208 – The Keys to Successful Prayer

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The Keys to Successful Prayer on Write from the DeepThere is nothing more intimate, nor powerful, than our conversations with the Creator of the universe, with the God who sees us and loves us and provides for us. And yet so often we treat prayer as though it’s a fall-back position, not a position of God’s power. Come learn from one man the keys to powerful prayers.

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Over the last ten years or so, I’ve grown aware of something that has troubled my heart and spirit. But when I decided to make this situation a topic of a podcast, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Every word seemed a struggle. I wrote and rewrote. Researched. Deleted and started over. Not because I didn’t know what I wanted to say, but because I feel so ill-equipped to say it.

Then, in my research, I discovered a voice and life I’d never really heard about before, and it is this voice and life that I want to share today. Because this man didn’t just address the issue so many struggle with, he lived a life steeped in, as he called it,  “the reality of the things of God.”

A Man of Prayer

This man is George Muller. Now, some of you may be well acquainted with him, but I was not. Nor was I familiar with his extraordinary life of prayer. And that, friends, is the topic of this podcast. Though we often gear our podcasts to the task of writing or our journeys as writers, for this episode we’re talking about prayer in every aspect of our lives.

Before we jump in, I want to let you know that the primary source of my information on George Muller is the remarkable book, George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer. And I want to encourage you to pick up a copy and read for yourself the many wonders and details we don’t have the time to share here.

I also encourage you to pick up Release the Power of Prayer by George Muller. Or any of Muller’s other books. And I encourage you to find pictures of him online. What you’ll see is the face of a man filled with peace and the sure confidence in an Almighty, prayer-answering God. Seldom have I been so impacted by a man’s faith and life. May we all learn to live our lives as he did, steeped in prayer.

The Least I can Do…

As believers in Christ, we take on the mantle of the blood of Christ, sacrificed for us, which covers our sins and weaknesses and grants us entrance into the very throne room of Almighty God. In fact, it doesn’t just grant us entrance, it welcomes us. Into God‘s presence. To talk with him. Whenever we want.

There is nothing more intimate, nor powerful, than our conversations with the Creator of the universe, with the God who sees us and loves us and provides for us.

And yet I’ve heard believers say things like, “Well, at least I can pray.” Or, “I can’t do anything but pray.” Of course, there are times when “I can’t do anything but pray” is an acknowledgement of our limitations and God’s power, but what I’m talking about is the creeping attitude among believers that prayer is somehow our “fall back.”  The attitude is, “Well, if there’s nothing practical I can do, I can pray.”

Or, when people ask for prayer, believers say they will pray, but do so almost in an attitude of patting a child’s head and muttering, “There, there. It will be okay.” Then on they go with their day. They may shoot a quick prayer heavenward, almost as an afterthought. But we should never treat prayer, or prayer requests, in this way.

The MOST We Can Do!

Friends, prayer is never the least we can do. It is the MOST we can do. No matter what else we are able to do in our lives, or to help others, we can pray. We. Can. PRAY!

Stop and think about that. Do we understand what an awesome privilege that is? And what a powerful responsibility it is? To go to God with not just our concerns, but with the concerns and fears of others. To seek His will and intervention, believing He will answer.

Consider what Scripture says about prayer.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

Have faith in God…. whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22, 24)

Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. (Luke 22:46)

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matthew 21:22)

Jesus told his disciples the parable of the persistent woman and the judge to show them that “…they should always pray and not give up.” (Luke 18:1)

There is no equivocation in Scripture. Always pray. Ask and it will be given. Not it may be given. Pray and don’t give up. When you pray, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.

What About…?

“Hang on,” you say. “Not every prayer is answered. I’ve prayed for xyz for years, and it still hasn’t been answered.”

Maybe this is where today’s believers started to lose their belief in the absolute power of prayer. Maybe, because we haven’t yet seen answer to our prayers, especially those that we’ve taken to God over and over, our certainty that God will answer has slid a bit. Because, well, He hasn’t answered.

Or so we think.

A Life of Answered Prayers

George Mueller lived a life steeped in prayer. As a result, he, by God’s answers and provision, accomplished amazing things in his 93 years of life. Born in 1805, a troublemaker when young, imprisoned for a brief time for theft when he was 16, he encountered Christ at the ripe old age of 20.

For the next 10 years he studied to become a missionary (and was disowned by his father for it), through God’s leading became a pastor instead, founded the Scripture Knowledge Institute, got married.

