Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The secret of prevailing prayer?

The story is told of great revivalist Charles Finney, a figurehead of a movement in church history called the Second Great Awakening. Trained as a lawyer, he had a conversion experience as a young adult and became a Presbyterian minister.

In the late 1830s, Finney was pastoring First Congregational Church in Oberlin, Ohio, arguably the largest congregation in the west at that time. One summer the region was in severe drought, a great hardship for the farming community whose livelihood depended on crops to feed livestock.

After considerable prayer, Finney awoke one cloudless Sunday morning and decided he would pray for rain. When he came to church, he climbed into the pulpit, opened the service, and then paused to pray to God, saying (to paraphrase), "Lord we do not presume to tell you the ways that you should provide for us, but as a Father you invite your children to come to you with the desires of our hearts, and we come before you now to pray for rain. Our crops and dying and we cannot feed our cattle, so we ask you for rain, Lord, and we ask for it now."

Then he continued the service as usual. Halfway through the sermon, worshippers heard faint thunder on the horizon. By the time Finney finished preaching, drops were falling heavily on the church roof. Before long, the sanctuary was filled with the gushing sound of water cascading down in sheets from the rooftop. The congregation wept in wonder and praise as Finney began singing a hymn of thanksgiving.

But folks who were there say the most amazing part of the day was that, at the very front of the sanctuary leaning against the pulpit from the moment the congregation first arrived, was Pastor Finney's umbrella. As one scholar notes, "It's one thing to pray for rain. It's quite another to bring your umbrella."

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