5 Things That Make Prayer Powerful

Most people I know believe in the power of prayer. Few actually practice it though.

I’m not being judgmental. Until the last couple of years, my use of prayer was similar to Bugs Bunny’s use of dressing in drag: strategically reserved for only the biggest messes.

But now I can’t go the day without some serious praying.

I’ll spare you the long, useless sermonizing and get to the nitty gritty. Here are five things that make prayer powerful for me:

  • Consistency – my wife and I pray almost every morning, together, about an hour after we wake up. Some days we forget; when that happens, we usually notice a distinct difference in our attitudes and reactions to the events of the day. Often, if we miss in the morning, we’ll stop whatever we’re doing later in the day and carve out time to pray together. It makes a huge difference in our minds and hearts.
  • Honesty – this will sound weird, but if I’m praying about stuff that upsets me, I don’t try to hide that from God. I have, on occasion, uttered a word or phrase one would think inappropriate for conversation with the Almighty. I do not do this to be cool, nor do I do it because I am not reverent; on the contrary, I am too aware of God’s sovereignty to even think that I can “clean up” my thoughts. I’m not saying God condones cussing, but I do believe he values honesty more than attempts to preserve his delicate sensibilities. God is not someone’s 90 year-old grandmother.
  • Brevity – marathon prayers have their place, but not as a daily discipline. Too often, when I try and pray long prayers, I find that I venture away from the honesty God values. I get preachy, and, as a former pastor, that’s something I want to avoid. Brevity also forces you to make your point known to God instead of just hinting at it. Think of it this way: if you were sitting in a meeting with someone and they kept beating around the bush, you would eventually lose your mind. Most of us want people to get to the point; while God is infinitely more patient, I think the discipline of getting to the point is better for us because it forces us to be clear about what’s on our mind.
  • Sincerity – I can’t tell you how many times I prayed for stuff I didn’t really care about. I suppose you could file this under “Honesty”, but there’s enough of a distinction for me that I think it bears mention. I can honestly pray for someone else, but that doesn’t always mean I am sincerely invested in that situation. Being sincere when we pray about someone else’s sickness, or loss, or grief, helps us develop our empathy, which helps us pray with deeper sincerity.
  • Humor – this seems out of place when talking about prayer, but I find humor helps me stay away from too-pious prayer. I have no problem with piety, but when you get too-pious, you drift into a place where your prayers are hollow and bordering on spell-casting (which is another post for another day). The purpose of prayer is not for us to direct the affairs of God, but for God to direct the affairs of our lives; humor, especially in the midst of dark seasons, can be a powerful weapon to help alleviate our own drift towards playing God instead of talking to him.

This is a short list, but each of these five things have become important to me as I’ve learned to pray. You may be wired differently than me, so your list would naturally look different than mine (cuss words and humor, for instance, might not be part of your discipline). Regardless, creating space in your life for regular prayer is essential to a healthy relationship with God.

What do you do to make your prayer life powerful? What is something you have learned about prayer that you would share?

Sound off in the comments below, or on my Facebook page. You can also share your thoughts with me on Twitter (@JasonMuses).

Does Every Life Have a Purpose?

ImageI pray a lot over my kids. I pray for their salvation. I pray for them to be healthy. I pray for them to find the right spouse. I pray for them to be safe, be strong, be smart, be kind. But perhaps more than anything, I pray for them to discover and own their purpose for living.

It’s not exactly an uncommon prayer – I can think of other parents who pray the same thing for their children – but it’s an uncommonly strong desire of mine that they find themselves sooner rather than later. I don’t want them walking vacantly through their lives, wondering what they’re meant to do, only coming to discover their purpose and passion at a late age when changing their lives to accomodate their purpose is hard. I say that from experience. I pray for them out of that experience.

But sometimes, if I’m honest with myself, I wonder if every life has a purpose. If everyone is meant to do something with the time they have on earth. I’ve grown up hearing that each life does have a purpose; I’ve made it a point to study the Scriptures that reveal that purpose; I’ve spent hours exhorting people to find that purpose and fulfill their God-given reason for being. And yet still I occasionally wonder: does every life really have a purpose?

