June/July 2014 - Vol. 74
Person to Person: A practical approach to effective evangelism
Prayer Makes a Difference
by Jim Berlucchi

A few years ago I asked an older Christian woman about the success of her backyard garden. “How do you get that kind of harvest?” I asked admiringly as I stood beside tall stalks of corn and top-heavy tomato plants. “Well,” she said, and her face broke into a broad smile, “when I sow each seed in the spring, I say, ‘I plant you in the name of Jesus!’ My neighbors are always jealous, but they don’t believe in this sowing and praying business!”

As certainly as the power of prayer seemed to multiply that natural harvest, sowing and praying are mandatory for a spiritual harvest.

A friend of mine, former head football coach for a major university, had great success in a previous assignment as defensive coordinator for the University of Michigan Wolverines. He orchestrated a defense that refused to yield a touchdown in twenty-two consecutive quarters. As impressive as his football success, his evangelistic catches are equally remarkable. When I once inquired about the secret of his spiritual reaping, he replied, “Someone once told me that a person can’t come to Christ unless another Christian is praying for him. I believed that and have kept a list of people for whom I pray everyday.”

I asked him how many people were on his list. “Well, I pray for quite a few,” he said as he pulled out a typewritten sheet enclosed in plastic. “The hardest thing is remembering the names of all their children.” My mouth fell open as I glanced at the list, dumbfounded. “You must have three hundred names on that list!” I stammered. “I used to,” he replied. “Now it’s about five hundred.” For most people it is advisable to pray for ten individuals on a regular basis. Obviously, this man had a gift for more.

People who are serious about reaching others with the love of God in Christ are always serious about prayer too.

A former college professor who has won many people to Christ once told me of an experience he had while lecturing one day. In the middle of his presentation to a large class, the Holy Spirit suddenly called his attention to a student near the front. The professor realized that the Lord was particularly interested in drawing this young man to himself.

“I began to pray for him. I told the Lord that he needed to bring that young man more directly onto my path. Soon afterward, guess who showed up at my office, handed me a slip, and said, ‘You’ve just been appointed my faculty advisor’?” Within a short time, the professor was offering more than academic advice, and the student made a huge change of life, turned from his sin, and became a fervent Christian. This change initiated by the Holy Spirit, was wrought by the teacher – sowing and praying.

God will respond in unexpected ways as we pray for others. Through our prayer, God can begin to stir up a deeper desire for his life in the hearts of those for whom we are praying. He will alter circumstances, provoke hidden needs, and even reveal himself to someone quite independent of a human agent.  A while ago I received the following account from a woman who prayer for her family.

When I visited my family over Thanksgiving vacation, I became very concerned about people’s personal lives. While I was asking the Lord to help them, I sensed him saying, “You know, Meg, I could just step in and patch things up in these people’s lives, but in a few months they would be in other situations they couldn’t handle because they don’t know me or turn to me. Pray, instead, for their salvation. Then I can give them what they need to deal with anything.”

I replied by saying, “Lord, I’ve known these people all my life and they’re not going to change. They’re not the religious type.” As soon as I said this, I realized my presumption and repented for my lack of faith. I asked God for faith to believe my family would change, and I began claiming their salvation and praising God for changing their lives. During the next three work days, I used my lunch breaks to pray for my family rather than for eating lunch.

About a week later my sister called and told me that the funniest thing had happened. That week she had had the same dream on two successive nights. She dreamt she died, but when she met God, she knew she wasn’t right with him and wouldn’t be able to stay with him. As a result of the dreams, she worked through some problems relating to her husband and both of them began attending church again regularly.

A month later, my father, who hadn’t set foot inside a church for fourteen years, was piloting an airplane on a short, solo flight. The engine quit in mid-air, and the plane crashed. Though the plane was completely destroyed, my dad opened the cockpit door and stepped out without a mark on him. You can imagine how this affected him. Though he isn’t one to talk about his beliefs, he went back to church the next Sunday and has attended nearly every Sunday since for the last two years. His personal life has straightened a good deal, and even though the problems haven’t completely vanished, he is now in a position to receive help from the Lord.

