David Yonggi Cho, formerly the pastor of the largest church in the world, located in Seoul, Korea, was credited with saying, “God doesn’t answer vague prayers.” How does that strike you at first reading? Do you agree? Does it irritate you? Here’s why I think his statement is spot on.
The Bible makes a clear case for this.
I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. (Mark 11:24 NLT, underlining mine)
“It” – a small word, but, “it,” refers to something specific. When you pray, you don’t pray for anything, you pray for something: healing for a loved one, strength for yourself or a friend, wisdom for a decision, protection for your children, provision for a need, and the list goes on. Here is another example:
But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! (John 15:7 NLT)
Vague Prayers Don’t Take Faith
Why do I need to be specific with my prayers? Is God nitpicky? No, we pray specifically because vague prayers don’t take faith, and faith is the currency of heaven. What is faith? Faith simply means belief and trust.
And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 NLT)
It doesn’t take any faith whatsoever to say, “God, would you please give me anything? Or God, would you please bless Jimmy today.” Bless him with what? What is it that you are asking God to do in Jimmy’s life? How do you know if and when the prayer has been answered if you don’t even know what you are asking for? Do you even know what “blessing” means?
A Personal Story
Early on in my ministry, I found myself in need of a laptop computer in order to prepare and study for sermons. So I asked, “God, please give me a laptop computer. A used one is just fine.” A few months later, a friend offered me his used laptop computer because he was getting a new one. I was elated…until it died a few months later. When I sought the Lord about it, He reminded me what I asked for – a used computer! Thinking about it now, I guess it wasn’t a vague prayer after all. I got exactly what I asked for? Lesson learned. From that point on I started asking for exactly what I wanted and needed that would be a blessing to me and His kingdom rather than a curse. I asked God for a brand new laptop for my ministry and guess what I got? A brand new laptop of my choosing that lasted several years!
Fast forward several years later when my family needed a different vehicle. We had a small Saturn station wagon that was great, but with two kids and one on the way, it was becoming inadequate. We literally didn’t have enough room to fit three kids, with carseats, in the back! We had been anticipating this need for two years, and as a result we had begun praying and moving in faith by test driving vans. After having test driven the Honda and Toyota mini-vans, we decided to ask the Lord for a Toyota Sienna. We even had a picture up on the fridge and prayed very specifically that the van would be in great physical condition, have under 50K miles, and have good tires. One month before our third child was due, a couple approached me before church to tell me the Lord had asked them to give us their vehicle. I cried. Then they proceeded to tell me what it was: a 2009 Toyota Sienna minivan with 47,000 miles! I cried more. I went and told my wife who was practicing with the worship team on stage at the time. The team wondered what I told her as she began to cry. The car was gorgeous! The couple who gave it to us had taken meticulous care of it. It serves our family and the kingdom well. We are constantly hauling things for church, hauling people for ministry purposes and we haul the trailer to set up for our church (which meets in a hotel). Almost every time I get in the car, I thank God for His goodness and faithfulness.
What’s my point? God is a good Father who wants to give us good things, but He also wants us to ask Him, and He desires to grow our faith in the process. So what are you asking for, specifically?
Pastor Craig Groeschel said, “If God were to answer all your prayer tomorrow, what would be different about the world?” Wow! When I first heard that I was cut to the core. Prayer isn’t only about me and my needs; prayer is about a big God who wants to do big things; it’s about our families, our friends, the lost coming to Christ, transformed cities and nations, revival, healing, justice, and the nations of the world. Prayer is about seeing the civil war in Syria ended, peace in Jerusalem, justice for the millions trapped in slavery, healing from terminal diseases, and the 10/40 Window becoming a hotbed for the spread of the gospel. Do you really believe your prayers can affect change? Jesus believed it,
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” (Mark 11:22–25).
Tips To Effective Prayer
How do I pray effectively? James 5:16 says, “The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results” (TLB). I don’t know about you, but I want that type of prayer life. Here are a few tips I’ve found for praying effectively.
- Ask God to search your own heart. Before you ask God for anything, ask Him to search your heart (see Psalm 139:23-34). Forgive anyone you need to forgive (Mark 11:25). Get your heart right with God so you can start from a place of holiness and a clean conscience.
- Take time to seek God’s will first. If you want to pray effectively, first take some time to seek God’s will or desire. “14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15). You may not get it right every time, but asking Him to reveal His will before you ask for anything else is a good start. First and foremost His will is His word. He also speaks to His children through His Spirit. That being said, His spirit will never speak contrary to His Word.
- Ask specifically. Once you are confident you’ve heard His will, start praying specifically! When I am confident of His will, then I can ask with boldness. What is it that you want or need, exactly? Be as specific as possible.
- Start small. OK, maybe you are not ready to ask God to bring an end to the civil war in Syria. Ascertain your faith level and then ask for some things that stretch you a bit or are a little outside of your comfort zone.
- Pray some big prayers. God does care about the little things, but remember, life isn’t only about you and your world. He’s the God of more than enough. He’s the God who pulls down some kingdoms and builds up others. Big bold prayers take faith. Pray in such a way that it stretches your faith; in such a way that if God doesn’t come through, it can’t happen. Author Mark Batterson said it this way in his book The Circle Maker, “God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams and boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less.”
- Persevere. Some answers come quickly while others take years. Abraham waited 25 years for God to answer the promise of a son. If you know it’s God’s will, hold on. At some point your prayers should go from asking to praising and thanking. You should get to a place where you know God has heard and answered your request and now you are just thanking Him and waiting for it to manifest! J. Lee Grady had an excellent article on this called, You Can’t Stop Praying Now!
He Is More Than Enough
I’ll close with a story. In January 2018, my 13 year old son and I will be going to Uganda. It will be his first international missions trip. It is one of the things on my life goal list and is a part of his coming of age process as he steps into manhood. At first, the goal seemed a bit steep. We needed to raise $6000 to go, but as I prayed, I felt convinced it was the Lord’s will, so we stepped out and began asking people in faith to come alongside us. Just days out from the deadline, we were not even halfway to the goal. I started to become anxious but I’ve learned by now if I am anxious something is wrong so I simply stepped back and said to the Lord, “I believe it is your will for us to go. If you want us to go, then you need to provide the rest of the money.” Then I simply rested in the Lord. Wouldn’t you know a few days later, we got an email from a friend who wanted to contribute the rest of the money for the trip! In the meantime even more resources came in and we surpassed the goal by several hundred dollars. In the end, we were able to give some extra money toward a minister in Uganda who needs a four-wheel drive vehicle to visit the hundreds of churches he oversees! God is able to do the same thing in your life!
At the end of the day, vague prayers don’t take faith. Ask the Lord to search your own heart, seek His will, ask specifically, start small and let your prayers grow according to your faith – and persevere! Step out and pray faith-filled specific prayers that stretch your faith and honor God! You won’t be disappointed.
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Other Resources On Prayer
- The Transition Book (I share some of my story of living a lifestyle of prayer)
- How To Get Answers from God (Blog)
- Prayer Is…(Blog)
- Open Heavens (A message from the Oasis Prayer Room)