Books About Prayer – If Only God Would Answer

Steven Mosley
This is a workshop based on my book about prayer: “If Only God Would Answer.”

When James relaxed at home in the evening after a long day at the office, he did so with a kind of sovereign immobility.  He would plop down with a great sigh in his recliner in the den, glance at the paper, and then begin calling out requests.  His kids fetched his slippers, closed the windows, tossed him the TV Guide, brought ice water, put the dog out, brought pop and potato chips.
James had developed asking for things into a fine art.  It was always “While you’re up..” and “When you get a chance..”  He directed the proceedings with such good cheer and skill that most visitors hardly noticed he never moved from his chair.
And that little domestic scene wouldn’t be at all unpleasant except for one fact: James weighed almost 400 pounds.  The man could break into a sweat walking down the hall to the bathroom.  It was obvious that he desperately needed exercise, but it was his sprightly, healthy kids who bounced around all evening, responding to Dad’s pleas for onion dip or popcorn.
Books About Prayer theme: Getting out of the Couch Potato School of Prayer
One of the reasons prayer seems relatively unanswered is that many of us fall into what I call the Couch Potato School of Prayer.  We get in the habit of tossing requests up to God for all kinds of things (and after all our Father urges us to ask) without realizing that part of God’s answer might include our getting up.  It’s easy to slip into spiritual obesity in a world dominated by websites and remote controls.
Books About Prayer Theme – Get up and Go!
Here’s something you might find a little surprising in Scripture.  Do you know what happens when angels pay us a visit?  Angels coming to our rescue—that’s been a comforting image for believers forever, right?
Well this is what they actually say.  Their messages can be summarized in two words, “Hurry up!”
An angel bursts in on Peter, chained in a dungeon, and calls out, “Rise quickly.”
Gideon stops his wheat threshing at Ophrah to hear the angel of the Lord say, “Arise and go in this thy might.”
When Herod is slaughtering the innocents an angel wakes up Joseph with the words, “Go quickly.”
Another heavenly messenger sets Philip off in pursuit of the Ethiopian eunuch with: “Arise and go.”
Angel voices seem less like a Greeting Card and more like an alarm clock at 7 am.
Clearly angels who come in answer to prayer don’t leave us sitting for long.  Part of the secret of answerable prayer is what we do after we pray.  We’ll never experience the joy of great answers as long as we spend most of our time on the couch, sending out occasional petitions like remote control signals and waiting for some act of providence to show up like an entertaining TV show.  Miracles are a participant phenomenon; they rarely happen to bystanders.
The Couch Potato School of Prayer.

But then there’s people on the opposite side of the spectrum.  There are people who do indeed get up, and stay up, and keep working toward a goal, and keep pleading—and wonder, why doesn’t God help me out here?
Martha in Bethany scurrying around, meeting all the guests needs—why can’t I get a little help here?
There are exhausted Christians for whom Persistent Prayer is just a part of their exhaustion.
The I’m God’s Hands School of Prayer.  I’ve got to be His instrument.  Which is true.  But somehow the people who try really hard seem to keep running into a brick wall—when it comes to prayer.
God helps me find my glasses when I misplaced them, but what about the really big request, the thing I’ve been begging him for the last five years?

How do we make prayer more answerable—whether we’re Couch Potatoes or I’m God’s Hands?
I stumbled on a way—while a student missionary in Osaka, Japan.  Teaching English and Bible.

