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When perusing my Facebook newsfeed, I see people all the time asking for urgent, but non-specific prayer.
“I really need prayer right now. God knows why.”
Most of those posts are followed by lines of one-word support – “Praying” – along with anywhere from two to 10 emojis of praying hands.
While prayer is, indeed, effective, this type of general prayer often is not. Why? Because God knows you need a lot of things. So, which item on your lengthy list are you wanting him to address today?
Your friends also know you have many needs. Are you expecting your friends discern which issue God’s help, or are you just expecting them to shout out a “God, please bless Joe” prayer?
- Does it concern your financial situation?
- Your health?
- Your marriage?
- Are you worried about your job?
- Are you having difficulty giving up an addictive behavior.
- How about your child or grandchild?
- Has a favorite friend or relative lost direction and is slowly moving off course?
- Won’t your car start?
- Do you need wisdom or discernment about a major decision?
- Are you in legal trouble?
- Are you tired and in need of rest?
- Are you having a crisis of faith?
On any given day, each of us likely has dozens of urgent, compelling needs that require God to orchestrate a solution.
Yes, prayer works, but the power of prayer rests in the details.
Was it God?
When you pray specifically, or request prayer from others for specific needs, then you know for sure it was God who answered the prayer.
When your prayers are specific, it fine tunes your perception to the answer. If you need financial help, perhaps the answer will come in the form of a new job.
But, imagine praying for a “new job,” and you learn the local Chick-fil-A is hiring. Is that an answer to prayer? Maybe. Did it really require God’s hand to get it?
But, what if you submitted an application for a job you really wanted, but you lacked the required five years of experience to be hired as accountant with XYZ Company. Yet, you prayed that God open the door for an interview and then orchestrate an offer with a starting salary of at least $50,000.
When the phone rings requesting you come in for an interview, was God behind it? Perhaps.
If you got a job offer at a starting salary of $1,000 per week, and then discover you will work with someone who lives three blocks from your house so you can carpool, was God behind it? Most definitely.
There is a great example of the power of a specific request in Matthew 20: 29-34. Two blind men heard that Jesus was about to walk by. They shouted a generic request, “Lord, have mercy on us.”
Imagine if the blind men had asked their friends to pray for them because “God knows why.”
If Jesus had mercy and forgiven their sins, was their request answered? What if he had mercy and dropped a gold coin on their mat, was their prayer answered? If the blond men were invited to a banquet, was God faithful in answering their request for mercy?
Jesus stopped and asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”
In answering, they asked for their sight.
Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they could see.
Specific request. Specific answer. God gets the glory. It was not a happy coincidence.
An open window
Many years ago, I worked as a professional event photographer. I had to take pictures of high school students attending prom. My coworker and I arrived 75 minutes ahead of the students in order to set up the equipment.
But, when we both exited the car upon arrival at the venue, and we both shut our doors with the engine running, the doors automatically locked. We tried every door and window, but it was shut tight. The clock was ticking and help was nowhere to be found.
I got a coat hangar from the venue and tried to jimmy the lock. No luck. My coworker tried calling AAA, but learned it would be almost two hours before someone could arrive to help. In less than 30 minutes, the first bus loaded with students was expected to arrive and we needed to be ready.
Out of desperation, I prayed. “God, I need to get into this car. Please help me open the window.”
I tried jimmying the driver’s door lock for another five minutes. No luck.
In frustration I went around the car and tried to pop the lock on the passenger’s door. I almost fainted when I got to the door and noticed the window was wide open. No, it had not always been open. I had tried.
I reached into the window, pressed the power locks to open the door and we were able to save the day. Rather, I pressed the button, and God saved the day.
I am convinced that had I asked God to open the door instead of the window, the door would have been unlocked.
In John 15:7-8, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
In Matthew 18:19, Jesus promised, “Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”
In order for two people to agree, the request must be specific.
Keeping a list of specific prayers – and their answers – also allows you to maintain a historical record of how God moved in your life.
Then, when you share those results with others, they see that God was faithful to answer your specific prayers, and they know God will be faithful in answering theirs.
Yes, I need to caution that God is not a genie. We don’t pray and he just waives his hand in obedience. Our wish is not his command.
Sometimes the answer is “no.” Sometimes the answer is “wait.”
But, when specific requests get specific results, God deserves all the glory.
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