Sample excerpts taken from
"PARTNERS IN PRAYER"

By John Maxwell

[The following is a nice sample of a superb book about effective prayer and prayer-partnering written by John C. Maxwell. There is so much more vital information included in this book than I have given you here. Consider this as just an appetizer. So be sure to order "Partners in Prayer" online at: http://www.christianbooks.com. You may also want to check out EQUIP'S site http://www.pastorsnet.org where pastors and their families are linked with prayer partners and caregivers. Applying the principles found in the complete book will enliven and bring growth to your congregation spiritually, which will then lead to numeric growth as well.]

FORWARD

By Max Lucado

Some months ago I enjoyed a four-week summer sabbatical. I set three goals during the month. First, I wanted to plan an autumn series of lessons on grace (which I did). Second, I aspired to break ninety on the golf course (I did that too--once). And third, I wanted to learn more about leadership skills. It was through this third goal that I came to know John Maxwell.

A coworker recommended I seek his advice, so I gave him a call. He invited me to come and speak to the Skyline congregation in San Diego. I did. I gathered some ideas on leadership, but much more, I gained a passion for Prayer Partners.

My Sunday at Skyline was bathed in prayer. The Prayer Partners met me as I walked in the door and met me as I walked off the platform. They were praying for me as I flew, as I spoke, even as I rested. I was so convicted about the importance of Prayer Partners that I asked God to grant me 120 members who would covenant to pray for me daily and pray with me fervently.

Upon returning to the pulpit I announced my dream to the congregation. Within a month exactly 120 people had volunteered to form the team. We divided the volunteers into four groups and assigned each group one Sunday per month on which they would arrive early and pray for the congregation.

That was six months ago. Has God honored the prayers of his people? Here is a sample of what God has done since we organized Prayer Partners:

  • We have broken our Sunday attendance record twice.
  • We finished the year with our highest ever average Sunday attendance.
  • We finished the year--hang on to your hat--over budget.
  • We added three new staff members and six new elders.
  • We witnessed several significant healings.
  • I completed a challenging book on grace.
  • Our entire staff attended a part of the inaugural Promise Keepers Pastors Conference
  • Our church antagonism is down, and church unity is high.

And most significantly, we called the church to forty days of prayer and fasting, inviting God to shine his face upon us. God has honored the prayers of his people. More than ever I'm convinced: When we work, we work; but when we pray, God works. (emphasis mine throughout)

Thank you, John Maxwell, for your example. Thank you for going to the effort of putting into print what you have put into practice. I speak for thousands who will benefit from this book when I say: You're a friend to all who dream of a growing kingdom.

UNLEASHING THE POTENTIAL OF PRAYER

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Psalm 25:4-5

I grew up in a Christian household where prayer was important. And as a pastor, I spent time in prayer every day. But it wasn't until God brought me a prayer partner that my life and ministry exploded with power, and the results began to multiply in an incredible way.

It all started in 1981 when I became the senior pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, California. My wife, Margaret, and I moved to San Diego with our children, Elizabeth and Joel Porter, after I spent two years as the executive director of evangelism at Wesleyan World Headquarters in Indiana. Before that I spent eleven years as the pastor to two churches in Indiana and Ohio.

I was excited about being a pastor again, and especially about coming to Skyline. I was eager to get to know the staff, evaluate the church's ministries, assess the leadership, and identify the key leaders who were going to help me accomplish the church's mission. I was trying to accomplish as much as I could as quickly as I could, which was making me maintain a very heavy schedule.

On a Tuesday morning after I'd been at Skyline for about six weeks, I was reviewing the day's schedule when I saw an appointment scheduled for a person whose name I didn't recognize.

"Who's Bill Klassen?" I asked.

"He's your ten o'clock appointment," replied Barbara, my assistant.

"I see that, but who is he? Is he in leadership?" I asked. I had spent the last few weeks focusing much of my attention on getting to know the leaders in the congregation.

"No, he's not in leadership," said Barbara. "As a matter of fact, he doesn't even go to church at Skyline." Barbara could see that I wasn't happy. "He said he had to see you. He was very persistent," she added emphatically.

"Well," I said, "give me about fifteen minutes with him, and if we're not done, interrupt us." My plan was to figure out what his agenda was, fix whatever problem he had, kindly but quickly, and get on with the work I had to get done that day.

ONE LAYPERSON CALLED TO PRAY

Bill turned out to be a gentleman of about sixty with hair white as snow. His face was gentle, almost radiant...He began telling me about himself, how he had worked in construction in Canada and sold sailboats in Washington and southern California, and how he had worked for the Navigators ministry as a discipler.

"John," Bill said. "I believe God has called me--a layman--to disciple, encourage, and pray for pastors. And the reason I came here today was so that I could pray for you."

He wanted to pray for me? I thought. In all my years as a pastor, I've never had a layman pray for me. My own agenda began to melt away. I felt the spirit of God crushing me, saying, "John, My agenda is more important than yours. Your life is not like a one-way street where you just minister to other people. There are people who want to minister to you. I am sending this layman to pray for you."...

THE POWER OF PARTNERING IN PRAYER

Neither of our lives has ever been the same since that meeting. Bill became my personal prayer and accountability partner after that, and he went on to help me organize a prayer partner ministry at Skyline, a group of people who prayed for me every day during my fourteen years there and who met in small groups in a tiny room at church every Sunday to cover the services with prayer. It started with thirty-one laymen and eventually expanded to include 120. During those fourteen years, the congregation tripled in size from a little over 1,000 to nearly 3,500. The church's annual income jumped from $750,000 to more than $5,000,000. Ministry at Skyline flourished, with lay involvement increasing from 112 to over 1,800.

But the really awesome power of those prayers has been in individual lives: Thousands of people received Christ during those years. My prayer partners grew in their walk with God and became active participants in the miraculous power of prayer in their daily lives. Bill and Marianne Klassen started their own ministry to teach other churches how to start their own prayer partners. And during those years, God led me down an incredible road. In addition to all the wonderful things happening in the church, I began working more and more with other pastors, teaching them leadership and church growth. I formed INJOY, a nondenominational Christian organization dedicated to helping leaders reach their potential, in the church, business, and family. I've even had the privilege of speaking at several Promise Keepers conferences around the country.

Without prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, I believe none of these things would have happened. The glory and the honor belong to God. But the credit for releasing that power and keeping me protected day after day belongs to those prayer partners.

PRAYER PARTNERS IN HISTORY

Laypeople partnering in prayer with godly leaders is not a new concept. It goes all the way back to the Old Testament in the book of Exodus when Moses prayed on a hilltop for Joshua to defeat the Amalekites...It continued in the New Testament, particularly in the first days of the developing first-century church, as recounted in the book of Acts. You probably remember how the 120 disciples prayed during the days between Jesus' ascension and the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). On the day when the Holy Spirit arrived, a simple fisherman named Peter gave his testimony, and 3,000 were converted.

Over the centuries, there have undoubtedly been innumerable instances of people partnering in prayer with preachers. Though no records exist outside of heaven for most of them, we do know the story of fairly recent ones:

The Preacher: Charles Finney
The Year: 1830
The Place: Rochester, New York

The Results: In one year 1,000 of the city's 10,000 inhabitants came to Christ.

The Partner: Finney's "prayer partner" was Abel Clary. Finney wrote, "Mr. Clary continued as long as I did and did not leave until after I had left. He never appeared in public, but gave himself wholly to prayer. [Check out the story of Finney's other prayer partner in pastor Cymbala's "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire"--a Daniel Nash. His prayer labors were as great as Abel Clary's.]

