Henry was an ornery agnostic. His wife, Eunice, was a devout Christian. They lived in a farming community, where a yearlong drought was devastating the local economy. At the request of many of the farmers, the pastor of a local church called the community together to pray for rain. As Eunice was leaving to go to the church, Henry challenged, “Do you really believe that it will rain if you ask for it?”
Eunice opened her Bible and read to Henry: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:16–18). Eunice continued: “Praying for the drought to end is a big prayer, but I believe there is nothing too hard for God. If I didn’t believe that God can answer our prayer and break the drought, I would not go to this prayer meeting.”
Henry mocked, “If you really believe that God will answer this ‘big prayer’ and give rain, where is your umbrella?”
Eunice picked up her umbrella and went to the prayer meeting. She returned home without having to use the umbrella, but that night it rained and the drought was broken.
What makes a “big” prayer? A multitude of words doesn’t do it. Only prayers that are consistent with God’s character and focus on advancing God’s kingdom can truly be called “big.”
The Bible provides many examples of such prayers. In response to big prayers, God delivered His people from the dreaded Assyrians (2 Kings 19:14–37). The restoration of the people of God from the Babylonian captivity was an answer to big prayers (see Jer. 29:10–14; 50:4–5; Dan. 9; Ezra 8:21; Neh. 1:4–11; 4:4–5; 9:1–38). Samson, in his weakness, received strength to pull down Dagon’s temple through big prayer (Judg. 16:28–30). In answer to big prayers, God gave the greatest outpouring of the Spirit on the church in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14).
Jesus prayed big prayers. Some would say that our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17 was His biggest prayer. In this prayer, He asked that His people would be kept from the evil one (v. 15), that they might become one (v. 21), and that they might be with Him and behold His glory (v. 24). As the hour drew near when He would die, Jesus prayed that the work of redemption would be accomplished, even at the cost of His life (Matt. 26:39, 42). Now at the right hand of the Father, He lives forever to pray big prayers of intercession, pleading the power of His sacrifice to counter the accusations of the adversary against His people (Heb. 7:25).
God is the high priority in the model prayer given by our Lord. The best Greek manuscripts omit the closing sentence: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:13). There is abundant evidence, however, that these words were used almost universally in the worship of the early church. Some believe congregations recited these words in unison after each petition. If they did, then focus on the kingdom of God is underscored. I infer from this that all prayer should focus on God’s kingdom. What is kingdom-focused prayer? It is not mere instinctive prayer, but it is Spirit-enabled. It is not man-centered, but God-centered. It is not self-serving or sentimental, but Scriptural—in both principle and content. It is not timid, but bold! It is not passive resignation, but proactive cooperation. It is both solo and concerted. In summary, kingdom-focused prayer is the Spirit-enabled cry of God’s adopted children seeking their Father’s glory by persistently asking Him for the nations, their promised inheritance.
The Reformers prayed big prayers. The Protestant Reformation was initiated, achieved, and maintained by big prayers. Among the enemies of the Reformation were the Muslims, the emperor, and the papists. Martin Luther believed in praying big prayers. He taught, “The Lord is great and high, and therefore He wants great things to be sought from Him and is willing to bestow them so that His almighty power might be shown forth.” Thus, Luther prayed: “Dear Lord, I know that You have still more, You have much more than You can ever bestow; in You I shall never want, for if there were need, the heavens would rain guilders [dollars]. Be my treasury, my cellar, my storehouse; in You have I all riches; if I have You, I have enough.”
God indicates there is nothing too hard for Him (see Jer. 32:27), and so He challenges us to pray big prayers: “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jer. 33:3).
Praying big prayers requires childlike faith. Patrick Johnston tells a story about his wife, Jill. For a long time she was burdened to help children pray big prayers for world evangelization. She began to write a book to this end in 1990. She lived at the headquarters of the Dorothea Mission in London. As Jill completed each chapter, a group of praying children used the information to intercede for each country. Albania was one of the first countries in her project. It was a communist hermit state, which proudly claimed to be the first atheistic country in the world. All religious expression was illegal. The Gospel was banned and there were no known believers in the entire country. The children began praying for the needs of the children in Albania. They prayed for religious freedom to come to that land. A few months later, the communist government fell, and freedom for worship and witness came. Jill had to rewrite the Albania chapter in her book. When these children heard this, they were delighted. One of them shouted, “We have changed Albania!” Today there is a Gospel witness in virtually every Albanian town and city. May God give us the faith of these little children.
Evaluate your prayer life by answering the following questions. More than 40 percent of the earth’s surface is in a state of drought—are you praying for rain? Like Hezekiah, are you praying for deliverance from terrorists throughout the world? Have you thanked the Lord for His intercession for you? Like our Lord, are you praying “ ‘not as I will, but as You will,’ ” even if it costs your life? Are your prayers “kingdomfocused”? Are your prayers big enough to honor God? Are you praying for enemies of the cross to be converted? If they will not be converted, are you asking God to restrain them so they cannot disturb the growth of His church? Like the children who prayed for Albania, do you pray for God to change the world? Are your big prayers becoming bigger prayers?