On this day—May 26—in the year 1700, Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf was born. While still in his twenties, Nikolaus became part of a prayer meeting that—through hundreds of men and women who took turns praying—continued twenty-four hours every day for more than one hundred years.
So how did this prayer meeting begin?
Well, in some sense, the foundations for the prayer meeting can be traced to the late 1600s. A man named Jacob Spener wrote a booklet entitled Pious Desires. The book urged Christians to pursue a personal relationship with Jesus through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures; this pietistic impulse had a profound impact on Nikolaus von Zinzendorf.
In the early eighteenth century, several Roman Catholic princes were persecuting the Moravian Brethren, a small Protestant movement that had originated in the western regions of what’s now known as the Czech Republic. One rainy evening in 1722 a Moravian believer knocked on Zinzendorf’s front door. He asked if Nikolaus von Zinzendorf might shelter the flourishing Moravian movement. Nikolaus agreed and even helped the Moravians to found a community on his lands. They called their community “the Lord’s watch” (or “Herrnhut”). By 1725, nearly one hundred Moravians had made Herrnhut their home.
The prayer meeting began in 1727. The rationale was simple: “The sacred fire was never permitted to go out on the altar (Leviticus 6:13); so in a congregation is a temple of the living God, wherein he has his altar and fire, [and] the intercession of his saints should incessantly rise up to him.”
The influence of the Moravians and their prayers multiplied far beyond the borders of Herrnhut. God used the Moravians on a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to convict John Wesley of his need for the gospel. The Moravians became the first Protestant group to send both clergy and laypeople as missionaries. Nikolaus died in May of 1760. By that time, the Moravians had established missionary colonies in the West Indies, in Greenland, and among the natives of the northeastern American colonies, as well as sending missionaries to Livonia, to the shores of the Baltic Sea, to Suriname, to the islands of the East Indies, to South Africa, to South America, and to the African slaves of South Carolina—and it all began with a band of refugees and a deep commitment to pray.
For more on Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, take a look at Chapter 10 in Christian History Made Easy.