Prayer Changes Everything
By Don R. Spradling
An African proverb says: "Every morning a gazelle gets up knowing it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be eaten. And every morning a lion gets up knowing it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So whether you are a gazelle or a lion, every morning when you get up youd better be running."
Running has different priorities and values for the gazelle and the lion in the African bush than it does for the gazelle and lion in an American zoo. The realities of life and death, as they relate to running, are a daily priority.
Prayer must have this same inviolate priority if we are to experience its power to change everything in our lives.
A very distraught and tearful lady called one day and explained that her sister had just been murdered. "How can people be so evil?" she asked, unable to cope with the pain and the disillusionment.
I immediately began counseling and comforting, but I heard a still, gracious inner voice saying, "She doesnt need counseling; she needs prayer!" Without hesitation I directed her to the One who could heal the anguish of her soul and still her storm. Because I was prayed up, I was confident and ready to pray for her and with her. Within seconds the storm began settling and peaceful calm introduced hope. Prayer was our weapon, and it brought victory.
Prayer Must be Managed
It seems unbelievable that God would give us such a significant and accessible medium through which we can commune, grow, and effectively live overcoming lives. However, like most things that are available and common to daily life, prayer often becomes commonplace and optional. In our unmanaged and undisciplined world, prayer seems important only in crisis moments or self-serving causes.
Most people agree on the significance of prayer and would like to pray more often and more effectively, but the common enemy is time. We have all said, "I just dont have time!" That simply isnt true. When the average person finds time to watch television each day, there is no reason why prayer cannot be managed into ones schedule.
We decide what we will do with time. "If you want to get something done, ask a busy person," the saying goes. Why? Busy people have learned how to manage priorities and make the best use of time.
Prayer time must be managed or it will never have a significant place. Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
If that is true, prayer will have a place of productivity only when it has a place of preeminence. We must include it in the nonnegotiable side of life.
You Can Do It
Most people find excuses and reasons why they cant or dont do something important. For example, those who should lose several pounds of unhealthy weight are tempted to excuse the challenge by saying, "It is genetic, so I cant change!" "My problem is chemical; therefore, I will create problems by dieting."
In almost every case there is a way to do the important. You need to hear Gods Word one more time: "The spirit he has bestowed on us is not one that shrinks from danger " (2 Timothy 1:7, Knox).
The Amplified New Testament completes that verse this way: "[He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control." So God has already given us the gift of discipline and self-control. You have a challenge, but you can overcome and become mighty through prayer. You can pray more often and more effectively. Its a matter of choice.
Our Prayer Paradigm
A dramatic event is profiled in Luke 9. Jesus gave His disciples authority to preach the good news, cast out demons, and heal the sick. They went throughout the region proclaiming the Kingdom news and healing the sick, and many miracles were wrought. A few days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John and went into a mountain to pray. "And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered" (verse 28).
The correlation between the change and the prayer is undeniable. Dramatic and glorious things began to transpire immediately as He prayed. While it would be unwise to think every prayer exercise will have flashes of lightning and visitations of heavenly couriers, every prayer exercise prayed in Gods will has His audience and affirmation.
The paradigm on prayer in Luke 9 was as much for us as it was for those on the mountain, for the Lord wanted us to view this altering experience. Disciples were invited to this encounter for learning and perpetuity.
As Jesus prayed His countenance changed; His clothing took on supernatural brightness; friends from heaven dropped in for exhortation; a voice of confirmation from the Father himself and the glory of God were witnessed in extraordinary measureall from a prayer exercise.
The residual of this power was evident as Christ and the disciples descended into human impossibilities. A young son was made whole.
Three things emerge from this prayer paradigm that can change your life.
The Expediency of Prayer
Urgency and a prophetic sense of the immediate ministry surely had moved Jesus to this prayer vigil. He was accustomed to prayer and knew its value. He prayed early (Mark 1:35). He prayed alone (Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16). He prayed with great commitment (Luke 6:12; 22:41). He established a priority of prayer that remained a discipline from childhood to the cross.
Some say, "It is not the quantity but the quality of prayer that is important." This is another of our smart mechanisms of escape. While it is true that quality is more important than quantity, it is also true that to accomplish more and do greater exploits for the Kingdom, Jesus said, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29, NKJV). It is wisdom to grasp the importance of prayer as it relates to our effectiveness.
