by Greg Pruett
I could hear my neighbor wailing, I just didn’t know why.
My wife and I had just started our missionary career in a West African village, moving into a dusty tin-roofed shack that could have doubled as a solar oven. We found someone who could explain to us in French that our neighbor’s son was dying.
When we saw the child, he was lying on the beaten earth floor of a grass-roofed hut, his breathing labored, pupils fixed and dilated. Despair crept into us as we realized he might not live long. I remember standing over him discussing with the local minister in hushed tones what medical procedure might save the boy.
At some point my wife and I said, “Hey, we are missionaries, after all. We should pray for the kid.” At the simple mention of prayer, I saw the boy blink, and his eyes began to focus around the room. I thought to myself, We better hurry up and pray, because God is healing him!
By the time we finished praying for him, his breathing was normal. Later that night, the family laughed festively over their little boy whom they had given up for dead just hours before.
That’s when I realized: God is real, and he wants me to rely on him first, not as a last resort. That’s when he began teaching me not to pray about my strategies, but to make prayerthe strategy.
When I took on a new leadership position a couple of years ago, I remember thinking, I need a really clever strategy. I came across the “whatsoever” passages in the gospels and was stunned by the sweeping promises to answer prayer no matter how bold. What if this would really work?
I decided to search Scripture to discover the kind of prayers God promised he would answer, and then focus on praying those prayers. That’s all the cleverness I could generate. Prayer became my strategy.
We need to learn to tap into the power of the reckless, blank-check promises Jesus makes when he says “whatsoever you ask . . .”
God Answers Persistent Prayer
In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable that stresses we should always pray and not give up. The widow begs for help, but a rotten judge resists her pleas. Finally the mean judge complies because she wears him out.
The bad news in the story is that Jesus compares God to a judge who is slow to meet needs. Have you ever noticed that God seems slow from our perspective?
Out of mercy, God chooses not to work in power for us until we have prayed persistently. What would happen if God worked mighty miracles in our ministry, but we never prayed? We might take credit and completely ruin ourselves with pride.
But when God withholds his power until the community of faith persists in prayer, then God gets the credit for his work. He won’t tempt our egos by unleashing power for which we haven’t prayed. It would harm us.
The good news is that diligence pays off in prayer, and we can accomplish that. There’s nothing complicated about continuing to pray the same thing. We can continue to pray, assured that our loving Father hears and wants to give us what we need (Luke 11:5-13).
God Answers Prayer in Jesus’ Name
Right before he died, Jesus repeated five times this spectacular pledge: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name” (John 14:13; see also John 14:14; 15:7; 15:15-17; and 16:23-26). In the Bible, a person’s “name” represents his nature. Praying in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean asking for a Ferrari and tacking on the magic words, “In Jesus name.” It means presenting requests that resonate with Jesus’ character, praying “for his name’s sake” prayers that further his plans for the earth—kingdom of God prayers.
Jesus promises to answer when we intercede on matters dear to the heart of God. Jesus says, as his disciples learn “the master’s business” and remain in his fruitful purposes, the Father will give us whatever we ask “in Jesus’ name” (i.e., for Jesus’ sake, John 15:15, 16).
In prayer we learn the passion of God’s heart as he answers in power. Prayer for God’s kingdom to fill the earth attracts the full zeal of Heaven.
God Answers Prayers of Faith and Faithfulness
Jesus declares if a person has a tiny bit of faith, he can say the word and a mountain will throw itself into the ocean. He proclaims, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22; see also Mark 11:23).
In Greek and Hebrew, the words for beliefand faith also imply faithfulness. Praying in faith doesn’t result in the “I do believe in fairies” approach to life. Rather, we live out our faith infused with the power of knowing God is real and present. He longs to move in power as we faithfully submit to his kingship. We “receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe” (1 John 3:22). God answers prayer when our life choices radiate from our faith. (See also James 1:6; 5:14-16.)
God Answers Unified Group Prayer
It’s not enough to have an individual prayer life. God moves in power as we unite together to pray. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19, 20).
Jesus taught that we should not stand at the altar under the shadow of broken relationships (Mark 11:25). Lack of unity hinders the power of our prayers. But whenever we pray together, God’s power manifests.
God Answers Specific Prayers that Build Our Faith
Jesus said if you have faith, you can tell a mountain to go jump into the sea. That means there are visible, measurable results.
Our faith is often hindered by praying general prayers. Asking, “God bless the missionaries” would be like praying, “God bless the mountains” instead of “Go cast yourself into the sea.” God could answer many of our prayers a hundred times over, and we would never know because they are not specific enough for us to see the results.
The Whatsoever Prayer Life
Here’s how the “whatsoever” prayer life works:
What are the impossible things that must happen for you to minister in the kingdom? What would make a difference in your community for Jesus’ sake? What are you doing that is part of God’s plan for the world?
As a ministry or church body, make a strategic prayer list specific enough to be able to see God’s answers. Mobilize the whole church or ministry to pray for the list every day. Gather faithful believers together to persevere in group prayer. Be sure to thank God together for each answered prayer. Nothing will be the same! Jesus promised.
Last year our ministry went through three months where the graph of our finances was a straight linear slope down. When I noticed, I sent an e-mail to our team asking for renewed fervor in prayer to turn our finances around. We prayed together about it as a team.
The next three-month trend took off like a rocket. A financial analyst would surely put a finger on that point in the graph and ask, “What did you do right there? Whatever it was, you need to do more of that.” Prayer really is the strategy!
The bad news about prayer is that doubtful, inconstant, individual prayer—and prayer that is inconsistent with Jesus’ nature from an unfaithful, divided body—won’t likely be answered. But Jesus assures us God’s power will surpass our imagination when we faithfully unite to persevere in group prayer for the things in keeping with his character and plan.
Jesus said anyone who has faith in him will live in sync with his agenda and actions. He promised we would do even greater things than he is doing as we pray prayers “in his name.”
I dare you to try it.
Greg Pruett serves as president of Pioneer Bible Translators in Dallas, Texas.