The Powerful Prayers of John Knox

“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
—James 5:16

One of the most striking examples of powerful prayer comes from the nation of Scotland and the man John Knox. Many church historians believed Knox prayed with such force and fiery passion that his prayers transformed the entire nation of Scotland. He is considered the father of the Scottish Presbyterian faith.

His prayers are believed to have ignited and sustained the fires of the Reformation and revival in Scotland. What made this man’s prayers so powerful? How did he learn to pray such nation-changing prayers? What can we learn about intercession from this mighty man of prayer?

John Knox was born east of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1514 into a merchant family. He was educated at St. Andrews, the distinguished university of Scotland, and was ordained as a Catholic priest around 1540. At this time, Europe was boiling with the conflict of the Reformation. Termed “Protestants” because they protested against the carnal and ungodly practices of the Roman Catholic Church, Knox and others started to speak out against the “mother church” (Catholicism). This enraged the political and religious leadership of England and France.

While Knox was residing at the castle of St. Andrews in 1547, the fortress was seized by French soldiers chartered with shutting down the “Protestants,” who were considered rebels. Knox was taken prisoner and forced to row in the bottom of French ships as a galley slave for two years. He almost died due to the horrible conditions of the galleys. Upon his release in 1549, he left Scotland and traveled in Europe, ending up in Geneva, Switzerland, where he became a student of the Reformer John Calvin. Learning a new form of liturgy and theology, Knox was prepared to go home to lead a religious revival and revolution in his beloved Scotland. It would nearly cost him his life.

For years, Knox preached and led the Protestant reformation in Scotland. The English monarchy tried to kill him many times. His fiery sermons were said to ignite fresh faith and led many Scots to trust in Christ for their salvation. Yet perhaps his greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may have been his prayers and not his preaching.

Knox was a man on fire in prayer. HIs prayers shook hearts and political leaders alike. Mary, Queen of Scots, a lifelong enemy of Knox, is said to have stated, “I fear John Knox’s prayers more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”

Knox was consumed by prayer. He once prayed, “Give me Scotland, Lord, or I die!”

John Knox’s passion for His people to know the glorious riches of Christ brings me to my knees. This is not an arrogant prayer of an inflated ego. This is the cry of a broken heart pleading for the salvation of his countrymen and their deliverance from sin. This was the burning passion of a man willing to die so that Scotland could be transformed by the Word and the Spirit of Jesus.

Knox’s hold on the altar of prayer was strong and continuous. He prayed large, sweeping, transforming prayers, and the Lord answered. The effects of his preaching and prayers are still being felt today in the UK and across the world.

One attribute of Knox that inspired his fellow Scottish preachers was his fearlessness. Others said of him, “He did not fear men, because he feared God. He was a man willing to offend men, because He was not willing to offend God.” What an example for us today.

Here are his words on prayer:

“How the Spirit makes intercession for us. So that without the Spirit of God supporting our infirmities (mightily making intercession for us with unceasing groans, which cannot be expressed with tongue, Rom. 8:26), there is no hope that we can desire anything according to God’s will.”

Prayer and intercession inspired by the Holy Spirit were the fuel and fire of Knox’s reformation and revival work. His prayers likely kept him alive amidst persecution. His intercession moved forward the birthing of a whole new expression of Christian worship. What can we learn from the prayer life of the reformer John Knox?

Prayer is so much greater than getting your needs met by God. The privilege of prayer is so much more than finding comfort in times of stress or storm. Those are important aspects of prayer. But prayer is so much more. Prayer can awaken nations, stop politicians in their tracks, and bring the transforming power of the gospel to lost and sinful masses. The power of prayers made in faith is beyond our human comprehension.

Let’s commit to keeping the altar fires of prayer burning at home, in our closets and in our church. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. And prayer changes nations.

Lord, change us today. Make us mighty men and women of prayer in the holy example of John Knox. Amen.

—Pastor Tom

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