Vague Prayers

May 14, 2021


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A few years ago, I read one sentence that changed the way I pray. The author, pastor of one of the largest churches in Seoul, Korea, wrote, “God does not answer vague prayers.” When I read that statement, I was immediately convicted by how vague my prayers were. Some of them were so vague that there was no way of knowing whether God had answered them or not.

It was during this spiritual season, when God was challenging me to spell out my prayers with greater specificity, that I embarked on a ten-day Pentecost fast. Just like the 120 believers who prayed in an upper room for ten days, I felt led to fast and pray for ten days leading up to the day of Pentecost. My rationale was pretty simple: If we do what they did in the Bible, we might experience what they experienced. You can’t manufacture a miracle like Pentecost, but if you pray for ten days, a miracle like Pentecost might just happen.

During that ten-day Pentecost fast, I was teaching a series at our church on miracles, and we had just experienced one. We miraculously purchased a piece of Promised Land that we had circled in prayer for more than five years. We took stones that had been laid in the foundation and gave one to everyone as tangible tokens of the corporate miracle God had performed for National Community Church. Drawing on that corporate faith, we challenged people to personalize the question Jesus posed to the two blind men outside of Jericho: What do you want me to do for you? Then we wrote down our holy desires on those stones. I spelled out seven miracles and started circling them in prayer.

In the spirit of full disclosure, not all seven of the miracles I asked for have happened. In fact, one of them even seemed to backfire. I asked God to give us the movie theaters at Union Station where our church met for more than a decade, but instead of giving us the theaters, He took them away. The theaters were unexpectedly closed down, and we were given less than one week’s notice to vacate. It was extremely disappointing and disorienting at the time, but I have to admit that this apparent “anti-miracle” was the catalyst for some bigger and better miracles that have happened in its wake. What seemed like the wrong answer turned out to be the best answer. So not every prayer will be answered the way we script it, but I’m convinced of this: The miracles that have happened would not have happened if I hadn’t drawn a circle around them in the first place.

The more faith you have, the more specific your prayers will be. And the more specific your prayers are, the more glory God receives. Our nuanced prayers give God an opportunity to reveal more shades of His sovereignty. If our prayers aren’t specific, however, God gets robbed of the glory that He deserves because we second-guess whether or not He actually answered them. We never know if the answers were the result of specific prayer or general coincidences that would have happened anyway.

That stone with seven miracles written on it sits on a shelf in my office. Occasionally I’ll pick it up and hold it in my hand while I pray. There isn’t anything magical about it, but it acts as prayer insurance. It insures that I don’t forget what I’m praying for. It also insures that God gets the glory when the miracles happen. When you spell out your prayers with specificity, it will eventually spell God’s glory.

Excerpted from The Circle Maker published by Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins.

Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. NCC also owns and operates Ebenezers Coffeehouse, The Miracle Theatre, and the DC Dream Center. Mark holds a doctor of ministry degree from Regent University and is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 books, including The Circle Maker, Chase the Lion, and Whisper. Mark and his wife, Lora, have three children and live on Capitol Hill.

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