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Edward Payson

Edward Payson:(Jeremiah 33:3) “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) “Pray without ceasing.”(James 5:16) “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”(John Wesley) “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.”Chris Armstrong calls them “Great Intercessors” in history. These men and women who have been renowned for their power of prayer. Many of them prayed three or more hours every day. Many in today’s church would find that intimidating. In our present society our commitment to work, family, friends, fun, television, movies, sports, and hobbies seems to override our intimacy with God. In most lives prayer is just not a priority. The Church of today, believe it or not, does not have the time for the work of God. Instead of praying and wrestling for lost souls, we are complaining about getting out of services too late. Is it not true that at this time of year, instead of calling a prayer meeting, churches are planning wiener roasts and passion plays! Is it not proof that the Holy Spirit is to a great extent a stranger in the church where prayer is regarded as a task and a burden?”  Andrew Murray

Most of the "prayer warriors" from history are little known today. These humble "saints" did not seek the spotlight but did battle daily by "making war on the floor." On their knees they battled the powers of darkness wherever they, churches, basements, backrooms, and prayer closets...wrestling in the Spirit changing circumstances and the lives of thousands.

E.M. Bounds tells us:

"Charles Spurgeon glided from laughter to prayer with the naturalness of one who lived in both elements...He was ever in touch with was as natural for him to pray as it was for him to breathe."

When we acquire the habit of prayer we enter into a new sphere of living. Someone once asked John Knox, the Scottish evangelist, "Do you expect to go to heaven?" Knox answered:"Why sir, I live there."

This attitude is illustrated in a story of Horace Bushnell, told by Dr. Parkes Cadman:

"Bushnell was found to be suffering from an incurable disease. One evening, the Rev. Joseph Twichell visited him, and as they sat together under the starry sky, Bushnell said,' One of us ought to pray.' Twichell asked Bushnell to do so, and Bushnell began his prayer. Burying his face in the earth, he poured out his heart until, said Twichell, in recalling the incident,'I was afraid to stretch out my hand in the darkness lest I should touch God.'

To pray that you have God that near is to enter the Holy of Holies. Martin Luther spent at least three hours a day in prayer. John Welch, the holy Scottish preacher, thought the day wasted if he did not spend eight to ten hours in prayer. He kept a blanket near his bed so that he might wrap himself when he arose to pray at night. His wife would complain when she found him lying on the floor weeping. He would reply,"O women, I have the souls of three thousand in my church to answer for, and I know not how it is with many of them!"

All this brings us to the life of Edward Payson. This man of prayer was a 19th century American minister who was known as " Praying Payson of Portland,Maine." His Biographer writes: "Prayer was pre-eminently the business of his life." This aspect of his life could not have been clearer then by this portion of a note he sent to a young man who was about to enter the ministry:

"Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary to a minister. Pray, then, my dear brother; pray, pray, pray."

Born in 1783, Edward Payson was the son of a congregational pastor in Rindge, New Hampshire. The death of his brother in 1804 brought his own mortality to light. It was during this time that he stumbled upon the "Diary of David Brainerd" which ignited a fire in him that brought about his conversion. Brainerd, the missionary to the American Indians, is a remarkable example of a praying man of God. (For more information on David Brainerd refer back to e-mail dated, 11/12/07) Payson said that he had never been so impressed by anything in his life as by that diary. Payson caught the inspiration and began a prayer life that almost eclipsed Brainerd's. He was in good company. William Carey read Brainerd's life story and with the fire it ignited in his heart went on to evangelize India. Another man of prayer, Robert Murray McCheyne was inspired by that diary along with John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards.

Convinced that God had called him to the ministry he wrote his mother, "I am so happy that I cannot possibly think or write about anything else." Author William P. Farley wrote:

"...he now began the rigorous spiritual disciplines that would eventually produce such a great harvest. He started the discipline of rising early for prayer and Scripture reading thus beginning the prayer life that later would make him famous. "He prayed without ceasing. He studied theology on his knees. Much of the time he spent literally prostrated, with the Bible open before him, pleading the promises."

In 1807, Payson became pastor of the Congregational Church in Portland, Maine. He held that position until his death in 1827. His preaching was so full of the power of the Holy Spirit that three Congregational societies asked him to become their pastor, Even offering to build new churchs for the thousands that waited to hear him. Payson refused the offers from these prestigious congregations in New York and other large cities. It was God he was after not money or prestige so he remained loyal " to the flock God had entrusted to his care."

