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Our forefathers had the answer

Unsplash/Jez Timms

Our forefathers really did have the answers. When I was growing up it was still popular to listen to them. I remember when I was a small boy that my Grandfather Howard Burnham noticed that I was struggling with something. He said to me; “Nolan, if you pray for strength, God will give you strength. If you pray for courage, God will give you courage and if you pray for wisdom, God will give you wisdom.”

To be honest with you I can remember in the moment that I just imagined eventually becoming this super intelligent, body builder dude destined to become a war hero! I do remember that those words impacted my life and for many years afterwards asking God to give me those three things. I believe He has, but in ways much different than those I originally imagined.

Our forefathers knew how to pray! Interestingly, they did not pray “name it and claim it, and if you can’t stand it demand it” prayers. In contrast, it was said of the preachers of the 1800s that the knees of the woolen pants, which were the common attire of that day, were badly scuffed because they spent so much time on them in prayer. All night prayer meetings back then were the norm. They took the Biblical injunction to “seek the Lord with all their heart, all their mind, and all their soul” literally. At the emergence of any and every crisis that the late 1800s or early 1900s threw at them, everything stopped and everyone prayed. Prayers were loud and could often be heard blocks away. The deep throated howl, and the groaning in the Spirit was offered up unashamedly. They knew what it was to start praying and not to stop until they sensed God’s peace come over them or what was known then as “praying through” occurred.

Growing up, I found it amazing how quietly the adults spoke when they were talking about God. As I got a little older, one time at a family get together at a restaurant I intentionally began talking about God in a normal tone and even let out a “Praise the Lord” so loud everyone in the restaurant could have heard it. I remember the family elders that were present looked at me in total shock and for just a moment glared at me with bugged out eyes. Then they continued their quiet conversation as if nothing had happened. I didn’t realize it then but a growing hunger for more of God was rising in my heart.

I moved to Jacksonville Florida in 1979. Within a year of moving there I completely rededicated my life to the Lord. During that time a personal friend recommended that I start attending the church just up the road from my apartment complex. I followed her advice and shortly thereafter I started going to church prayer meetings, experiencing for the first time people praying out loud with their whole heart. They were actually crying out to God! Everyone in the room could hear everyone else’s prayers! Some quoted scripture references reminding God of His precious promises. Others openly rebuked the devil in Jesus name. Some walked and prayed, some knelt at the altar and prayed, some even laid sprawled out on their faces before God. They weren’t five minute meetings. They weren’t like driving through a spiritual drive through flashing the Jesus gold card as you quickly were on your way. People prayed and they prayed long. Some prayed and prayed then waited and seem to be listening. Others prayed with their Bibles open, even pointing at the very scripture that they were praying.

I can just remember the huge WOW that was in my heart and before long I was learning how to pray with my whole heart. Everything I had heard about the old time revivals and the prayer lives of our forefathers had been demonstrated right before my eyes and I wanted what they had. Before long I learned what it was to come before God with a troubling burden and pray through until that beautiful blessed assurance of His peace flooded my heart.

Unfortunately, our modern day sociological infusion has deceived us into thinking that there is such a thing as new truth. Solomon said that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV) In our modern world our feverish pursuit of the mass influx of new information, our subtle worship of intellectual gurus and the hunger to find something new have set us up for the failures we are reaping. 

The wisdom of our elders is mocked. The years they spent walking with the Lord and their lifetimes spent studying the scripture are rejected as “old school thinking” and of no value. The idea that you might have to pray for an hour on any given emergency is considered ridiculous, and the thought that God might require extended prayer even more so.

We want quick fixes for everything! The doctrines, which we have embraced, that quickly fills churches, which are full of emotion and entertainment is producing an epidemic of pastoral burnouts and even suicides. Still they are considered sadly non-sequential!

Will somebody please dust off the covers off of some theology books in a few attics and read the sermons of our forefathers? Will someone stop these teachers who are mocking fasting and mocking the faith of their parents and our forefathers, and start realizing again that they had prayer that worked! That God is still moved by humbled hearts full of contrition, that pouring out your heart to God and all the moaning and groaning, which that produces, is still the praying which God hears! Let’s bring back the respect for the mothers and fathers who have gone on before, who truly knew how to pray effectively! May the same Holy Spirit be asked to fill our hearts which filled theirs!

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is

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