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In Good Company (Part Three): The Examples of Historical Church Leaders

in good company

From the New Testament church to modern times, church history has contained leaders who were men and women of prevailing prayer intensified by fasting. The fruit from their lives testifies to the God-given power of fasting and prayer. We can glean a lot from their examples.

In Mighty Prevailing Prayer, Wesley Duewel mentions a few of these church leaders and prayer warriors from history:

Jesus, speaking of you and me, said, “Then they will fast” (Matt. 9:15). He was referring to His followers during the period between His ascension and His return. Jesus expects all his children to fast. Why? It is an even higher level of intensity of prayer, level four. Ask, seek, knock, fast. John Wesley preached many sermons on fasting and prayer. He said, “the man who never fasts is no more in the way to heaven than the man who never prays.”

When prevailing in prayer for needs that are very urgent or resistant, fasting is often used by the Holy Spirit to give the extra power to bring Satan’s defeat and Christ’s victory into view. Since Jesus expects us to fast, He set the example for us, just as He set the example in prayer. His forty days of prayer after His baptism were days of fasting prayer.

The Early Church

The early church, following Christ’s example, put great emphasis upon fasting. We know that at least for four hundred years after Christ, the faithful Christians everywhere fasted twice each week. Epiphanius, the writer of perhaps the first Christian encyclopedia on the Bible, asked rhetorically, “Who does not know that the fast of the fourth and sixth days of the week (Wednesday and Friday) are observed by Christians throughout the world?”

Since fasting was a part of normal Christian devotion, it naturally was the next step in intercession after asking, seeking, and knocking.

Reformation Leaders 

The great leaders of the Reformation, in their spiritual warfare to restore purity to the church, naturally made great use of the biblical means of fasting. Martin Luther not only maintained the spiritual discipline of fasting one day a week but additionally fasted so often along with his three hours’ daily prayer that he was often criticized for fasting too much. But he blessed the whole evangelical church and impacted the world for God by his prayers, fasting, and holy boldness.

John Calvin was called an inveterate faster—and lived to see God’s power sweep Geneva. The Moravians fasted, as did the Hussites, Waldensians, Huguenots, and Scottish Covenanters. Except for prevailing prayer that included fasting, we would have had no Reformation and no great awakenings over the centuries.

From Knox to Finney

John Knox impacted the whole of Britain and moved the world toward God as he wrestled day and night in prayer and fasted regularly. Heroic Archbishop Cranmer and equally heroic Bishops Ridley and Latimer were known for regular fasting as well as for bold preaching of the truth. Jonathan Edwards was a regular faster.

Charles G. Finney, probably the greatest and most anointed soul-winner since the apostle Paul, fasted every week. Whenever he sensed the work of God slowing down or less of the power of God on his ministry, he would spend another two to three days in fasting and prayer, and he testified that the power was always renewed.

Great Prayer Warriors

From the time of Moses to our own century, great prayer warriors have regularly intensified and empowered their prevailing prayer by fasting. No one boasts of one’s prayer life, and all hesitate to reveal the details of their personal walk with God. Heaven’s record will reveal how again and again the great victories of the church have been won by prevailing prayer intensified by fasting.

Rev. Seth C. Rees, father of Dr. Paul Rees, was greatly used in the early decades of this century. He never held an evangelistic campaign without setting apart one or two days for fasting prayer. Pastor C. Hsi, noted Chinese scholar-saint, fasted constantly. Often when some difficult matter arose, he gave himself to a day of fasting prayer. Even while he was traveling, he waged a mighty spiritual war with the powers of darkness, confronting Satan almost hand-to-hand in conflict. At such times he would give himself to “days of fasting and prayer.”

— Wesley Duewel, Mighty Prevailing Prayer 1

A Note About John Knox

Much could be said about each one of these individuals. But I want to leave you with just a few thoughts about John Knox, the foremost leader of the Scottish Reformation. Several years ago I read The Mighty Weakness of John Knox and was struck by one thing above all—his prayer life.

Knox’s ardent enemy, the queen regent, Mary Guise, admitted that she was “more afraid of [Knox’s] prayers than of an army of 10,000 men.” If every Christian prayed like Knox, the Devil and his minions would melt like wax before the fire. 2

Knox’s youngest daughter’s husband, John Welch, “spent so much time kneeling in prayer on cold stone prison floors that in the last years of his life he lost all feeling in his knees. His praying grandson, the covenanter John Welch, great-grandson of Knox, was found after his death to have calluses on his knees as hard as ox horn.” 3

Would you like for your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and all their spouses to be prayer warriors like those of Knox? What kind of example in prayer are you setting for them? What kind of seeds are you sowing in prayer from which they will will no doubt reap a harvest?

“Where constant prayer is, there the petition is granted.” — John Knox4

Questions:

  • Did it surprise you to see that for at least for four hundred years after Christ, faithful Christians everywhere fasted twice each week? How can you make fasting a part of your lifestyle, beyond just this present fast?
  • How did it encourage you on your fast this week to see the prominence of fasting not only in the Bible, but down through Christian history?
  • Are you combining your fasting with earnest prayer?
  • Would you like for your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and all their spouses to be prayer warriors like those of Knox? What kind of example in prayer are you setting for them? What kind of seeds are you sowing in prayer from which they will no doubt reap a harvest?

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES

FASTING DAY NINE FROM THE ARCHIVES

RELATED ARTICLES ABOUT PRAYER

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  1. Duewel, Wesley L.. Mighty Prevailing Prayer: Experiencing the Power of Answered Prayer. (pp. 180-182). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  2. Douglas Bond. The Mighty Weakness of John Knox (Kindle Locations 425-427). Kindle Edition.
  3. Ibid., 485-487
  4. Ibid., 430

 


 

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