A lady once heard that the distinguished Lafayette was to be at Dr. Payson's church, and she hurried to the sanctuary. When Lafayette failed to enter, the lady was amazed by the unusual prayer of the pastor, Edward Payson. "May I have a copy of that prayer?" she asked. "The pastor did not write his prayer, and the prayer has now passed on the wind into the heavenlies," was the reply. Astonishment took hold of the lady, and the record says that she was "filled with admiration of the intercessory part of the services as differing from all that she had ever heard, in richness and appropriateness of matter, as well as fervor in utterance."

Leonard Ravenhill writes:

" Praying Payson of Portland had the highest quality of intimacy with God...Most of us are but sparrows in prayer and flutter no higher than the lowest branches; but this ‘eagle' soared into the heavenlies. None rose higher than Payson."

Like Brainerd, Payson kept a diary of his journey with the Lord. His humbleness was so profound that as you read through his journal you can't help but be drawn into the awe he held for his Savior. A typical diary entry reads:

"Never appeared so exceedingly vile and loathsome to myself as I did this day...I felt like sinking into the dust, in the idea that His pure eye was fixed on me, and that saints and angels saw how vile I was."

To read his diary is to be touched by his desperation and tender love for Jesus and the lost:

January 4, 1807
"I was favored with a spirit of prayer beyond all my former experience. I was in great agony and wrestled both for myself and others with great power. God seemed to bow down the heavens and come down and open all His treasures, bidding me, take what I would."

January 29
"I never felt such longings after God or such a desire to depart to be with Christ. My soul thirsted for more full communion with my God and Savior. I do not feel satisfied as I used to with the manifestations of His Divine Presence, but feel increasingly hungry and craving."

February 18
" I was enabled to lie at Jesus' feet and to wash them with the tears of contrition. No pleasure have I ever found in the Christian life is superior to this."

February 28
"I was favored with great enlargement in prayer. I seemed to be carried out of myself into the presence of God."

April 23
" My heart seemed ready to break with it's longings after holiness."

Payson was an effective soul-winner. He did not consider a person converted on the basis of his testimony alone. He waited until the new convert showed signs of spiritual fruit. Only then did he consider a person converted and (as was the practice of that day) admit him to the Communion table. In September of 1809 he wrote his mother:

" Last Communion, we admitted 11 to the church, and next Sabbath we shall admit 12 more. The appetite for hearing seems insatiable, and our assemblies are more crowded that ever. Many have lately joined us."

Over a period of time his church received more than 700 new converts that were truly living for the Lord. Revival was his heart's desire and like all true men of prayer, Payson understood the need for true humility. His Biographer wrote, "It was the burden of his secret prayers that he might be delivered from pride, from self-seeking, from preaching himself instead of Christ Jesus the Lord....The revivals which took place under his labors were numerous and were characterized by a depth and power seldom seen." Many times as Payson was preaching his congregation would be overwhelmed with a sense of Christ's presence and power and irresistibly brought to tears. His diary testifies to the necessity of praying for revival:

September 27
"In the evening I was favored with great fervency in prayer. It seemed as if God would deny me nothing, and I wrestled for multitudes of souls, and could not help hoping there would be revival here."

September 28
" I was favored with the greatest degree of freedom and fervency in interceding for others. I seemed to travail in birth for poor sinners and could not help hoping that God is about to do something for His glory and the good of souls."

Within days "Praying Payson's" prayers were answered through a mighty fresh work of revival power. During these outpourings of the Holy Spirit he labored in God's word and prayer many hours each day. Administration and counseling did not distract him until his time with God was satisfied.

In his early forties Payson's health began to fail. He suffered in great pain for several months. As his suffering grew so did his joy in God. He lost the use of his limbs and although his was confined to bed and in great pain, the joy of the Holy Spirit inundated him. "I can find no words to express my happiness. I seem to be swimming in a river of pleasure, which is carrying me on to the great fountain." In the spring of 1827, "Praying Payson" died.

It has been said that the secret of Edward Payson's ministry was that he prayed much. There is no telling how many intimate conversations he had with his beloved Lord. When his body was removed from the room there were found grooves worn into the hardwood floor next to his bed where he rocked and seesawed his knees in constant travail. When they were preparing his body for burial, they found great camel-like pads on his rough worn down knees.


1 John 5:14 ... "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."

JJ (Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church