The Preacher: D.L. Moody,
An Obscure YMCA Worker
The Year: 1872
The Place: London, England

The Results: In ten days 400 new converts came into the church where he was preaching.

The Partner: In London, a bedridden girl, Marianne Adlord, had read a clipping about Moody's ministry in Chicago and prayed that God would send him to her church.

The Preacher: Canadian Missionary Jonathan Goforth
The Year: 1909
The Place: Manchuria, China
The Results: A great revival throughout Manchuria

The Partner: While in London later that year, Goforth was taken to see an invalid lady. As they talked about the revival in Machuria, she asked him to look at her notebook. She had recorded three days when special power came upon her for his meetings in Manchuria. A feeling of awe gripped Goforth as he realized those were the very days he witnessed the greatest power in Manchuria.

The Preacher: Southern Revivalist
Mordecai Ham
The Year: 1934
The Place: Charlotte, North Carolina

The Results: Many people in Charlotte were deeply moved, including a farmer's son named Billy Graham who was converted.

The Partners: Several businessmen, along with Billy Graham's father, had spent a day at the Graham farm praying that God would touch their city, their state, and their world.

The Preacher: Billy Graham
The Year: 1949
The Place: Los Angeles, California

The Results: An extended campaign that resulted in a change of approach in reaching people for Christ--leading to a new era of mass evangelism.

The Partners: Graham had conducted many similar events with much smaller results. He later realized that the only difference between the L.A. crusade and all the others before it had been the amount of prayer he and his people had given it.

These instances attest to the tremendous power of prayer partnerships. It doesn't matter whether the leader is a pastor or layman, and the person praying can be a man, woman, or child--when someone behind the scenes partners in prayer with one of God's frontline servants, awesome things happen.

PRAYER CHANGES THE WORLD

God's hand moves when people and pastors pray together. Through prayer, God makes the impossible, possible.

Through prayer, God greatly multiplies our efforts. C.H. Spurgeon said, "Whenever God determines to do a great work, He first sets His people to pray." In a moment of revelation, Spurgeon had discovered that neither his sermons nor his good works accounted for the spiritual impact of his ministry. Instead, it was, as one writer put it, "The prayers of an illiterate lay brother who sat on the pulpit steps pleading for the success of the sermons." It was his partnership with people of prayer that made him effective.

I can personally attest to the benefits that others' prayers have given me. There have been times when I've gotten ready to do a service or conference, and I've been physically exhausted. But when my prayer partners lay hands on me, and I see them praying over the auditorium, I receive a new strength--physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I feel prepared to receive the power of God. And that has allowed my ministry to have great impact on people's lives.

My prayer partners have also told me, "Pastor, during the service we are going to cover the people around us in prayer. When you see us in the service, we'll give you a thumbs up. That way you'll know we're praying for you, and we have our area covered." When we've had a particularly good service, I know my prayer partners and their prayers were the reason...

PRAYER CHANGES ME

Jesus told His disciples, "I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete" (John 16:23-24). If prayer did nothing other than what Jesus promised, it would be one of the greatest gifts God has given us. But prayer does even more. It changes the ordinary man or woman and makes them extraordinary.

Prayer changes us by drawing us closer to God, changing and molding us into His likeness in the process. David understood prayer's power as a personal change agent. His prayer in Psalm 25:4-5 describes the process that prayer takes a person through: "Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long" (emphasis added).

This passage contains three key phrases: show me, teach me, and guide me. When God shows us His standards and His will for our lives, it isn't always easy on us. It almost always requires us to grow and change. But once we accept what God would show us, He is able to teach us. And when we're teachable and growing, He is finally able to guide us, to lead us into His plan and purpose. When God shows me, He has my heart. When God teaches me, He has my mind. When God guides me, He has my hand.

DON'T LIVE BENEATH YOUR POTENTIAL

Despite God's promise of the power to change us and our world, many Christians never tap into it. They come to Christ, but then they live beneath their privileges [much like D.L. Moody said--look up the short article by D.L. Moody in the link/section on the book of Ephesians. Mr. Moody explains this subject more thoroughly.] It's as though God has prepared an incredible banquet for them, and they're sitting in the corner with a bologna sandwich. The problem is that they don't want to risk giving up the familiar sandwich for the promise of the banquet. It's almost like they're saying, "Okay, I'm saved and I'm going to heaven, but I'm going to stay right where I am until then."

I must ask you: Are you one of those living beneath your privileges and missing out on your potential by not praying? The table has been laid. The sumptuous banquet has been set out. You have already received your invitation. Now what are you going to do? Are you going to bring along a few friends and come to the table? Or are you going to eat your bologna sandwich alone in a corner? The choice is yours. You can become a person of prayer who receives and shares the blessings God has to give.

Most pastors and their churches across the country are currently starving in the area of prayer. One evangelical pastor, speaking about his own denomination, said, "In Acts chapter two, they prayed for ten days. Peter preached for ten minutes and 3,000 were saved. Today, churches pray for ten minutes, preach for ten days and three get saved."

But it doesn't have to be that way. Every pastor at every church in this country can tap into the awesome power and protection that only prayer provides. I believe that you may be one of the people in your church who can help make that happen.

You may be saying to yourself, "Me? I'm no prayer warrior. I could never lead or organize others to pray. I'm not even comfortable with the idea of praying for my pastor. I don't even know if I can do it."

My answer is, "Yes you can!" Anyone can become a strong man or woman of prayer. It doesn't take a miracle, and you don't have to be a Holy Roller. You only need to be a Christian. If you meet that qualification, you have the potential to become a great pray-er. And that's the reason you can pray for your church leaders. You are on the same level as them in the eyes of God. A pastor is simply a brother in Christ, not some spiritual giant. He struggles with the same problems you do.

Get ready to go on an exciting journey, one that will help you, your pastors, and your church reach their potential. We'll start out slow, first talking about some fundamentals of prayer and how you can improve your personal prayer life. Then we'll broaden our focus to include how you can pray for others, including your pastors (or elders and other leaders) and church, showing how you can become a partner in prayer. And finally, we'll talk about the hope that we all have for our churches and our country--revival.

2

GETTING TO KNOW YOUR FATHER

Come near to God and he will come near to you.
James 4:8

One night in 1968, the pilot of an airliner bound for New York realized that the landing gear of his jet would not engage. Traveling ever closer to his destination, he continued to work the controls, trying to get the wheels to lock into place, but he had no success. Circling over the airport, he asked the control tower for instructions. The ground crew, responding to the impending crisis, sprayed the runway with foam, and emergency vehicles moved into position. The pilot was instructed to land the plane as best he could.

The passengers were asked to prepare themselves for the worst and to put themselves into crash position. Moments before landing, the pilot announced over the intercom: "We are beginning our final descent. In accordance with International Aviation Codes established at Geneva, it is my obligation to inform you that if you believe in God, you should commence praying." The plane then performed a belly landing, and miraculously, came to a stop with no injury to the passengers.

If that pilot hadn't found himself in a crisis that day, his passengers would never have known about the airline's hidden provision for prayer. But isn't that the way it is for most people? As long as everything's going smoothly, they rarely think about talking to God. But as soon as a situation becomes life or death, they turn to Him for help.

That kind of thinking is almost to be expected among nonbelievers. Many of them have a "flat-tire mentality." As long as they're cruising down the highway of life and the car is handling the road well, then everything's great. But when there's a blowout, they turn to God.

WHY BELIEVERS DON'T PRAY

The remarkable thing is that many Christians spend as little time communicating with God as nonbelievers. Why is that? Have many lost their belief in the power of prayer? William A. Ward said, "God is never more than a prayer away from you...We address and stamp a letter and send it on its way, confident that it will reach its destination, but we doubtfully wonder if our prayer will be heard by an ever-present God."