If the answer is no, then my prayers for my kids is a bit vain. in fact, if the answer is no, then my life is possibly vain – after all, who’s to say that what I’ve discovered as my purpose isn’t really just my feeble attempt to give meaning to life that’s ultimately meaningless? That my purpose isn’t just me manufacturing something to give my life direction so I could feel as grounded as those people who actually do have a purpose?

This sounds stupid. I know. But I’m getting somewhere with it. Just hold on.

In the end, thinking about whether life is meaningless or meaningful isn’t really a question. I believe, and am backed by Scripture, that each life has a purpose. The ancient Christians believed this too, and built it into the first question of the Westminster Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

We exist to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That’s our purpose. Each and every person is meant – created – so God would be glorified. That’s an awesome thought.

And it’s part of what I’m praying for my kids. That they’ll learn who they are in Christ, learn those things about themselves that makes them unique among his creation, and learn how to bring glory to God by being the fullest expression of themselves. Or to be more concrete: that my kids would find those things that they are good at, excel at those things, and bring God glory through the effort.

Jon loves to build. Ella loves to sing. Jon loves playing games and solving puzzles. Ella loves creating imaginary worlds with words and illustrations. Might those interests fall by the wayside as they grow up? Certainly. But they might also be the very things that God gifted them to do in this life, things that – in their doing – will bring God glory that no other person can bring Him.

Does that mean they’ll be famous? No.

But it means they’ll be fulfilled. Which is what I’m really praying for anyway. It’s what I want for my life, and for anyone who walks the face of the earth: to be fulfilled by being who God made them to be. Fathers, poets, politicians, teachers, firemen, soldiers, chefs, nurses, trainers, managers, pilots, preachers, singers, servers, and saints – plus every person in between. All living their lives to the fullest to bring glory to God. 

Does it mean they’ll never encounter hardship or heartache? No.

But it means that when they are tested, they’ll remember in the correct context that God works things out for our good (Romans 8:28), that He uses our life circumstances to help us achieve our purpose – bringing Him glory. See, we tend to take the glory for ourselves, even when we’re well-intentioned. Humility suffers at the hand of prosperity, and life has this way of bringing us back down too earth. It’s unpleasant to say, but all too often God only gets glory when we cannot have it for ourselves. We have to be reminded, sometimes frequently, that the glory belongs to Him alone.

So I pray for my kids. That they’ll learn these lessons early. That they’ll approach life humbly, and with great appreciation for the blessings that carry them each day. I pray that they’ll learn from my life that chasing after God may entail heartache and trial, but it will always produce God’s glory and our greatest joy.

And in typing that, I think I understand why I came to my purpose so late: in order to show my children what it means to live that way.

To God be the glory.

Guest Post: A Marine On The Death Of Osama Bin Laden

Lt. Col. Karl "KJ" Johnson, Marine Corps. Semper Fi indeed.

I mentioned yesterday that I offered the blog up to two people for guest posts. One of them took me up on the offer, and I am unbelievably excited that he did. Lieutenant Colonel Karl “KJ” Johnson is a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corp and a veteran of the War on Terror. KJ has been just about everywhere the War has taken our troops, and has seen everything there is to see. If anyone can lend some perspective to the death of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorist, KJ certainly can.

I first met KJ through my work with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. I was working a public forum at Arizona State University and KJ, who lived in California at the time, drove all they way to Scottsdale just to help work at our book table. I ended up sitting next to him at the payment table, and we struck up a conversation that lasted pretty much all night. His stories fascinating, but his insight into life – insight brought about in part by his service to our country, but mostly by his God-given gift of intelligence – made you stop and really think about issues you’d long considered resolved in your mind. He does exactly that with today’s post. Please, read it, think about it, and then pass it on to someone else.

