Not long ago a man said to me, "I'd pray more if I believed it would do any good."
I responded, "You've got the cause and effect reversed. The fact is, you'd believe more if you would pray more."
Like this man, other men have come to me for counseling because they were despondent over the fact that God had not answered their prayers. As ridiculous as it may seem, after talking with them I've discovered that many of these men never made their needs known to God in the first place. They assumed "there was no need to pray since God already knows the needs."
Indeed, God knows every need; but we were created for fellowship with Him and prayer is an important aspect of that fellowship. David understood this. He pledged, "To thee will I pray (Psalm 5:2) . . . evening, morning and at noon will I pray" (Psalm 55:17).
Daniel prayed three times each day even though it meant risking his life to do so. Solomon dropped to his knees in submission and prayed a dedication prayer after the building of the temple. John the Baptist spent a lifetime of fasting, praying and preaching in the wilderness.
No one would deny that these men were close to God. Nevertheless, they were unassuming and humble. They poured out their feelings and thoughts to God through prayer and earnestly sought His guidance in all matters. Their conviction that their God was a caring, listening God prompted them to turn to Him with an intensity of prayer. They prayed believing that God would respond.
I heard a preacher once explain the basis of prayer power. He said, "It's not the length of your prayers -- how long they are; it's not the arithmetic of your prayer -- how many there are; it's not the poetry of your prayers -- how beautiful they are; it's not the volume of your prayers -- how loud they are. It's the intensity. That's all that counts."
If we look for the ultimate example of prayer intensity, we will find it in the prayers of Jesus. He preceded all of His miracles -- from the feeding of the 5,000 to the raising of Lazarus from the dead -- with intense prayer. Nowhere is this better depicted than in Luke 22:41, 44, when Jesus prayed that his human flesh would be strong enough to face and endure the crucifixion before Him:
And he withdrew
from them about a stone's cast
and kneeled down, and prayed . . . and being in
agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat
was as it were great drops of blood falling to
Such earnest prayers cannot go unanswered from a loving God. In that instance, Jesus was given the strength He requested: "And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven strengthening him" (John 22:43).
It is important to note two important things about the example of prayer Jesus set for us in the garden. First, there is the fact that He made a personal request. He asked to be spared the pending death on the cross. In asking this, however, He qualified His request by saying that it should be denied if it was not in line with the will of God the Father. He yielded His will to the Father's.
When it was apparent that such a request could not be granted, the second thing Jesus prayed for was the strength to do the Father's will. This request was granted. God has a plan for our lives that we are free to reject or submit to. Following God's leading brings us our greatest fulfillment, although yielding is seldom easy.
The power of prayer is God empowering us to do what is right in His eyes. Thus, we must emulate Jesus in this way: by making our needs and desires known to God, but to ask that they be granted only if they are pleasing to Him and along the calling He has for us.
I can personally vouch for the fact that yielding to God is difficult if it means accepting something other than what you have been praying for. In 1974 I suffered damage to the nerves near my left temple. The result was gross disfigurement of the entire left side of my face. My cheek sagged, my left eyelid would not blink, my lips were twisted, half of my tongue was numb and my forehead would not wrinkle on the left side. It was terrifying.
Instinctively, my prayers were for a miraculous total recovery. I prayed fervently, but no healing came. After ten days in our city hospital, I was transferred to a large university research hospital. While there, a young hospital chaplain stopped by for a visit. I told him I had prayed for my face to be healed but there had been no improvement.
The chaplain opened his Bible and spent time reading me the Old Testament story of how Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. By the story's end, Joseph had become the second most powerful man in Egypt. When he revealed his identity to his brothers, they were sure he would seek revenge. Instead, he forgave them. When they asked how he could be so magnanimous, he explained that God had used their evil to work His good.
"Now, you have a similar opportunity," the chaplain told me. "Life has dealt you a hard blow. Is your faith strong enough for you to stop praying for what you want and, instead, discover what good God can bring out of this?"
"But I'm paralyzed," I mumbled through twisted and numb lips.
"Just the one side of your face is," the chaplain countered. "Your legs, feet, hands, arms and back work fine.
So does your hearing, thinking, seeing and sense of touch. Find out what God has in store for you. Yield to Him."
From then on I changed my prayer. I continued to ask for my face to be healed, but I also prayed that if that was not part of God's will for me then I wished for the grace to accept my situation and to serve where He could use me.
To my total amazement, the paralysis turned out to be a complete blessing from God. I had to attend speech therapy class in order to learn how to speak clearly again. I was given tips on vocal projection, enunciation, delivery, and body language. Soon, I not only learned how to speak again, I developed into a public orator. Thanks to that training years ago, I now deliver more than 80 major speeches each year at colleges, universities and corporations. I also teach a Sunday school class each week and make numerous guest appearances on radio and television stations. Had it not been for the paralysis, this phase of my career might never have opened itself to me.
In the years since 1974 I have regained the feeling and most of the motor movement of my forehead, nose, lips and tongue. My eyelids and left cheek still show evidences of the original nerve damage, however. But I never think about it. If people ever ask me about it, I tell them, "It was something that seemed to start out bad, but though the power of prayer it wound up working to my good."
So, if you ever catch yourself saying, "I'd pray more if I thought it would do me any good," just change that to, "I'm praying now, Lord, so that I can discover what is good for my life!"
Scripture Verses to Ponder:
"O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come."
"I give myself unto prayer." Psalm 109:4
"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord; but the
prayer of the upright is his delight."
"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall
"But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry
of the word."
"Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace
of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through
#1 Jesus often prayed, both alone and with his disciples. What instances can you recall when Jesus prayed? What was the focus of his prayers? What were the intents of his prayers? What were the results of his prayers? What lessons can you learn from this to apply to your own prayer life?
#2 In Chapter Seven we will discuss in more detail the reasons why prayers sometimes are and other times are not answered. For now, however, spend a moment recalling a time when you thought your prayers weren't being answered. Can you think of a reason why the prayers were not answered? Have the prayers since been answered? With the perspective of time, can you see the hand of God at work in the way your prayers were or were not responded to?
#3 Are your prayers often generic, nonspecific, and routine? If so, take a moment to list a half-dozen genuine things you feel you should be concentrating on in your prayers. After making the list, keep it handy and use it to guide your prayers for the next week.
#4 Has anyone ever supported you during a crisis by praying for you? Why not call that person today to say thanks for that love?