Here's how your prayers can be propelled by urgency and zeal, drawing you close to God and producing dramatic results in your life!
Why have the psalms of King David of ancient Israel consoled and elated thousands of people through the centuries? Psalm 72:20 tells us: These scriptures record David's intensely fervent prayers! David's psalms are enduring literary masterpieces, filled with David's moving, memorable statements to and about God: "The Lord is my shepherd" (Ps. 23:1). "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1). "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 33:12). Yet why do some consider these ageless classics irrelevant today? After all, David's prayers are no mere empty speculations of an armchair theologian. Those who've studied them know better. The psalms of David unashamedly expose a real man's man, an earnest soldier-poet, a courageous giant-killer, a passionate leader who was plunged repeatedly into difficulties and disappointments (Ps. 18:4-5). The psalms reveal a lionhearted leader who, harried by painful physical and emotional distress, nevertheless turned setbacks into songs of praise to his Creator, emotion-etched expressions of faith in God's ultimate deliverance (Ps. 27:1). We, too, can learn to pray as David prayed (Rom. 15:4) — to become, as he was, a person after God's own heart (Acts 13:22)!
David was tested
David knew bitter testing (Ps. 22:14). Here was a man projected into a life of turmoil, harrowing escapes, chilling scrapes with death and near-fatal encounters. He was a fugitive king, a bandit leader (I Sam. 22:2), a roamer of the badlands. It was undeserved, unfair and there wasn't a thing he could do about it. This probing of his innermost character forced David to his knees often (Ps. 55:17). David endured through thick and thin. He persevered tenaciously in prayer because he knew he must — he knew that God was, literally, his only hope (Ps. 56:1). No false humility permeated David's prayers, no self-righteous pretense. God allowed His servant to fall into life-threatening situations again and again. David's needs were urgent and real! Utter sincerity spilled out as he pleaded for God's intervention: "Make haste, O God, to deliver me! Make haste to help me, O Lord!... Let them be turned back because of their shame, who say, 'Aha, aha!' ["We have him now!"].... But I am poor and needy; make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer: O Lord, do not delay" (Ps. 70:1, 3, 5).
Do we look to man?
Why don't people pray like that today? Haven't we been subtly brainwashed by generations of so-called progress to seek man's help, not God's? Miracle drugs, heart transplants, laser surgery, central heating and air conditioning, instant foods, womb-to-tomb socialism — all the amazing developments of the 20th century have bewitched us with man's powers and ingenuity (Jer. 17:5). We look to man to deliver us (Ps. 118:8). How tragic! Even in the face of an ominously darkening world situation, mankind is still too trusting in human prowess to fall to its knees and supplicate the God of David for help (Rev. 9:21). In fact, the last era of God's Church in this age is prophesied to fall victim to this tragic shortsightedness, the spiritual blindness that pushes God's awesome power to the back of the mind (Rev. 3:14-17). Many of us in God's Church now are blessed with incredible affluence compared to the world average. Yet God warns, "The prosperity of fools shall destroy them" (Prov. 1:32, Authorized Version). No wonder God allows trials, tests and hazards to befall even His people. David understood: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Ps. 34:19). How may we of this generation recapture David's sense of urgent need, the fervency to power our prayers with zeal?
"Ask, and it will be given"
Try the self-imposed crisis of fasting. Fasting hurts (Lev. 23:27). It takes stamina and dedication. We are more aware that all power traces back to God. Solid time spent in meditating on these basics stimulates us to seek the God who sustains the whole universe (Heb. 1:3). Studying Bible prophecy is another way to rekindle a sense of urgency. Such descriptive passages as Deuteronomy 28:67, Ezekiel 5:12 and Revelation 16:20 can alarm us to the horrifying fate a heedless world is speeding toward. This dying civilization's only hope is the good news of the world tomorrow. Our calling is to proclaim this to the nations (Matt. 24:14). We need to ask God, in fervent prayer, to mold us as future kings and priests so we can aid in the great reconstruction He is planning (Luke 21:36). Reports of people in difficult circumstances also help jar complacency. We are reminded that "the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (Rom. 8:22). Perhaps now we can deeply grasp why God allows trials — why our healing is sometimes delayed — why those suffering for years with diseases serve a vital role inside the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:26). Yes, sudden emergencies and fatal catastrophes sometimes overtake God's people. It spurs prayer and fasting, fervent spiritual wrestling on our knees, and it is this that slowly changes us into God's own image (Col. 4:12). Sometimes people ask, "Why do we have to beseech God if He knows everything in advance?" Remember, only God can give us what we all ultimately need: eternal life in spirit bodies (I Cor. 15:44), supernatural protection from the evils and accidents that could afflict us, miraculous healing when our loved ones are sick, the molding of our attitudes to bring them in line • with God's happy and positive outlook, the special help to aid in "bringing every thought into captivity" (II Cor. 10:5), the peace of mind to break the shackles of discouragement and depression. Is anything else more important? Yet why should God give us aid and support if we don't ask Him diligently (Heb. 11:6)?