I think the main reason people don't spend much time praying is that they have the wrong attitude toward prayer. Some people think of prayer as something only their grandmother does. Or they think of the simple prayers of their childhood: "God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen," or "Now I lay me down to sleep...."

But even people who have a genuine desire to pray and have tried to develop a prayer life sometimes have the wrong idea about it. They think that in order to pray they have to go off by themselves, get on their knees, close their eyes, fold their hands, etc. They take with them a list of things to pray about, and then they go through the list methodically. None of those things is bad or wrong, but that kind of mechanical prayer life can become very tedious. For most people, after about five minutes they run out of things to say, become frustrated, and then feel guilty for not having a better prayer life. No wonder so many Christians are reluctant to pray. They've made prayer a formal, stiff, lifeless thing that it was never meant to be. Any time the mechanics of prayer get in the way of loving God, they're a hindrance, not a help.

TALKING TO A FRIEND

Prayer should be the most natural thing in the world, like speaking your mind with a friend you trust. C. Neil Strait said, "Prayer is...talking with God and telling him you love Him...conversing with God about all the things that are important in life, both large and small, and being assured that He is listening."

First and foremost, prayer is talking to your Father in heaven and getting to know Him. It's the process of developing a relationship. How do you develop and grow in your relationship with God? The same way you do with anyone else. You spend time together. Armand Nicholi of Harvard University Medical School said, "Time is like oxygen; there's the minimum amount that's necessary for survival. And it takes quantity, as well as quality, to develop warm and caring relationships."

IT'S A LITTLE LIKE A MARRIAGE

Think of your relationship with God as being similar to a marriage. The main difference is that God, unlike your spouse, is perfect. He loves you unconditionally, is absolutely trustworthy, and forgives you for anything and everything you do wrong--past, present, and future--if only you ask. The good news is that God has already done the hard work in the relationship. All we have to do is be willing to communicate with Him, and we can learn to do that.

Look at some of the married couples you know. You can see that in a good marriage the partners talk about everything. Their conversation is spontaneous, transparent, and open. They don't hold anything back, and they don't try to manipulate each other. But when communication becomes stiff, formal, or nonexistent, marriages deteriorate. Studies indicate that half of all divorces result from bad communication. [If you find yourself in this boat order pastor David T. Moore's "Love For A Lifetime", available online at: http://www.mooreonlife.com . It is $38.95, an 8 cassette series on marriage. If applied soon enough, this study can save your marriage.]

Marriage expert Gary Smalley has said that a healthy marriage relationship requires one hour of communication a day. This ensures the continual development and deepening of the relationship. And I try to spend that amount of time with my wife, Margaret, every day. How do you think she would feel if the only time I communicated with her was in an emergency?

The same is true with God. A deep relationship with Him takes time and effort. It cannot be formed in just a few fleeting mechanical moments. And it can't be built on an emergency basis either. E.M. Bounds once wrote, "God's acquaintance is not made hurriedly. He does not bestow His gifts on the casual or hasty comer and goer. To be much alone with God is the secret of knowing Him and of influence with Him."

If we can change our attitudes toward prayer--thinking of it as a process that builds our relationship with God--and cultivate a daily prayer time, we can become strong people of prayer. And the prayer life we develop has the potential to completely transform our lives.

Before we get into some of the specifics of how to pray, let me give you five guidelines that will help you have the right attitude toward prayer:

1. Be Spontaneous

Try to put out of your mind once and for all that prayer has to be tedious or repetitive. Instead it should be spontaneous and exciting. That doesn't mean that prayer time will always be happy and fun. There will be times when you hurt and cry to God for consolation, other times when you shout at Him in anger. But you will also laugh and have a good time. The main thing is for you to be yourself.

What does it mean to maintain a spontaneous spirit? Let's say, for example, that you pray in the morning when you get up. On a particular morning as you look at your prayer list, you may feel agitated and distracted. Rather than trying to fight with that agitation and suppress it, talk to God about it first. And if you can't figure out what's bothering you, ask God to reveal it to you. Clearing the air as you begin to pray may be just what you need to do in order to better communicate with God. Or it may be something that God wants you to spend all your time praying about on that particular day.

Willingness to share yourself with God is a matter of the heart and the attitude. We can close ourselves off, refusing to grow in our relationship, or we can be willing to tell God everything on our minds and hearts. [And I might add here, that a spouse that closes himself or herself off from their mate, refusing to grow in the relationship, being unwilling to share everything on their minds and hearts--it is these people that will eventually starve and kill their marriages. I know from personally experiencing this happening to me. It is the same with God. That is the vital point pastor Maxwell is making here. If you can kill a marriage relationship by doing this, you can also do it with your relationship with God. That's scary.]

Francois Fenelon expressed this idea well with the following words:

Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one's heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him you longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart that He may heal them...Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and others.

In other words, tell God everything--both good and bad--with an attitude of openness and spontaneity.

Spontaneity in prayer requires a willingness to abandon your own agenda and adopt God's. It means being flexible, looking for good opportunities no matter what comes your way. Some of the best times I've ever experienced in and out of prayer have come when I was willing to do something spontaneous in a situation that might otherwise have been boring or negative...

Spontaneity and creativity in prayer go hand in hand. Sometimes creativity helps in planning special prayer times, such as a day alone with God where you travel to a favorite place, like the outdoors or a hotel, to spend the day in prayer and praise. Other times creativity can help you with your day-to-day prayer arrangements. Fred Rowe is a prayer-partner and friend with a busy schedule. He is a psychiatrist and has a family with three small boys. He has used his creativity to make sure that he can have a prayer time every morning. He generally gets up at 4:30 in the morning and goes for a drive. His hour in the car is his quiet time. As he drives, he praises and prays, allowing God to dictate the agenda.

I've experienced a lot of blessings from God because of a willingness to be spontaneous. Probably the greatest have been my early morning prayer times. Since 1972, rarely has a week gone by when I haven't awakened at least once between two and three o'clock in the morning. Each time, if I can't fall back to sleep within fifteen minutes, I assume God wants to speak to me, and I get out of bed and go to my office downstairs. I get out a pen, legal pad, Bible, and I spend the remaining hours of the night with Him. Sometimes when I sit and pray, I hear very little. Other times He speaks to me so fast through ideas that I can hardly get them written down fast enough.

Being awakened in the wee hours of the morning is not very convenient. And the setting isn't always the greatest. But some of the best things I've experienced in life and the greatest ideas I've ever had come out of those spontaneous times alone with God in the middle of the night.

Be Specific

The second attitude to adopt toward prayer is the desire to be direct and specific with God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:7, "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words." It's not the number of words you say or how eloquent you are that counts with God. As we speak, it is the sincerity of our words that matters with God. What is in our hearts gives our voices credibility...

The most effective forms of communication are brief and to the point. For example, just look at some of the great works from our history as a nation. The Gettysburg Address, for example, is only 297 words long, and it's considered one of the greatest speeches ever delivered in the English language. The Declaration of Independence, the document the newly born United States used to sever its ties with powerful Great Britain, is only 300 words. Contrast this with one government order setting the price of cabbage, which reportedly contained 26,911 words!

Besides being direct with God, we should also be as specific as we can. How many times have you prayed something like, "God bless America, bless our church, bless our missionaries..." or simply "God be with us"?

