Baring its sharp teeth, the dog growled menacingly as it stood poised to attack. Fear had gripped my friend and me as we walked past it each day on our way home from elementary school. Usually we would reassure one another by pointing out the long metal chain that was stretched taut as the dog strained against it. However, on this particular day, my stomach lurched as we noticed the chain was slack. The snarling dog had finally succeeded in breaking free. Before we had time to react, it lunged for my friend, pinning her to the ground. Panicked, my seven-year-old mind cycled through the options: Should I try to pull the dog off? No, I wasn’t strong enough and we’d probably both get hurt. Should I knock on someone’s door for help? No, I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. Should I run to get my friend’s mom? Her house was several blocks away, but it seemed like the only sensible option. Beginning to cry, I stumbled down the street before stopping abruptly to turn back. How could I leave her like this? “God, please help!” I cried out in desperation. Shocked, I watched as the dog stepped away from my friend and calmly walked back into its yard, dragging the broken chain behind it.
My cry for help had unleashed the power of heaven on a quiet suburban street that day. As a first grader, I knew little about theology or the Bible, but I knew God loved me. I’d been reassured that Jesus was always with me because I’d invited Him into my heart. Difficult situations often lead us to seek God. I guess I experienced it first on that on that spring day at age seven.
The story of the dog attack stayed with me through the years and left me in awe of God’s power. I knew He was there for me and could help me in times of desperation and trials. However, it was not until much later that I understood prayer isn’t just something to engage reactively when we are in the midst of hard situations. God also invites us to look ahead and pray proactively about things yet to unfold. Proactive prayers anticipate future situations, both good and bad. They help to prepare us and invite God to intervene in advance.
The apostle Paul knew this. Throughout his writings, he repeatedly asked for prayer. We see this in both letters to the church at Thessalonica:
“Brothers and sisters, pray for us.” (1 Thessalonians 5:25, NIV)
“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1, NIV)
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that Paul’s requests for prayer are so frequent I don’t usually notice them. Until recently, I’d skim over his opening and closing comments so I could focus on the meat of his teaching. However, I now recognize the vital role prayer played in his ministry. The message of the gospel spread through the Roman Empire not because of Paul’s skills or efforts but because of God’s power unleashed through prayer. Beth Moore explains it this way: “Not one inspired writer of the New Testament letters had more to say about prayer. He did not sit smugly back, presuming that Jesus would fulfill His purpose through him with little proactive effort on his part. He pressed in and prayed hard. To Paul, prayer was part of the necessary means even to a divinely foreordained end.” (Children of the Day, p. 192)
Praying proactively is about receiving what God has promised in His Word. It claims what He’s already said is ours for the taking. This kind of prayer isn’t about asking God to do what we want–it’s meant to make our perspectives line up with His. I’ll give you a few examples to clarify. Afterwards you can share your own in the comments at the bottom of this post.
The Desires of Our Hearts
Psalm 37:4 makes this promise: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (NIV) I used to read this and not see how the first phrase informed the second. I thought something like this: Sure, I delight in God, so why doesn’t He give me this thing I want? Now I understand that when we take delight in the Lord, it means we are aligning our hearts with His. The desires of our hearts are also the desires of His heart. We know His heart by studying His Word. For example, we know that He values families and that He wants us to tell our children about Him so that they can love Him and know Him: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NIV)
My desires for my children have changed over time as my understanding of God has grown. Instead of praying only about their circumstances, I pray more about their hearts. I pray they will value God’s Word and long for a deeper relationship with Him. I pray they will have teachable hearts and be open to the ways the Lord wants to work in and through their lives. I pray that they will delight in Jesus as I delight in Him. I pray they will become men of integrity and character. That is the desire of my heart. Of course I want them to have healthy relationships and a good education. I want them to launch and become successful adults, but I believe the most important thing I can pray is that they will love God and value His Word. God’s Word assures me He wants the same for them.
Fulfilling His Call
Paul was called to share the gospel among the gentiles. He asked for prayer that the message would “spread rapidly and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, NIV). As followers of Jesus, we are all called to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19, NIV). Each of us has a part to play in sharing the gospel with others, whether or not we have the gift of evangelism. If this sounds daunting, remember that we do this through the power of the Spirit, not our own abilities. When we ask the Lord to identify people He wants to love through us, He will answer that prayer. Our job is to abide in Him and take action when He reveals someone who is ready to hear the good news. Second Peter 3:9 assures us that God doesn’t want anyone to perish, so we can pray with confidence knowing that asking for help us share His love is the very thing He wants us to do.
Changing Our Hearts, Not Just Our Circumstances
Without a doubt, the default mode of most people is to pray about their circumstances. The situations we face every day shape our attitudes, our relationships and our actions. It’s tempting to pray and ask God to fix or change difficult and frustrating situations. While this isn’t a bad thing to pray, it’s overlooking the fact that our circumstances have much to teach us. I think that’s Paul’s point when he says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV) Instead of praying for our circumstances and waiting to see if/when/ how God is going to work in them, we can try changing our perspectives with these simple prayers:
“God, show me what you want me to learn through this.”
“God, refine my character.”
“God, reveal yourself to me.”
“God, help me to show your love, mercy and grace to others who are going through this hard thing with me.”
“God, be glorified in this situation and reveal how You are using it for good.” (See Romans 8:28)
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23, NIV)
Praying proactively requires us to step outside our current circumstances and to have an eternal perspective. It also means we need to study the Bible so that we can know God’s will and pray for His kingdom to spread on earth. His power is within reach, but we get to decide whether or not we want to receive it.
Praying opens the floodgates of Heaven, enabling us to access God’s glory and power. For more inspiration, click on the link to hear Meredith Andrews’ song “Open Up the Heavens.”