One of the most influential books in America, written over 80 years ago, is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s good to be friendly and influence people, but I want to tell you How to Pray for Friends and Influence People. There’s no greater ministry than praying for others—a ministry you and every Christian around you can have. Let me tell you a true story: I was a kid not yet in my 20s, a young preacher, preaching my first-ever revival crusade. It was an incredible crusade—but not because of my preaching. The preaching was terrible. It was terrible.
How do I know? Not long ago I got out my sermon notes from that crusade. I said, “Adrian, you didn’t preach that, did you?” Yes, I did. I tore up those notes—destroyed them—afraid somebody might find them when I die. It was Bible truth but a preaching monstrosity.
But God came down in those meetings in an incredible way. I’ve preached many revivals and services since then, but never one where the felt presence of God was so real. My college friend Ernie Harvey was with me. This was in his home church in Jacksonville, Florida, and Ernie wanted me to meet his mother.
He took me to one of the poorest sections of Jacksonville, to a place over a second-hand furniture store. We climbed some narrow stairs. The little apartment was clean but threadbare—the look of poverty all over it. Ernie was a broad-shouldered, athletic guy. His mother was very small, her hands gnarled and puffy from an extreme case of arthritis. Her elbows and knees were swollen. Every step was painful. But she had such a sweet disposition. She asked,
“Adrian, how did the revival go last night?”
“Mrs. Harvey, it was great. Incredible. It’s wonderful what God did.”
Tears came to her eyes. “Oh, I knew God was going to bless.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Oh, young man, the whole time you were preaching, I was on my knees praying for you.”
I looked at her little gnarled body and thought how difficult it would be for her to get on her knees, much less stay on them and pray for me. And I thought, Oh Adrian, what an unmitigated fool you are. People are saying, “Good sermon,” but when we get to heaven, lots of people we thought would be first are going to be last, and people we think of as “last” will be first.
The great evangelist Charles Finney preached revival meetings with incredible power from God. Few know, however, about an elderly man they called “Father Nash,” who always tried to get to a city about three weeks before Finney. Nash would intercede for the city and Finney. When rewards are given in heaven, Charles Nash is surely going to share in Finney’s reward.
The same with Dwight L. Moody. Two ladies repeatedly told him, “Mr. Moody, we’re praying for you.” It bothered him. He thought, Why don’t you pray for those who need it? Pray for the lost. Why are you praying for me? But they kept on saying, “We’re praying for you.” Then one day, walking down the streets of Chicago, the power of God fell on him. God’s presence so overwhelmed him, he had to go to a friend’s house and borrow a room just to be alone with God. He finally said, “God, if you don’t stop pouring this joy into my life, I’m going to die.” He had an infusion of Holy Spirit power. He later said this outpouring of the Spirit came from the prayers of those praying for him—in particular, those two ladies.
No matter if you’re in a sick bed, in prison, a mother at home with little children, or a truck driver in an 18-wheeler, there’s one ministry everyone can have. You can’t have a better ministry than praying for people.
I honestly believe those who are the intercessors, the “pray-ers,” are going to be God’s elite when we get to heaven.
If this is true, then we may ask, how do I become one of those?
What’s the secret of being effective in prayer?
Knowing where to focus. Focusing on God rather than the problem. We get discouraged, tired, and sometimes filled with unbelief because our focus is wrong. Glance at the problem, but fix your gaze on God, who has all power over the problem.
But how do I know what to pray for? And how should I pray?
If you want to be sure you’re praying the right thing—praying the will of God—you cannot do better than praying the Word of God. Here is the way to do that:
1. Pray the Scripture—what’s written in God’s Word.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. I’m learning to make the prayers of the Bible my prayers. Find what the apostle Paul prayed and see how he prayed. Then begin to pray for others like he prayed for them.
The reason we fail in prayer is that so often we don’t know the will of God for them in a given situation. But you can have incredible power in your prayer, virtually certain you’re praying a prayer the Holy Spirit will honor, when you pray from His Word. That’s especially true when praying for your children, your husband, your wife, your pastor, your friends—anyone you want to influence for God and eternity.
2. Find in Scripture examples of prayers prayed for others and use them.
Here is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in Ephesians 3:14-19. From prison, Paul wrote:
14 For this cause, I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Imagine him now. Prisons of that day were intolerable. The old man of God is down on his knees, praying. His body is in prison, but his soul, his prayer, is soaring to heaven.
You can take this kind of prayer and use it as a guide. Let that prayer be your prayer.
Someone needs a job. We pray, “God, give him a job,” but other factors we don’t know about may be at work. It may not be God’s will for him to have a job just yet. Maybe God had blessed him with a job and he was unfaithful. Maybe he didn’t tithe or wasn’t a good steward, so God is withholding a job, and our prayer shouldn’t be, “God, give him a job,” but, “Lord, help him to be faithful.”
Someone is looking for the right school. We don’t really know what school God has in mind for them. We can pray, “Lord, guide them to the right school.”
Someone is sick. We pray “Lord, make him well.” Maybe God wants him to go to heaven. We’re down here praying, “Lord, let him stay,” and Jesus is saying, “Father, let him be with Me where I am, that he may behold My glory.”
Our prayers fail because we don’t know the specific will of God in a given situation. That’s why we can rely on praying Scripture over them. Add to that another way that never fails:
3. Focus on God’s unfailing purpose. Ask Him for His purpose for them.
According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph.3:11).
God is up to something. He has an eternal purpose. Paul prays that they might be a part of that eternal purpose.
I pray, “God, let them get in on Your eternal purpose.” Now I know that’s the will of God! I don’t even have to guess. I don’t have to know what school somebody needs to go to or what job they need. I can pray God’s eternal purpose for anyone without having to know the background or nuances of a situation, having absolute assurance it’s God’s will that they get in on His eternal purpose, which by far transcends anything we could ask or imagine.
With faith I pray, “O my God, in the name of Jesus, I know it’s Your will that they be a part of Your eternal purpose. For this cause I bow my knee….”