The man who gave me my first pastoral training, David Morsey, told the story once of a meeting at which a man stood to open in prayer. The man went on and on, and after a time the meeting's leader arose and said, "While the brother finishes his prayer, let us turn to hymn 242."
It was one of those apocryphal-type stories that one hears, with various famous names attached (Wesley, Whitfield, and so on). After a time, one decides it may never have happened — but, if it didn't, it should have, and it still makes a good point.
I'm sure you know a number of the kind. Like the story of (Whitfield, Wesley, Whoever) walking down the street when a drunken bum grabs him arm and says "I'm one of your converts!" The great man replies, "Yes, you must be. If you were one of Christ's converts, you'd not be in this state." We all know a number of stories like this.
I quoted the long-prayer-interrupted one during our last Wednesday-night meeting, making the point that length in public prayer does not necessarily equal godliness. I noted that I couldn't source the story.
Imagine my delight when I did a bit of research, and found the specifics. It did actually happen. In fact, the story even gets better after the bit that's often told.
The leader in question was none other than D. L. Moody. A brother had been asked to pray, and he was going on and on. After a while, Moody stood and said, "Let us sing a hymn while our brother finishes his prayer." It's already a delightful and instructive story.
But the source of the story is British physician Dr. W. T. Grenfell, in his autobiography, A Labrador Doctor. It turns out that Grenfell himself had wearies of the prayer, and he'd taken his hat and was about to leave. Hear him tell it:
It was in my second year, 1885, that returning from an out-patient case one night, I turned into a large tent erected in a purlieu of Shadwell, the district to which I happened to have been called. It proved to be an evangelistic meeting of the then famous Moody and Sankey. It was so new to me that when a tedious prayer-bore began with a long oration, I started to leave. Suddenly the leader, whom I learned afterwards was D.L. Moody, called out to the audience, "Let us sing a hymn while our brother finishes his prayer." His practicality interested me, and I stayed the service out.This meeting and what followed influenced Grenfell to become a medical missionary. Note this, from the article on Grenfell in the Dictionary of Christianity in America:
After five years ministering to deep-sea fishermen across the Atlantic, he visited Labrador in 1892 and resolved to devote his life to alleviating the misery of the poor folk there. Beyond numerous persons converted or strengthened in the faith, his over forty years of labor produced six hospitals, seven nursing stations, four hospital ships, four boarding schools, twelve clothing-distribution centers, about a dozen cooperative stores, a cooperative lumber mill, a dry dock and a YMCA/ YWCA He also developed cottage industries and directed the first mapping of the Newfoundland coast. Grenfell’s books and his visits to Britain, Canada and the U. S. raised funds for the mission and brought him acclaim. Among other honors, he was awarded Oxford’s first honorary M.D. in 1907 and was knighted in 1927. [Reid, D. G., Linder, R. D., Shelley, B. L., & Stout, H. S. (1990). In Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]And all because Moody cut short a "tedious prayer-bore" in a public meeting!
And now you know... well, you know.