Prayer: The Unsung Hero
On my desk there is a little card that reads, "No Christian is greater than his prayer life." I have come to a gripping realization that prayer is probably one of the greatest contributions we can make to advance the Kingdom of Christ. Yet, we as Christians, seldom capitalize on this resource. Surveys show the average Christian prays 15 to 30 minutes a week. If the statement, "No Christian is greater than his prayer life," is true, then it would explain, in part, why so much of the world is still not evangelized.
Why do we spend so little time in prayer? Why is prayer one of the first things we neglect as we drift away from God? Many pastors have preached sermons condemning us for spending up to 3 hours a day in front of a television set while we pray less than 30 minutes a week. Although there is a need for such sermons, I have no intention of pointing out something for which you are probably already painfully aware. It is my desire to encourage you, to share with you what I have learned from my struggles in this area.
We, as Christians, often condemn ourselves because we do not pray as much as we think we should. Often, the simple task of praying only 15 minutes a day seems almost impossible! Of course, we can understand why it is easier to sit in front of the TV than devote time to prayer. TV is relaxing and prayer is work. I do believe energy is drained from us when we pray.
I am convinced, though, the main reason we do not pray as much as we should is not because it is too much work. There are many sincere and dedicated lay-Christians who spend as many as 15 hours a week working on Christian projects, yet find it difficult to spend a significant amount of time in prayer. With all this time spent on Christian projects, their lack of prayer cannot be considered laziness.
Satan understands the power of prayer, and I believe he is fighting fiercely to reduce its impact. An obvious military strategy is to concentrate attacks on the targets, which are the greatest threats. For example, in war, primary targets are radar installations, ammunition depots and weapons factories. Limited military resources are not used on non-strategic targets such as the officers’ dining hall (although many soldiers would probably welcome the relief from military food). It is my conviction that Satan knows the biggest spiritual battles are won or lost because of our prayers. Therefore, why would Satan not try to blind our eyes to the need and urgency of prayer?
The story of the disciples at the time of the resurrection is a good example of how capable Satan is of blinding our eyes to important truths. Jesus told his disciples on several occasions that He was going to be killed and would rise again on the third day. Yet, on the third day, where were His disciples? Why were they not waiting at His tomb? They were not even looking for His resurrection.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, remembered Jesus talking about His resurrection. This is why they requested a guard be placed at the tomb (Matthew 27:62-64). It appears Satan, the author of deception and distraction, had blinded, or at least distracted the disciples to this very important truth. If the disciples, the very men who walked with Jesus, could miss something as important as the resurrection, isn’t it reasonable to believe Satan could blind us to the power of prayer?
The attitude with which we as non-Christians first approached God is what released the dynamic power of salvation through Jesus Christ. It was essential when we came to God, we recognized Jesus Christ as our total redemption. Our human abilities played no part in the salvation process. We had to trust God fully.
Likewise, when we as Christians approach God, He still wants us to trust Him fully and understand that the solutions to our problems lie beyond our abilities. It is this recognition that releases the power of God. Prayer is an expression of the commitment and trust we have in God.
When we come before God in prayer and give Him full control of a situation, we are acknowledging His sovereignty in that area. As a result, God begins to work on the problem with His mighty power. God desires to be involved in every area of our life. He wants us to specifically commit each of our concerns to Him. I have found the more specific we are in our prayers, the more direct and effective will be the answers. For example, the prayer, "God, please bless the missionaries," will not be nearly as effective as naming specific missionaries and their particular needs.
Although we are in a Space Age of high-tech transportation and communication, we still go further on our knees. We will never have a true appreciation of how powerful and effective our prayers are until we enter God’s presence and He unfolds the completed story. At that time we will see how people were saved and lives changed as a direct result of our prayers.
God is continually working in ways that we are unaware. An example of God’s hidden involvement in our lives is seen in 2 Kings 6:13-17. In this passage Elisha and his servant ran across a huge Syrian army and the servant becomes afraid. Elisha prays and asks God to open the servant’s eyes, and the servant sees that the mountain is full of God’s angelic army.