Specific prayer has power. Remember, Jesus says that you will be given whatever you ask Him for in His name (John 16:23-24). So take a look at some examples of how you can pray more effectively:

Instead of praying... Pray this...
God, save this country. Save my neighbor, Bobby, by bringing him to Christ. God, help me to do well in school. Help me study well and make an A on this test. God, bless my pastor. Anoint my pastor to preach salvation this Sunday. God, teach people to love each other. Help me to love my wife and make her feel loved. God, be with us. Teach me Your will in this area and help me obey You.

Being specific in prayer has another benefit. When God gives us an answer, we know it. [And this helps build experiencing answers to our prayers into our personal faith.] We can know it when our neighbor gets saved. We can see people come to Christ during the Sunday sermon. We can ask our spouses if our actions make them feel loved. And not only that--when we ask God to be involved in our lives in specific ways, it gives Him the chance to tell us how we need to change ourselves. The more specific we are in our requests, the more alert we will be to answers when they come--and the more specific we can be with our thanks and praises to God later on. [And this is so true!!!]

ASK the Right Way

Part of any good relationship is a sensitivity to the other person and their needs. In our relationship with God, it's obvious that He already knows our needs. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:8, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." But how well do we know what God wants for us? Ironically, we know ourselves less well than God does. Ford Philpot said, "Too many of us want what we don't need and need what we don't want."

We have to learn to put ourselves at the disposal of God's agenda. Too often we plug away at ours, blind to what God has for us. Many times God mercifully withholds His answers to our prayers until we come to Him with the right request. Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, once said, "God has not always answered my prayers. If He had, I would have married the wrong man--several times."

God has many incredible, wonderful things for us, if only we ask for them. But if we don't ask for them, how can God give them to us (James 4:2)? Someone once said, "Heaven is filled with a room that will surprise all of us when we see it. It has within it large boxes, neatly packed with lovely ribbons and our name on top. They are things never delivered to earth because they were never requested."

How do we learn to ask right questions? Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8).

I've found that the acronym "ASK" (ask, seek, and knock) helps to remind me how to make requests of God in a way that pleases Him. I believe it may help you too:

ASK: When we approach God and ask Him for something, it implies that we have a need that we want met. So if we want to ask Him the right questions, we should first examine our needs. If they are genuine and in accordance with God's will, then we can ask with pure motives, and that's crucial to having our prayers answered (James 4:3).

As you prepare to approach God to ask Him for something, answer the following questions. They will help you examine your needs and better direct your requests:

  1. Is my request fair and helpful to everyone concerned?
  2. Is my request in harmony with the Word of God?
  3. Will it blend with my gifts?
  4. Will it draw me closer to God?
  5. What is my part in answering this prayer?

If you are able to examine yourself and your requests honestly, this frees God to work in you when your requests aren't pure and to answer them when they are.

SEEK: When people seek, as Jesus directs us to do, they are asking with effort. This implies that He expects us to do our part, even as we ask Him to do His. So when Jesus teaches us to pray, "Give us our daily bread," He doesn't mean that we are to sit back and expect God to rain down manna from heaven on us. After all, Scripture says that a person who will not work shall not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). What Jesus means is, "Give us the opportunity to earn our bread." God does not give added resources to those who are lazy.

Prayer without action is presumption. When we pray, we are to invest ourselves, just as Jesus taught us in the parable of the talents. As a result, there is a return on our investment, and God agrees to give us even more. As it says in Matthew 25:29, "Everyone who has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."

There is a saying that you've probably heard: "He who prays and prays, but acts not on what he knows, is like the man who plans and plans but never sows." I've found that to be true. God will not do what only He can do, until we do all that we can do. So when we pray, we need to be ready to do our part.

KNOCK: When Jesus directs us to knock, He's asking us to be persistent. The Amplified version of the Matthew 7:7-8 passage makes this very clear: "Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives, and he who keeps on seeking finds, and to him who keeps on knocking, the door will be opened."

I was once visited by a lady in my congregation. She had been asking God to bring her unsaved brother to Christ for a couple of months, and she was getting impatient because he still hadn't made a commitment to follow Jesus.

"Pastor," she asked, "how long must I keep on praying?" "Until the answer comes," I answered.

That is what God wants from us. Whenever our prayers are unanswered, God wants us to continue praying until the answer comes or He changes our request. And that is what always happens. An answer comes or God changes our heart and prayer. For example, look at the case of Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament. They prayed for a child, and God answered it. And in the case of Paul, do you remember how he prayed over and over for God to remove his "thorn in the flesh?" After Paul prayed the third time, God said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). It was then that Paul realized that the thorn was there for a reason, and he changed his prayer. He aligned his own will with that of God, and he learned to be content.

One of the most frustrating things for many people is having to wait for an answer from God. I know that because I have a choleric temperament. I evaluate situations very quickly and make decisions even faster, so I especially dislike waiting. But God doesn't ask us to be persistent to tease us or to withhold things from us. He does it because He wants us to grow in our relationship with Him. He wants us to be completely yielded to Him.

In the first few years I was a senior pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, California, the church began to grow substantially. It quickly became obvious to me that it wouldn't be long before we would need a larger facility. And since enlarging on the current property wasn't an option, that meant we would need to relocate.

When I was a pastor in Indiana and we had a similar problem, I got together with my board, developed a strategy, and we were off. Within a couple of days we got someone to donate the land, another person to contribute materials, and we were ready to build. But it's a whole different ball game in southern California. Land is very expensive, and it isn't easy to find. So I got together with my board, we formed a relocation committee, and they began searching for some land.

After many months of searching, they found a parcel of land that looked perfect for us: thirty acres for $2 million--a pretty good price for San Diego (we could have bought half the county back in Indiana for that price). And we were happy with the location, too. But before we were able to make a decision about it, I took my prayer partners there on a Saturday to walk and pray over the land. It didn't take long in prayer before we had a unanimous sense that this was not the land God wanted for our church. So we let the opportunity to purchase it go by, and we continued to pray, knowing that there must be some reason why God said no.

A few months later, God opened the doors for another plot of land. It was eighty acres right on the freeway near a new subdivision with hundreds of young, unchurched families. We ended up purchasing that land for $1.8 million--less than we would have paid for the thirty-acre parcel. And on top of that, through a series of miracles, Skyline ended up with 120 acres of land instead of eighty for that price.

God honored our persistence and greatly blessed our obedience. And He will do the same for you. When you pray, don't give up. Maintain a positive attitude and continue to ask, seek, and knock.

Pray with All Your Heart

Have you ever tried to maintain a conversation with a toddler? While you're in the middle of a sentence, they figure it's a good time to play with one of their toys, chase after the dog, or look for that piece of cheese they stuck between the cushions of the sofa the night before. It's really hard to keep their attention for more than a couple of minutes.

That's probably how God feels when He's trying to communicate with us. Many people pray for a minute here or there during their busy days, giving God their attention for only a moment. Praying throughout the day is good, but we also need to give Him our full attention. The problem is that even then we have a hard time focusing. It's the war of wandering thoughts. As we pray, we think about the grocery list; the dog or the kids distract us; or we realize the bedroom needs cleaning. It turns out we're as bad as toddlers when it comes to paying attention to God.

In all honesty, most people battle with this problem. Ours is a world of distractions, many of which try to divide our attention. But it's a battle we need to continue fighting. When we approach God, we must strive to give Him of our heart, not just a part of it. God doesn't answer the prayer of the double-minded person (James 1:8).

Part of the solution is to come to prayer with the right attitude with the desire to give Him all of our attention, just as Jesus suggests in Matthew 6:6. But there are also tools and techniques that can help us to keep focused:

PRAY ALOUD: Probably the simplest way to help you focus is to pray aloud. It actually makes it difficult for your mind to wander. Try it. You may at first feel a little self-conscious, but you'll soon get used to it.

