I was recently inspired about the difference prayer can make by a story I read about George Washington, arguably one of the greatest military generals in U.S. history.
This story highlighted a moment at Valley Forge during which a man overheard Washington praying. At this point in the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army was battle-weary, diseased, severely cold, hungry, and in danger of being disbanded.
The man reported this of Washington’s prayer in the woods: “Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man.”
After hearing George Washington’s prayer, the man, a British loyalist, became a supporter of the United States. Also, the Continental Army marched out of Valley Forge “stronger in spirit” than when they entered.
George Washington went on to lead our country to its independence, and I am sure George Washington would tell us that prayer made all the difference.
Why does prayer make all the difference? It is because prayer is where we can access and rely on God’s supernatural power to endure struggle and then take obedient action. This has led to astounding results throughout the Scriptures, history, and even scientific studies.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11:1). We see the impact of his teaching when we read about the lives of those who followed him. They relied on God for their spiritual and emotional strength and changed the world.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
Acts 1:8, 14 (NIV)
Jesus commissioned His disciples with the incredible task of going into all the world and making disciples.
How did they find the emotional strength to carry out this mission? It was through their willingness to be in prayer continually.
In this first installment of our seven-part series on the book of Acts, we will look at three ways prayer makes us strong so we can fulfill the great purpose God has for our lives.
Strength comes from honest prayers
Honest prayers make all the difference.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup of agony away from me. But no matter what, your will must be mine.”  Jesus called for an angel of glory to strengthen him, and the angel appeared.
 He prayed even more passionately, like one being sacrificed, until he was in such intense agony of spirit that his sweat became drops of blood, dripping onto the ground.
Luke 22:42-44 (TPT)
Jesus prayed honest prayers. These kinds of prayer reveal what we really feel and help us deal with how we feel so we can obey God’s will.
I am often led into both avoidable problems and regrettable sins by my undealt with emotions. There are two ways we can deal with our feelings that lead to our prayers being dishonest.
First, we avoid, hide, or deny our emotions. This hardening of our hearts leads to trouble as we lose our ability to hear God comforting us (Proverbs 28:13-14 NIV).
Second, we indulge our emotions and listen to them over God. This leads to us not praying (Job 36:13 ERV) because we don’t want to endure the pain or do what God asks us to. We are more set on getting what we want than fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives and this also leads to real trouble.
I have often told you, and now tell you with tears in my eyes, that many live as the enemies of the cross of Christ.  In the end they will be destroyed. Their own emotions are their god, and they take pride in the shameful things they do. Their minds are set on worldly things.
Philippians 3:18-19 (GW)
We have to let God help us honestly process our emotions through prayer, so they don’t become our God.
Three emotions we need to be honest with God about are the following:
Honest about our fear and insecurity – “If I have concealed my sin as people do, by hiding my guilt in my heart  because I so feared the crowd and so dreaded the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside—” (Job 31:33-34 NIV)
Honest about our anger and anxiety – “So turn from anger. Don’t rage, and don’t worry – these ways frame the doorway to evil.” (Psalm 37:8 Voice)
Honest about our grief and pain – “Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction.” (Job 36:21 NIV)
Our emotions can be the pathway to greater reliance on God and emotional strength if we meet those times with honesty in prayer.
A 2005 study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine comparing secular and spiritual forms of meditation found spiritual meditation more calming. In secular meditation, you focus on something such as your breath or a nonspiritual word. In spiritual meditation, you focus on a spiritual word or text.
Researchers found that the group that practiced spiritual meditation showed more significant decreases in anxiety and stress and a more positive mood. They also tolerated pain almost twice as long when asked to put their hand in an ice water bath.
Prayer gives us the reserves needed to endure our struggles and free us from our entangling emotions so we can obey God’s purpose for our lives (Hebrews 5:6-7).
If you have a hard time identifying your feelings, then I encourage you to start by identifying your honest thoughts. Our thoughts can lead us to what we feel so that we can pray honest prayers to God.
Pause and reflect
What emotions are hard for you to be honest about?
What is an area of your life you are currently choosing to harden to, instead of having honest prayers?
Who can you choose to share this with, so that you develop a greater depth of emotional honesty in your relationship with God and others?
Strength comes from believing prayers
Believing prayers make all the difference when it comes to developing emotional resilience.
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  “Abba , Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Mark 14:35-36 (NIV)
Belief powered Jesus’ prayers. There are two things we can learn about believing prayers. First, it’s important to see God for who he is – a father who loves us deeply.
Jesus prayed ‘Abba Father,’ which carries tones and attitudes of affection, fondness, and intimacy. He never stopped believing In the Father’s love and goodness and because of this he stayed inspired about doing God’s will in the face of great suffering.
Secondly, believing prayers are focused on obeying God. It is easy to believe and obey when things are going in ways advantageous to our lives.
It is harder to believe and obey when unfortunate or challenging things happen to us or those around us. It is in the challenging times that our real faith and obedience are revealed and have a chance to grow.
I remember my mom’s health declining from ALS. She had lost her ability to consistently swallow without choking so she would spontaneously go into these long and agonizing choking episodes.
Her suffering would instantly cause a torrent of raging emotions inside my heart, exacerbated by my feelings of powerlessness to change the dreadful reality that her health would only get worse. I struggled with doubts about God. My faith was severely tested.
It was in the midst of this time that I gained a greater respect for the power of prayer and its ability to grant me the emotional strength to not only face what we were going through but also the ability to keep obeying by serving my mom and helping her get her relationship with God right.
Stress and strain can be the pathway to greater emotional strength and reliance on God if we meet those times with believing prayers. If you want to know how to be emotionally strong, start by deciding to pray instead of running from adversity.
Pause and reflect
What is an area that is hard for you to pray about consistently?
How can taking on this area of your life by having believing prayers give you emotional strength?
What is one outcome that could be obtained if you committed to praying about this area every day?
Strength comes from praying together
Praying together with a common purpose makes all the difference.
“Also, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about something and pray for it, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  This is true because if two or three people come together in my name, I am there with them.”
Matthew 18:19-20 (NCV)
Praying together is powerful. When our prayers are focused on us obeying the Bible and also building the kind of relationships that make God’s Kingdom shine to the rest of the world, then Jesus says our requests will be answered.
When my brother and I became Christians in 1998, our biggest desire was to see our mom become a Christian too. We made a lot of mistakes in trying to help our mom, but we prayed daily for 20 years that God would open her heart. For many years she was not open to studying the Bible and didn’t like the church.
After I got married, my wife and I would pray for my mom’s heart to open. I remember us begging God for my mom to be willing to study the Bible, and one day she agreed to it.
Then, we cried out in prayer for her to see the truth about her heart so she could make necessary changes. But instead of changing, she decided to stop studying the Bible.
We had many friends praying together with us for my mom’s heart to change. We kept praying for months and eventually she changed and was baptized. This all happened roughly eight months before she passed away, and I can tell you for certain that prayer made all the difference.
Let’s be sure to be committed to constantly praying together with honest and believing prayers so that God uses our lives in this time to change the world.
Pause and reflect
Whose heart are you asking God to open up so they can have a relationship with him?
Who is your team of relationships who pray these prayers with you?