Looking at the great needs of this under-evangelized world, it is easy to be overwhelmed with feelings of futility or the thought, "What is the point? I can’t make much of a difference." This discouragement can often keep us from even trying.
There are two things we must keep in mind. First, God does not expect us to change the whole world. He only wants us to do our part, to grow where he has planted us. Second, we must realize that, although we cannot change the whole world, there is much we can realistically accomplish.
Being consistent in our prayer life can help us accomplish more than we may have ever thought possible. A consistent savings plan at a bank can help save money without the feeling of having a "big bite" taken out of your paycheck. Likewise, a consistent prayer system can help us pray for a large group of people without feeling burdened.
Many short prayers throughout the day are easier than praying an hour at a time. An example of this is the old tale of the Tortoise and the Hare. The rabbit, which is obviously the faster of the two, was overconfident, and did not pay attention to the race. Although the turtle was slow, he was consistent, and as a result, his seemingly "insignificant" effort paid off in a big way.
There are two types of prayers I use: Systematic prayers and Onetime prayers. My systematic prayer list is a list of people, Christians and non-Christians, whom I have met throughout the years. I systematically work through this list from top to bottom over a period of time. Praying for 5 to 30 names at a sitting is non-burdensome and yet gives me the opportunity to intercede for a large group of people.
Onetime prayers are requests that are usually prayed for only once. These prayers are often for people I have run into throughout the course of my day, or someone who has caught my attention. The aspect that makes onetime prayers so practical is they consume very little of my time. They are ideal for situations where I am already doing something but not using much mental energy, such as driving in a car or standing in a line.
When I pray for these people, I pray not only for their salvation, but I ask God to make them strong, dynamic Christians who will become prayer warriors in their own right. I also ask God to raise up thousands of people to pray for this person. So, although I may pray only once for this person, I am confident God will raise up others to continue where I have left off.
Obviously, praying many times for one person is much more effective than just a single prayer, but never underestimate the power of these onetime prayers. It is important to realize for some people, you may be the only Christian who has ever prayed for them. This is the reason I ask God to raise up hundreds of people to pray for each person. As you expand your prayer time, be careful not to become overburdened. You should approach it as an adventure, not an obligation.
Years ago, I started what I call the quick prayer list. This short list contained 10 of the most important issues going on in my life at the time. (You have to keep this list short or you get overwhelmed and stop using the list altogether.) Every hour, such as on the hour, I pull out the list and pray for my concerns. I found this to be an excellent way to ensure I prayed on a consistent basis.
Since I was a Correction Officer with lousy days off, two of the items on my prayer list were: I would get a job working with computers and would have good days off. After two years of praying for this, I was called into the Warden’s office. He told me the Deputy Director for the State’s Department of Correction wanted me to work for him personally to do computer programming. For 4 ½ years, I worked for the Deputy Director’s office overseeing a large number of computer projects. Every time someone asked me how my "rags to riches" story came about, I always tell them about the prayer list and give God the credit.
In the 19th Century, rescuing a drowning person from a pier presented certain logistical problems for lifeguards. They did not have the luxury of our modern rescue techniques and equipment. Instead, they used a "lifeline" system. When a lifeguard dove into the water after someone, he would tie a rope around himself and hand the other end to someone to hold. One stormy day, a lifeguard spotted a swimmer being swept under by the mighty ocean waves. In his haste, he forgot to tell someone, "hold the rope." Thus, as he went into the water, so did his lifeline. This lifeguard needlessly lost his life in the stormy ocean rage because of carelessness.
This story illustrates the importance of being consistent and faithful in upholding Christian workers through prayer. However, there is another lesson to be learned too. We should never rush off to do God’s work before we have adequate prayer support. As we serve the Lord, let us not forget to ask people to "hold our ropes."
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