Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God”
When British preacher and writer John Stott turned 80, a friend penned a tribute to him that highlighted his discipline of prayer. For decades, Stott begun each day with a prayer like this: “Good morning, heavenly Father. Good morning Lord Jesus. Good morning, Holy Spirit.” Stott then goes on to worship each member of the Trinity individually, acknowledging and praising them for their work in the lives of believers. Then he continues, “Father, I pray that I may live this day in Your presence and please You more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow You. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day You will fill me with yourself and cause Your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.”
Prayer for a believer is a privilege and one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. It allows us to have access and talk to the God who spoke into existence the heavens and the earth. There is no secretary to screen His calls and no need for a decision on whether or not we should bother Him. We don’t need to leave a message so He can get back to us later. The psalmist reminds us, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:15). As believers in Christ we have been given at least one gift, and although everyone isn’t called to be a pastor, teacher, or evangelist, the privilege of prayer is available to all who have trusted Christ as Savior.
When we pray for others, we become partners with God in His work of salvation, healing, comfort, encouragement, and provisions. God can accomplish those things without us, but in His plan, He gives us the privilege of being involved with Him through prayer. When we intercede for a grandson in trouble, a mother having surgery, a neighbor who needs Christ, a pastor who needs strength, we are asking God to provide for that person what we can’t provide. Prayer is not a magic wand for satisfying our own wishes, but it’s an opportunity to work with the Lord in accomplishing His purposes in the lives of other people. The Scriptures teach us that God wants us to bring our requests to Him, and we can be confident that He cares and will answer our prayer according to His good purpose and will. We don’t know when the answer will come and He is never obligated to answer our prayer in the way we want it answered. Writer Phillips Brooks penned these words, “If man is man and God is God, to live without prayer is not merely an awful thing; it is an infinitely foolish thing.” John Wesley was convinced that the prayers of God’s people rather than his preaching accounted for the thousands who came to Christ through his ministry.
Have you ever felt the urge to pray for someone and then just put it on a list and said, ‘I’ll pray for them later?’ Or has anyone ever called you and said, ‘I need you to pray for me, I have this need?’ While on furlough a missionary reporting back to his home church in Michigan told the congregation the following story while serving at a field hospital in Africa. Every two weeks I traveled by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies. This was a journey of two days and required camping overnight at the halfway point. On one of these journeys, I arrived in the city where I planned to collect money from a bank, purchase medicine, and supplies, and then begin my two-day journey back to the field hospital. Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured. I treated him for his injuries and at the same time talked to him about the Lord. I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident
Two weeks later I repeated my journey. Upon arriving in the city, I was approached by the young man I had treated. He told me he had known I carried money and medicines. He said, ‘Some friends and I followed you into the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight. We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. But just as we were about to move into your camp, we saw that you were surrounded by 26 armed guards. At this, I laughed and said that I was certainly all alone at the jungle campsite. The young man pressed the point, however, and said, ‘No, sir, I was not the only person to see the guards, my friends also saw them, and we all counted them. It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.’ At this point in the sermon, one of the men in the congregation jumped to his feet and interrupted the missionary and asked if he could tell him the exact day this happened. The missionary told the congregation the date and the man who interrupted told him this story:
‘On the night of your incident in Africa, it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf. I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you. In fact, the urging of the Lord was so strong I called men in this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you. Would all of those men who met with me on that day stand up?’ The men who had met together to pray that day stood up. The missionary wasn’t concerned with who they were, He was too busy counting how many men he saw. There were 26! This story is an incredible example of how “The Spirit of the Lord” moves on behalf of those who love Him. If you ever hear such prodding, go along with it. As the above true story clearly illustrates, ‘With God all things are possible’. More importantly, how God hears and answers the prayers of the faithful.
The following true story was written by Ken Davis, speaker and author of the book “Lighten Up” … this short story speaks about the small stuff or things that we pray for, and is entitled “The Proof is in the Tapioca Pudding”
I have always been mystified by prayer. I know it’s the process of talking to God. I know he hears and answers. Yet, sometimes it seems to me as if AT&T or Verizon is handling the connection and most of their lines are down. And sometimes it feels that way for extended periods. Those are the times when I become discouraged. I wish I could know what God is up to. How is he processing the last batch of prayers that went up? We pray for the sick, and they die; we pray for power against temptation, and we fail. When these things occur, the doubts creep in. Can we really believe that God is hearing and caring and responding? In the midst of those dry days, God does something wonderful: He lets us see a visible answer. His reassurance breaks through like cooling rain. We simply accept that we can’t always see his hand or comprehend his ways, but he does indeed answer prayer.
A pastor friend of mine, Joel Morgan, planned on visiting missionaries in Eastern Europe. He asked friends who’d traveled in that area what he should pack. There were many helpful suggestions, but everyone agreed he should bring extra food. While staying in rural villages with no electricity or running water, they might be forced to go without meals. It would be wise to have easily packed snacks on hand for survival rations. One missionary warned Joel to bring more than he’d need; some of his supplies might be confiscated by customs. Joel asked himself questions as he wandered through a grocery store: What should I take that won’t catch the eye of the customs agents? What will not spoil? What will serve as an energy boost?
He also whispered this prayer: Lord, you know the things I’ll need and the things that will make it through customs. I’m just going to walk down these aisles, trusting you to prompt me to select the right items. Instantly his eyes fell on a display of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. He put a king-size pack of them in his cart. Further down the aisle he was drawn to an arrangement of tapioca pudding snack packs. (From my perspective, when anyone is drawn to tapioca pudding it’s already a miraculous sign.) Finally, he scooped up some small cans of fruit cocktail, some gum, and some hard candy. “Surely” he thought, “these items will tide me over if I get hungry.”