In 1834 he felt led to form an institution established for spreading the Gospel at home and abroad. And so he prayed that God would show him if this was His will. By June of 1835, Muller had opened five day schools that taught over 400 children and distributed nearly 800 bibles and 750 New Testaments. In addition, they’d sent missionaries around the world financial and prayer support. All from donations that came to them by God’s hand.

Why An Orphan House?

Then, in December of 1835, God moved George to pray about establishing a house for orphans. At that time in the UK, there were accommodations for no more than 3600 orphans. So most orphans were sent to homes for foundlings or the work houses. Think Oliver Twist.

But Muller’s reasons for opening an Orphan house weren’t what we might expect. His most important reason was to glorify God. You see, when people saw God’s provision in answer to prayer, it would prove the reality of total trust in God, thus strengthening believers in their faith. Second, he wanted to take care of  the spiritual welfare of the orphans. Third, he wanted to see to the orphans’ physical needs.

The Big Ask

As he was praying whether he should do this, if it was God’s will for him, something happened. George recorded it in his journal:

“On December 5th, however, the subject of my prayer all at once became different. I was reading Psalm 81 and was particularly struck, more than at any time before, with verse 10: ‘Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.’

“I thought a few moments about these words, and then was led to apply them to the case of the Orphan-House. It struck me that I had never asked the Lord for anything concerning it, except to know His will respecting its being established or not; and I then fell on my knees and opened my mouth wide, asking Him for much.

“I asked in submission to His will, and without fixing a time when He should answer my petition. I prayed that He would give me a house­­­­––either as a loan, or that someone might be led to pay the rent for one, or that one might be given permanently for this object. Further, I asked Him for £1000 [approx. $150k pounds today]; and likewise for suitable individuals to take care of the children.

“Besides this, I have been since led to ask the Lord, to put into the hearts of His people to send me articles of furniture for the house, and some clothes for the children.

“When I was asking the petition, I was fully aware what I was doing, i. e., that I was asking for something which I had no natural prospect of obtaining from the brethren whom I know, but which was not too much for the Lord to grant.”

The Big Answer

He was right. Five days later he received a letter from a brother and sister who said they wanted to come work in his orphan house for no salaries because “God will supply all our needs.” This brother and sister also gave all their furniture for use in the house.

Three days after that, a man said he’d been convicted by God to give weekly support to the house. And two more believers offered to work for no salaries, and give all their furniture to the house. And so it went.

George had all of 2 shillings, roughly $16 dollars, when he started praying. But again, he opened his mouth, presenting his needs to God and believing God would provide in His own way and in His timing. And God did. Sometimes with just enough to meet the need, sometimes with large amounts.

In fact, it’s said that Muller received so much in donations that over his life he was able to give away $80,000 pounds (nearly 3 million pounds, or 4.5 million US, in today’s money). Even more amazing is that Muller didn’t use any of the donations for the Orphan house for his or his family’s care. Instead, he trusted God for their daily bread, submitting his request and then waiting, waiting for God to act.

His Life Wasn’t Easy

Now, in case you’re thinking it was in any way easy for Muller to live this way or that his life was easy, here are some facts:

His father disowned him when he decided to become a missionary

His mother died while he was studying to be a missionary

He and his wife lost two children, one in stillbirth, one when a year old to an illness

Numerous serious health challenges plagued Muller throughout his life

And what about the prayers that God didn’t answer right away? Muller said this:

“We ought to love God, even though we have not answers to our prayers; but all this will greatly increase our love; and it is not only once, but if we mark the hand of God, we shall soon find that we have scores and hundreds of answers to prayer. And thus we shall be led to love Him more and more for all he has done.”

But I’m Not George Muller

And just in case you’re thinking, “Yeah, well, that’s George Muller. I could never have a prayer life like that. No one could but him. God chose him special for this prayer life,” George addressed that in his writings. He made it clear that his faith wasn’t the “gift” of faith mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9. Rather, he said he was able to trust God because of the “grace” of faith.

Muller himself dispelled this when he wrote, “Think not, dear reader, that I have the gift of faith, that is, that gift of which we read in 1 Corinthians 12:9, and which is mentioned along with `the gifts of healing,` `the working of miracles,` `prophecy,”` and that on that account I am able to trust in the Lord.

