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Pivotal Praying

Paperback|Sep 2002
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^We all face critical forks in the road-marriage, the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, or a personal health crisis. How are we to pray at these junctures? Perhaps our instinct is to send up a...

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^We all face critical forks in the road-marriage, the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, or a personal health crisis. How are we to pray at these junctures? Perhaps our instinct is to send up a quick "911" prayer, but authors John Hull and Tim Elmore demonstrate how by praying the right prayer at the right time, we can see the incredible impact of what God can do. ^Scripture offers countless examples of men and women who prayed strategically and saw results. Remember Solomon's prayer for wisdom? He received it-and wealth beyond his imagination as well. And how about Hannah's desire for a child? God honored her prayer; her son Samuel became the greatest judge in Israel's history. "Pivotal Praying" uses these examples and others to illustrate the power of effective-and ineffective-praying. For those seeking to enlarge their prayer vision and alter their circumstances for God's glory, "Pivotal Praying" is an ideal resource.


Tim Elmore

Elmore serves as vice president of EQUIP, a nonprofit organization founded by John Maxwell in 1997 to promote leadership development around the world. He is a frequent speaker at colleges, companies, and organizations around the world, and heads Growing Leaders, an organization specifically committed to developing student leaders.

John Hull

Hull is President of EQUIP and former senior pastor at Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada. Hull is a frequent speaker at conferences and outreach events and has worked with organizations such as Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Campus Crusade, Focus on the Family, Moody Pastors Conferences and the Billy Graham School of Evangelism.

Chapter 6

Pivotal Praying When You Need Direction
(John Hull)

Several years ago I heard this story shared in a sermon. Lloyd Olgilvie, chaplain of the United States Senate, was hiking through the deep woods of northern Ontario. As the sun was setting, Olgilvie, who had been exploring these woods for most of the day, realized that he was lost. Growing concerned as the minutes passed, he tried to make his way back to some kind of civilization. After a while he came upon what looked like an overgrown path. Thinking this might be the way, he followed it for several minutes. Then in the distance he saw an old, worn-out sign. On it was an arrow and these faded words: "This is the only way out!" Olgilvie took the sign's advice and soon found the main road.

If only life's decisions were that easy! If someone would just give us a sign and point in a direction, any direction, how good it would be. But life's woods and weeds aren't always as kind to us as they were to Lloyd Olgilvie. Sometimes it's very difficult to know what to do and what choices to make-especially when the sun is setting on a situation in our lives.

Many in our society spend a lot of time and resources just trying to get some direction about where to go and what to do in life. Millions turn to their daily newspapers-not for sports scores or the status of the stock market, but for their horoscopes. Others turn to fortune-telling or magic. Still others dial up psychic hot lines! All of these fragile options-simply to get some kind of glimpse into the future.

The very first national "television preacher" in America was Bishop Fulton Sheen. The bishop was heard weekly, coast to coast, on the old Mutual Television Broadcasting network. Over time he became a sought-after speaker, especially among business and civic leaders.

Contemporary legend has it that Bishop Sheen was scheduled to speak in a city where he had never traveled before. Leaving the hotel and walking to his speaking engagement, he got distracted, a bit turned around, and then found himself completely lost. Seeing some boys playing on the sidewalk, he asked them how to get to his destination. The boys immediately knew where he was supposed to go and gave him directions. One of them said, "You just go down this street for two blocks, take a left, go down one more block, take a right, and the place is just across the street." The bishop thanked the boys and turned to walk away.

As he was leaving, one of the boys said, "What are you going to do there?"

The bishop said "I'm going to give a speech."

The boy said, "What are you going to speak about?"

The bishop said, "I'm going to tell people how to go to heaven. Would you like to come with me?"

The boy said, "No thanks. You don't even know how to get to City Hall!"

Sometimes we can't get our directions straight even to life's most obvious destinations. "Should I get married? And if I should, whom should I marry?" Or "What should I do with my life?" Or "Should I take that job and relocate to another city?" Or "Should I buy a car or lease it? And if I buy a car, should it be a new car or a used car?" On and on we go in life. Decisions and choices. Choices and decisions. We make thousands of them every day. Clearly, we are a people in great need of direction. Maybe we need a sign. Maybe we need someone to tell us what to do and where we should go.

And then there's prayer.

Pursuing God's Direction

Ministers are constantly asked by their parishioners, "Pastor, how can I know God's will for my life?" And ministers are constantly asking, "Lord, what is Your will for this church?" The search for God's direction in our lives never ends. The good news is that the resource of prayer is unending too.

