One of the most remarkable illustrations in recent times of the power of prayer may be found in the experience of Mr. Moody. It explains his unparalleled career of world-wide soul winning. One marvels that more has not been said of it. Its stimulus to faith is great. I suppose the man most concerned did not speak of it much because of his fine modesty. The last year of his life he referred to it more frequently as though impelled to. The last time I heard Mr. Moody was in his own church in Chicago. It was, I think, in the fall of the last year of his life. One morning in the old church made famous by his early work, in a quiet conversational way, he told the story.
It was back in the early 1870s, when Chicago had been laid in ashes. "This building was not yet up far enough to do much in," he said, "so I thought I would slip across the water, and learn what I could from preachers there, so as to do better work here. I had gone over to London, and was running around after men there." Then he told of going one evening to hear Mr. Spurgeon in the Metropolitan Tabernacle; and understanding that he was to speak a second time that evening to dedicate a chapel, Mr. Moody had slipped out of the building and had run along the street after Mr. Spurgeon's carriage a mile or so, so as to hear him the second time. Then he smiled, and said quietly, "I was running around after men like that."
He had not been speaking anywhere, he said, but listening to others. One day, Saturday, at noon, he had gone into the meeting in Exeter Hall on the Strand; felt impelled to speak a little when the meeting was thrown open, and did so. At the close, among others who greeted him, one man, a minister, asked him to come and preach for him the next day morning and night, and he said he would.
Mr. Moody said, "I went to the morning service and found a large church full of people. And when the time came I began to speak to them. But it seemed the hardest talking ever I did. There was no response in their faces. They seemed as though carved out of stone or ice. And I was having a hard time and wished I wasn't there; and wished I hadn't promised to speak again at night. But I had promised, so I went."
"At night it was the same thing: house full, people outwardly respectful, but no interest, no response. And I was having a hard time again. When about half-way through my talk there came a change. It seemed as though the windows of heaven had opened and a bit of breath blew down. The atmosphere of the building seemed to change. The people's faces changed. It impressed me so that when I finished speaking I gave the invitation for those who wanted to be Christians to rise. I thought there might be a few. And to my immense surprise, the people got up in groups, pew-fulls. I turned to the minister and said, 'What does this mean?' He said, 'I don't know, I'm sure.'"
"Well", Mr. Moody said, "they misunderstood me. I'll explain what I meant." So he announced an after-meeting in the room below, explaining who were invited: only those who wanted to be Christians; and putting pretty clearly what he understood that to mean, and dismissed the service. They went to the lower room. And the people came crowding, jamming in below, filling all available space, seats, aisles, and standing room. Mr. Moody talked again a few minutes, and then asked those who would be Christians to rise. This time he knew he made his meaning clear. They got up in clumps, groups, by fifties! Mr. Moody said, "I turned and said to the minister, 'What does this mean?' He said, 'I'm sure I don't know.'"
Then the minister said to Mr. Moody, "What'll I do with all these people? I don't know what to do with them; this is something new." And he said, "Well, I'd announce a meeting for tomorrow night, and Tuesday night, and see what comes of it; I'm going across the channel to Dublin." And he went, but he had barely stepped off the boat when a cable-gram was handed him from the minister saying, "Come back at once. Church packed." So he went back and stayed ten days. And the result of that ten days, as I recall Mr. Moody’s words, was that four hundred were added to the church, and that every church nearby felt the impulse of those ten days.
Then Mr. Moody dropped his head, as though thinking back, and said: "I had no plans beyond this church. I supposed my life work was here. But the result with me was that I was given a roving commission and have been working under it ever since." Now what was the explanation of that marvelous Sunday and days following? It was not Mr. Moody's doing, though he was a leader whom God could and did mightily use. It was not the minister's doing; for he was as greatly surprised as the leader. There was some secret hidden beneath the surface of those ten days. With his usual keenness, Mr. Moody set himself to ferret it out.
By and by this incident came to him. A member of the church, a woman, had been taken sick some time before. Then she grew worse. Then the physician told her that she would not recover. That is, she would not die at once, so far as he could judge, but she would be shut in her home for years. And she lay there trying to think what that meant: to be shut in for years. And she thought of her life, and said, "How little I've done for God — practically nothing — and now what can I do shut in here on my back." And she said, "I can pray."
May I put this word in here as a parenthesis in the story — that God oftentimes allows us to be shut in — He does not shut us in — He does not need to — simply take His hand off partly — there is enough disobedience to His law of our bodies all the time to shut us aside — no trouble on that side of the problem — with pain to Himself, against His own first will for us, He allows us to be shut in, because only so can He get our attention from other things to what He wants done; get us to see things, and think things His way. I am compelled to think it is so.
She said, "I will pray." And she was led to pray for her church. Her sister, also a member of the church, lived with her, and was her link to the outside world. Sundays, after church service, the sick woman would ask, "Any special interest in church today?" "No," was the constant reply. Wednesday nights, after prayer meetings, "Any special interest in the service tonight? There must have been." "No; nothing new; same old deacons made the same old prayers."
But one Sunday noon the sister came in from service and asked, "Who do you think preached today?" "I don't know, who?" "Why, a stranger from America, a man called Moody, I think the name was." And the sick woman’s face turned a bit whiter, and her eye looked half scared, and her lip trembled a bit, and she quietly said: "I know what that means. There's something coming to the old church. Don't bring me any dinner. I must spend this afternoon in prayer." And so she did.
And that night in the service that startling change came. Then to Mr. Moody himself, as he sought her out in her sick room, she told how nearly two years before, there came into her hands a copy of a paper published in Chicago called the Watchman that contained a talk by Mr. Moody in one of the Chicago meetings, Farewell Hall meetings, I think. All she knew was that talk had made her heart burn, and there was the name M-o-o-d-y. And she was led to pray that God would send that man into their church in London. As simple a prayer as that.
And the months went by, and a year, and over; still she prayed. Nobody knew of it but herself and God. No change seemed to come. Still she prayed. And of course her prayer wrought its purpose. Every Spirit-suggested prayer does. And that is the touchstone of true prayer.
And the Spirit of God moved that man of God over to the seaboard, and across the water, and into London and into their church. Then a bit of special siege-prayer, a sort of last charge up the steep hill, and that night the victory came. Do you not believe — I believe without a doubt, that some day when the night is gone, and the morning light comes up, and we know as we are known, that we shall find that the largest single factor in that ten days work, and in the changing of tens of thousands of lives under Moody's leadership is that woman in her praying.
Not the only factor, mind you. Moody a man of rare leadership, and consecration, and hundreds of faithful ministers and others rallying to his support. But behind and beneath Moody and the others, and to be reckoned with as first this woman's praying. Yet I do not know her name. I know Mr. Moody's name. I could name scores of faithful men associated with him in his campaigns, but the name of this one in whom humanly is the secret of it all, I do not know. Ah! It is a secret service. We do not know who the great ones are. They tell me she is still living yet in the north end of London, and still praying.
Shall we pray! Shall we not pray?! If something else must slip out, something important, shall we not see to it that intercession has first place!
S.D. Gordon, taken from Quiet Talks on Prayer