In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares an appropriate story:
Suppose you were to come upon someone working feverishly to saw down a tree in the woods.
"What are you doing?" you ask.
"Cant you see?" comes the impatient reply. "Im sawing down this tree."
"You look exhausted!" you exclaim. "How long have you been at it?"
"Over 5 hours," he replies, "and Im beat! This is hard work."
"Well, why dont you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?" you inquire. "Im sure it would go a lot faster!"
"I dont have time to sharpen the saw," the man says emphatically. "Im too busy sawing."
We have too often fallen prey to this dull blade. We are busy, in constant motion. Our calendars are full. But the blade is dull.
Prayer sharpens the blade of ministry. Our Lord knew this; yet with all the demands on Him, He went aside to pray. There a metamorphosis [change] happened. His conversation with Moses and Elijah regarding the cross at Jerusalem as well as the confirming presence and voice of the Father were linked to the prayer time. The ministry of deliverance awaiting Him at the foot of the mountain had direct correlation to this prayer session also. The expedience of prayer is forever established in this paradigm of prayer.
The Exercise of Prayer
Prayer, like all other disciplines, is difficult. The best way to pray is to begin. I dont know anyone who consistently enjoys the first few moments of an exercise program. It is after we begin in prayer that a euphoria and an anointing emerge.
Miracles can happen as we approach the hour of prayer or following, as in the case of the tormented son (Luke 9:3742). A young son was delivered from demoniac activity. While Peter and John were en route to prayer a lame man was made whole (Acts 3:110). We must learn to schedule this exercise of communion and intercession.
Yet I dont think the timing of prayer is as critical as the fact of prayer. Some people are early risers and can pray early. Others pray better at midday or evening. An intentional time and agenda of prayer are important. Some excuse this function by saying, "I am prayerful all the time." That same person will also say, "I get my exercise by walking on my job." Each has its good, but nothing can substitute for intentional grids of prayer.
An eight-step program I have followed for the past 4 years has given me the greatest lift of my life. Each step is significant either to my personal life or vital to the Lords work. It begins with prayer and thanksgiving, family, church, nation, missions, friends, ministry, and projects and needs. I pray an hour on this prayer track every day365 hours, 15 days of prayer every year (see illustration).
Many of my congregation also chose this exercise for their personal prayer, and it became a renaissance to spiritual life.
There are as many prayer options as there are personal schedules, but ultimately you must tailor a prayer track to change your world and then pray that prayer plan.
William Hinson, pastor of the First Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, spoke of an exceptional prayer exercise related to his congregation. He sensed that his prayer for a large congregation was too generic, so he grouped his people in 10s. By letter he informed them of his prayer over them every day for a week and asked for any special needs to be reported. They experienced great success as prayer became a personal exercise for a large church.
I started that same process in my church, and response has been overwhelming.
The exercise of prayer will always be difficult, but results are unbelievable. The expression of prayer continues to work as it has for millenniums. "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).
The Exponential of Prayer
All that could be wrought in prayer has never been challenged, but when people call upon God the synergism of Gods Word and His Spirit releases in them a life-altering experience.
The agenda of prayer is our responsibility, but the affirmation of prayer is Gods business.
J. Edwin Orr said, "Whenever God is ready to do something with His people, He always sets them to praying."
David Bryant, of the current worldwide prayer movement, says:
170 million Christians are committed to pray daily for revival and evangelization.
20 million claim that prayer is their calling to the body of Christ.
10 million prayer groups claim revival is one of their primary prayer agendas.
This could be the hour for the exponential power of God to be released through prayer for a worldwide revival and in-gathering of souls. Acts 4:31 tells us that when the people prayed the place where they prayed shook. This reference was not meant to be an isolated event but an inspirational principle.
The gazelle and the lion know that running is where survival pivots. Men and women of ministry know that prayer is crucial to survival. If we dont pray, we will be overtaken by the roaring lion and eaten. If we dont pray, we will never have ministry gifts and grace to remain victorious.
The Early Church leaders sensed its critical place, so when schedules became overloaded with other ministry needs, they made a strategic resolution: "Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:3,4).
Prayer that changes everything must be above and before everything.
Don R. Spradling is senior pastor of Christian Life Church, Long Beach, California.