Expecting and Attempting

Reflections on Prayer '87

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

On September 18, about 5,000 people came to the Minneapolis Auditorium to pray. These were evangelicals from over 100 churches in the Twin Cities. It was the largest prayer meeting most of us had ever attended.

We prayed for spiritual awakening and world evangelization. And we prayed for an ongoing prayer movement in the Twin Cities. I think I am not misled when I say that I felt the power of the prayers of that night on the following Saturday and Sunday. It came in the form of a deeper sense of the reality of God in my work as I prepared for Sunday.

This is a precious thing for a pastor. Nothing is more frightening than the thought of finding myself in the ministry with no heart for God and no sense of his power.

Now what will God do? What will he put into our hearts to attempt as a result of this night of massive praying? William Carey’s watchword was, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” I take the “expect” to be the impulse of prayer, and the “attempt” to be the impulse of effort.

In my bones I feel that this is utterly crucial—to keep “expecting” and “attempting” bound together. Expectant prayer is not a substitute for “attempting”. It seems clearer than ever to me that prayer will become empty if we are not taking any risks that drive us to pray for the success of our attempting. It is the attempting of something great for God that gives edge and point to prayer.

I can think of four instances immediately in which Paul pleaded for prayer, and in all of them he was attempting something (Romans 15:30-31; Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

So I ask again, what great thing will we attempt for the glory of God in answer to the tens of thousands of prayers that ascended on September 18? I am asking myself this question very seriously. What special venture in my own life? What dream for the church? What new venture of holy discipline for my family? If you were there, take some time to dream. Don’t let the work of God be quenched in your life. Stir yourself up to love and good work—some great attempt.

Remember: prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie, not an intercom to increase domestic comforts. It malfunctions in musty dens. It is made to call in air cover when some great attempt is being made to deliver the captives.

What are you expecting God to do, and attempting for his glory?

Zealous for his glory,

Pastor John