In the far north of Scotland, off the west coast, there are remote islands called The Hebrides. The remotest one is called the Isle of Lewis. The tourism website for the Isle of Lewis has an unusual warning for visitors.
The warning is this: “Sundays are very special.”
It goes on to explain. Virtually all commercial activity ceases and a large proportion of the population attends church. Sports activities, museums and swimming pools are closed.
It wasn’t always like this on the Isle of Lewis. It is like this today because of two elderly sisters. Christine and Peggy were so very frail that they were unable to attend church. Eighty-four year old Peggy Smith was blind, and her eighty-two year old sister, Christine, was bent almost double from arthritis.
Church attendance was very low on the island, and all the young people were leaving. The body of Christ was in a very bad way, and it appeared to be dying. Things looked hopeless.
This is not a story of hopelessness, though. This is a story of how God can do amazing things using only two elderly, weak, crippled ladies. Imagine what he could do using you!
Not knowing what else to do, these sisters started to pray two nights each week from 10pm until 4am. In a remote cottage on a remote island in a wild sea in 1949, the two of them prayed for months. Nothing happened.
In the same village a few men gathered in a barn to pray three nights a week. They often waited on God until 4am or 5am. Nothing happened.
Months passed and nothing happened, until one night a young deacon spoke up. He said, “Brothers, it seems useless to be waiting and praying like this if we are not rightly related to God.” Then he shouted loudly to heaven, “Oh God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?”
That night they knew the presence of God in a new transforming power.
In answer to the fervent prayers of these two women and the men, Pastor Duncan Campbell visited the island. They held a very ordinary meeting. Nothing happened. Someone suggested they should spend the night in prayer. At 3am God began to move. A light was on in every home. People were praying. The following day the church was crowded and many turned to God.
Half way through his sermon Pastor Campbell paused and asked a man named Donald to pray. Donald had prayed less than five minutes when God swept into the meeting. Again and again it was prayer that came first.
The outstanding feature of this spiritual awakening was a deep overwhelming sense of the presence of God. The people were saturated with God. God’s awesome holy presence completed dominated the meetings. Work stopped as concern for salvation dominated conversation everywhere.
Lives were deeply changed. Drinking places closed for lack of business. In one village a tavern was closed and permanently boarded up. The men from that tavern abandoned it and became regular attenders at prayer meetings.
In fact, churches were filled for prayer meetings as well as Sunday services.
Sixty-six years have passed. Today the churches are still filled because they still pray.
God moves in answer to fervent prayer. Two old women and a few men in a barn may not seem powerful to you, but they are all God needs to do amazing work when they pray. And keep on praying. And keep praying for 10 days, 10 months, 10 years or even 100 years even though it seems as though nothing is happening.
This is what happened at Pentecost. Last week we heard about Count Zinzendorf and his 100-year-long prayer meeting.
His prayer meeting had an incredible impact on the Wesley brothers and on George Whitefield.
Zinzendorf started his payer meeting in Germany in 1727.
Seven years later in 1734 in America the church was already in crisis. The faithful began to pray and God’s spirit started to move. Jonathan Edwards and later George Whitefield were at the heart of this amazing work of God.
George Whitefield became a Christian in 1735, the year of an enormous outpouring of God’s spirit in Wales in response to faith and prayer. In 1739 the same thing happened in England with Wesley brothers and on George Whitefield at the center. These outpourings of the Holy Spirit were called revivals. The church that was dying was revived by the Holy Spirit.
In 1903 in Australia, and again in 1904 in Wales there was a revival. This directly led to a revival in India in 1905.
A report from the time says the prayer began in 1901. They heard about the Australian revival in 1903 and were encouraged to more prayer. They heard about the Welsh revival in 1904 and were encouraged to even more prayer.
Thirty young women were meeting daily to pray for God’s power when the revival came upon them. Prayer continued all night in the various compounds on more than one occasion. The Bible school was filled with those crying for mercy. They cried for pardon and cleansing and the baptism of the Holy Spirit!
A baptism like fire within came upon them. They seemed to have their eyes open to see the “body of sin” in themselves.
A spirit of prayer and supplication for a revival in India was poured out like a flood.
Korea was part of this amazing global outpouring of prayer and the Holy Spirit.
Prayer in times of revival is like a nuclear explosion of Holy Spirit power.
In 1903 there was a revival in Wonsan. The church in Korea was only 20 years old, all the believers were united and it grew rapidly. In 1904, there were 10,000 converts in Pyongyang. In the first half of 1906, there were 30,000 new converts. Then the revival suddenly waned and died out.
Pyongyang was known as a city of wine, women and song. It was a dark city. Sin abounded. It even had a Kisaeng 기생 training school 권번.
After months of persistent prayer in this unlikely place, 50,000 people were converted in 1907 and Korea was set ablaze. The Pyongyang Revival began in January 1907.
Pastor John McCune wrote: “The work of the Holy Spirit here at Jangdaehyun Church where revival first broke out far surpasses what we have read about the great revivals in Wales and India.”
These are wonderful stories of hope. Prayer has incredible impact on our world. And that is why Satan fears prayer so much and will do anything to prevent it.
These days, Wonsan and Pyongyang are tightly under Satan’s grip in North Korea. But the seeds of those revivals are stored in the churches of South Korea.
Revelation 2 contains a warning for the church in Ephesus that applies to us today. See verse 4.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!”
It seems that what happens is a cycle. There is desperate, fervent prayer for God’s will to be done and his kingdom to come. God answers these prayers at some point, after days or weeks or months, and people are filled with Holy Spirit power for God’s work.
Then they get busy and focus on the work and forget the prayer. They lose their first love. The power seeps away, but they are so busy they don’t notice or care. Satan makes sure of that.
We slip and we slide and we fall away. That’s what happened in Ephesus. The Pentecost outpouring had faded. God sends the message in verse 5. Half promise and half warning.
“Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.”
We are also called today to return to our first love. We are being called to get back to prayer.