WRITE DOWN THE DISTRACTIONS: For some people, the biggest distraction to prayer comes as they think about all the things they need to do that day. To solve that problem, as you pray, keep paper and a pen close by and write down each task as it comes to you and then forget about it until later. And if you still can't help thinking about it, then take it to God in prayer. Distractions are things you need either to take out of God's way or need to take directly to God.

KEEP A PRAYER JOURNAL: Journalizing is also a good tool because it keeps the mind focused on the task at hand. There are dozens of ways to use one to help you: You can write out prayers, outline them, or jot down key thoughts or Scripture verses. Use whatever works best for you.

The additional value of journaling is that it provides a record of your growing relationship with God, gives insight into your growth, clarifies your requests, provides a record of answered prayers, and indicates recurring issues in your life. As Douglas J. Rumford said in his recent book Soul Shaping, "As we learn to trust our insights, a creative power builds momentum: ideas begin to propel themselves into our consciousness. Frequently, the seeds of sermons or particular actions are planted when we break ground with a journal."

I once read a quote that describes well the condition of many Christians' prayer lives. Francois Fenelon said in his book, Christian Perfection, "Too many people pray like little boys who knock at doors, then run away." Being unable to give your whole heart to God is a serious obstacle to building a strong relationship with Him. Just as the moon cannot be reflected by a restless sea, God cannot be experienced by an unquiet mind. But having a regular time where you give God your full attention in prayer grows your relationship with Him in a powerful way. It's the difference between running after knocking on the door, and going in and getting to know God. The latter changes your life.

Pray Continually

When you've begun learning to pray with all your heart, prayer begins to overflow into more of your life. [This is so true!!!] In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells believers to "pray continually." And by that he means that we should maintain an almost continuous conversation with God throughout the day--like breathing, constant and life giving. Once your relationship with God begins to deepen, that becomes easier to do.

Growing up, I learned about praying continually (or as we called it, praying without ceasing) from my father, who has always been a great role model. For him, praying was as natural as breathing or talking to my mom. He always seemed to be talking as he walked through the house--but he wasn't talking to himself. Sometimes when we were riding in the car, he'd just start a conversation with God. Dad taught me to praise Him when something good happened; ask Him questions when I was confused; cry to Him when I was hurt; and thank Him when I was blessed. And any time we had to make a decision, Dad's first words were always, "Let's just stop right now and pray about it." Dad and Mom taught me that the most effective and contented Christians made prayer a part of their lifestyles.

Developing a strong relationship with God through prayer is not something that happens overnight. But it can happen if a person approaches it with the right attitude and is willing to give it the time and energy it requires. Aristotle said, "Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit."

But what in this life--and for eternity--could be better than developing a relationship with a Father who loves us perfectly and who wants to know us and grow us into the people He created us to be? I can't think of anything that compares with that. And the way to make it happen is through prayer.

4

AVOIDING PERSONAL PRAYER KILLERS

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective
James 5:16

When my wife, Margaret, and I were first married, we owned an old Volkswagen Beetle. One cold morning not too long after we bought it, I went outside and got in the car to go to work and it wouldn't start. I turned the key and nothing happened. All I could hear was a faint clicking sound.

Now, I didn't have a clue about cars back then--and I still don't. But fortunately we had a friend who did. He turned the key one time, heard the clicking, and immediately started climbing into the backseat of the car.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "The engine's back here. Even I know that."

"I want to take a look at your battery," he said as he began yanking out the backseat. "In a Bug it's here, under the seat."

He pulled the seat out. And sure enough, there was the battery.

"Here's your problem," he said. "You see those cables? They connect the battery to the engine and its starter. But where the cables connect to the battery it's all corroded." I could see heavy white junk covering the places where he was pointing. "That corrosion is blocking the electricity. Your engine's not going to start as long as that stuff's blocking the power."

"Can you fix it?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. "We can get rid of this stuff--no problem."

I watched in amazement as he took a bottle of Coke and poured a little on the battery terminals. The corrosion bubbled away. Then he fooled around with the cables a little bit and said, "Try it now." The car started perfectly, as though nothing had been wrong with it.

Our relationship with God and our prayer life function in a way very similar to how my car did back then. As long as there isn't anything in the way blocking our "connection" to God, we have unlimited power. But when we allow junk to come between us and God, we're dead in the water. And no matter how hard or how often we "turn the key" in prayer, we have no power.

10 COMMON PRAYER KILLERS

The best way to keep from having spiritual junk hinder your prayer life is to avoid it. But when you haven't, the best thing to do is clean it up as soon as possible. I've found that there are ten very common blocks to effective prayer. I call them prayer killers because they take away all power from our prayers and hinder our relationship with God. If you find that one or more of these blocks apply to you, confess them to God and ask for His forgiveness to reestablish your connection with Him.

Prayer Killer # 1: Unconfessed Sin

Unconfessed sin is probably the most common prayer killer. Psalm 66:18 says, "If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (NASB). When the Scripture talks about regarding wickedness, it's referring to unconfessed sin. God is perfect and can't abide sin in us. If we knowingly tolerate sin in our lives, it pushes God away from us. As a result, it makes our prayers powerless.

The good news is that when we confess sin, God forgives it, and it's gone. The slate is clean and we are no longer held accountable. Jeremiah 31:34 says, "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sin no more." Not only are we forgiven, but God chooses to truly forget our sins of the past. At that point our relationship is restored, and our prayers regain their power. Our past actions may still have consequences, but the sin itself is forgiven.

If you have confessed and surrendered a sin to God and continue to sense accusation toward yourself for that sin, it is not God's voice you are hearing. It is Satan, the accuser, attacking you. Always remember, God's forgiveness is complete. First John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins." Don't let Satan accuse you when Christ has set you free.

Unforgiven sin also has other consequences. We could turn around the Scripture from Psalms to say, "If I regard wickedness in my heart, I will not hear God," and it would also be true. Sin dulls our senses and isolates us from God. Look at the case of Adam and Eve: When they sinned, they didn't want to walk with God; they hid from Him.

Besides making us want to run from God, sin also makes us want to isolate ourselves from other believers. In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more disastrous is this isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.

Sin pushes the person out of the community of believers, and being away from other Christians prevents us from receiving the benefit of accountability. It's a vicious cycle. As the saying goes, prayer prevents us from sin, and sin prevents us from prayer. If you're harboring sin in your life, confess it now and receive God's forgiveness. Clear away what's preventing you from connecting with God.

Prayer Killer #2: Lack of Faith

Lack of faith has an incredibly negative impact on a Christian's life. Without faith, prayer has no power. Even Jesus was powerless to perform any miracles in Nazareth because of the people's lack of faith (Mark 6:1-6).

Jesus' brother James gives some insight into the effect that faithlessness has on prayer. James 1:5-8 says:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

What incredible insight this is into the mind of the unfaithful person. The word double-minded speaks of a condition where a person is emotionally divided, almost as if he had two souls. That condition makes a person unstable and incapable of hearing from God or receiving His gifts.

Faith is really an issue of trust. Jesus said, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer" (Matt. 21:22). People are often reluctant to put their trust in God. Yet every day they trust people without question, displaying a faith that God would love to receive from them...[Be sure to turn to the link on "George Muller: Man of Faith and Miracles" to learn what real believing faith is all about in this section "What Is Prayer?"]

Prayer Killer #3: Disobedience

I remember one afternoon when I was seventeen lying on my bed at home studying my Bible. About a month before, I had rededicated my life to Christ and accepted the call to preach. This day I was working on memorizing 1 John and came across this verse: "Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him" (1 John 3:21-23)...I realized that we receive from God because we obey Him. That's a condition that we must meet in order to approach Him in prayer.