A United Methodist pastor was starting a new project outside of Kansas City. The night before the new church was launched, he gathered together a small group of believers who would form the core families of the church. Here's what he prayed: "Lord, this church belongs to You. It's not ours. Our desire is to do what You want us to do and to be who You want us to be. You know the people You long to reach through this church. We place ourselves in Your hands and we long to be used by You."

This is a good example of a pivotal prayer for direction. This simple prayer contains an intentional yieldedness: "Our desire is to do what You want us to do and to be who You want us to be." You can't go wrong praying this way. Such prayer acknowledges God's sovereign lordship in our lives. It expresses a heart that seeks to bring glory to God: "We place ourselves in Your hands and we long to be used by You." Think about it: There is no better place to be than in the caring hands of God.

As that fledgling church grows, the pastor has observed that frequent prayer is helping to shape the church's future. He says that frequency in prayer "keeps us aware of our subjection to God and our need for his direction."

You may need God's direction for some major events or changes taking place in your life. Take a look in the Word of God and visit with a man who, early in his walk with Jesus, offered a pivotal prayer to discover God's direction for his life.

Paul's Pivotal Prayer

Acts 21 tells the story of the apostle Paul's arrest in Jerusalem for teaching the gospel. This former persecutor of Christians was now in hot pursuit of God's will for his life. Paul would travel from synagogue to synagogue, challenging thousands of years of Jewish tradition and preaching that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus. While making his point at a religious gathering in Jerusalem, Paul caused such an enormous stir among the traditional Jews that there was a near riot. Paul was arrested-which probably saved him from being beaten to death.

While behind bars, Paul shared his conversion experience with the government and prison authorities. He told them how, while traveling on the Damascus Road in pursuit of Christians-whom he had made a career of terrorizing-he had encountered the risen Lord. In dramatic fashion, Paul told them about the dialogue between Christ and himself that day. When Jesus identified himself, Paul had re-sponded, "What shall I do, Lord?" Then Jesus instructed him to go into Damascus, saying, "There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do" (Acts 22:10).

The Lord has an "assignment" for all of us. Our challenge is to discover exactly what that assignment is. The very question, "What shall I do, Lord?" reveals a number of presuppositions that Paul had about God and his own future. Author Bill Thrasher offers the following suggestions as we seek to discern God's will for our lives:

1. Believe that god has a will for you

Paul believed that God had a will for his life. He simply asked the Lord, "What shall I do?" This is not complicated or hard to ask. But asking this question reveals that we indeed believe in God and in God's personal concern for our welfare and future. Thrasher says, "God will work with us where we are, and He can even weave the failures of a person with a repentant heart into something beautiful."

Paul's previous life as the persecuting Saul of Tarsus didn't earn him the best of reputations. Maybe your reputation has been shaky too. Instead of living in fear that you have really blown it-that you have completely missed the will of God for your life-be encouraged that right now, no matter where you are on the journey, God has a will for you. He can take you right where you are and bring you back to His very best. Believe, just as Paul did, that God has a plan for you.

2. Continually listen to god

A young professor beginning his first teaching assignment had joined a campus faculty. While settling into his office he was greeted by one of the tenured professors. As they talked, the younger professor asked the veteran scholar if he had any advice for him as he began his new life of teaching the next day. The older prof said, "In every class, you'll have at least one person who will always want to argue with you. Sometimes it will get annoying. But here's what I've learned: The person who's arguing is probably the only one listening!"

God speaks to us every day. But are we listening? For thousands of years God has been speaking through the Bible. The Scriptures clearly tell us that there are certain things that are right and certain things that are wrong. There's a right way and wrong way to treat people. There's a right way and wrong way to live in society. There's a way to God and there are ways that lead to destruction. The Bible is clear concerning God's view of such things, and we would be wise to listen.

God also speaks through the Holy Spirit. When an individual receives Christ into his or her life, that person receives the precious gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes and dwells within that person. Many times in the everyday relationships and responsibilities of life we do not have the Word of God handy. So God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us recall the Scriptures we do know and to guide our decision making. The Holy Spirit at times will prompt a Christian to give a particular gift or to share the gospel with another. Sometimes the Holy Spirit convicts us that we shouldn't be thinking or doing what we actually desire to think and do. At times, the Holy Spirit serves as a comforter, to be with us when difficulty-even devastating news-invades our lives. The Holy Spirit provides us power, if we utilize it, to make the right decisions. The Holy Spirit can become something of a godlike conscience living within our lives.

