Say what? Vladimir, don't you believe in prayer? Or more importantly, don't you NEED prayer every day in your ministry?
Yes and YES!
But the reality is that we often give lip-service to such a vital discipline as prayer.
It starts with making a New Year resolution that goes something like this: “this year I am going to pray more.”
Sound familiar? Such a resolution is almost guaranteed to fail, and research supports this. According to the University of Scranton only 8% of New Year resolutions are successful, while the majority fail in as little as a few weeks (just check the #resolutionfail tweets).
What makes “this year I am going to pray more for missionaries” such a lousy goal?
First of all, it lacks specificity. What are we going to ask God and on whose behalf? It would be much better to rephrase it “I am going to pray for John and Jennifer Smith from Peru.”
Secondly, for a resolution to succeed it needs to be measurable. Pray how much more? How do you know that you’ve reached this goal? Answering these questions can transform our resolution to “I am going to pray specifically for John and Jennifer Smith’s needs for 30 minutes each day.” This way we will know exactly if we achieved this goal or have yet to achieve it.
Another step we can take is to make our prayer resolution actionable. As you may be aware, prayer needs change. Staying current with them takes initiative and action on our part. Static repetition of stale prayers discourages this crucial discipline. That’s why we may need to add, “I will find out their family and ministry needs and pray specifically for them,” to our prayer goal.
Likewise, our prayers need to stretch us, be risky, if you will. Researchers Dr. Steve Kerr and Dr. Douglas LePelley of Chancellor University state “difficult goals are far more likely to generate sustained enthusiasm and higher levels of performance.” I think this can be applied to the content of our prayer life.
If we start praying for things that only God can do, we will be amazed at how He answers. Take George Müller for example. In his book “Praying the Bible” Donald S. Whitney writes:
“Through his orphanage in Bristol, Mueller cared for as many as two thousand orphans at a time—more than ten thousand in his lifetime. Yet he never made the needs of his ministries known to anyone except to God in prayer. Only through his annual reports did people learn after the fact what the needs had been during the previous year and how God had provided.
Mueller had over fifty thousand specific recorded answers to prayers in his journals, thirty thousand of which he said were answered the same day or the same hour that he prayed them. Think of it: that’s five hundred definite answers to prayer each year—more than one per day—every single day for sixty years! God funneled over half a billion dollars (in today’s dollars) through his hands in answer to prayer.”
Next, our prayer life should be exciting. It needs to move past our intellect, “I know that I must pray,” and ignite our heart on fire! Consider motivations for your fervent prayer — “when I see God answering my prayers on behalf of John and Jennifer, I leap for joy. It makes me want to pray longer and more often. I get encouraged and grow in my faith.”
Consider also what’s at stake:
without prayer support plans derail, relationships grow cold and ministries stagnate. Your prayers are key to making a difference. How does it make you feel?
Lastly, we must ensure that our resolution to pray is time-keyed. In other words, there needs to be a reference to the:
- Starting date — without a firm date, such as “starting on January 3rd” it would be so easy to procrastinate. “Pray more this year” can mean next week, next month, or even December 31st!
- Time spent doing the action — I already mentioned setting a specific amount of time, such as praying for 30 minutes
- Frequency — How often we are going to be engaged in this practice — it could be every week day, 7 days a week or every Wednesday…
- Time trigger — when you plan to pray. For example at 6:00 AM. Setting a time trigger is a great way to create consistency in our practice.
- Streak target — how long you are going to be engaged in this practice, before you determine that it has become your habit? Although a popular belief is that it takes 21 days of consistent practice, in reality it is much longer than this. A good rule of thumb is to be engaged in a practice for 90 days for it to become a habit.
And this is precisely, why I said you should not set a goal of praying for your missionaries. Shocking, I know.
Instead, you should make it a habit.
There are key differences:
- Goals imply “you are not there yet, but you will be as soon as you reach it…” This can become pharisaical and legalistic. Have you ever done something, just to put a check-mark next to it and call it completed? With this mindset, we are training ourselves to put happiness and success off till the goal is achieved. Our focus should be on the journey, not the destination. Consider the relationships you are building as you communicate with missionaries about their needs and reporting to them that you’ve prayed for them. Consider the inspiration you feel as you see God at work answering YOUR prayers!
- Goals can be strangely at odds with long term Christian growth. It happens all the time. People would set a goal of reading their Bible through in a year, and once they achieve it, they stagnate and open God’s Word only on occasion. Don’t let it happen to you. Instead, you should focus on the habit of reading the Bible, praying daily, etc. Find your motivation in being the person of prayer, rather than praying itself.
- Goals are about the short-term result. Habits are about long-term growth. Let’s say your morning gets hectic, and you only pray for 5 minutes. (This never happens to you, does it?) If you have a goal oriented mindset, you feel bad. Your motivation level decreases if you derive your significance only from achieving a set goal. But are you really a failure? Have you grown closer to God in 5 minutes when you’ve prayed on behalf of others? Have you made an eternal impact even in such a brief stretch of time? Will you stop praying even after your 30 minutes are up?
Missionary to Siberia, Russia