On the fourth day of the trip, Joel arrived in Timisoara, Romania. He would spend several days with a couple who had labored for fourteen months there. The family had been sent to Romania by a national mission’s organization, but for all practical purposes, they’d been forgotten. They faced harsh conditions. Heat and electricity were often turned off for days. Joel and his team were the first English-speaking people the missionaries had seen in six months. The simple opportunity to talk to someone was cause for celebration. And their two teenage daughters were starved for anything American. Joel spent some time chatting and praying with the family. As they were about to leave, he suddenly thought about the survival goodies he’d purchased for himself more than a week before.
He had a nice idea. It was only October, but why not use those snacks to celebrate an early Christmas? Giving away his supplied would mean relying on God for the rest of the trip, but somehow he knew this was exactly what God wanted. He retrieved his backpack with all the goodies securely hidden inside (not even the customs agents had been interested in tapioca pudding). Then he sat down with the family in their living room. Joel took on the role of Santa Claus and played it to the hilt. He asked the two teenage girls, “If you could have one thing from the U. S., what would it be?” In unison they sang out, “Candy!” “What kind?” Joel asked, confident they’d love anything he offered. The mother chimed in: “The girls love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” she said, “But they’re not available in this part of the world.”
With a lump in his throat, Joel reached into his backpack and pulled out the king-size package he’d smuggled into the country. (Customs agents do like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.) The girls jumped up and down joyfully, laughing as they held their new treasure between them. Wiping a tear from his eye, Joel asked their mother, “What item from back home would brighten your day?” It was a risk. What if she wanted, say, a side of beef? But with one miracle already in the bag, what could go wrong? “I miss fruit,” the mother replied a bit sheepishly, “especially citrus.” Reaching into Santa’s bag, Joel extracted a can of fruit cocktail and a tin of canned mandarin oranges. Now everyone was laughing and wiping away tears of joy. After a time of celebration and amazement, Joel turned to the father.
The backpack was nearly empty, and he considered removing the few items and asking the father to make a selection. Two out of three miracles isn’t bad; why press his “luck”? But something deep in Joel’s soul shouted, “Go for it!” Before he could argue with God, he heard himself ask, “Gary, what’s your favorite dessert?” This wonderful servant of God smiled and said, “It’s something no one else in the world likes, tapioca pudding.” Joel nearly injured himself pulling the pudding from the pack and racing across the room to show him the super-4 snack pack of tapioca pudding that God had prompted him to buy seven days earlier and four thousand miles away. What followed was praise and worship in its truest form. Nine people were crowded into a living room in Romania, weeping and singing praises to God. That day they gained a new appreciation of Philippians 4:19, “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
These good people had left family and friends and familiar ministry behind. They’d been neglected even by the organization that sent them. God knew they needed encouragement and renewed hope. God answered the prayer of a small-town pastor and used Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, canned fruit, and tapioca pudding to remind them that he hadn’t forgotten them. He also gave them a glimpse into the mysterious power of prayer.
While crossing, the Atlantic on a ship many years ago, Bible teacher and author F. B. Meyer was asked to speak to the passengers. An agnostic listened to Meyer’s message about answered prayer and told a friend, “I didn’t believe a word of it. Later that same day, the agnostic went to hear Meyer speak to another group of passengers. But before he went to the meeting, he put two oranges in his pocket. On his way, he passed an elderly woman who was fast asleep in her deck chair. Her arms were outstretched and her hands were wide open, so as a joke he put the two oranges in her palms. After the meeting, he saw the woman happily eating one of the pieces of fruit. “You seem to be enjoying that orange,” he remarked with a smile. “Yes, sir,” she replied, “My Father is very good to me.” The agnostic said, “What do you mean?” She explained, “I have been seasick for days. I was asking God somehow to send me an orange. I fell asleep while I was praying. When I awoke, I found He had sent me not only one but two oranges!” The agnostic was amazed by the unexpected confirmation of Meyer’s talk on answered prayer. Later, he put his trust in Christ. Yes, God answers prayer and there is power in it.
There are so many benefits from spending time in prayer, with the Lord that we really can’t afford not to pray! God can help us solve our problems and answer our questions. He gives us joy and peace, heals our heartaches, comforts us when we’re sorrowful, and encourages us to go on when we think we can’t. Prayer clears our vision, quiets our heart and activates our faith. Time spent in quiet reflection and listening builds inner strength that will get us through life’s toughest times. Jesus, the Son of God, spent whole nights in prayer while He lived on earth communing with His Father. His prayers were not just petitions to get something. The highest purpose of prayer is to deepen our relationship with Him. Prayer does involve petition and intercession, but it also includes communion.
(1) In petition God does something FOR us.
(2) In intercession He does something THROUGH us, and
(3) In communion He does something IN us.
“God does care about the huge and small things of life. Whether it’s a lost set of car keys or maybe the provision of food and clothing, or for the protection of His missionaries in foreign countries? Pray with confidence knowing that though your prayer may not work out as you thought it would, it will work out. Joel prayed, thinking of what he needed; God answered by providing what a family needed. In the process, God gave Joel a dose of something he needed far more than a slimy cup of tapioca pudding. Joel saw the hand of God, and he was allowed the privilege of being the messenger of a miracle. Pray with confidence knowing that God cares for you just as much as He does for the missionary family in Romania, the missionary in Africa, and the woman who prayed for an orange because of sea sickness. Pray with confidence knowing that though you may only see occasional glimpses of God’s hand at work, He is always at work and He hasn’t forgotten you.
God’s work is done by those who pray.