God also speaks through people, events, and circumstances. Sometimes when we're praying for direction, God will lead us to seek the counsel of someone who has been at that same pivotal point in his or her own life. Or God may send a person along to lovingly confront us concerning a particular sin and challenge us to deal with it before God.

God can also lead us to look back over events and circumstances that have become part of who we are. Being laid off unexpectedly may not have been what you thought was God's will for your life as the day began. But even in such circumstances God is able to work. He still loves you and He can use even an unexpected and upsetting circumstances to guide you into a new direction, with Him clearly at the helm.

During the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, EQUIP, the nonprofit leadership-development ministry I lead, was hit hard by a downturn in donations. Many donor dollars were understandably directed to the relief efforts in New York City. Also, many of even our most faithful financial partners reported to us that their businesses were down 15 to 20 percent from the year before, and they just didn't have the resources at that time to continue giving to EQUIP. Consequently, as income diminished, our leadership at EQUIP had to make some hard decisions, including laying off personnel. I can't stand doing that kind of thing, but that goes with the job of being a leader.

One of the positions I had to eliminate was held by a man who has become a dear friend since we started working together. Stan Reiff is one of the world's great people. Everyone loves Stan. His pro-fessional and business skills are second to none. And because Stan worked so closely with me, he knew that with the upcoming changes his job might be in jeopardy. When I gave Stan the news that our reorganization would eliminate his position, he responded with class and character. He said, "You know, the Lord has always looked out for us, and we'll trust Him to continue. I just need to find out what He wants me to do next."

Stan and I, along with others on our team, began to pray about his future. Within thirty days Stan got a job with another ministry in the Atlanta area, with the same kind of responsibilities he had at EQUIP. But this time the ministry he's helping to lead is far more established and many times greater in size and budget than EQUIP.

Stan knew that God loves him and was able to use people, events, and circumstances to take him from one job to the next. He had placed God at the helm of his life. So even under the duress of losing his job, Stan listened to God from a fresh perspective, praying and asking others to pray for him to know what to do next.

When a person prays-as did Stan and the apostle Paul-"Lord, what shall I do?" and then reads the Word of God, listens for the promptings of the Holy Spirit, observes the experience of others, and pays attention to circumstances surrounding his or her life, that person is bound to experience not only God's direction, but also God's provision.

3. Continually pursue the peace of god

This next topic is about passion. The same Paul who asked, "Lord, what shall I do?" later was to proclaim publicly, "I want to know Him [Jesus] and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:10).

Paul was in passionate pursuit of God. He advised the Colossian Christians to let "the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" (Col. 3:15). The Greek word for "rule" here means "on top of everything else." It's the idea of something being the best. Think of the highest score on a test or winning the blue ribbon in a competition. That's what Paul means by "rule." In the first century this word was used to describe the kind of authority a judge had in a court of law or an umpire today has on an athletic field. Even in today's world, a judge or an umpire, in their respective arenas, has the final say.

Paul meant that the peace of God in our lives should act as a judge or an umpire when it comes to knowing God's will. When we have to make a decision, when we have inner turmoil, or when we're struggling about what to do, we should let the peace of God have the final say.

God would never tell us to do anything contrary to His Word, so we should study the Bible, seek the leading of the Holy Spirit, seek godly counsel, and review our circumstances in order to discern whether something is right or wrong. But often these aren't simple issues of right versus wrong, good against bad, or moral versus immoral. These are often choices between right and right, good and good, and moral and moral. Very often in my life the most difficult choices are not choices between right and wrong, but between right and right. Sometimes two choices, maybe three, that may dictate the future direction of my life are not choices between good and evil, but are choices of determining between what is good, what is better, and what is best.

Should I have the surgery?

One time I was delivering the message "Let the Peace of God Rule" at a Bible conference. After the service a lady came up to me and said, "John, everything you said was exactly right!" (When a preacher hears those delightful words, he leans in a little closer!)

I smiled and said, "Tell me more, please."

She said that years earlier she had gone to the doctor for some tests and was diagnosed with a problem. The doctor recommended surgery, but he said, "I think you should get a second opinion." So she went to another doctor, who made the same diagnosis as the first doctor but concluded, "I don't think you should have the surgery. But I think you should get another opinion." She went to a third doctor, who came to same conclusion as the first two doctors and recommended, "Have the surgery. But before you do, get another opinion." Then she visited with a fourth doctor who made the same diagnosis as the first three doctors, but concluded-you guessed it-"Don't have the surgery!"

