Archives For prayer

At some point in every individual’s walk with God, the question of unanswered prayer surfaces. It often erupts after we’ve passionately poured out our hearts to God about a desperate situation that we know needs His divine intervention and correction to literally save the day.

But then He doesn’t show up. Or at least not like we expected Him to or in the way we thought He would. And that’s when we struggle in our search for reasons as to “why” He didn’t answer like we thought He’d promised.

Didn’t He hear me? Doesn’t He know how important this is? Doesn’t He understand how much we need Him? Doesn’t He ask us to pray for anything in His name and He will give it to us? So what’s the catch?

Prayer invites us deeper into both the mystery and the madness of the journey of faith more than just about anything else we may encounter in life. It pushes us deeper into the heart of our great God who loves us more than we will ever be able to fully grasp and yet who responds . . . or doesn’t respond . . . in ways that can drive us to doubt or even the brink of despair as we cry out, “Why God?”

Larry Crabb has wrestled with these kinds of questions about prayer himself, and he shares with us what he’s learned along the way in his journey with God. Watch and listen as Larry responds to questions about unanswered prayer and the purpose of prayer.

I hope you find these videos helpful.

If you’re a church leader—from pastors and elders to small-group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and everyone in between—please join us for a repeat of our popular “Leading in Prayer” webinar this Thursday evening at 7:00 PM EDT with Dr. James Banks as our guest, along with Dennis Moles and myself. You can register at: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6281720287662468096

Our Prayers Count

Jeff Olson —  July 18, 2013 — 1 Comment

One of the many encouraging stories about prayer in the Bible is found tucked near the end of the New Testament book of James. As the half-brother of Jesus wrapped up his letter, he encouraged his readers to pray in their time of need (James 5:13).

Being familiar with the Old Testament, James pulled an example out of the life of the Jewish prophet Elijah to illustrate prayer.

James reminded his audience of the time Elijah earnestly prayed for God to withhold rain for three and a half years—and not a single drop fell on the land (5:17). After that time passed, he began praying for rain to return, and God opened up the heavens (verse 18).

Two things encourage me about James’ use of Elijah’s dramatic story. First, he starts out by saying that Elijah “was a man just like us” (James 5:17). In other words, he was an ordinary guy—just as human as we are.

It’s only a few words—“just like us”—but it carries a truth that counters a familiar lie that can diminish our prayers. The lie can come at us in this way:

Alright, those kinds of prayer may have worked for one of those Bible guys, but not for an ordinary person like me today.

James would beg to differ. He wrote that Elijah is no different than any of us. It doesn’t matter when or where we live, our prayers matter and can be just as effective as any follower of God—even as effective as someone whose prayers held back rain for three plus years.

A second thing that lifts up my heart about Elijah’s story is that our prayers play a significant role in what God is up to. Sure, the God who made this world didn’t need Elijah’s prayers to stop the rain that triggered a severe famine that brought a wicked ruler to his knees. And God could have started the rain again without Elijah’s prayers, but He invited Elijah to be a part of what He was up to, to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that our prayers make little difference, if any at all.

Don’t believe it!

Our prayers do count for God’s kingdom agenda!

Prayer Changes Me

Tim Jackson —  July 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

I must confess that I often go to God in prayer to ask for things that I want Him to change. Good things, mind you, but nevertheless my hope is that God will make happen what I am convinced is best. But since I’m incapable of making them happen, I ask God to do what I can’t do myself.

And, if you’re like me, you probably find yourself doing the same thing.

That’s a good thing. Isn’t it?

Maybe not. At least not the way I’ve typically done it.

I recently read Oswald Chambers’ devotional article “The Purpose of Prayer” from My Utmost for His Highest. He has a different take on it: “We look on prayer simply as a means of getting things for ourselves, but the biblical purpose of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself” (emphasis added).

Prayer-man overlooking waterOswald continues: “The problem is that no one will ever do this until he is at his wits’ end. When a person is at his wits’ end, it no longer seems to be a cowardly thing to pray . . . but as long as you think you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.”

Ouch! Nothing like cutting to the heart of the matter. It’s my independent self-sufficiency that gets in the way of truly “needing” God and coming to Him out of desperation for Him.

Oswald concludes: “To say that ‘prayer changes things’ is not as close to the truth as saying, ‘Prayer changes me and then I change things’ . . . prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person’s inner nature.”

What I’m still learning—and Oswald reminded me of again—is that prayer is the continual practice of dragging all of me—the good, the bad, and the ugly—into God’s presence and inviting Him to bring healing and restoration to my internal brokenness.

