Many years ago the small congregation I pastored had an opportunity to buy a church in a part of the city that was best for our ministry. The church was reasonable in price and met all our needs, but we had a problem – no money. Being a small group and without any wealthy benefactors we did the only thing that we could – we prayed. We claimed promises like the one found in Philippians 4: 6, 7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We tried to not be anxious, but we wanted the church building so much that we couldn’t help but be on edge.
We had a vision of what the church could become and what ministry could be carried out through such a central location. Every one of us prayed continually to see God perform a miracle, but no money flowed into the coffers. As the time drew near for us to sign the agreement of purchase we could only count on some promised money from our denomination, and even that amount could be withheld if we didn’t meet our end of the obligation. It looked like our vision and dreams would end up dashed because God hadn’t as yet provided for our needs.
I mentioned the dilemma to my friend Tony and his response changed how I perceived prayer. My friend suggested that we have a sale and sell all the things that we hang onto but get in the way of our growing spiritually. From the success of that initial yard sale I began to understand how God works when it comes to prayer. God gives us a vision. It might be for our family to accept Christ, or for the growth of our church, or to help us through a rough patch. We then pray until we have faith that God will do all that He promises for the benefit of the vision. Why is this important? Because if we have faith, even a tiny amount of faith, then God could move mountains of obstacles and problems from our lives. When we saw how God had blessed our sale, we had the courage and the faith to go to individuals and present the vision for the church and the Holy Spirit did the rest.
Thinking back over those months I’ve come to realize the secret of prayer is not to give up regardless of how hopeless it seems. If God has given us a vision, a plan, a dream; call it what you will, then we shouldn’t give up on trusting God to unveil how that plan will be fulfilled. Luke wrote, “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Luke 18:1 Paul also writes, “be joyful always; pray continually: give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:28 Notice what Paul tells the Thessalonians. Be joyful always. That simply means don’t give up. Paul then tells them to pray continually, because that is the only way to understand God’s will so that we can give thanks in all circumstances.
While we prayed for a miracle so we could buy the church, the answer to our prayers was staring us in the face the whole time. It wasn’t until we got off our knees and put some shoe leather into the project that our dream became a reality. God never did send us a truckload of money, but He gave us courage, strength and the knowledge that He would work through us to accomplish the project.
Through my years of ministry we often finished our worship service with these words; be courageous, be strong, no regrets and no retreat. For me that sums up what prayer is all about. Through prayer we are given courage and strength so that we have no regrets and never retreat from the journey God has given us.