Turning Points in a Man’s Prayer Life
By: John Yates
We hope that as we grow older we’ll become wiser as we learn from experiences. We hope.
The other day a friend of mine and I returned to his car only to find that he had locked his keys inside. While I was quietly feeling despair, Dick, who is in his 80’s, said, “Well, it doesn’t matter. I always carry an extra set of keys in my pocket” A long time before, he had learned his lesson.
Once I had the privilege of sitting on a crusade platform behind Billy Graham while he was addressing a huge outdoor gathering. I noticed that the pages of his notes were individually wrapped with plastic. He had evidently learned years ago to be prepared in case it started to rain before he finished his talk.
As men, we want to learn from our mistakes and put that wisdom to work, whether it’s in the area of financial planning, or fishing, or caring for the car or the house. Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn a number of things the hard way. The first car my wife and I owned had a leaky transmission. We had to pay a great price because I–who didn’t know much about cars–never kept track of the fluid level. Because of that expensive lesson, I learned to be alert for even the smallest slippage in that or any transmission.
Learning from life does pay off I can tell you that, too.
Not long ago, I had another experience with my car that made me glad I’ve wised up about automobiles.
Recently I felt that there was something not quite right with the brakes but, non-mechanic that I am, I couldn’t tell what it was. I took the car to a garage and the mechanic checked it out but said there was no problem. Still, I was uneasy. So I took it to another garage, and again was told the brakes were just fine. My son, who is in college, wanted to borrow this car to drive several hours to the mountains of West Virginia on a ski trip, but my uneasiness persisted.
In the end, even though two mechanics had told me there was nothing to worry about, I arranged for my son to use another car,
On the very same day that he would have been driving my Ford along snowy roads in the mountains, the brakes seized up and overheated. I spent the rest of the day in a garage having new brakes installed. If I had allowed my son to use the car, he could have broken down in the middle of nowhere, or skidded off a snowy mountain road when the brakes locked.
How glad I was that day, even for the hard lessons I’d learned along the way.
Throughout your life, you can learn a few basic truths through your own experience that will become the foundation of your relationship with God, if you set out on the adventure that prayer can be.
Earlier, we talked about learning to be open to God in our weaknesses and in our needs. Also we spoke about listening in stillness, and setting aside a special time and place for prayer. If we make even these first steps, we’ll make several discoveries that will become major turning points in learning to pray for those we love.
Turning Point #1: Prayer is Real
There was a time in my life when I assumed that prayer was real, but then I began to doubt. Perhaps prayer was just a placebo to make a person feel better.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, one of the favorite strategies of the enemy of our souls is to make us doubt God, to doubt His goodness, His care, His existence, or His interest in our need. How can you possibly pray when you think prayer is not real or is useless?
It’s not that I was an unbeliever. I was a Bible-reading, praying Christian. I saw that men of God in the Bible always prayed, but, honestly, I was skeptical.
For me, the major turning point was the lesson my wife taught me about praying specifically, Susan loves the words of the apostle: You hove not because you ask not (James 4:2, NKJV). Over and over again she has reminded of this simple principle: Ask. She reminds me to be specific in my prayers. And I’ve found that praying specifically has taught me that prayer is real.
When Susan and I were first engaged to be married, we made a list of several prayer requests. We agreed to offer these prayers to God on a regular basis during our engagement. After the wedding, we completely forgot about our list– and we stumbled upon it only recently while cleaning out an old filing cabinet. The pages had yellowed over 25 years– but we were overwhelmed to see that one of our prayers during the engagement was that God would give us twins. Neither of us remembered praying for this, but God had indeed given us twins 10 years after we were married!
As I mentioned earlier, when we were looking for a home several years ago, we agreed to pray specifically for the things we felt we needed and came up with a long list. We prayed for very practical matters such as price and location, but also for some aesthetic concerns as well. In the end, every request we made of God regarding this house was answered … except one. We wanted to have the house by a particular date. (We learned that our Father in heaven is very concerned about the details of our life but that we can’t impose our schedule on Him!)
Friends of ours once told us of an experience they’d had in seeing prayer answered rather dramatically for one of their sons. Although they had a lot of confidence in his judgment, they were worried one evening because he had begun to go out with a girl whose morals were questionable. It was one of those situations in which parents realize they have to hold back, say little, but pray much!
When their son left in the car to pick up this girl one Saturday, our friends stopped for a few minutes to pray for him. They felt urged to pray that he would be kept from making a mistake in his relationship with this girl that he would later regret.
Later that evening, they had a telephone call. A policeman was on the line and wanted to talk to them about their son! It seems that he and his date had pulled off the road into a dark, romantic area and were alone necking in the car. The patrolman happened to see them, and he pulled over to tell them they were not in a safe area, that they had to move, and that he was going to report to the boy’s parents that he had found them there. Needless to say, it shook these two kids up tremendously.