God desires to empower me and you, in all our weakness, to change the world. He invites us to see the world as He does, to hear the anguish of the suffering, and then to move forward in His strength and courage to engage, in His name, the desperate needs we see.

I’m still in the process of learning the power of Paul’s affirmation: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Let’s get on our knees and bring our self-sufficient weaknesses to God and invite Him to transform us into children who reflect His compassionate strength to love like no other can. That would sure shake things up in my world . . . and I bet in yours too.

Last week, Tim Jackson and I were privileged to host the webinar Leading in Prayer with our special guest Dr. James Banks. James is the pastor of Peace Church in Durham, NC, and the author of three books: Prayers for Prodigals, The Lost Art of Praying Together, and Praying the Prayers of the Bible.

During this live event, we discussed how ministry leaders and pastors could grow in their personal prayer lives and lead the churches they serve to grow in that area.

One of the questions from our listeners that we did not have time to talk through during the live event was this: “Do you have any advice on how to teach children and youth to pray?”

Here are some things that my dear friend and former pastor Doyle taught me about teaching kids to pray.

Teach their parents to pray. Moms and dads are the most influential people in the lives of their young children. If we take the time to teach parents to pray and then encourage them to pray for and with their children and teens—if we help parents create a culture of prayer within their homes—it will go a long way in creating a culture of prayer in our churches.

Model prayers that are accessible and understandable to children and youth. Never underestimate the influence a child’s pastor has on the child. If he prays prayers that are accessible and understandable, it not only shows children that they can pray, but it also teaches the children and youth something about God. It shows that, through the person of Jesus Christ, He is accessible to them. They don’t need flowery or theological words to communicate with the God of the universe.

Make corporate prayer an expectation in the youth and children’s ministries. It is very important to teach and to model good prayer habits. But if we want to take prayer to the next level, we can invite children and youth to pray. Teach them that prayer is an integral part of the Christian life. Invite them to pray for each other. Have special times of prayer where the pastor and other ministry leaders go into the children and youth ministry time and pray over the kids.

These are just a few ideas, but the main thing is to involve children and youth in the church’s prayer life.

I will never forget the day Pastor Doyle called all the children of the church to the front of the sanctuary during the pastoral prayer time. As they gathered at the front, he asked them to sit down and then told them that one of their friends had gotten very sick and needed their prayers.

He not only invited them to pray with him for their friend, but he also held out the mic and asked if one of them would like to pray. Up shot Caleb’s hand. Caleb was 10 and had suffered from the same illness that now plagued his friend.

The next moment Doyle did something amazing. He handed over the mic to a 10-year-old. And with his pastor beside him, Caleb prayed this simple prayer. “Lord, I know what Dallas is going through, and I know that Guillain- Barre sucks (yes, he said sucks . . . in church . . . during the pastoral prayer). Please touch him, be with him, and heal him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

One of our listeners from the recent webinar Leading in Prayer, asked, “What is the importance of praying out loud together, and how do I encourage God’s people to do that?” She went on to state that she is involved in leadership of a congregation for whom “religion is private, especially praying.”

Our webinar guest, Dr. James Banks, Deep in prayerhas a response for that great question in his book The Lost Art of Praying Together. James writes:

What about praying in front of others?

An important question needs to be asked. Didn’t Jesus caution against praying in front of others? Haven’t we all heard others use praying together as a platform to pontificate their own pious views?

Yes and yes. But that’s not all there is to it.

You might look at Jesus’ encouragement to pray in private and think He’s advising against any kind of public prayer. Here’s what He said: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).

Does this mean that Jesus is saying we shouldn’t pray with others at all?

Take a closer look at the sixth chapter of Matthew in which those words occur, and you’ll notice that what Jesus is really after is our motives when we pray. The chapter begins with Jesus cautioning His listeners to “be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1). He warns us not to announce our giving to the needy “with trumpets” and tell us not to be “like the hypocrites,” who “love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men” (Matt. 6:2, 5). What Jesus is after here is any kind of disingenuous display of “righteousness” that is intended to call attention to ourselves, instead of sincerely seeking after God.

Jesus warns His followers to have the same down-to-earth humility and dependence in prayer that He demonstrated. Our prayers and our relationship with God need to be real in private before they can be expressed in public. If Jesus had been against praying with others, He would not have done so personally on so many different occasions . . . Jesus prayed privately because He was dependent on God. But He also prayed frequently with others as well, and His actions provide the model for all believers to follow (pp. 35-36).

Thanks, James, for that reminder that prayer is both a private and public conversation with God that cultivates a deepening dependence upon God individually and corporately.

