Latest project: Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer (9780849948480, $19.99, Thomas Nelson).
Why do you call yourself a “recovering prayer wimp”?
I think we assume Christian leaders or communicators are by nature people of strong prayer, and I’m not. I’ve always battled to have a regular time of prayer. I’ve struggled wondering why my prayers would make a difference. Serving God and doing things for God made a lot of sense, but talking to God made less sense to me, and so I’ve battled it in my life. And as I found out, many people in our church do as well. All of my books are sermons before they become books, and when I began talking to the church about my own personal struggles with prayer and how I wondered if there was a right way to pray or a wrong way to pray, I realized a lot of people ask these questions. That’s really where this whole book came from.
What is the pocket prayer you refer to in the book?
One of my struggles as a recovering prayer wimp is my thoughts wander. I zig and I zag, and I think this and I think that. One thing that has helped me through the years is having a prayer outline. I realize not everybody needs a crutch to help them stay focused in prayer, but I do. I went through the prayers in the Bible and realized most of them fall in one of five areas I’ve created: God, you are good—that’s worship; God, I need help—that’s request; they need help—that’s intercession; thank you—that’s praise; in Jesus’ name, Amen. So I would simply categorize my thoughts according to those simple statements. That’s where the pocket prayer came from.
How do you describe prayer at its best?
I think prayer at its core is an honest conversation with God. I do not think we can mis-pray any more than a child can mis-hug. I think at its core, prayer is children talking to their heavenly Father. But I do think we can grow in prayer. We can learn to talk to God in a fashion that we see him answering our prayers. We can use our prayers as an opportunity to reflect upon the qualities of God, the character of God. We can use prayer as an opportunity to unload our anxieties and our fear. And I think we can see prayer as an opportunity to do spiritual battle in which we are literally directing the traffic in the universe because God wants to engage us in prayer. So these are all things we can grow in in our prayer.
What would you say to someone who prays for health, but then wonders why healing is not coming?
I think we can safely say God hears every prayer for healing, and He does heal us, either instantly [or] He may choose to heal us gradually, but He chooses to heal all of us ultimately in heaven. I’ve seen Him heal instantly, and I’ve seen it in my own life. More commonly, I have seen Him heal gradually, over a period of time. We read of cases [of this] in the New Testament, like with the blind man in John 9. Jesus took His time healing Him. It wasn’t just one second to the next. There is the promise that God will heal us all ultimately in heaven. That’s no small promise. Our time on earth is a short time, and all of our struggles here on earth are intended to prepare us for heaven. Part of healing prayer is understanding God does hear that prayer and trusting Him to do what is right. Prayer is not asking God to do what I want. It’s really asking God to do what is right. It’s a surrender of my will to His. And that’s good for me.
What else should Christian retailers know about Before Amen?
I have several books on prayer, but as I read those, I thought, This is a book for somebody who already gets prayer. Most books on prayer are written for very meditative, pensive, monastic, spiritual people. I’m not one of those. I’m a roll-up-the-sleeves and get-busy kind of guy. Is there a book for me? My book is a partial response to that question.