In utter frustration, she sought counsel from her pastor. She told him the situation and asked for his advice. He said, "Have the surgery."

Driving away from the pastor's office, she thought, I wonder what my former pastor would tell me? So she went to see her former pastor, told him her story, and he said, "I don't think you should have the surgery."

As the lady was telling me this story, she and I both laughed. But at the time she was experiencing this uncertainty, it was no laughing matter. I asked her, "What did you do?" She said, "John, I didn't know what to do. I had six well-meaning, informed persons giving me a variety of suggestions. It wasn't until one morning that my husband and I were having our devotions that I came across the very passage you just taught, Colossians 3:15: 'Let the peace of Christ rule.' And that was it for me. It was as if God was saying to me, 'You've prayed, gathered information, and sought counsel. Now do what you have peace about.' So my husband and I talked about it, and that morning we concluded that I had greatest peace about having the surgery." And just in case you're wondering, she had the surgery and is doing fine!

What Does Peace Look Like?

Tim Hansel describes peace this way:

In my late twenties, a bunch of my friends and I decided to sail around the world. I have to admit though, at the time I was a bit worried. I hadn't sailed before. I was uneasy and anxious. So I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and praying about it, until it dawned on me that God was whispering, "Tim, I'll give you peace if you read some books on sailing. The reason you're anxious is not due to lack of prayer, but your lack of knowledge about sailing." I wasn't unprayerful; I was unskilled. So I took a step I needed to take to "let" God work his peace in my heart. I began reading about sailing.

The Bible will not tell you whether or not to have surgery, or whether or not it's OK to sail around the world. It doesn't specifically tell you what job to take or where to educate your children. There's no verse specifically telling you whether to remain single or get married. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that you should either buy or lease a car.

When you pray for direction and you aren't clear about what the Bible teaches on the matter, you can't seem to get insight into the Holy Spirit's leading, and advice and circumstances contradict each other, heed Paul's advice: "Let the peace of Christ rule." Let the peace of God the Son be the judge and the umpire. Let the peace of God make the call. Read the Bible, seek counsel, study the surrounding circumstances, gather information, and pray. And when you pray this way, pivotal events will begin to take shape in your life. The peace of God doesn't have to be a hunch or a guess. Hansel found the peace of God as he gathered information about a subject in which he was unskilled. As he studied the topic, he became more confident. God's peace began to rule in his heart. Peace for him came as an informed sense of rest.

Berit Kjos, in A Wardrobe from the King, writes about a man who sought the perfect picture of peace. Not finding one that satisfied, he announced a contest to produce this masterpiece. The challenge stirred the imagination of artists everywhere, and paintings began to arrive from far and wide. Finally the day of revelation arrived. The judges uncovered one scene after another, while the viewers clapped and cheered. But the tension grew as only two pictures remained veiled.

As the judge pulled the cover from one, a hush fell over the crowd. A mirror-smooth lake reflected lacy, green birches under the soft blush of the evening sky. Along the grassy shore, a flock of sheep grazed undisturbed. Surely this was the winner.

The man who had originally sought the perfect picture of peace uncovered the second painting himself, and the crowd gasped in surprise. A tumultuous waterfall cascaded down a rocky precipice; the crowd could almost feel its cold, penetrating spray. Stormy-gray clouds threatened to explode with lightning, wind, and rain. In the midst of the stormy scene a spindly tree clung to the rocks at the edge of the falls. One of its branches reached toward the torrential waters, as if foolishly seeking to experience its full power.

A little bird had built its nest in the elbow of that branch. Content and undisturbed in her stormy surroundings, she rested on her eggs. Her eyes closed and her wings covering her little ones, she manifested a peace that transcends all earthly turmoil.

When we need direction in a world filled with noise and distraction, it's nice to know that there's a place-a quiet place-where God speaks and gives direction. This place is called the peace of God, and we should let it rule in our lives.

Like Lloyd Olgilvie, the sun may be setting on your need to make a decision. You may need direction. It's a pivotal moment.

Pray! Then go forward in the peace of God!


When You Need Direction

Lord, I need to know what to do,
which direction to take.
Frankly, Lord, some of the options in front of me
are very inviting.
Like Paul years ago, I need to know soon,
"What shall I do, Lord?"
Help me especially to know
which way will give You the greatest glory.
Help me to discover Your peace.
And when I do make that great discovery,
give me humility to let Your peace
be the umpire and the judge.

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