Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities
For the last seven years, I've served as chairman of the National Prayer Committee here in the United States. I have a real burden to pray for our nation, and as I look at our nation, I see a desperate need for revival.
But as I travel across the country, I sadly have to admit that I'm not hearing the kind of praying that will produce revival. I don't hear bold praying. Instead, I hear "wimpy" praying.
Do you know what I mean? "Well, God, I've got an idea, and I'm not sure if You're interested, but if You are, here it is. Now do whatever You want."
This kind of prayer comes out of our mouths, dribbles down our chins, and falls on the floor. There's nothing that causes it to rise to heaven. There's no power there, no confidence, no faith.
The Bible teaches us to pray differently. In fact, God's Word commands us to pray boldly, to pray with confidence: "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16, emphasis added).
The apostle John gives us a picture of the beauty and majesty of the throne room in the book of Revelation. Around the thrones of the Father and the Son are four living creatures—angelic beings whose sole task throughout all of eternity is simply to cry out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty" (4:6-8). And around these four living creatures are twenty-four elders with crowns of gold, and they're continually taking their crowns and casting them at the feet of the Lord and worshiping Him (vv. 9-11).
As if that were not enough, John says the throne room of heaven is filled with many thousands of angels who are gathered together in joyful assembly (5:11-12). What an awe-inspiring place!
But in my imagination, at the back of the great throne room is a little door. When we begin to pray, the door opens, and we walk out into the very center of the throne room. And then we intone, "Dear heavenly Father, we thank You for all You've given us. Lead, guide and protect us. In Jesus' name, amen."
As we leave, you can hear the angels saying, "That's it? That's all he's going to ask for? He had the attention of the Creator of all things, and he closed his eyes, muttered a few little phrases ... and left?!"
With this picture in mind, the pressing question for the church today is, "How can we move from wimpy to bold praying?"
There's a group of Christians whose story is found in the book of Acts who, I believe, give us a very practical model for how we can learn to pray with boldness. Their story is found in Acts 4, and providentially we have a transcript of their prayer meeting:
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day....
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.... After further threats they let them go.
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them....
"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness...."
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Wow! I want us to look at their prayer, because there are several principles here for bold praying:
They paid attention to Who they were talking to. Sometimes we have a tendency in prayer to rush into God's presence with our prayer list, but we don't consider Who's on other end of the conversation. But look how they began this prayer: "Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them" (v. 24).
Here's an extremely important principle: When the focus of prayer is our needs, faith fades.
That's one reason we so often find ourselves scared and timid in prayer. For example, we find out that we've lost our job or we have cancer or a loved one is dying, and suddenly we're overwhelmed by fears and concerns and anxieties. We bring these concerns to the Lord, but we're not really focusing on the Lord—we're looking at our need!
These early Christians were able to pray this amazingly bold, effective prayer because they began by paying attention to Who they were talking to. Their focus was on the power and promises of God, not the serious predicament they were facing. This simple change of focus can change your prayer life forever.
They prayed according to the Word of God. The disciples began their prayer by quoting several verses from Psalm 2 back to God (Acts 4:25-26)—and then they based the rest of their prayer on that passage of Scripture. Why would they do that?
The psalm they chose is all about God's Messiah. It talks about how the nations and the kings of the earth are going to rise up against the Messiah. But as you read on, it tells how the One who sits enthroned in heaven scoffs at them (v. 4).
And then about halfway through Psalm 2, we are privileged to listen in on a conversation between God the Father and Jesus the Son. Jesus is speaking, and He says of God, "He said to me, 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession'" (vv. 7-8).
Do you get this? The Father promised Jesus the nations as His inheritance!
The early church, led by the Spirit, saw this, and they said, "Wow, this is great! The Father has promised Jesus all nations, and Jesus told us to preach the gospel to the nations. Now, the authorities in Jerusalem just said, 'You can't preach anymore.' So, Lord, grant Your servants boldness to proclaim Your Word, and, Lord, get involved. Do whatever it takes to allow the Word to go forth with power so that Jesus can receive His inheritance." That's why they prayed the way they did.
Here's the point: Their prayer was not a way of getting things from God. It was the way God had chosen to accomplish His will on planet earth. They understood that their lives and circumstances were for the purpose of participating with God on earth.
This truth represents everything in prayer. If you get this, you get it all. The God who initiates prayer has given us the amazing privilege of praying for His will, and as we do, His power is released to accomplish it. That's why Jesus taught us to pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).
They prayed big prayers! What would a little prayer have been, in their circumstance? Well, imagine it. The believers are crowded into a house in Jerusalem, standing with leaders who have just been released from prison. Someone is probably cleaning the wounds Peter and John received from getting roughed up by the authorities—maybe wiping off some blood or dirt. Just weeks before, these same authorities had killed Jesus. How would you have prayed?
I think my prayer would have been: "Help us! Protect us! Keep us safe!" But that was not their prayer. Instead, theirs was a big prayer that focused on the plans and purposes of God.
It is not wrong to pray a little prayer. I pray a lot of prayers for protection. There's nothing wrong with that ... unless that's all you ever pray.
What God is waiting on—and what the world desperately needs—is for the church of Jesus Christ to rise up and begin to pray the big prayers that shake heaven for God's kingdom to advance on earth.
They had no sooner finished their prayer than the building began to shake, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit again, and they immediately began to speak the Word of God with great boldness (Acts 4:31).
According to the book of Acts, within five weeks of that prayer meeting, the teaching of Jesus had filled the streets of Jerusalem. Within the lifetime of everyone in that prayer meeting, they had turned the world upside down.
When is the church going to experience this kind of power again? If it's going to happen in our lifetime, we've got to learn to pray big, with great boldness.
Dave is the president of Harvest Prayer Ministries in Terre Haute, Indiana.