The Death of OBL

As a Marine officer of nearly 19 years of continuous active duty service and, more importantly, a disciple of Jesus Christ I am very interested in the recent turn of events involving Osama bin Laden (OBL).  In fact, I have been keenly interested since that fateful day in Sept. 2011.  Believe it or not, one of my first thoughts that day was “I wonder if anyone is praying for OBL.”  I mean, aren’t we supposed to love our enemies?  As an American citizen I have no more dangerous an enemy than OBL and those who are associated with him.  Aren’t we supposed to forego the weapons of the world, as counterintuitive as that may seem?  At that time I was getting ready to deploy, so the likelihood of going into combat was very real (remember, this was before we went into either Afghanistan or Iraq) and most of my peers were using the events of 9/11 to motivate them for (or cope with) our six-month deployment.  In fact, many of my peers were eager to engage the enemy in order to exact some revenge/justice…all in the name of patriotism.  So why was I thinking about praying for OBL?

Now, I’m not judging my fellow Marines.  A large part of me agrees with them and I certainly subscribe to the Just War Theory; I would never have accepted a commission as an officer in the Corps otherwise.  And this would certainly be a Just War.  But somehow God would not let me feel the hatred for OBL that many of my peers felt.  Oh, I was very affected by the events of 9/11.  In fact, I was very surprised by just how emotional I got seeing my beloved homeland attacked and violated.  I had friends in the Pentagon that day.  And, since I’m a pilot, I played the events of the courageous passengers in my mind over and over and wondered many times what I would have done had I been on one of those flights, or if I had been one of the pilots.  I was enraged to see what had happened.  But I did not harbor a hatred for OBL or any single person.  Perhaps it’s because my worldview accounted for the existence of evil and I recognized the dangers posed by the radical Islamic agenda.  I don’t know for sure, but I do know that God called me to pray that day.  And I prayed that God would somehow win over OBL, that somehow God would reach into his black heart and redeem it just like he had redeemed mine.

OBL deserves death and hell.  But so do the rest of us.  If God is the standard, we are all in trouble.  We all need grace.  We tend to grade one another, to compare ourselves to others.  This works for us and against us.  “Oh, I may not be perfect but at least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.”  Or how about, “man, look at so-and-so, I’ll never be as good a Christian as he/she is.”  No, there’s only one comparison to be made, the comparison to Christ.  And we all fail that test.  OBL was decieved.  VERY deceived.  But are we any better off?  Do we play games with ourselves and convince ourselves that we’re good enough or better than others?  Remember the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14?  He prayed “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”  Or even this terrorist.  Really?  We are just like the Israelites.  We never learn, and we keep repeating the same sins.

Think maybe OBL was beyond God’s reach?  What about Paul?  Oh, but he was an apostle, a one-of-a-kind instance.  Really?  Check out the story of Thomas Tarrants, a terrorist himself, former president of the C.S. Lewis Institute (now their Director of Ministry) and good friend (I did not meet him until years after all of this).  You want a good story?  Google the CS Lewis Institute, write them a letter and they will send you a FREE copy of Tom’s testimony.  You will not regret it, and it will change how you think of others.  You will never again believe that anyone is unreachable.

So, how do I feel about the death of OBL.  Well, it certainly provides a certain amount of closure.  I was a little bit emotional because it represents bringing a tyrant to justice and the closing of a chapter of frustration; OBL had eluded us for so long and I did not want him to get away with his crimes (in this world).  And on the strategic level of warfare this represents a victory.  It will send a message to terrorists all over the globe and serve as a beacon of hope to those who live in fear of men like OBL.  Another part of me recognizes that on the tactical and operational levels of warfare this does not change a lot.  The Taliban and al-Qa’ida are still a threat and the brave American men and women in Afghanistan still face the same dangers they did on April 30.  And they are likely to see those threats increase as the Taliban steps up their efforts to avenge OBL’s demise.  But those same men and women will also find encouragement and a lift in morale to see this victory.  Additionally, those of us in uniform are not naïve enough to think that this going to topple the opposition.  This is not like taking out Hitler during WWII.  No, it’s a whole new kind of warfare.  One in which there are no front lines, no rear area, no obvious enemy.  I guess in the end, I’m a bit ambivalent.  I do not rejoice in the death of anyone, even OBL.  Instead, I am haunted by C.S. Lewis’ words: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”  I know which one I want to be.