God's Work can be hindered by lack of interceding, believing prayer. Whenever God's people petition for divine help in time of desperate need, stand back! Colossal events transpire...
Notice Luke 11:9-12: "And I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?" But what if he asks for a scorpion, or doesn't ask at all? Why would any father feel obligated if a child doesn't politely but correctly press home a request? Prayer is one of the main tools to help build God's character within us. If God does everything for us without our active cooperation, then are we not denied free moral agency, no longer co-workers with God (I Cor. 3:9)?
We can change God's mind
Never underestimate the importance of prayer. We can change God's mind. Moses did (Ex. 32:9-14). So did Hezekiah (II Kings 20:5) and Ahab (I Kings 21:29). Here's how it works: It is futile to petition God to do something inconsistent with His nature or against His will (Num. 23:19). He cannot be dissuaded from His overall purposes — the 7,000-year plan, the return of Christ, the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Lev. 26). Yet there are many areas within the parameters of God's plan where His mind is not fully settled (I Kings 22:20). Here we may exercise free choice, give suggestions, outline alternate plans and proposals to God Himself, press home specific needs. Sound incredible? Not at all. Amos did it. Notice an important encounter between the fiery prophet and the great God he served. The background? God was trying to decide how best to punish Israel. He reacted to the advice of this dedicated man of God. Notice it in Amos 7:1-6: "Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, He formed locust swarms... And so it was, when they had finished eating the grass of the land, that I said: 'O Lord God, forgive, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, for he is small!' So the Lord relented concerning this. 'It shall not be,' said the Lord. Thus the Lord God showed me: Behold, the Lord God called for conflict by fire, and it consumed the great deep and devoured the territory. Then I said: 'O Lord God, cease, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, for he is small!' So the Lord relented concerning this. 'This also shall not be,' said the Lord God." Amazing, isn't it? Amos' tender concern changed God's mind twice and prevented great calamities from befalling Israel. Finally, in Amos 7:8, God settled in His mind the final decision. Yet Amos had an influence, possibly a decisive one. God promised that Israel would revive after a horrible captivity (Amos 9:8). The lesson is obvious. God promises us healing, yet the timing depends upon God's purposes in our lives and our urgent persevering and wrestling (Luke 18:1). God opens doors of broadcasting and television, by which this Work fulfills its commission to preach the Gospel to the world (Matt. 24:14). But the number and effectiveness of the outlets may be affected by our burning interest to call God's attention to special needs in our area (Jas. 4:2). It's the same with new coworkers and donors responding to the Work. God views prayer as part of our responsibility to beseech Him to more effectively bless His own Work (Jer. 48:10). God's Work can be hindered by lack of interceding, believing prayer. Scripture is eminently clear: Whenever God's people are seriously and earnestly motivated to petition for divine help in time of desperate need, stand back! Colossal events transpire: "They raised their voice to God with one accord and said: 'Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them... Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.' And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:24, 29:31). There is fervency. There is zeal. There also is a powerful answer to prayer.
God's servants prayed fervently
Oh, how the great men and women of the Bible would condemn our "laid-back," mellow generation! This degenerate age has elevated noninvolvement to a cliche — "Do your own thing." Looking out for number one is a catch-phrase. "Stay cool" is the byword; if the pressure is on, detach yourself, do your thing to cool off, don't sweat it. The great heroes of the Bible were anything but cool and detached. They were men and women of magnificently deep feelings and emotions, and splendidly unafraid to show them. It is recorded seven times that Joseph wept. Moses fasted for 40 days and nights, so wrapped up was he in receiving God's revelations (Ex. 34:28). Joshua fell to the dust and lay on his face all day to depict his horror when Israel had lost God's favor (Josh. 7:6-10). Ruth left her homeland to follow Naomi, and would not hear of turning back from the God of Israel (Ruth 1:18). Samuel cried all night at the news that God would reject unsteady King Saul (I Sam. 15:11). David fasted for men who had opposed him because, even in opposition, David saw their potential (II Sam. 1:12, 3:32). Anna the prophetess stayed at her post and served God with fastings when she was more than 100 years of age (Luke 2:36-37). Jesus Christ petitioned God all night before He chose His 12 apostles (Luke 6:12-13), while the apostle Paul dictated corrective letters to young churches with tears streaming down his face (II Cor. 2:4). Here is David pleading and respectfully bargaining with God, his only succour in the savage Judean wilderness. Note the sincerity, the all-or-nothing integrity that sped David's appeals to God via "special delivery":
Oh, how the great men and women of the Bible would condemn our "laid-back" generation! They were men and women of deep feelings and... splendidly unafraid to show them.
