Snow on the Haystack Monument, captured by Orion Howard via Flickr

Snow on the Haystack Monument, captured by Orion Howard via Flickr

For most Ephs, the Haystack Monument carries nothing more than historic and aesthetic significance.  And it is those things: it serves as a picturesque stop on a snowy campus snowshoe tour and a reminder that Williams College attained national significance far before U.S. News began publishing college rankings, before Mark Hopkins became a renowned educator, even before Henry David Thoreau visited Greylock.  But how many appreciate the Haystack Meeting and the Haystack Monument as a live religious symbol, an inspiration to millions of faithful Christians nationwide?

That’s the Haystack Monument as understood by Ronnie Floyd, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination of Protestant Christians in the United States (approximate membership: 16 million).  Floyd recently drew on the example of Samuel Mills & co. in a powerful address laying out his vision:

We must remember that it really all goes back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting. After praying, these five young men sang a hymn together. It was then that Samuel Mills said loudly over the rain and the wind, “We can do this, if we will!” That moment changed those men forever. Many historians would tell you that all mission organizations trace their history back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting in some way. Yes, these men turned the world upside down. And it all began in a prayer meeting under a haystack.

At the place where this meeting occurred, a monument stands today commemorating this historic God moment. At the top of that monument is the phrase, “THE FIELD IS THE WORLD.” Underneath those words is the following statement: “The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions. 1806.” It all happened from a prayer meeting.

This reminds me of the words written in Acts 4:31: “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.” Prayer, the power of God, evangelism, and missions all go together. We need to get ourselves back under the haystack!

Over the rain, wind, lightning, and claps of thunder when Samuel Mills declared to the other four young men, “We can do this, if we will!” he saw something before anyone else saw it. He saw that THE FIELD IS THE WORLD.

For Floyd, the Haystack is not just a matter of historical interest, as he actively draws on the example as he makes a call to the faithful to:

1. AWAKEN AMERICA

Before the awakenings and great movements of God in the past, many times God’s people have prayed as long as a decade or more before God moved mightily among the people. Therefore, I call upon us to return to the haystack!

We need to stop being so content doing ministry without moments under the haystack. We must return to the haystack, calling out to God extraordinarily, experiencing Him supernaturally, and exploding with a robust vision and commitment to advance the Gospel exponentially everywhere…

2. REACH THE WORLD

Sometimes we conduct ourselves like a bunch of theological Universalists who believe it will all work out okay for everyone. We must begin to believe in lostness again.

People need the Gospel of Jesus Christ beginning in our own villages, towns, and cities. Our pastors need to be injected with a vision and strategy to reach their own villages, towns, and cities.

According to missiologists, we live in a nation where three out of four people do not have a personal relationship with Christ. We live in a world with 7.275 billion people. Of these 7.275 billion people, just over 3 billion of these people are unreached. There is an additional 1.25 billion of these people who are engaged nominally. If we even come close to understanding the spiritual condition of our world and the need for the Gospel, we are facing a daunting challenge.

This is why we need to return to the haystack and come out from underneath it with a renewed belief and commitment to the power of God. Without His power, the task is overwhelming. Without His power, our insufficiency is exposed to the world.

It is time we emerge from underneath the haystack again and with the vision: THE FIELD IS THE WORLD. It is time we emerge from the haystack again with convictional, God-inspired leadership that declares as Samuel Mills did in 1806: “We can do this, if we will!”

With God’s power, we can reach America’s villages, towns, and cities. With God’s power, we can reach the world, penetrating the darkness of lostness globally. The field is the world… We can do this, if we will!

Even — or perhaps especially — for those of us who rarely look at this Williams icon through a religious lens, Floyd’s reliance on the legendary encounter among Ephs and God is enlightening. Read the whole thing.

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