If we are to grow in our relationship with God and become strong people of prayer, we must learn to obey. Keeping free from sin is not enough. Neither is faith. If our mouths says that we believe, but our actions don't back up that belief with a strong display of obedience, it shows the weakness of our belief. Obedience should be a natural outgrowth of faith in God. He that obeys God, trusts Him; he that trusts Him, obeys Him. [read James 2:1-14.]

Norman Vincent Peale told a story from his boyhood that gives insight into the way disobedience hinders our prayers. As a boy, he once got ahold of a big black cigar. He headed into a back alley where he figured no one would see him, and he lit it.

As he smoked it, he discovered that it didn't taste good, but it sure made him feel grown up. As he puffed away, he noticed that a man was walking down the alley in his direction. As the man got closer, Norman realized--to his horror--that it was his father. It was too late to try to throw away the cigar, so he put it behind his back and tried to act as casual as possible.

They greeted each other, and to young Norman's dismay, his father began to chat with him. Desperate to divert his father's attention, the boy spotted a nearby billboard advertising the circus.

"Can I go to the circus, Dad?" he pleaded. "Can I go when it comes to town? Please, Dad?"

"Son," his father answered quietly but firmly, "never make a petition while at the same time trying to hide smoldering disobedience behind your back."

Peale never forgot his father's response. And it taught him a valuable lesson about God. He cannot ignore our disobedience even when we try to distract Him. Only our obedience restores our relationship with Him and gives our prayers power.

Prayer Killer #4: Lack of Transparency with God and with Others

On June 1994, I had the privilege of speaking to 65,000 men at Promise Keepers in Indianapolis, Indiana. I spoke on the value of moral integrity, valuing our wives, and keeping ourselves sexually pure. During the weeks leading up to the event, I never in my life felt so much sexual temptation and pressure. I told my wife, Margaret, "Don't let me out of your sight for the next few weeks." I knew I was under serious attack.

I also made a decision at that time to share my struggles with my prayer partners. It wasn't easy, but I reasoned that if I was honest with them, they would be able to pray more effectively for me. My transparency made it possible for them to pray for me very specifically, and I was able to stand against temptation. I believe it was their prayers that helped me endure this incredibly difficult time and remain faithful to God.

James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed" (NASB). James is sharing a truth about God: When we confess our sins to one another, which requires us to be absolutely transparent, God is able to heal and cleanse us. We experience a spiritual, physical, and emotional restoration. In addition, our transparency helps others, because it shows them that they are not alone in their difficulties.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has written about the importance of sharing openly with other Christians. In Life Together, he says:

In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks the gates of brass and bars of iron. Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception. A man who confesses his sin in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself. He experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.

The most difficult part in being honest is confessing. Ego becomes a stumbling block, as does fear of hurting our image. It's something that our entire society struggles with. Everyone wants to blame others for their shortcomings and problems...

Transparency is a difficult thing for a lot of people. Many pastors I know have an especially hard time with it. But openness with others can have a profound effect on you. Transparency with God when you pray puts you on His agenda instead of your own. And it also releases other believers to pray for you strategically and specifically.

Prayer Killer #5: Unforgiveness

You may remember the Scripture passage in which Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness. He asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (Matt. 18:21). Hebrew law required a person to forgive a person three times for an offense. Peter, by suggesting seven, thought he was being very lenient and forgiving. He was probably shocked when he heard Jesus' answer: "Not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matt. 18:22).

Jesus was trying to teach Peter that forgiveness is not a matter of mathematics. Nor is it a choice of words. It is an attitude of the heart, and it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to forgive. [i.e. Good yardstick whether God's Holy Spirit resides within you, can you forgive someone who has really hurt you? Can your reconcile with that person?] Why is forgiveness so important? The answer is found in Matthew 6:14-15, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

Forgiving and being forgiven are inseparable twins. When a person refuses to forgive another, he is hurting himself, because his lack of forgiveness can take hold of him and make him bitter. And a person cannot enter prayer with bitterness and come out with blessings. Forgiveness allows your heart to be made not only right, but light.

Prayer Killer #6: Wrong Motives

...God makes no mistakes about our motives. When they're not right, our prayers have no power. James 4:3 says, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives."

Sometimes even knowing our own motives can be difficult. In my experience, I've observed two things that quickly expose wrong motives:

  1. A PROJECT GREATER THAN OURSELVES: Big projects--ones that put us in way over our heads--force us to examine why we are doing them. And that process exposes our motives...
  2. Prayer: When we pray, God speaks to us and shows us our motives. If we are acting out of pride, fear, possessiveness, self-satisfaction, convenience, etc., God will show it to us, if only we are willing to listen. And if we are willing, He will change those motives.

Because I always want to try to keep my motives pure, I ask Bill Klassen, my personal prayer partner, to keep me accountable. One of the questions he always asked me when I was still the senior pastor at Skyline was, "Are you abusing the power you have in the church?" That kept me honest. And knowing I'd have to face Bill each month and answer that question helped me to check my motives continually so that they would be pure and in line with God's desires for me.

Prayer Killer #7: Idols in our Lives

When most people think of idols, they think of statues that are worshipped as gods. But an idol can be anything in our life that comes between us and God. Idols come in many forms: money, career, children, pleasure. Once again, it's an issue of the heart.

Ezekiel 14:3 clearly shows the negative effect of anything that comes between a person and God. It says, "Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?" The distaste that God has for idols should be clear from this passage. He doesn't even want an idol worshipper to talk to Him. On the other hand, when we remove idols from our lives, we become ripe for a personal revival.

Take a look at your own life. Is there anything that you're putting ahead of God? Sometimes it's hard to tell. One of the ways to know that something in your life is an idol is to ask yourself, "Would I be willing to give this thing up if God asked me to?" Look honestly at your attitude toward your career, possessions, and family. If there are things you wouldn't release to God, then they're blocking your access to Him.

Prayer Killer #8: Disregard for Others

Psalm 33:13 says, "From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind." God's perspective is expansive. He loves everyone, and His desire is that we care for others in the same way. When we disregard others, it grieves Him.

Scripture is full of verses supporting God's desire for unity among believers--between Christians brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, laypeople and pastors. For example, in John 13:34, Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." First Peter 3:7 exhorts husbands and wives to be considerate to one another. Otherwise, it says, their prayers will be hindered. And 1 Peter 2:13 says, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men."

One of the added benefits of prayer is that it helps you learn to love others. It's impossible for a person to hate or criticize someone they're praying for. Prayer breeds compassion, not competition. For example, Bill Klassen often tells people about how he was as a young Christian. He said that after church on most Sundays he'd have "roast pastor" for lunch. He criticized his pastor pretty severely. But as he grew in his prayer life, God began to break his heart for pastors. His spirit of criticism melted into a spirit of compassion. And it ultimately directed him to start his own "Prayer Partner" ministry, devoted to motivating layman to pray for their pastors. That was quite a turnaround.

Prayer Killer #9: Disregard for God's Sovereignty

I believe very strongly in the sovereignty of God. I think that's one of the things that has helped me remain positive during difficult times over the years. I know that God knows me completely and knows what's best for me. Jeremiah 1:5 says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart."

When Jesus showed the disciples how to pray, the first thing He did was teach them to honor God for who He is, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:9-10). That is a clear acknowledgment that God is in charge, that He is sovereign. And it establishes our relationship to Him: that of a child under the authority of his Father. Any time we disregard the divine order of things, we're out-of-bounds, and we hinder our relationship with our heavenly Father.

