Power When You Pray
A Message From Billy Graham
January 3, 2011
A simple prayer can be the beginning of a new life for you—life that is both abundant and eternal.
by Billy Graham
We are not the masters of our fate, either individually or as a nation. How can we boast that we control our own destiny when a virus can lay low tens of thousands? How can our country insist that we, with our military might, our tremendous wealth and our foreign alliances, are the masters of our own fate when history testifies that God shaped this nation’s course?
We are caught up in a stream of history that is beyond our ability to control. There is only one power available to change the course of history, and that is the power of prayer—the prayer of God-fearing, Christ-believing men and women.
But today we have come to a place where many people regard prayer as simply a formality. We have no sense of coming to grips with God, except for the continuation of a venerated tradition. Yet how can we go on unless there is a renewed emphasis on prayer?
Thousands of people pray only in times of great stress, danger or uncertainty. Christ instructed His followers always to pray. So fervent and so direct were the prayers of Jesus that once when He had finished praying, His followers turned to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
From one end of the Bible to the other is the record of those whose prayers have been answered—those who turned the tide of history by prayer; those who fervently prayed, and God answered. Abraham prayed, and so long as he prayed, God did not destroy the city of Sodom where Abraham’s nephew Lot lived.
Hezekiah prayed when his city was threatened by the invading armies of the Assyrians under the leadership of Sennacherib. The entire army of Sennacherib was destroyed and the nation was spared for another generation—because the king had prayed.
Elijah prayed, and God sent fire from Heaven to consume the offering on the altar he had built in the presence of God’s enemies. Elisha prayed, and the son of the Shunammite woman was raised from the dead. Jesus prayed at the door of the tomb of Lazarus, and the one who had been dead for four days came forth. The thief on the cross prayed, and Jesus assured him that he would be with Him in Paradise. Paul prayed, and churches were born in Asia Minor and in Europe. Peter prayed, and Dorcas was raised to life to have added years of service for Jesus Christ.
John Wesley prayed, and revival came to England. Jonathan Edwards prayed, and revival came to Northampton, Mass., where thousands of people joined the churches. History has been changed time after time because of prayer, and it could be changed again if people went to their knees in believing prayer.
What a glorious thing it would be if millions of us would avail ourselves of the privilege of prayer! Jesus Christ died to make this communion and communication with the Father possible. He told us of the joy in Heaven when one sinner turns from sin to God and breathes the simple prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
When the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” the Savior answered by giving them His model petition, “The Lord’s Prayer.” However, that was only part of His sacred instruction. In scores of passages Jesus Christ offered further guidance, and because He practiced what He preached, His whole life was a series of lessons on prevailing prayer. Jesus had only three years of public ministry, yet He was never too hurried to spend hours in prayer.
How quickly and carelessly, by contrast, we pray. Snatches of memorized verses hastily spoken in the morning, then we say goodbye to God for the rest of the day until we rush through a few closing petitions at night. This is not the prayer program that Jesus outlined. Jesus pleaded long and repeatedly. It is recorded that He spent entire nights in fervent appeal. But how little perseverance and persistence and pleading we show!
The Scripture says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This should be the motto of every follower of Jesus Christ. Never stop praying, no matter how dark and hopeless your case may seem. A woman once wrote me that she had been pleading for 10 years for the conversion of her husband but that he was more hardened than ever. I advised her to continue to plead. Then some time later I heard from her again. She said that her husband was gloriously and miraculously converted in the eleventh year of her praying. Suppose she had stopped praying after only 10 years!
Our Lord frequently prayed alone, separating Himself from every earthly distraction. I would urge you to select a room or corner in your home where you can regularly meet alone with God. That quiet, secluded, soul-to-God praying in which you come to the mercy seat can be your greatest blessing.
As we observe the prayer life of Jesus, we notice the earnestness with which He prayed. The New Testament records that in Gethsemane He cried out with a loud voice, that in the intensity of His supplication He fell headlong on the damp ground of the garden, that He pleaded until His sweat became “like great drops of blood” (Luke 22: 44).
Too often we use petty petitions, oratorical exercises, the words of others, rather than the cries of our inmost being. Too often, when we go to prayer, our thoughts roam. We insult God by speaking to Him with our lips while our hearts are far from Him. Suppose we were talking to a person of prominence, would we let our thoughts wander for one moment? No, we would be intensely interested in everything that was said. How dare we then treat the King of kings with less respect?
Jesus teaches us for whom we are to intercede. How startling His instructions and His example! He tells us to “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). We are to plead for our enemies, asking God to lead them to Christ and for His sake to forgive them.
In the first words that Jesus uttered from the cross after the heavy nails had been hammered through His hands and feet, He interceded for His crucifiers, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). How many of us have ever spent time praying for our enemies?
We are also told in Scripture to pray for the conversion of sinners. I once listened to a discussion of religious leaders on how to communicate the Gospel. Not once did I hear them mention prayer. And yet I know of scores of churches that win many converts each year by prayer alone. If there is a person of our acquaintance who needs Christ in his or her life, then we need to start praying for them. We will be amazed at how God will begin to work.
One more lesson that Jesus teaches is the victorious assurance that God answers every true petition. Skeptics may question it, deny it or ridicule it. Yet here is Christ’s own promise: “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22). We need to trust that promise. Our Father possesses everything, and He “shall supply all [our] need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
God can defeat each enemy of your soul and defend you from every danger. Nothing is impossible for Him. No task is too arduous, no problem is too difficult, no burden is too heavy for His love. The future with its fears and uncertainties is fully revealed to Him. Turn to Him, and say with Job: “He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Do not put your will above God’s will. Do not insist on your way. Do not dictate to God. Rather, learn the difficult lesson of praying as the sinless Son of God Himself prayed: “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Many of you have never come to know Jesus Christ so that you can pray in His name. The Scripture says that the only mediator between God and man is Jesus Christ. You must know Him, and you must pray in His name. Your prayers must be directed according to the will of God.
If you do not know how to pray, start now by saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Ask God to forgive all your sin, transform your life and make you a new person. He can do it today in answer to the simplest prayer.