give up on America, but let us embrace God’s great promise of prayer: He said, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

Mark your calendar and join millions of other Americans in observing the annual National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday in May. The National Day of Prayer was designated by the United States Congress as a day when people are asked to come together and pray, especially for their country. It was created as a floating holiday in 1952 and fixed on the first Thursday in May by Ronald Reagan. This annual event is an especially good opportunity to share these thoughts with others and pray for our nation.


This article (VL-125) is copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2024 and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. In some references to real persons, pseudonyms may have been used to preserve their privacy. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple use permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us. If you have appreciated these online materials, help us reach the world with the Gospel by considering a monthly or one-time tax-deductable donation.