“It is true that the faith, which I am enabled to exercise, is altogether God’s own gift; it is true that He alone supports it, and that He alone can increase it; it is true that, moment by moment, I depend upon Him for it, and that, if I were only one moment left to myself, my faith would utterly fail; but it is not true that my faith is that gift of faith which is spoken of in 1 Corinthians.”

George Muller’s Goal

Why did Muller talk about this prayer life with God? To encourage believers in their faith. That’s why he made such a point of the fact that his faith––as is true of all believers’ faith––was given to him and sustained by God, but it wasn’t some special ability. It was, quite simply, the result of his determination to take God at His word. Something we all are expected to do.

In his journal, Muller went on to write, “All believers are called upon, in the simple confidence of faith, to cast all their burdens upon him, to trust in him for everything, and not only to make everything a subject of prayer, but to expect answers to their petitions which they have asked according to his will, and in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

In all, George Muller cared for over 10,000 orphans during his lifetime, giving them educational opportunities. He established 117 schools which offered Christian education to more than 120,000 people. According to an article in The Times, Muller received approximately 1.5 million pounds (equaling 2.6 million dollars) through faithful prayer and established orphanages in five locations.

He spoke in countless countries, preaching and teaching about faith and trust in God, reaching hundreds of thousands with the Gospel. He is known to have had 50,000 prayers answered during his life. His was a life well lived, not because he was someone special, but because He believed in and trusted God to be all He said He was.

Keys to Praying Like George Muller

So if George Muller was no one special, meaning each of us can attain a faith like his, how do we go about it? First we must ask ourselves one question:

Do I Believe?

Go ahead. Ask yourself. Do you believe God is all He says He is? Do you believe He will do what He says He will do? That He will answer your prayers. Because you must if you expect an answer from Him. The Bible is clear on that in James 1:6-7:

“But [you] must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that person ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Soul-Deep Belief

There could be no doubt that George Muller believed with every ounce of his being. Just one example happened in 1877, when, while crossing the Atlantic, a dense fog descended. The captain of the ship slowed their progress to be safe. George went to the captain and said he had to be in Quebec by the following afternoon. The captain said there was no way they’d make it in time.

What did George do? He asked the captain to pray with him. They went to a room below decks, with the captain muttering what a waste of time it all was, and Muller prayed. The captain started to follow suit, but George stopped him. In part, he said, because the captain didn’t believe. But mostly because the prayer had already been answered.

Had Muller seen the fog lift? No, but he believed! He told the captain “I have known my Lord for more than fifty years and there is not one instance that I have failed to have an audience with the King. Get up, Captain, for you will find that the fog has gone.” They went back up on the bridge, and the fog was, indeed, gone.

Are You Certain?

How do we pray like George Muller? First, we believe like him. We pray with the utter certainty that God will answer, in His way, in His time. Do we believe God is able to do infinitely and exceedingly beyond anything we can ask for?  Do we believe that God has the power to provide and that he is not only willing to do so but delights in doing so?

If you’re not sure you believe like that, then follow Muller’s lead and go to Scripture. Ask God to show you why you can believe this way. Here are a few verses to get you started:

Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT)

Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act…Day by day the Lord takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever. They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough….The Lord rescues the godly; he is their fortress in times of trouble. The Lord helps them, rescuing them from the wicked. He saves them, and they find shelter in him. (Psalms 37:7, 18-19, 39-40  NLT)

Therefore, I say unto you, whatsoever things you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them. (Mark 11:24, )

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent over double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she stood up straight again, and began glorifying God. (Luke 13:10-13 NASB)

How Long, O Lord?

Eighteen years! Have you prayed for 18 years with no apparent answer? For longer? Are you will to wait for God to act, even if you don’t see it happen in your lifetime? Will you still believe that He will do as He promised? Remember, just because God hasn’t answered a prayer yet doesn’t mean He’ll never answer it. It can’t mean that. If it does, then God isn’t who He says He is.

There were six people whom Muller asked God to bring to faith. Every day he prayed for those people. One came to faith not long after Muller began praying. One several years. Two more over a larger number of years. Only one was still unsaved when Muller died.

So does that mean God didn’t answer that prayer? Not at all. The man came to faith a year after Muller’s death. There is no such thing as “taking too long” for God. He will answer when He knows the time is right. We don’t need to see the answers. We simply need to trust the Provider.

Are You Ready?

