How will we know about God’s response to our prayers if we leave out the details?
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This is the 14th in a series of classic columns (edited for space) by Joel Belz. In this Sept. 21, 2013, column, Joel encourages Christians to be specific in our prayers.
“Wasn’t that a wonderful answer to prayer!” exclaimed someone after a remarkable development.
“Indeed it was,” responded an overly honest friend. “Don’t you wish we had prayed about it?”
I first mentioned that exchange in this column almost 30 years ago. It’s a little embarrassing now to admit I still haven’t fully learned the lesson.
A sovereign God doesn’t need us, of course, to help unfold world events. He is quite capable of keeping the Middle East from total conflagration, or softening the cruelty of human traffickers in big American cities, or comforting the Chinese families of two teenage girls killed in an airliner crash in San Francisco. He is quite capable of doing all that, and more, without us.
The wonder is that God could do all that alone, but that He chooses not to. Instead, He calls on us to participate. The King of the universe invites us to sit in on His cabinet meetings. The tragedy is that we so rarely accept that invitation.
At a restaurant not so long ago, the discussion turned into a debate over which federal legislation in the last decade had done the most damage to American life. When someone proposed the Dodd-Frank bill of 2010, a young participant asked bluntly: “Who is Dodd Frank?”
I was stunned that my young friend seemed totally unable to identify the so-called “Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.” But then it struck me. He had obviously never heard of the Dodd-Frank bill. I had never prayed about it. Not even once had I asked God to affect the design, the passage, the defeat, or the impact of the Dodd-Frank bill. So who was more “out of it”?
Honestly now, have you prayed even once in the last week for—oh, let’s just pick someone at random—Secretary of State John Kerry? If ever someone needed divine guidance to walk a diplomatic tightrope, it is the U.S. secretary of state. But who prays for John Kerry? Who prays for his advisers? Who prays specifically for John Kerry’s boss?
From its earliest days, WORLD Magazine has claimed as a primary goal to help Christians not only know what’s going on in the world, but also respond to those happenings in practical terms. What can we lay folks do that’s more effective than praying for those who make the key decisions?
But most of us, even when we do pray, pray too generally. If your petition is a very broad “Give wisdom to all the world’s leaders,” you’ll probably be hard-pressed to recognize the Lord’s answer when He sends it. But if you pray that Attorney General Eric Holder will exercise some restraint in his department’s litigation against school vouchers in Louisiana, you’ll know before too long just how God has chosen to answer that specific request.
With all that in mind, let me invite you to use WORLD as a very practical and specific kind of prayer list. Put the magazine near your table, and when you thank the Lord for a meal, take another minute to pray for one news item you’ve read about in WORLD. Such a habit might well provide good mealtime conversation with your family as well.
Or, to take all this a significant step further, think about helping organize a small group that might meet during the Sunday school hour at your church. Find half a dozen or a dozen people who would enjoy discussing some of the world events reported on in WORLD—and then take God seriously by joining with each other in 15-20 minutes of specific prayer for those issues.
Either way—whether at home or in such a small group on Sunday morning—you’ll never have to worry about hearing someone say with disappointment and remorse: “What a great answer from heaven! It’s just too bad we never took time to pray about it.”
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