It was early in the morning, I was staring out my window at a gnarled Bonzai tree and got an idea.  I want to tear out the passages I’d just been reading and fling them out into the world and see something happen.  I’d been reading Paul’s epistles diligently, daily.  Because having to teach people who have no idea what you’re talking about forces you back to the Source Material.  In America you can get away with clichés when you’re sharing.  But what do you do when “a personal relationship with Christ” only produces blank stares.  Japanese culture is secular in a way we student missionaries weren’t used to.  Even God was a blank there.  How do you fill in the picture?  How do you make it real for people.
So I’m trying to get down to the basics there with my Bible, praying.  And I’d been sharply struck by some pointed verses, typical Pauline texts about: encourage one another, build up one another.  And I was tired of generic petition.  Lord enable me to be of service today in some small way (and make sure it’s a small way.)
I wanted these holy words to actually do something, change something that day.  So I said, “Lord, how about if we set up a rendezvous? Let’s meet today, somewhere, at a point of need.  There are plenty out there.  You and I rendezvous and make these words solve a problem, meet a need.  OK.”
I went through my morning English classes at the Osaka SDA English Language School—and to my great surprise, not a single student came up to me pleading, “More light Steve, more light.”
Then we had staff meeting.  Afterwards a teacher named Peggy stopped me in the hallway.  “I need to talk to you,” she said, directly. “Can we go somewhere?”
We went to an unoccupied classroom.  And there she spilled the beans.
Peggy felt like a fake, didn’t know why she was there as a missionary.  She unleashed on me a flood of insecurity and inadequacy, hinting about a very dysfunctional family.  The English teacher dissolved into a hurting, fearful child.
She’d actually been the teacher most of us sort of avoided.  A little too loud.  A little too clueless.  Not the easiest person to like.  But now she sat there, a pool of need.
Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.  I wasn’t the shoulder people cried on.  Just the usual male cliche: self-sufficient, self-sufficient, content with work and an occasional game of football.
But that afternoon I was buzzing.  This was a rendezvous.  God had met me here.  And I did become all ears.  I did try to understand weakness.  And I was even able to make some practical suggestions about how to get started in the kind of devotional life that had helped me get real.
Books About Prayer Theme – A Rendezvous with God.
I believe prayer is most answerable when it sets up a rendezvous with God.
Here’s how it works.  First you see a need: your spouse is depressed, your neighbor’s too busy for church, you’re facing a meeting with the boss and you know it’s going to stress you out.
Think and pray: How can God meet that need?  What does He want to do in this situation?  Think of a time and place.  Aim at the specific circumstance that’s the challenge, or the opportunity.  And ask God to meet you there.  You bring your resources Lord.  I’ll bring my availability.”
Setting up a rendezvous avoids these two extremes.
You’re no longer the couch potato, sending God out by remote control.  Napping your way toward the kingdom.  Wake me at the Second Coming.
And you don’t go out there and try to play the part of the rescuer.  You’ve got to solve everything; you’ve got to save this person.  No, it’s about God doing something.  You’re just open to what he makes happen.  You don’t have to force anything; you don’t have to push anything.

Here’s another reason setting up a rendezvous makes our prayers more answerable.
Books About Prayer Theme: Praying Step by Step.

We all have a tendency to focus on the end result, as opposed to the steps leading there.  We pray in the long term.
We want Uncle Charlie, who shows no interest in religion, to become a
born-again believer.
We want my anxiety and impatience to go away right now.
We want the loved one dying of cancer to rebound to perfect health.
We want the addict to lose all desire for that pernicious drug.
Well those are commendable goals of course.  But we’re pointing a long way off.  Dramatic events are usually the accumulation of smaller steps.  And in prayer we don’t often focus on the means to that end.
But setting up a rendezvous helps us focus on—OK what could happen today, what could happen this week?  What’s the first step?
Let’s take agnostic Uncle Charlie, uninterested relative.  What would move him from square one to square two?   Maybe just a keener awareness of nature, it’s beauty.  Maybe just a sense of thankfulness for something good that happened in his life.
What’s the next step?  You and God can meet at a certain time and place and help him take it.
Stuck in the Couch Potato School of Prayer, you just don’t consider the steps.  You just keep pressing the remote: Solve all my problems.
And people in the I’m God’s Hands mode have a hard time thinking in terms of little, imperfect steps.  They’re driven.  They can’t settle.
Too often religious thinking follows a black or white, all or nothing, pattern.  Unbelieving Charlie is dwelling in utter darkness and must make a quantum leap to the light where his actions and beliefs will all be pure.  And so we’re not very good at encouraging those small steps forward.  “Established” Christians often find it very hard to affirm anything less than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Say Charlie starts talking vaguely about a Spirit in the world.  Well to you that’s a pathetic watering down of the faith.  But to him it may be a huge step forward from angry atheism.
What do you think of parents who just sit at home with the kids and watch unwholesome TV?  Well, if last week the kids were alone while they were out drinking themselves into a stupor—that’s a huge step forward.
Jesus put first steps on a pedestal.  The woman of ill repute washing his feet with her tears.  What did he do with that “inappropriate” gesture?  He glorified it; she’s the only one anointed me for burial.
Can you set up a rendezvous at the point of need?  Be there as God helps someone take the next step.

