Here at Syzygy we receive lots of prayer letters – which is great, because we love to pray for mission workers. In fact, we set aside time every week specifically to intercede for mission. Sometimes, the letters we receive encourage us to ‘redouble our efforts’ or ‘pray seriously’. While such expressions may express the sense of urgency the mission worker is feeling, what do they actually imagine we’re going to do? Grit our teeth as we pray? Sweat? Shout at God, as if he can’t hear us otherwise? How do we, in fact, prayer harder?
In recent blogs we’ve looked at the Protestant Work Ethic, which in simple terms can drive evangelical Christians to work hard in an attempt to ‘pay God back’ for the salvation they’ve received as a free gift. We’ve seen how that can contribute to stress and overwork among mission workers, and we have considered how the Protestant Work Ethic might have affected our interpretation of the Parable of the Talents. Today I’ d like to look at how it might affect our attitude towards prayer.
Despite what Jesus taught us about prayer, it can very easily become an exercise in works rather than faith. We can fall into the temptation of thinking that by making our prayers longer, more verbose, louder, or emotionally more intense, they somehow work better. They may work even better if they are accompanied by fasting, or getting up early. These days we find that wearing sackcloth or beating ourselves is a little too uncomfortable, but we still buy into the same principle: we can make prayer more effective by working harder at it.
Jesus taught us that this is manifestly not the case. He told us not to be like unbelievers who suppose we will be heard for our many words (Matthew 6:7). He clearly said that God is not like the judge who answered a widow’s pleas only because she nagged him till he got fed up with her (Luke 18:1-8). He compared God to a loving father who delights in giving good things to his children (Matthew 7:11).
What does that look like in practice? It means having a relationship with God. It means coming as a little child, unencumbered by doubt or unbelief. We ask daddy for what we want because we know he cares for us. Sometimes daddy says no, because he knows it’s not good for us, or because he’s got other plans.
Some of the most effective prayers in the Bible have been the simplest. Physical healing in response to a simple expression of trust: “Lord, you can make me clean, if you want to.” (Matthew 8:2) Salvation effected not by a complex statement of faith but a simple statement of trust: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” (Luke 23:42).
These Biblical examples continue to this day. I have seen God provide miraculous healing in response to a simple request: “Father, please heal this woman. Amen”. Once in Zambia I spend half an hour trying in vain to start a car which had an electrical fault. At the end of this time the Zambian pastor who was travelling with me had finished speaking to the assembled villagers, got into the car, slapped his hand on the dashboard and simply said “Father, we need this car to start NOW!” It started first time.
Effective prayer is simple prayer. Just ask. If you don’t get the answer you want, don’t nag God. Assume God has given you the answer he wants, and learn to live with the situation God has put you in. Sometimes the answer is not a change of circumstances, but a change of heart in the midst of those circumstances.
Syzygy maintains a network of intercessors to pray into the needs of mission workers. You can find out more by looking at The Syzygy Prayer Network. To join it, or to send us your prayer requests, email firstname.lastname@example.org.