Published March 1, 2020
Scripture assures us that God hears our prayers, yet many Christians struggle in their prayer life. Questions often arise…
• Why do I struggle to maintain a consistent prayer life?
• How can I break out of the rut of praying the same prayers day after day?
• Why does the power of prayer seem lacking in my life?
Don Whitney, professor of Biblical Spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who has authored books on prayer, spiritual disciplines and spiritual health, says scripture relates various situations when those known to have a powerful prayer life did not receive what they asked for, leaving us to realize that powerful prayer focuses on the attitude of prayer, not necessarily the result.
"Powerful prayers are not half-hearted, insincere, routine, mindless prayers. A powerful prayer generally will include an element of fervency, sincerity and passion."
He says these important elements may be expressed in a number of ways. While powerful prayer may be expressed with visible emotion, Whitney was reminded of a story of a man who prayed very simply. One witness wrote, "I've never heard anyone expect so much of God and so little of his own prayers as he did. He was quiet when he prayed."
"That was powerful prayer," Whitney said. "A powerful prayer would include a focus. It's not mind-wandering prayer. There's a sense of fervency." James speaks to that when he says "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."
"And as with all good things, Jesus is a great example," Whitney said. "He prayed with such fervor that great drops of blood came from His sweat glands. That's why I say there is a sense of fervency that has to be a part of effective prayer. It isn't always a physical fervency, it's a heart fervency— a spiritual fervency."
Critical in the discussion on praying with power is the realization that the power is with God, not man.
Whitney saw that evidenced when he was pastoring in the Chicago area and the need arose for a new building. "Our church was often at the top in terms of per capita giving to missions, to the Cooperative Program. But we believed it was God's will for us not to go into debt. If we had gone into debt for a relatively small building, we would immediately — like the average Southern Baptist church — been giving more in interest toward the building loan than to missions. We didn't want to do that. As we prayed about it, we prayed God would provide without us going into debt. I've got literally two hours worth of stories about how God provided, and we moved in debt free."
During that process, Whitney said 1 Sam. 2:30 came to mind — a verse that says "those who honor me, I will honor."
"I had this sense that God was giving us that verse at that time. There's no promise there about money, no promise about church buildings. But we had a sense that if we would honor God in every part of this — even in the way we pay for it — that He would honor us. In the end, God met financial need after financial need. The congregation moved into the new facility without debt.
"There was no way of planning it out or envisioning how it could happen. God answered one dramatic prayer after another," he said.
Whitney also remembers times in his personal life when God has answered prayer.
On Nov. 11, 1971, he was called out of his high school English class because his father had suffered a heart attack. When he arrived at the emergency room, he saw it filled with church members as well as others from the community, all praying for his father.
"It's the most miraculous thing I've ever participated in," Whitney recalled. "He was pronounced dead nine times in one day. For a total of 45 minutes, he went without oxygen to the brain. But he had no discernible brain damage and he lived 14 more years."
He recalled specific times of difficulty early in his ministry life as he faced physical illness and hospitalizations due to stress while serving as a pastor.
He said for 16 years he and his wife, Kaffy, struggled with infertility. But they never gave up as they continued to pray in faith, "then God gave us a baby and bifocals the same year," he said. Others prayed alongside them. Eight years before they had a child, a woman in Brazil told them she was praying they would have a child.
The recollection of their struggle reminded Whitney of another couple who experienced an answer to prayer in regards to pregnancy.
The angel Gabriel announced in Luke 1 that Zechariah and Elizabeth — both advanced in years — would have a baby. Gabriel told Zechariah not to be afraid because "your prayer has been heard."
"It's logical to assume (because of their advanced age) they quit praying — maybe decades before — for a baby. The point is God answered a prayer they had quit praying — perhaps long ago. I think the evidence that he quit praying was when Zechariah said, 'how is this possible?'
"God answered their prayer — so there is powerful prayer. The encouragement is God can answer prayers prayed long ago. Powerful prayer is not always answered immediately."
That truth is seen in the life of George Mueller, considered by many as one of the greatest men of prayer and faith since New Testament times.
In 1844, Mueller began praying every day for the conversion of five friends. After 18 months, one friend was saved. In the next 10 years, two others were saved. It took 25 years before the fourth man was converted.
Mueller continued to pray for the fifth friend, but Mueller died before that man professed Christ as Savior. Soon after Mueller's death — after more than 52 years of praying — the fifth man was saved.
"He had more than 50,000 specific reordered answers to prayers in his journals — 30,000 of them answered the same day or the same hour that he prayed them."
When it comes to powerful, long-term praying, Whitney suggests praying the Bible. "I think that's the best way. It's biblical — it's a simple way to break out of the prayer routines that make prayer boring for so many people. They say the same old things about the same old things."
"There are so many prayers, especially in a church prayer meeting, that are the same prayers every week. I think the simple permanent biblical solution is to pray the Bible. The more I'm around, I think that other than preaching the gospel, the main reason God put me on the planet is to talk about praying the Bible.
"My prayer is that every Christian on the planet will learn how to pray the Bible. I think it's so simple a 6-year old who can read can do it. I've seen it transform people's prayer lives. I never tire of it — I see it permanently, instantly change lives right before me.
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