Books About Prayer Theme: Praying in the Positive.
Here’s another reason setting up a rendezvous can make our prayers more answerable.
Some years ago Dr. William Parker gathered 45 individuals at the University of Redlands and invited them to participate in an unusual Prayer Experiment.  Each person had a definite physical, emotional or spiritual need to be met; each wanted to find a solution.  Many suffered from bodily ailments caused by stress; some were on the verge of acute nervous breakdown.
Dr. Parker divided the 45 into three different therapy groups, principally
according to their preference.
The 15 who joined the Psychotherapy Group agreed to weekly individual counseling sessions.
The 15 in the Random Prayer Group believed in the efficacy of prayer alone and agreed to pray about their problem every night before retiring.
The 15 in the Prayer Therapy Group agreed to meet weekly for a two-hour session in which Parker would teach them to combine psychological insights with honest, positive prayer focused on God’s healing love.
At the end of nine months all the participants were given standard psychological tests to determine their attitudes, feelings and adjustments.
In the Psychotherapy Group—65% showed improvement.
In the Prayer Therapy Group—72% showed improvement
In the Random Prayer group—no improvement at all.
The really bothered me when I read it.  Why didn’t God come through for these people?  Doesn’t prayer itself work?
Well the case studies are very enlightening.  What Dr. Parker found was that those in Prayer Therapy learned to pray in positive, healthy ways.  Those in Random Prayer seemed stuck on unhealthy ways of petitioning.  Unhealthy prayer?  Is there such a thing?
Take Jerry for example.  He’d convinced himself he was a misfit and couldn’t stick with a job.  Depressed, nervous, bad headaches.
What did this man do every night for nine months?  He elaborated on his symptoms.  He used a memorized prayer in which he prayed out his guilt and his wormy feelings (but never seemed to take forgiveness.)   He repeated his sense of unworthiness to a remote God he wasn’t sure was listening.
Nine months of prayer.  No improvement.
Now there was another guy in the experiment very much like him.  Gary had been working in a church.  But he too was tormented by anxiety, guilt, inadequacy.  He couldn’t handle people well, needed to control every situation.
Gary joined the Prayer Therapy Group and had to confront his mistrust of God.  He opened himself up to a God of love and grace for the first time.  And he began to pray in a positive way, giving up his right to run the whole show, asking God to express himself through him.
And he became a very successful pastor.
It’s possible to pray in a way the reinforces the problem.  I know.  I’ve risen from my knees after an hour of praying about terrible lust and sin, and fallen straight into lust and sin.
James 4:3
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives
If motives are a problem; then focus can be a problem.  Our interior state matters.
It’s possible to pray ourselves into a rut.  And do you realize this puts God in a terrible bind?  If he answers unhealthy prayer he is reinforcing our habit of praying in a negative way.  He wants to reinforce positive prayer.
And that’s what setting up a rendezvous with God helps us do.  What’s the next step forward?  What’s the next positive step?  How can God and his resources meet me at a point of need?
Books About Prayer Example: An Intimidating Japanese City.
When I first peered out from a plane window at the city of Osaka, Japan, I was amazed at how the lights of this metropolis just seemed to stretch on and on.  And going to work on the trains I was awed by the masses of humanity disgorged in station after station, the sea of dark business suits.  It was intimidating; it was a little depressing.
The idealism I’d brought with me—you know, we’re going to have an impact on this country for Christ—shrunk pretty quickly.  My prayers those first few nights in Japan seemed terribly frail in the face of this overwhelming problem: a deeply secular culture effortlessly drowning out our squeaky little voices about God.
Japan was just this big secular problem, this enormous challenge.  But then Japan broke up into faces, the faces who came to my Bible classes.  The faces got names.  The names had needs.  And I began to see that there were steps forward that Junko and Kioji and Kenji could take.