Prayer For Alabama – And For Us

This is Tuscaloosa, Alabama a few hours ago. My wife has friends and family there, and the news isn’t good. The city is devastated, with several buildings simply gone. It only gets worse from there; the damage across the state, and all over the Southeast, is unspeakable. And it touches home in so many ways – our associate pastor’s wife has family in Cordova, Alabama and while her family is safe, she’s heard that her hometown has been obliterated. And the night isn’t over yet.

The storm line is moving rapidly into Atlanta, where I live, and the news reporters are all over the TV trying to emphasize just what’s coming our way. In some ways, it feels like a scene from an apocalyptic movie – people breathlessly watching the skies as an unknown and unstoppable force moves through the night devastating the people in its path.

I’m not the hysterical type – I tend to think that I’ll just go to bed here in a bit and wake up tomorrow like nothing ever happened. But for thousands of people tonight, the words I spoke to my students just an couple of hours ago seem freakishly prescient:

“Every day is life or death. We tend to think that everything is fine because we live comfortable lives with homes and cars and food. But for countless people all over the world, they don’t know when their next meal will come. Or if they get a next meal, whether or not that meal will kill them. There are places on earth where the next child born has a 99% chance of having HIV or AIDS and most likely won’t live past 16 years old. Life and death. We live with that reality every day. And God knows this. He knows and it’s why He isn’t content for us to come to Him; it’s why He left his glory behind and came to earth to take our sin on himself – and not just the sin of the people who would believe, but even the ones who would spit and cuss and deny God with their last breath. God died for them anyway because He loves them, and wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Life or death. We really do live on that edge. May God grant grace for those who find that edge too thin this evening, and may His people show compassion to those left behind.

A Sock Monkey, Anxiety and An Answered Prayer

Today was one of those days – the kind where the weight of the world settles in on your shoulders and makes you realize just how fragile you really are. I woke up from a horrible dream (I can’t begin to describe it, but suffice it to say it involved a man in Sock Monkey pajamas sitting next to me in bed and asking me questions I couldn’t answer) and immediately felt the day slip beyond my control. My entire ride to work was overshadowed by my anxiety over this one particular issue.

But then I get to my office and there’s a voicemail waiting for me, one left at 3:30 AM. “Pastor Brooks, this is the girl you prayed for at the church awhile back. I just wanted to call and let you know that everything worked out okay for me after you prayed. My parents are still getting divorced, but everything is better this way, and I’m much happier. Thanks for praying for me. It helped. I know I told you I would call you and tell you what happened, and I’m sorry it took me so long. But anyway, thanks.”

That’s it. My brain reels. For the life of me, I can’t figure out who the heck this girl is. I wonder if she somehow got a wrong number, but what are the odds that she would dial my direct office line and call me Pastor Brooks? I’d obviously met her somewhere in the past. But where? And why did she call in the middle of the night the exact same night I was having trouble sleeping?

Then I remembered: a few months ago, Rachel and I were getting our wills done at Rehoboth Baptist Church (don’t ask). I was running late, and Rachel called and told me about this girl who was at the church and in need of prayer, but there wasn’t a staff person available at the time. So Rachel asked me to pray with the girl when I arrived. I spent 10 minutes with the young woman, and most of it was spent listening as she sobbed about her parents fighting, her struggling to pay for her schooling at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School, her desperate need to know that someone cared. That God cared.

So I prayed with her. And then I handed her my business card from RZIM and told her to call me and let me know what God did.

Last night, as I struggled she called me. This morning, when I needed it, she reminded me of what God wanted me to remember. Not two minutes later a co-worker came and spoke to me and confirmed me as well. Then this afternoon, another co-worker affirmed me.

Basically, God spent the day telling me, “I got this. It’s all good.”

Sometimes, despite our cynical inclinations to disbelieve in the happy-ever-afters in this life, things really do work out. Today was one of those days.