"O Lord my God, if I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; if I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy:) let the enemy persecute my soul, and take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust" (Ps. 7:3-5, AV).
The kind of prayer God's Church needs
Pretty bold, pretty direct, wouldn't you say (Heb. 4:16)? David marshals a strong argument for God's protection, saying, in effect: "If I've treated them like they're treating me, God, you can let them grind me in the dust. But I've done nothing to them. In this matter I am innocent. Please help me!" Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy." Regretfully, true friendship and openness are so rare today that people walk encased in shells, largely shut off from each other. This can carryover into our spiritual relationship with God. We can feel too out of touch with our emotions to even open up with our heavenly Father. Yet I John 1:9 promises: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." We must confess our specific sins to God. We will not sense the relief that can be ours until we lay our cares on God's shoulders (I Pet. 5:7). God offers to forgive all our sins (Matt. 12:31). David was specific, open and honest in his prayers. He knew that God intimately knew every detail of his life (Ps. 56:8). He'd might as well confess, come clean, on his knees before God. Even to honestly let off steam over his dishonorable, conniving enemies was better than self-deception. He knew that he couldn't fool God (Ps. 139:21-24). By wrestling with his thoughts, attitudes and emotions in prayer and hammering his mind into godly reactions, David pleased God greatly. So can we, if we discern our gigantic spiritual need, if we grasp that only God can provide that need. These are elements of fervent prayer, the kind of prayer God's people will need as we enter the final strenuous days of God's Work (II Tim. 3:1). Study the scriptures quoted here. There is a prayer to match every mood and outlook. Seek them out. Treasure them. Rise to the challenge in the book of James: "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (Jas. 5:16).
How to Plan Your Prayers by Bernard W Schnippert
"What am I going to pray to God about?" Have you ever asked yourself this question? You probably have, for most Christians have faced this problem at one time or another. Many people truly desire to pray, and they even set aside time to get on their knees before God. But they have a problem. Although they start their prayers out well enough — the words literally pour out to God in heartfelt emotion — the torrent turns into a trickle in a few fleeting minutes. Although their hearts tell them to go on, their minds simply cannot think of things to say! But don't despair if this happens to you. You are not alone in this dilemma. Even Christ's own disciples implored their Master, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). We all need to be taught how to pray, for the ability to pray is not instinctive. And in the case of a person who wants to pray but can't think of things to say, we have a perfect example of where, as Christ said in Matthew 26:41, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." But the weakness of our flesh is no excuse, in God's sight, to give up the battle for a better prayer life. No, we are commanded instead to "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17). That is, we should maintain a daily schedule or habit of good, solid praying time, including but not limited to silent prayers throughout the day. In another place, Christ pointedly taught His disciples in a parable "that men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1). And the apostle Paul admonishes us to "continue earnestly in prayer" (Col. 4:2). How can we pray without ceasing or pray without losing heart or pray continually if we are not even able to sustain more than five or 10 minutes of earnest supplication before our minds go completely dry?