To this day, our friends look back to that experience as a significant moment in their son’s life, he realized how careful he had to be about becoming too involved physically with young women. And it was a significant moment when they learned that prayer is real.
Remember, there is nothing about which we cannot pray. Wise men pray specifically for concerns in their own lives and in the lives of their wives and children. We pray knowing that our Father hears and cares. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? if you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV).
Some worry that making specific requests of God might be presumptuous. It’s true that God is in no way obligated to grant our every request. In His wisdom, He may answer yes, no, or wait the time is not right for this, He wants us to ask because He loves us as a Father. This leads us to another major turning point.
Turning Point #2: Discovering God as Your Father
For much of my life, I thought of God as a distant blur. When I came to really know Him as my Father in heaven, it was a major turning point.
My own dad was a kind, dependable gentleman. He was approachable and generous, a man of utter integrity. He wouldn’t put. up with deceitfulness in any form. I remember him being consistently gracious. He certainly was not perfect. He had his own insensitivity and blind areas, as all men do, but he was a good man, and he loved me. The fact that he was a good man helped me later come to understand the goodness of God. A time came when I began to see the Father in heaven as caring for me–as my own father had done–but much more so.
Consider what Jesus said about God:
Your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48, RSV, italics mine),
That means He is perfect goodness.
Your Father sees in secret (Matthew 6:4, RSV).
That means He knows my secret needs.
Your Father knows what you need.. (Matthew 6:8, 32, RSV).
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all
Look at the birds they neither sow nor reap nor gather … and yet your heavenly Father feeds them, Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26, RSV).
Jesus stressed the point that if we want to do good things for our children, how much more does our heavenly Father want to do good things for us?
What do you think? /f a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost (Matthew 18: 12-14, NRSV).
If two of you on earth agree about anything… it will be done for you by my Father in heaven, For when two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them (Matthew 18:19, NRSV).
It is instructive to study what Jesus taught about God as our Father in the gospels. In John’s gospel alone, God is referred to as Father more than 100 times, and the message of Jesus that comes to us through John seems to be: The Father himself loves you (J16:27, NRSV).
If you had a father who was not good or did not care about you, or if you had a father who was not present or who was not giving, it would be difficult to see God as a loving heavenly Father But God wants to heal these hurtful, imperfect images of fatherhood. If accepting God’s fatherhood is difficult for you, ask Him to help you come to see Him in this way more and more.
A man I’ll call Ken had a hard time accepting the fatherhood of God. One night he had a strange and vivid dream.
Ken’s father had been dead for 15 years, but he dreamed that his dad came to him right there in the bedroom. He felt a powerful presence; it seemed to be much more than a dream. Ken’s father stood at his bedside and smiled, then and held out his arms. Ken reached out to accept his father’s embrace, and was enveloped in an overwhelming sense of love, peace, and well-being that he’d never experienced before. He felt engulfed in his fathers love, overwhelmed at his closeness.
In the days that followed, Ken pondered the dream. It seemed like a special gift and held great significance. Mainly, as a result of the dream, Ken came to a much deeper understanding of the love his heavenly Father had for him. He knew that as great as his earthly father’s love had been for him, the love of God the Father was greater still.
Grasping God’s relationship to us as Father can radically impact the way we come to Him when we pray. I usually begin my prayers with the words, “Dear Father ..:’ For me personally, it is most helpful to see God in this way as I present my family’s needs.
Turning Point #3: Keep On Asking
Jesus commanded those who followed Him to ask, to seek, and to knock. A more accurate way of translating what He said would be like this: Ask and keep on asking seek and keep on seeking knock and keep on knocking.
For reasons best understood by God, He often chooses to take His time in answering our prayers. Jesus illustrated this in a fairly unusual story, which is recorded in Luke 11.
Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him. Then the one inside answers, Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. 1 can’t get up and give you anything. 1 tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So 1 say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (v. 5- 1 0, NIV).
I’ve alluded to the fact that, over the years, I’ve found it helpful to jot down my prayer requests in a notebook. I now have many notebooks filled with lists of prayers that I’ve prayed over and over again, particularly for other people. Skimming through these, I find a place where I’ve prayed for friends about their lonely child. Here’s a prayer for a happier job for my godson. Here’s a prayer for a friend to be more appreciated and to develop a greater sense of purpose. Here is a prayer for one of my children to find a sport that he can love and excel in.
These notebooks have become a record of the precious acts of God in response to the needs of my family and friends. (I’ll say more about this in chapter 9.)
Why don’t you consider beginning your own prayer notebook, recording the requests you bring to God on behalf of your family? Pray for your children and your children’s children. Who knows how generations of your family yet to come may be affected by your prayers? Not long ago I was riding in a taxi. My driver, whose name was Gordon Murray, was not only dependable and courteous (as was printed on his business card), but I found him to be an ardent follower of Christ He admitted that it had not always been so, but that over the years he’d come to realize that the two most important things in his life were his family and his faith.
