Have you ever thought about whether you actually believe prayer is effective? I had a sobering moment a few years ago when I realized that my belief in prayer was very weak. I prayed at meals, prayed with my kids, and prayed over prayer requests sometimes, but I realized that deep down I didn’t have much confidence that my prayers would actually change anything.
I guess the best way to describe my approach to prayer was that it was something a Christian is supposed to do and I was just going through the motions.
Then I got exposed to a kind of prayer called “listening prayer.” Over time I came to believe that God actually speaks and has communicated to his people throughout the entire narrative of the scriptures and continues to do so. Realizing that I could hear from God myself was a huge paradigm shift and one that brought so much life to my relationship with God.
This shift in my understanding and experience of prayer led me to actually believe that the Holy Spirit lives inside of me and that there is power that comes with his presence. Understanding this power led me to the recognition of my spiritual authority as a follower of Jesus, a son of the King, and a realization that I have been delegated authority to shift things in the spiritual realm in the name of the Jesus.
All of these paradigm shifts led me to pray with a high sense of expectation and anticipation. When I listen, I expect to hear. When I pray, I expect things to change.
Do I always see healing or prayers answered? No. But because of my understanding of the spiritual authority I have and my understanding of the Kingdom—that it is here but not yet fully manifested—I now pray with the expectation that I have a role in bringing the Kingdom more fully on earth as it is in heaven.
The following two teachings from Jesus speak to this idea of praying with expectation.
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:23-24
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:12-14
These are bold statements from Jesus. But how do we interpret them? What are our options?
- He was just exaggerating
- Develop some kind of theological paradigm to excuse it away
- Take him at his word
I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided to go with #3. I believe Jesus actually meant what he said! I believe that he was intending for his followers to trust in these promises and to remember these wild statements, so that when it came time to pray and step into the assignment that was in front of them, they would pray with high expectation and anticipation. I think Jesus was hoping that when he was gone, his followers would have a conversation like this:
“Guys, do you remember what Jesus told us? He said we could move mountains, we would do greater things… all we have to do is ask in his name.”
I believe God has created us to partner with him and he is longing for us to step more fully into that partnership. As a son of the King and a co-heir of the Kingdom with Jesus, I’m going to continue to try to access as many Kingdom resources as possible. I want to pray with an expectation that the Kingdom is going to come more on earth as it is in heaven when I decide to step in and ask for it.
Where are you at with prayer today? The basic questions we all need to wrestle with are these: Do we believe prayer works? Does it change anything? And along with that, what role does our expectation play in prayer?
The best way to know our honest answer to these question is to look at how we live, how we pray, and how much we pray. We can think that we believe strongly in something when our belief is actually very weak. The best way to analyze our beliefs is to look at our actions. It's really a sobering exercise.
Try this prayer audit over the next seven days to help grow your awareness and expectations in prayer:
- Every evening, pull out your journal and record your prayers from that day. What did you pray for? How did you pray? Try to take a gauge on your level of expectation and why you had that level of expectation.
- As you go about your week, if somebody shares a need or burden with you, ask them the question, “Can I pray for you?” and then pray for them right then and there and bless them. Record what you learned in your journal.
- At the end of seven days, journal about what you learned regarding your belief in prayer, the role of expectation, what prayers were answered, and anything you learned about prayer itself.
The purpose of this is experiment is twofold: 1) Bring more awareness about your belief in prayer. 2) Have prayer on the front of your mind for one week to see how that feels and what you learn.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Thrash and his wife Jamie live in San Juan Capistrano, CA, with their three kids. In addition to thinking deeply about living out our faith and actively following Jesus in new ways, Mark heads up CRM’s Partner Development Team. This post was originally shared on Mark's personal blog.