And one day I decided maybe everybody could have their own rendezvous.
I was supposed to do this evangelistic series in Osaka and I wanted to show our students the Christian life, as opposed to just tell them about it.  And so as part of the meetings, I broke up everyone into groups and they were led through exercises in Bible study, in fellowship, in grace, in prayer.
The first night I got up and said, this week we’re going to find out if there’s a God or not.  We’re going to do an experiment, and at the end of the week I’ll share the results.
Each group leader encouraged group members to identify some specific problem or need in their lives and then challenged them to see what God would do about it through prayer.  The leader helped each one find a verse of Scripture they could focus on in their prayer; something God had promised he was eager to do.  And they were taught how to pray in Jesus’ name.
These weren’t church members; they weren’t even believers.  I was a just a kid fresh out of college, and I didn’t know any better.  Flying by the seat of my pants.  I don’t know, the blind man who called out to Jesus, had he signed on to belief in the Messiah when he was healed.
The participants prayed each day of our series about their need.
At the end of the week I went around to each group leader and asked them about each of their participants.  Now I was pretty gung ho at the time, but what I discovered surprised even me.  Every single person who followed through on the week-long experiment had received a definite answer to his or her prayer.
I recorded the requests and answers.
One young man had been sick and was worried about getting behind in his job.  He prayed about this and later found that a girl he’d previously misjudged as selfish had done his work for him.
One girl prayed about her parents who were treating her rather coldly because she occasionally came home late from the Christian meetings.  She was surprised at the door one night by her mother asking very warmly, “Are you hungry?”
Another lady expressed to God her deep longing to see her mother’s grave in America someday.  She received a letter from her daughter unexpectedly inviting her to come to the States for a visit.
A businessman, I learned, had been wanting a red tie and prayed for that.  Well, a wiser group leader would have suggested something more appropriate.  Here we were trying to reveal God Almighty and this guy wants a red tie.  But no one was there to administer such wisdom and so the man conducted his little experiment and was taken back one day when a salesman came right into his office and sold him a silky red necktie.
We just didn’t know any better.
I saw all these people having their rendezvous.  The answers weren’t all that miraculous I guess.  But they suggested a gracious touch.  A nudge, “Here I am, over here.”  Notes written back with a hint of affection.
I’ve experienced how wonderful a rendezvous can be when you stretch out of your rut, when you try to change the world, one step at a time.
And I’ve also experienced a rendezvous when you seem to have lost everything in the world.
Not long ago I lost the woman whom I was sure the love of my life, the best thing that ever happened to me, or ever would happen to me.  It’s not something you bounce back from.
And I remember waking up in the middle of another sleepless, angry night and lying there submerged in misery.  And I prayed the kind of prayer I don’t know if I’d ever prayed before.
I just told God I was broken and hurting and miserable.  That’s it.  Fortunately I didn’t go on and on detailing my misery.  But I laid it out.  And I didn’t ask for anything.  I didn’t promise anything.  I didn’t resolve anything.
I didn’t have anything to do that with.  I just spilled it out there in the dark, for several days.  And looking back I can see that was one of the most therapeutic things I ever did.  A big part of my healing.
I just said: I’m hurting.  It’s right here.  It’s right now.  Thanks for listening.
And it was one of the best rendezvous of my life.
God is so eager to be here for us.  And he is so eager that we pray in an answerable way, in a way he can reinforce.
So whether you’re out taking on the world, or whether you’re lying in the dark, I promise, there is a rendezvous you can make, there is an answer that will bring you grace.

Books About Prayer Themes:

Set Up a Rendezvous

Pray Step by Step

Pray in the Positive