“It sounds to me as though someone was praying for you,” I offered.
He laughed. “You’re right. I had a praying grandmother. Everybody ought to have one!”
He’s right. Everybody ought to have someone who is praying for them persistently. But why do we almost exclusively hear about praying grandmothers? Wouldn’t it be great for your grandkids to hear they had a praying grandfather- a man who persisted in prayer for his family?
Men, persistence is a trait many of us lack. Bringing our prayer requests to God repeatedly is not a matter and over again in case He’s forgotten. No, when we persist in prayer it helps us to grow in our awareness that God is the Sovereign Ruler of all things, and it reminds us of our dependence upon Him. Yes, it’s wonderful when you pray for something only once and you experience God’s answer. But growth and maturity come when you learn how to pray repeatedly, until you have satisfaction of seeing clearly how God has answered.
Perseverance in prayer is no guarantee that what you ask will come about in your lifetime. Nonetheless, we are to be obedient to Christ, who said to ask and keep on asking.
Turning Point #4: Learning to Pray in Jesus Name
Jesus said, I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13-14, NRSV), Does this mean that Jesus offered us a blank check and that He will do whatever we want Him to do? Some Christians may say yes, but I disagree.
In part, I believe Jesus is warning us to pay attention to our prayers. Do we have the attitude of Christ when we pray?
Think of your prayer as a letter written to God. Would Jesus sign His name to your letter? If you can’t imagine Jesus joining you in that request, then you’re probably not able to pray that prayer in His name. Remember, He also told His disciples, if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you (John 15:7, NIV). This means that we need to measure the content of our prayers against the life and teachings of Christ.
Yes, the Bible offers promises, like this one: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of Him (I John 5:14-15, NIV). Sometimes we’re better off to preface our prayers by saying, I don’t know, Lord, if this is pleasing to you. But here it is…
A turning point in a man’s prayer life comes when he learns not to presume upon God, or to demand from Him, or to bargain with Him. Instead, learn to ask: Would Jesus agree with my prayer? Would He agree with my attitude in making this request of God? Could I imagine Jesus saying something like this Himself? Could I imagine Jesus taking this step I’m prayerfully considering? Would the Lord agree with this decision I’m making?
If we don’t have the assurance that what we’re asking or seeking is something that would be pleasing to Christ, then it’s better to slow down and give the matter further consideration.
Turning Point #5: It’s Okay If You Don’t Know How to Pray
Situations are going to arise in which we simply don’t know the “right way” to pray. Times will come when we can’t seem pray at all.
Perhaps you and your wife are having some difficulties. Maybe a child is in trouble, and you are torn and don’t know which direction to turn. Perhaps you and your family are in disagreement about something and you don’t know who’s right. You may wonder: “Do I pray for deliverance from my problems or do I pray for the strength to endure them? Do I pray for this thing I think I must have or do I pray for a changed heart?”
The apostle Paul felt the same confusion, I believe, when he wrote: We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26-27, NIV). There have been many times when I’ve found myself ignorant, weak, uncertain, and inarticulate. Most men I know are aware of life’s frailty and its ambiguities. Often, we simply won’t know what’s right. Paul says the Holy Spirit in us will help us pray, and He will actually intercede for us through our own inarticulate groans and through the thoughts we cannot express in words (or as one translator has rendered it: with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26, NRSV).
When we long to see good come of a situation but do not even know what to ask, God’s Spirit joins us in our pain, confusion, difficulty, or uncertainty. And He prays to the Father on our behalf
When one of our daughters was a little girl, she would sometimes be overcome with sadness, fear, frustration, or uncertainty. This would result in anger, fighting, or lashing out at me. Rather than being put off or angry, I knew it was sadness and hurt inside that was causing her behavior. On some occasions, she would be so frustrated that she would finally collapse in my arms in tears. All I could do was cry with her, I could see ahead that all would be well in the end, but she couldn’t. Even so, my heart would break and I’d try to comfort her. During those moments, I’d pray for her silently, holding her before the Father in heaven, asking Him to comfort and touch her in the depths of her spirit where I could not go. The Holy Spirit exercises this kind of ministry in our lives.
Coming to this realization years ago helped me to understand that even when I sit desolate and wordless before God, He is caring for my family and me.
Prayer is, indeed, real. Envisioning God as our loving heavenly Father helps us to believe that He is hearing and responding to our prayer. When we don’t see a response to our prayers, we are to simply keep on-asking until our needs change, or the situation changes, or until our heart changes. Always we must ask ourselves, “Is this a prayer that I can pray in Jesus’ name?”
Even when we can’t find the words to pray, we can be still before God, offering ourselves and our confusion to Him, knowing that no matter how we come to Him, we are acceptable in His sight as beloved sons.
This article “Turning Points in a Man’s Prayer Life” written by John Yates is excerpted from the book How a Man Prays for His Family.