Prayer Killer #10: Unsurrendered Will

There once was a Scottish woman who earned a modest living by peddling her wares along the roads of her country. Each day she would travel about, and when she came to an intersection, she would toss a stick into the air. Whichever way the stick pointed was the way she went. On one occasion an old man stood across the road from her as she tossed the stick into the air once, twice, three times. Finally the old man asked, "Why are you throwing that stick like that?"

"I'm letting God show me which way to go by using this stick," she said.

"Then why did you throw it three times?" the old man asked.

"Because the first two times, He was pointing me in the wrong direction," was her reply.

The ultimate purpose of prayer is not to get what we want, but to learn to want what God gives. But that will never happen if we don't surrender our will and put ourselves on God's agenda instead of our own.

A person whose will is surrendered to God has a relationship with Him similar to the one described in the parable of the vine and the branches. It says, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you" (John 15:7). The branch depends on the vine and lives in one accord with it. In return, the vine provides it with everything it needs, and the result is great fruitfulness.

There are great benefits to surrendering your will to God. One is that God promises to answer your prayers and grant your requests. Another is that we get to receive the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Just as with the vine and the branches, He flows through us, gives us power, and produces fruit.

----------------------------

Developing an effective prayer life depends on keeping your relationship with God strong and uncluttered by sin and disobedience. 1 Peter 3:12 says, "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." If we strive for righteousness and confess our errors, we can remain close to God. But maintaining our relationship with Him is an ongoing process. A Christian can't simply pray once through a list like these ten prayer killers and expect to be done with it. Every day we need to go to God and ask Him to reveal anything that may be hindering our progress.

Look at Psalm 139:23-24. It contains the words of David, a man after God's own heart, who had one of the best relationships with God in all the Bible:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.

David overcame some horrible sins in his life to be close to God. He was a murderer and adulterer, yet he humbled himself before God and confessed his sins. And that allowed him to come closer to God and keep growing and building in his relationship with Him.

David is a great model for us to follow. If God was able to forgive him and build a special relationship with him, then He can do the same with us. If we are faithful, God will draw us close to Him. And He will answer our prayers.

[That is the end of these excerpts. These excerpts were taken from pages 1-28, and 51-63 of "PARTNERS IN PRAYER" by John C. Maxwell. These have been given as an appetizer. For the main course, which I guarantee will make the prayer life of both you and your congregation healthy, but sure to buy PARTNERS IN PRAYER online at http://www.gospelcom.net/injoy/shop/product.phtml , then click on "authors list" and then on "John Maxwell" and then on "Partners In Prayer."

Partners in Prayer, the first book in the John Maxwell Church Resources series, shows church leaders and laypeople how to unleash the potential of prayer on behalf of themselves, one another, and the church. If your church--or private devotional life--is starving in the area of prayer and you want to tap into the power and protection prayer provides, Maxwell gives practical insight into

  • the fundamentals of prayer
  • improving personal prayer life
  • praying for others, including church leaders
  • building a prayer partners ministry in the local church
  • encouraging prayer revival nationwide

Are you missing out on God's gift and blessing of prayer? Is there someone you know who would benefit from your committed prayers on their behalf? Despite God's promise of the power of prayer to change our world, many of us never experience it. John Maxwell shows you how to strengthen your prayer life and reap the benefits awaiting those who become Partners in Prayer.

Christian Living/Pastoral Helps
ISBN 0-7852-7439-1
THOMAS NELSON PUBLISHERS
Nashville
$10.99 U.S.

[Just for a tiny peak into what the rest of this book is about--learning how to pray for your pastor--here are excerpts from the next short chapter]

5

EXPANDING YOUR PRAYER FOCUS

My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.
Job 16:20-21

THE POWER OF PRAYING FOR OTHERS

The act of praying or pleading with God on behalf of someone else is commonly called intercession. It is a selfless act and it is considered by some people to be the highest form of prayer. Jesus was an intercessor. During the last hours before He was arrested and crucified, He spent time interceding for the disciples and the believers who would come after them, which includes us! He said:

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours...Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one...My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. (John 17:9-21)

Jesus came into this world to talk to people about God, but while He was here, He also talked to God about people. And now in heaven, He continues to pray for us, interceding on our behalf (Rom. 8:34).

CHARACTERISTICS OF AN INTERCESSOR

Occasionally I find people whose desire to pray for others is so strong that they are compelled to intercede for others. Sometimes they pray primarily for one particular person, but usually they pray for many. Bill Klassen, who started the prayer partner ministry at Skyline, and his wife Marianne, are two people who feel that way about prayer. I believe they have been called to be intercessors. Men and women like them who have that kind of heart for prayer often share three characteristics:

  1. IDENTIFICATION: People who feel called to intercede for someone usually have a very strong identification or empathy for that person. Sometimes that identification begins with a respect for that person's ministry or position, such as that of their pastor. But the feelings of connection and empathy almost always deepen on a more personal level.
  2. SACRIFICE: Intercessors display a willingness to make sacrifices for the people for whom they pray. Intercessors display a willingness to make sacrifices for the people for whom they pray. They often spend lengthy periods of time pleading with God on others' behalf. For example, look at Moses. He interceded on behalf of all the children of Israel after the fiasco of the golden calf. He was willing to sacrifice even his own soul. He said to God, "Please forgive their sin--but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written" (Ex. 32:32). Moses had an enduring relationship with the people of Israel and felt responsible for them. He spent a lot of time interceding on their behalf.
  3. AUTHORITY: Willingness to sacrifice is the price of intercession, but with it comes authority with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. God rewards those who are willing to stand in the gap for others and plead for them.

HOW TO PRAY FOR OTHERS

If you are ready to pray for others but aren't sure how to go about it, here are four [he says four then goes on to list six] things that you can always pray, whether you're a pastor praying for your people, a layperson praying for a church leader, a citizen praying for government officials, a parent praying for a child, or a believer praying for an unsaved person:

1. Pray that They Know God's Will for Their Lives

The best that people can hope for in life is to know God and fulfill the purpose He has planned for them. So it naturally follows that we should ask God for that when we pray for others.

The apostle Paul, a good leader and strong man of prayer, made it a practice to pray that others would know God's purpose for them, and we can learn a lot from what he says about intercessory prayer. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, "We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (1:9). Paul recognized that knowing God's will was a spiritual issue and that prayer was needed for people to know it. For that reason he prayed that the people in the church at Colossi would know God's will, His purpose.

2. Pray That They Would Do God's Will in Their Lives

Paul prayed that the people would know God's will, but he also understood that knowing God's will did not guarantee doing God's will. So he took his prayers for others one step further. He prayed that they would act on what they learned. The next verse in his letter goes on to say, "We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work" (1:10). Only through action does a person fulfill the purpose God has for him.

When you begin praying for purpose in another person's life, it helps to be specific as possible in your request. We probably won't be able to pray about the details because we won't know exactly what God's will is for their life. But we can be specific about the process. Pray in three areas for them.

  • KNOWLEDGE: First pray that they would know God's will, that He would communicate it to them with clarity, and that they would understand it.
  • ATTITUDE: Next, pray that they would have the right attitude toward what God has to tell them. This is often a much more difficult step for people to take. It's one thing to know God's will, but it's another to be willing to change how we feel about it and accept it.
  • BEHAVIOR: Finally, pray that they would be able to change their behavior to align themselves with God's will. That is often the most difficult step in change because it requires people to face the unknown or do things they're not used to, and that makes them feel uncomfortable.