Make a prayer list
The problem is simple to define. We are not talking here about those "Christians" who ignore prayer altogether or really don't try at all. And we are not even addressing the mechanics of how to pray, such as what the best position is. No, we are talking about the simple problem of trying to pray and yet not being able to think of anything to say. And the solution is also a simple one, but one ignored by many: Ponder what to pray about ahead of time and then make a prayer list. That's correct. Write down what you intend to pray about as you see a need or learn about a problem. Put your list in front of you when your prayer time comes. Even set aside time specifically to think of things to pray about. But don't be haphazard. This will take some thought. Your prayers are important to you and to God, and they deserve to be properly planned. You wouldn't go before a king or ruler, or even your boss, without at least some mental preparation about what you were going to say. And, you wouldn't step up in front of an audience and speak to them for an hour without notes to remind you of your specific purpose and the points you wanted to cover. Neither should you go before God without planning your prayer time in advance. Making a prayer list will force you to think about your needs and the needs of others or of God's Work and God's Church. This is good because it means you will pray, when the prayer time arrives, about important things, and not merely about trivialities that drift across your mind while you're on your knees. Also, it means you will not waste prayer time thinking through what you want to pray about and what you don't, for the list will serve as an automatic memory about who or what needs your prayers. (Remember the person you saw last week who needed prayers for an illness? What was his name, anyway?) Also, by properly using your prayer list, you will be able to give proper priority to the items you need to pray about, praying about the most important things first, or the longest, or the greatest number of days. But you will only realize these advantages of having a prayer list if you make your prayer list properly. Here are some suggestions.
Follow Christ's sample
The sample prayer given by Christ in Matthew 6:9-13 is, in a sense, an outline of how we should pray. That is, it lists the general subject areas our prayers should cover, and in the general order of priority we should follow. Therefore, in making a prayer list, you may wish to divide your sheet of paper into sections that correspond to Christ's sample prayer. Of course, you should not view this prayer narrowly, but rather as including the broad areas you want to cover. Certainly, there is a place in your prayers for any item about which you want to pray. Looking at Christ's prayer in Matthew 6, for example, we find that first He addressed God ("Our Father" — verse 9). You may want to set aside a small section of your prayer list to note different proper ways to address God. Next, Christ praised God with the comment, "Hallowed be Your name." Clearly, part of our prayer time should be devoted to praising God for His greatness and goodness. What do you have to praise God for? Instead of trying to answer that question while you are praying, sit down now and write as many things as you can think of for which you can and should praise your Creator. Include these on your list. Next, Christ instructed us to pray that God's Kingdom would come (verse 10). Here is the place where you can pray about God's Work on earth. Don't write down just "pray about the Work," though. Instead, write down Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong's name and the names of God's ministers who have key responsibilities. Also, write down the locations of the worldwide offices and the various departments at headquarters in Pasadena, such as Postal, Editorial and the Television and Radio areas. You should make it a challenge to write down as many things as possible in this section of your prayer list, because this should be an important part of your prayers. In like manner, go through this sample prayer of Christ's, making each major section a category, and categorizing your prayers by writing them down under the main heading. When you're done, go through and make sure that your prayers are listed in the order of their importance to God and to you. And make sure that you hit every major category, for why leave God out of some area of your life? Special time spent in not only listing things to pray about, but also giving them priority and planning them will go far toward your goal of organizing your prayers to be the most effective they can be. Some who use a prayer list have found ways to improve even further upon the above system. Some Christians, for example, instead of using just a sheet of paper divided into sections for their prayer list, use a bound notebook with a separate page for each category. Others go a step further and use a loose-leaf notebook, so they can add or remove items as necessary. Some use note cards instead of paper or notebooks. An advantage of this last method of using note cards is that from time to time you can rearrange your prayer cards so you will not fall into the habit of repeating the same old words in the same old way all the time.
Pitfalls to avoid
Writing down and planning your prayers offers many advantages. There are a few pitfalls, though. We just mentioned one — that of repeating the same prayer in the same words over and over. It is possible, in using a prayer list, to rely on it too much. It is possible to merely read it to God. Of course, He can read it Himself — He doesn't need you to do it. Therefore, you should not use your list as a formal script for your prayers, but just to remind you, so you can pray from the heart yourself. Another pitfall is thinking, even subconsciously, that you can pray only about what you've written down. Of course, this is not so. All of your prayers, every single day, should include any sudden thoughts and feelings from the heart, which are not planned in advance. However, you will probably find that such sudden flashes of thought and spiritual inspiration come more, not less, than they did when you had no game plan to follow.
Result: improved prayers
The difference between a powerful and spiritually charged Christian and a mediocre or wishy-washy one is, many times, merely a series of simple steps taken at the proper time and place. Certainly one of the most simple of those steps is that of making a prayer list. But if you do take this small step, you will find that your prayer life will take a giant leap! If you begin now to write down a prayer list, you will find it an effective way of planning your communication with God and improving the power of your prayers. And instead of asking, "What am I going to pray about?" you will be asking yourself the question, "When am I going to get the time necessary to pray about all these things?" Surely you'll agree that the second dilemma is far better than the first!