In the last few years researchers have shown a new interest in the neurological effects of prayer. The justification for secular education’s research into prayer usually focuses on the relationship between prayer and improved mental health. Harvard University has a research division devoted to studying prayer as a treatment for anxiety.
Clearly, this is interesting research; and there are emotional benefits to prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). It is critically important, however, for Christians to recognize that prayer is more than a personal blessing. Prayer gets things done and is a powerful, evangelistic force to advance the Gospel. People come to Christ when we pray.
In Scripture (Acts 1:14-2:42, etc.) and numerous specific instances in history, intercessors have shown that extraordinary prayer is an evangelistic strategy. Here are three obvious American examples:
History has nearly forgotten Daniel Nash. Even his weathered grave marker, standing about 16 inches high and less than a foot wide, is in a tiny, obscure graveyard accessible by a narrow dirt road in upstate New York near the Canadian border. Other than the dates, the gravestone contains only nine words. In addition to his name, the most significant 6 words are the these: “Laborer with Finney. Mighty in Prayer.”
When he was about 40 years old, around 1815, Nash started to pastor a small church in the forested, frontier farmlands of upstate New York. He died at the early age of 56. He would have remained completely anonymous but, through prayer, Daniel Nash helped lead an evangelistic awakening that changed the nation.
Sometime in the mid-1820s, when he was nearing 50, Nash devoted the rest of his life to full-time intercession for the controversial evangelist Charles Finney. About that same, Finney’s revival services in upstate New York went from uneventful to so remarkable, in terms of size and results, that he quickly became the most famous minister in the nation. Today, Finney is considered to be “the father of modern revivalism,” paving the way for D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham.
Daniel Nash was the unseen prayer partner. Nash traveled to a community days or weeks in advance of Finney’s planned evangelistic services. Once there, Nash invited other men, known for their commitment to prayer, to join him in unceasing prayer in rented boarding houses or barns, where they prayed day and night, asking God to save the lost. When Finney arrived to preach, unprecedented numbers of people were saved. Daniel Nash continued to pray in secret throughout each event until he moved on to the next town.
In December 1831, Daniel Nash died. Four months later, Charles Finney abruptly left the ministry of evangelism. Years later Finney briefly attempted evangelism again to stunningly mediocre results, bearing no resemblance to his former days. The power was gone. Unceasing prayer had been the secret of his evangelism.
Armin Gesswein once said, “When Jesus went back to heaven, the only thing He left behind was a prayer meeting.” Gesswein was a Missouri Synod Lutheran evangelist who was influential in the early ministry of Billy Graham, especially related to prayer for evangelism. As early as 1941, Gesswein had organized the Ministers’ Prayer Fellowship for Revival in Los Angeles. Hundreds of prayer groups met all over the city. Eventually, as a result of the prayer movement for revival, leaders from the movement, including the founder Armin Gesswein, invited the 30-year-old Billy Graham, to conduct a tent revival in Los Angeles in 1949. It was Graham’s first “Crusade,” and the success of the event catapulted him into the national spotlight.
Regarding the phenomenon of the tent revival in Los Angeles, which was covered favorably by the national media, most people never hear about the other tent across from the “Canvas Cathedral” where Graham preached to thousands. The “little tent” across the street was the prayer tent organized by Armin Gesswein where a thousand intercessors prayed day and night, begging God to save the lost. Recalling the prayer tent decades later, Cliff Barrows said, “People wept. They poured their hearts out to God. Oftentimes the tears would go down into the wood shavings. The prayer tent became a hallowed place. I often said that what happened in the big tent was governed by what took place in the little tent. It blessed my heart to go in there and kneel with them in prayer.” Armin Gesswein’s passion for evangelistic prayer impacted a nation even though he is rarely remembered. Yet, he was “known in heaven.”
Pearl Goode was a recent widow and retired nurse in her 60s from nearby Pasadena when she joined hundreds of intercessors in the prayer tent at the Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade in 1949. In those weeks of passionate, evangelistic prayer, she found her calling. Pearl devoted the rest of her life interceding for Billy Graham.
In the beginning she traveled, at her own expense, to anywhere in North America where Billy Graham spoke. She rented hotel rooms near the crusades and prayed incessantly for people to be saved. Eventually the Graham organization learned about Pearl Goode’s intercessory ministry, and they assumed the responsibility for her expenses and travel. Her prayer ministry meant so much to Graham’s evangelistic success that they wanted her at every Crusade.
In Fred Hartley’s book, Everything by Prayer, he describes Pearl Goode’s funeral. Ruth Graham, the evangelist’s wife, attended the service. At an appropriate time, Mrs. Graham rose to speak concerning Mrs. Goode, “Here lie the mortal remains of much of the secret of Bill’s ministry.”
Billy Graham himself wrote of Pearl Goode’s prayer life and her importance to his evangelistic ministry. His tribute was striking: “She prayed all night many nights, and I could sense the presence and power of that prayer. When she died, I felt it.”
The three people described above devoted their lives to evangelistic prayer. By all accounts, their passionate intercession affected the evangelistic climate of the times in which they lived. They “moved the needle.” So can we if we devote ourselves to evangelistic prayer.