For more on what James has written on prayer, I recommend that you check out his three books on prayer from our own Discovery House Publishers.

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:14-15 (NIV)

One of the most powerful and honest confessions in the Bible is found in Romans 7:14-15. In this passage the Apostle Paul confesses that despite his good intentions his actions often don’t match his desires.

I don’t know about you but I sure can relate. I often, as the apostle confesses, feel very unspiritual, especially when it comes to my prayer life. I’ve always been told that I should pray, and I want to pray, but there have been precious few times when my prayers matched my desire to pray. I often don’t do the very thing I want to do.

This past week Tim Jackson, Dr. James Banks, and I hosted a webinar entitled Prayer: What it Is, What it Isn’t, and Why it Matters (Click on this link to listen). During this time of honest sharing I was reminded that I am not alone in my struggle. Most of us, it seems, struggle to do what we want to do when it comes to prayer.

If you can identify with this struggle, I’d invite you take a listen to our conversation.

Here’s where you can download a pdf file of our presentation: PrayerWebinar052313A

 

It has been nearly 25 years since the phone rang bringing us the terrible news that my younger cousin Jacob had been badly hurt. He had been playing with some neighbor kids and in a freak accident a guttering spike had been driven 6 inches into his brain. It entered between his eyeball and the orbital bone. He was rushed to the hospital, but the situation was grave and the doctors gave us very little hope that he would survive. It would take a miracle.

During this crisis, our family scrambled into action. Several hurried to the hospital to be with Jacob. Several others gathered at with my grandmother’s house to wait.

The usually light atmosphere at my grandparents’ house was replaced by one of heaviness and sorrow. Without much conversation, we gathered around Grandma who lay weeping on the couch. With Jacob barely clinging to life, we did the only thing we felt we could do. We prayed. I did not know it at the time but that prayer would forever change how I approached God in prayer.

As we began to pray, my grandmother could do nothing but weep. We prayed and she cried. She cried and said “Please, Father” under her breath as we timidly plead for Jacob’s healing. As the family prayer session went on, Mommaw started to pray.

There was no pretense or pleasantries in her prayer. At first it was agonizing to listen to her, but then the agony, while still present, began to give way as she charged boldly into the throne room of the Almighty. It was clear that she was asking for God’s help. She wanted Him to heal Jake, but it was also more than that. She also needed His presence, for without His presence she could not survive the pain. She needed to know that even in this terrible circumstance God was near. That He still heard and still cared.

By the time she really hit her stride in prayer, we had all stopped praying. We simply knelt quietly, and with our eyes wide open we watched Mommaw pray. We all knew she had taken us to a holy and intimate place. It was a place she seemed to know well; she had obviously been there before.

In those tense and fearful moments, Mommaw showed us that what we all really need in times of intense grief and sorrow is the Lord’s presence. We longed for Jacob’s healing—and by God’s grace and mercy we got what we wanted—but what we really needed more than anything else was God Himself. For He truly is our only hope in life and in death.

Unanswered Prayer

Tim Jackson —  May 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

Don’t you just hate it when you’re trying to communicate with someone and they don’t even bother to answer you? Even if it’s a text, an email, or a Facebook post, some response is better than flat-out silence. But it’s especially annoying when you know they heard you but are refusing to answer you. Now that’s downright disrespectful, even infuriating.

So, how do you respond when God doesn’t answer your prayers? After all, He’s omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent—nothing ever escapes His purview. He knows all, sees all, and hears all. If this is true, and we believe it is, then why do some of our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears? If it’s not that God can’t, didn’t, or somehow failed to hear our prayers, then we are left with a devastating but logical conclusion:  We are intentionally being ignored. And if that’s true, then God really doesn’t care about us or our concerns.

When prayers go unanswered, our feelings of being abandoned, discarded, ignored, and insignificant are inflamed. And that’s when we are prone to simply give up. To quit praying because no matter how often or how long or how passionately we pray, it doesn’t seem to make much difference at all.

Philip Yancey offers four reasons for unanswered prayers in his book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

photo(5)Some, but not all, unanswered prayers trace back to a fault in the one who prays. Some, but not all, trace back to Gods mystifying respect for human freedom and refusal to coerce. Some, but not all, trace back to dark powers contending against God’s rule. Some, but not all, trace back to a planet marred with disease, violence, and the potential for tragic accident. How, then, can we make sense of any single experience of unanswered prayer? (p. 232)

So what’s your take on unanswered prayer? How do you respond when you’ve prayed your heart out for something or someone who deeply matters to you and there’s no response from heaven?

We’d love to hear from you. Join in the discussion here as we grapple with unanswered prayer.