3. Pray for Productivity in Their Lives

In Paul's letter to the Colossians, he also prayed that the people would lead productive lives. He wrote, "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work" (1:10).

The life of an obedient Christian is fruitful. That is how our Creator designed us to be. As Jesus said, "I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last" (John 15:16). The greatest fruit that a person's life can bear has lasting value; usually that means actions with eternal consequences, such as salvation for unbelievers and ministry to other members of the body of Christ. So when you pray for others, pray that they would be productive, and that they would choose to bear fruit that is eternal.

4. Pray for Them to Have a Growing Relationship with God

Paul also prayed that the people would keep "growing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). He knew that everything in life hinged on the health of our relationship with our Creator. And he had also learned a valuable lesson as a result of the growth in his own relationship with God: contentment (Phil. 4:11-12).

I once read a great definition of happiness. It said, "Happiness is growth." I've found that to be true in my life. When I'm growing in my relationship with God and being obedient to Him, that is when I've been most content. And that's a good thing to ask God to do for others in prayer.

5. Pray for Them to Have a Right Attitude

When Paul prayed, he also asked that the people would receive power. He wrote that he wanted them to be "strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that [they] may have great endurance and patience" (Col. 1:11). The power he was speaking of was that of God's Holy Spirit.

As Christians, each of us can be empowered by the Holy Spirit. If we are to do anything of value, we must have Him as the source of our power. Think of yourself as being similar to a vacuum cleaner in your home. Like us, a vacuum cleaner was created with certain inherent abilities, and it has a specific purpose. But if it's not plugged in and receiving power, it's useless. It depends on another source to make it effective. If you pull the plug, it's worthless.

We're like that. Without the power from our Source, Jesus Christ, we're not effective. We may be able to do some things on our own, but they have no eternal value. When we really understand this, we begin to see ourselves as we really are. We realize that we need and must depend on God.

That's why it's important to ask God to give others His power as we pray for them. Without that power, they won't be able to make a difference for Him. But with that power, they can show strength in the face of adversity, patience during trials, and endurance to finish the race God has laid out before them. And then, in the end, we can hope that God will tell the Christian brothers and sisters we prayed for, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

6. Pray for Them to Have a Right Attitude

Finally, Paul prayed that the people in the church at Colossi would be "joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light" (1:11-12). In other words, Paul was praying that they would maintain a positive, joyful attitude. You may ask, "Why would Paul pray for people's attitudes?" You can find the answer in this poem that I wrote a decade ago:

WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE?
It is the "advance man" of our true selves.
Its roots are inward but its fruit is outward.
It is our best friend or our worst enemy.
It is more honest and more consistent than our words.
It is an outward look based on past experiences.
It is never content until it is expressed.
It is the librarian of our past;
It is the speaker of our present;
It is the prophet of our future.

Our attitude impacts nearly every aspect of our lives. It influences our behavior, affects our ability to learn, determines our contentment, and colors our relationships, including our relationship with God. It affects each person's life and Christian walk greater than you might think.

As you pray for others to keep a joyful attitude, remember that joy is different from happiness. Joy is internal and based on Christ. Happiness is external and based on circumstances. Joy is eternal and linked to our salvation, where happiness is temporary and based on fleeting emotions. Pray that your Christian brothers and sisters find joy in their lives, and that as a result, they would be salt and light to those around them.

As you spend an increasing amount of time praying for others, you will find that your attitude toward people improves. It becomes more positive and compassionate. And your prayer time will also mature. You will find that:

  • WHERE YOU ONCE FOCUSSED ON RECEIVING, YOUR CONCERN HAS SHIFTED TO GIVING. "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
  • WHERE YOU WERE ONCE CONCERNED WITH YOUR INJURIES, YOUR FOCUS HAS CHANGED TO HEALING. "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:13).
  • WHERE YOU ONCE THOUGHT ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS, YOUR FOCUS IS NOW ON GOD'S POWER. "Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge" (Ps. 62:8).

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster said:

To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. To pray is to change.

That is true of prayer, but it's also true that prayer changes others.

I mentioned in the previous chapter that at one time my brother Larry, was not walking with the Lord. Back then he was pursuing his own agenda. He was a businessman and very successful financially. All during the time that he was neglecting his relationship with God, both of my parents interceded for him every day, asking God to bring Larry back to Him.

One afternoon while playing tennis together, I finally asked Larry, "When are you going to stop messing around and come back to God?" "John," he replied, "I don't know--but I just know I will someday. No matter what I do, I can't get away from the prayers of our parents."

Larry was right. He couldn't get away from their prayers, and after a number of years, he came back to the Lord. By then he had become financially independent. He changed his focus and began using his resources for things of eternal value. Now he's not only a tither and giver to his church, but he's also involved in many organizations dedicated to serving people and growing God's kingdom: He's a trustee at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the director of the RTN radio network, a system of seven nonprofit Christian radio stations. He's a past director of Health Care Ministries, and the current director of World Gospel Missions--organizations that provide direct support to medical mission programs in Third World countries. And he's also a board member of INJOY, my organization that teaches and equips Christian leaders.

When Larry gets to heaven, I believe God will reward his life of obedience. But I also believe that my dad and mom will share in that reward. Without their faithful prayers, Larry might never have found his way back to God. And the thousands of people whose lives he's touched would have missed out on the blessing God had for them.....

Dr. Wilbur Chapman often told of his experience when he went to Philadelphia to become a pastor of Wanamaker's church. After his first sermon, an old gentleman met him in front of the pulpit and said, "You are pretty young to be pastor of this great church. We have always had older pastors. I am afraid you won't succeed. But you preach the gospel, and I'm going to help you all I can."

"I looked at him," said Dr. Chapman, "and said to myself, 'Here's a crank.'"

But the old gentleman continued: "I'm going to pray for you that you may have the Holy Spirit's power upon you, and two others have covenanted to join with me."

Then Dr. Chapman related the outcome. "I did not feel so bad when I learned that he was going to pray for me. The three became ten, the ten became twenty, and the twenty became fifty, and the fifty became two hundred, who met before every service to pray that the Holy Spirit might come upon me. In another room the eighteen elders knelt so close around me to pray for me that I could put out my hand and touch them on all sides. I always went into my pulpit feeling that I would have the anointing in answer to the prayers of the 219 men.

"I was easy to preach, a real joy. Anybody could preach with such conditions. And what was the result? We received 1,100 into our church by conversion in three years, 600 of which were men. It was the fruit of the Holy Spirit in answer to the prayers of those men. I do not see how the average pastor, under average circumstances preaches at all.

"Church members have much more to do than go to church as curious, idle spectators to be amused and entertained. It is their business to pray mightily that the Holy Ghost will clothe the preacher with power and make his words like dynamite.""

[There are many more accounts like this one in this book. These excerpts have been given here as a foretaste of the whole book, taken out of the first 75 pages of "PARTNERS IN PRAYER". To gain a full understanding and knowledge of Prayer Partnering you need to read the whole book. Used as pastoral resource, handed out to your congregation, this book will help you and your congregation become transformed. If you and/or your congregation are hurting, I don't see how you can afford not to. So be sure to order PARTNERS IN PRAYER online at: http://www.gospelcom.net/pastornet/prayer_partners/pip_resources.html. You may also want to check out EQUIP'S site http://www.pastorsnet.org where pastors and their families are linked with prayer partners and caregivers. Applying the principles found in the complete book will enliven and bring growth to your whole congregation and enable your personal ministry in ways you can't even imagine right now as you read these words. Look at it this way, your true potential is locked up in the prayers of others. Helping them to learn to pray and to pray for you can and will unlock the true potential the Lord has in store for your ministry.]