This woman’s prayer was effective for several reasons. First, she was motivated by genuine love. Her intercession for her family resulted from her concern for them. Second, she was not only mindful of her family’s dilemmas but sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Rather than praying according to her own assessment of the situation, she was able to be directed by God to pray according to his purposes. This is critical. We can become so focused on our own concerns for others than our petitions may be off center. The Holy Spirit wants to shape and inspire out prayer according to God’s will for the person or situation. As we pray according to the mind of God, his power is released in the lives of others.

During certain times and seasons, God wants to mobilize our prayer in special ways. For instance, Meg was inspired to focus her intercession with considerable intensity for a short period of time. In particular, she did some fasting and prayed at length for three days. Quite dramatically, God answered her prayers almost as soon as they were spoken.

Concerted or intense intercession, inspired either by a sense of spiritual urgency or by natural circumstances, is one way to pray for others. Though we will not always experience the kind of quick and dramatic results that Meg did, we can be assured of God’s reliability and responsiveness. It is not difficult to imagine the good pleasure that the Heavenly Father experiences at the earnest and fervent petitions of his people. Stronger, more intense spiritual assaults are needed in our warfare against Satan himself. “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

We cannot underestimate the importance of prayer. Our persistent prayer is a potent spiritual force opposing the work of Satan and opening the door for others to respond to God. Our prayer not only does people good, but it fosters our love for them and helps us align our own perspective with that of our heavenly Father.

A while ago I was annoyed and impatient with a man I was trying to help. I had invited Brian to a regular Christian meeting and maintained a good deal of personal contact with him. For some reason, in the midst of what had seemed like good spiritual progress, he stopped coming to the meetings and refused to return my phone calls to his office. My annoyance grew into a subtle resentment at what seemed like a calculated retreat on his part. Even so, I stepped up my phone calling, but without result.

In this midst of this exasperation, I sensed the Holy Spirit trying to set my thinking right. As I paused to listen to his counsel, the prescription was clear: “Quit calling. Start praying.” With an embarrassed reluctance I began to pray for Brian daily, and at some length. As I prayed, I recognized and repented of my impatience. Instead of being resentful, I began to be more compassionate and relaxed about the situation. My own human perspective diminished, and God’s perspective began to take hold.

During this time, I told the Lord I would take no action other than prayer, unless and until he directed me to do otherwise. About six weeks later, I felt directed to call Brian. Once again he was unavailable, so I left a message. The next morning, he called back, explaining his absence and expressing his desire to resume contact. Since then, he has made steady progress with the Lord. For my part, I am trying to pray more and interfere less!

This experience taught me a lesson about the importance of praying for those we are trying to serve. Prayer can be hard work. It will not always seem inspired. Just as we experience dry times in praise and worship, so, too, intercession will often seem difficult and unfulfilling. Only by the grace of God, the exercise of wisdom, and the help of others can we be faithful in praying for others. A few practical tips can help us be faithful to intercession.

Set Aside a Time and Place
As in any natural activities, practical planning and implementation is much more likely to produce success than irregularity and spontaneity. While we should be open to inspiration, a careful plan for intercession is wise. The plan could vary greatly depending on our circumstances, natural disposition, and God’s design. Some people intercede for fifteen minutes at a time, three times a week. One homemaker I know has designated certain areas of her home and certain regular tasks for intercession. For instance, whenever she folds laundry, she prays for her sister and brother-in-law. When cleaning her son’s bedroom, she consistently prays for another person. Some people intercede for others while they jog. (I am afraid I don’t have that gift.) Others pray while commuting to or from work. Whatever your personal inclination, it helps to establish a regular time and place for prayer.

Methods of prayer can vary greatly as well. One person might recite a fixed prayer of petition or pray for a set amount of time per individual. Some people maintain a prayer list of individuals for whom they regularly pray. Others might pray the same psalm or a prayer from the New Testament (see Ephesians 3:14-19). We should not be inflexible in our method, but open to the Spirit.