We’d like to invite you to continue the discussion and join us for our free webinar on prayer on May 23, at 12 pm EDT. I’ll be joined by fellow blogger and RBC Ministries Bible teacher Dennis Moles and pastor and DHP author Dr. James Banks for Prayer: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and Why It Matters. The hashtag for the webinar is #whyprayermatters.

Space it limited, so sign up soon at: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6822142345903290368

One of the great gifts my father gave to me was the ability to tell stories. One of my preferred pastimes as a boy was to sit and listen to Dad tell stories about his childhood. One of my favorite involved my grandmother and her prayer closet.

Dad, according to his recollection, was about 10 years old when my grandfather (Poppawe Damon) took him and his two younger siblings, Joe and Eileen, out to mend a fence that was about 200 yards behind their house.

As they worked my grandfather suddenly stopped what he was doing and looked back toward the house. Poppawe’s sudden lack of activity caught the attention of the kids, and he answered their unspoken question with a simple, “Listen.”

As they stood there in near silence, the kids began to hear what he had heard. In the distance, they made out a single voice. It was hushed but earnest; tender and pleading.

It did not take the kids long to figure out who was talking. It was their mother. And it didn’t take them long to figure out who she was talking to—God. The longer Momawe prayed, the louder she became.

Dad still remembers standing there at the edge of the woods listening to his mother pray. He remembers the intensity and passion in her prayer. He remembers hearing her pray for him, Joe, and Eileen. He remembers her crying with joy at the presence of her Lord as Jesus met her in the midst of her worship and petition. He remembers Poppawe telling them that Momawe was in the closet, where she went to meet with God (Matthew 6:5-6).

I heard this story many times while I was growing up. And while the actual event took place nearly 20 years before I was born, I still sense the reverence of that moment.

Dad was given a great gift that day. He was able to hear how his mother prayed when she thought no one was listening.

Christian prayer in its most intimate form is like that. It is an intimate conversation. It’s raw but beautiful. It is not ritualistic and measured but relational and empowered. It’s saying what you would say when you think no one but God is listening.

If you have a desire to grow and be strengthened in your prayer life please join us for a live webinar event, “Prayer: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and Why It Matters”.

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6822142345903290368

Register soon; space is limited. Hope to see you there!

My Sister Jodi

Allison Stevens —  April 19, 2012 — 30 Comments
My sister Jodi died unexpectedly yesterday. I’m so incredibly sad, and I still can’t believe it. My heart breaks that she’s gone and that I can’t talk with her. I know she’s with Jesus—she’s happy, fulfilled, and satisfied in the Lord; and that gives me comfort. I love you, Jodi, and I look forward to seeing you again when Jesus comes back or takes me home. Rest in peace, my dear sister.

My sister was sick a lot during her life. She struggled with drug addiction. After one terrifying, almost-fatal overdose at 50 years old, she was convinced into going to Teen Challenge for drug rehab. Funny, isn’t it, a middle-aged person going to Teen Challenge?!  But for Jodi, and she would tell you this, that was one of the best decisions of her life. God used that place and those people to change her. I remember one conversation in which she told me that she knew God loved her and that she was learning to obey Him. She’d call me and tell me Bible verses that meant a lot to her. She was reading the Bible like crazy! Over time, I saw my sister become the loving and kind person she was deep inside but that the drugs had overshadowed for so long.

My family, friends, and I prayed for Jodi for years—not months or a few years, but decades.  Often, I’d think, and I’m so ashamed to admit this: “Why bother? She’s never going to change.”

I’m sorry I thought that and thankful that I did not stop praying, because Jodi is proof that God can change anyone. My sister praised God for helping and healing her. She wanted to tell the world about her transformation. Jodi was not a quiet person! When she believed in something and wanted something, she went for it wholeheartedly.

Jodi was a consummate Southerner, and in true southern fashion, she wouldn’t hurt a fly if she could help it. But if anyone crossed someone she loved, boy-howdy, they’d better watch out!  She was fiercely loyal.

She was also generous. Even when she didn’t have the means, she found ways to show people how special they were to her. When my son was born, she didn’t have any money, but she made a pillow for him. When my daughter was born, she made a blanket for her. She consistently sent us gifts and cards for special occasions. Jodi loved her family—her husband, children, parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. And I can’t adequately describe how crazy she was about her grandchildren.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s addicted to drugs, you know how difficult it can be. But don’t stop praying for your loved one. Never give up, because you don’t know what God is doing and when His Spirit will bring that person to his or her knees. Never ever stop praying.

Jodi was clean for 2 years before the Lord called her home. I’m so proud she was my sister!