When you can say you believe with certainty that God is who He says He is, that He will do what He promised, then follow George Muller’s lead into Scripture. Yes, back into the Word of God. Why? Because Muller had been praying every day for years, but then God revolutionized his prayer life with a revelation. As he wrote in his journal:

“It pleased the Lord to teach me a truth…I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.”

Soul Happiness

How about you? Is your soul happy in the Lord? Are you content in Him? Resting in Him? Why did Muller think this was so important? Because if our souls aren’t happy in the Lord, then everything we do for him runs the risk of being done in the wrong spirit. So how do we achieve this soul happiness? Muller tells us:

“The most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditate on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into … communion with the Lord.”

So early every morning after that, he went to God’s Word. He asked the Lord’s blessing on His Word, then meditated on the Scripture, “searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.”

When Your Soul Is Happy in the Lord

The result? Muller found his soul led to confession or thanksgiving or intercession or supplication… in other words, to prayer! And he would continue his reading and meditating, which turned the Scripture into prayer for himself and others.

And, as he said, “My inner man almost invariably is … nourished and strengthened, and by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not happy state of heart.”

So if we want to learn how to live a prayer-steeped life as George Muller did, start in God’s Word. Maybe even start by studying and meditating on the verse that so impacted Muller: “I, the LORD, am your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:10 NASB)

Muller’s Conditions for Successful Prayer

Starting in God’s Word, letting it become prayer, will accomplish something else. Muller taught that there were conditions required for successful prayer, the first of which was that our requests must be according to God’s will. If we’re stepped in God’s holy Word, if we’re meditating and praying it, then we can be sure God will set our hearts and spirits right with Him. And He will show us what is in accordance to His will.

George Muller’s second condition for successful prayer was that we “mustn’t ask on account of our own goodness or merit, but ‘in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (John 14-13-14.)” He supported this condition with Psalm 66:18, which says “if I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” In other words, Muller said, “if I live in sin and go on in a course hateful to God, I may not expect my prayers to be answered.”

The third condition we’ve talked about already, and that is to exercise faith in the power and willingness of God to answer our prayers. And the fourth condition is to “continue patiently waiting on God till the blessing we seek is granted.”

As Muller stressed, there’s nothing in Scripture about when God will answer, only that He will. “Therefore,” Muller wrote, “beloved brethren and sisters, go on waiting upon God, go on praying; only be sure you ask for things that are according to the mind of God.”

What Happens When You Take These Steps?

Friends, if we take these steps, being mindful of these conditions, how can our prayers not be changed? How can we not be changed? Even as George Muller was changed. And how can we not be used? Even as Muller was used, or more?

Charles Spurgeon says this about prayer: “Prayer is the natural outgushing of a soul in communion with Jesus. Just as the leaf and the fruit will come out of the vine-branch without any conscious effort on the part of the branch, but simply because of its living union with the stem, so prayer buds, and blossoms, and fruits out of souls abiding in Jesus. As stars shine, so do abiders pray. It is their … second nature.”

Abide in God. Trust in His promises. Believe He is Who He says He is and will do as He promised.

Don’t Let Yourself Be Derailed

One final thought:

Don’t let your feelings derail you. Because they can. If we’ve prayed and prayed and no answer seems forthcoming, we can become discouraged. Or we can feel that doing the things we’ve discussed just aren’t accomplishing anything. Muller warns us about this:

“It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer.

“The truth is that, in order to enjoy the Word we ought to continue to read it and the way obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read the Word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.”

Don’t let yourself be derailed.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

William Arthur Arthur Rubinstein, the great pianist, once said, “If I neglect practicing one day, I notice; two days, my friends notice; three days, the public notices.”

That applies to us as well, friends. Keep on keeping on. Because though it may take time, it’s the same as with any other thing we do. The more we do it, the more familiar it becomes. The more we learn and grow, and the more we are moved to do it. And ever and always, wait on God to act.

As George Muller said, “I have found invariably…that if I only believed I was sure to get, in God’s time, the thing I asked for…To see that He is able, you have only to look at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, for to raise him from the dead, He must have almighty power…assuredly if we believe, we shall receive––we shall obtain.”

Hello, Powerful Prayer

The least we can do? Hardly. Prayer is, in fact, a believer’s most powerful weapon. With prayer we can call on God to unleash the armies of heaven that He may be glorified on the earth. We can lift those we care about to the most powerful King in creation and seek mercy or healing or whatever is needed. Prayer is not our fall back. It’s our first and best act in any situation.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

And as Max Lucado wrote, ”Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.”


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