Establish Reasonable Goals
We should be familiar enough with our prayer capacity that we don’t overtax our spiritual muscles. It is better to apply steady spiritual pressure against the enemy for a few people than barely to scratch the surface for scores of individuals. The one who is faithful in a little will be given more.

Join with Others
“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20). This remarkable promise can most certainly be applied to intercession. Two or three is not so awesome a number that it cannot be met with ease. However, it is spiritually significant enough to command an incredible commitment from God himself.

Praying with others is not only more effective on a spiritual level, it is also helpful on a natural level. Encouragement, inspiration, and accountability help us to remain faithful in prayer. On one occasion  I agreed with twelve other men on a seven-day prayer contract. We agreed to pray for thirty minutes daily for a particular non-Christian man. On more than one occasion I finished my prayer just before midnight, but I was faithful each day because of the commitment I had made to the others. Moreover, I was inspired to know that six hours of intercession were offered daily by the group. I might add that the man we prayed for has taken noticeable steps toward the kingdom of God.

Pray with Patience
Patient prayer is potent prayer. Augustine’s mother, Monica, is known for her unyielding persistence in prayer for her worldly son. She prayed with tears for many years for Augustine, though she saw no evidence of his conversion. Eventually her persistence was rewarded, and her prayers were of immense benefit to the whole Christian people.

We can be strongly tempted to give up when we don’t see quick results. In the spiritual realm, instant results are rare, and we are well-advised to prepare for the long haul, remembering that we are moved by faith and not by sight. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Furthermore, God approves of this kind of faith. “For by it the men of old received divine approval” (Hebrews 11:2).

I would venture a guess that maintaining this kind of faith over a long period of time is one of the greatest tests that faces us in evangelism. This is especially true the closer the relationships. Praying for family members, for instance, can challenge our faith to the limit. May we never forget that our Lord is great, powerful, and able to do all things. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of men that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Nm 23:19)
If we prepare ourselves for a long fight that will require hardy and enduring faith, we will be better equipped to meet and prevail over the inevitable storms of spiritual resistance. The cost is high but the prize is great. Imagine the joy of one day viewing even one soul who has been vindicated in the sight of God largely as the result of your prevailing and patient prayer.

Pray for Laborers
Jesus’ perception of the harvest of souls for the kingdom of God seems to indicate that the biggest problem involves the lack of harvesters. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:36-38).

Moved by compassion for the lost sheep of his generation, Jesus assessed the situation as a labor crisis – a severe shortage of harvesters. He thus instructed his disciples specifically to pray for laborers.
Our situation today remains the same. The Lord of the harvest has explicitly exhorted us to pray for laborers. For many years, Christians have obediently made this their own petition. We should also make this our prayer.

Through the years I have hoped to win many close friends and family to the Lord. However, God has made it clear that in certain cases I am not to be his chosen instrument. Instead, my part is to pray that God will send someone else to represent his case. This awareness relieved me of a misleading sense of responsibility to preach and reminded me of my God-given responsibility to pray. This prayer for harvesters is one we should all pray frequently.

[This article is adapted from the book, Person to Person: How to be effective in evangelism, © 1984 by Jim Berlucchi, and published by Servants Books, Ann Arbor.]

Person to Person: How to Be Effective in Evangelism
by Jim Berlucchi

> Part 1: True “No Limit” Message
> Part 2: Everyday Evangelism
> Part 3: Be Open - Be Natural
> Part 4: Building Bridges
> Part 5: Authentic Evangelism
> Part 6: Portrait of the Christian Ambassador
> Part 7: Prayer Makes a Difference
> Part 8: Speaking About Jesus Christ
> Part 9: Earning the Right to Be Heard

Jim Berlucchi is the Executive Director at Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership. He formerly served as the Executive Director of Legatus, an international association of Catholic CEOs. He is the work/life columnist for Faith Magazine, and a published composer and recording artist. Sample audio clips of his music are available online. He served for many years as a community leader in The Word of God and The Sword of the Spirit.He and his wife Judy reside in Dexter, Michigan, USA. They are the grateful parents of eight children and enjoy a steadily increasing number of grandchildren. 
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