A father tucked his young daughter into bed one evening, and listened with confusion to the end of her prayer: "And suddenly we pray amen." This odd conclusion continued for three nights, until dad could no longer contain his curiosity.
"Why do you say 'and suddenly we pray'?" he asked.
"I thought that's how prayers are supposed to end," she said.
A few moments after he left her room, the father realized what happened. His daughter was repeating what she thought were the words he uses: "In the Son's name we pray. Amen."
I like the daughter's prayer ending. Why? Because it seems more honest.
From my experience, many ministry-focused prayers seem to take place "suddenly," such as when an event is quickly approaching and tasks remain undone. And then five minutes before that event starts, huddled in a corner with teammates. Or when issues, challenges, and tragedies arise. When illness or fatigue catches us or someone we know off-guard. The list of "suddenly" prayers can grow quite long.
Recently data demonstrates the value of a different approach. The evidence points to passionate, specific, persistent prayers as a better way. Yes, I realize that this should not be news, and that constant and committed prayer should always be a priority. But before you suddenly stop reading this column, please answer this: Do you have data that shows prayer works?
Please let your curiosity compel you to keep reading.
The organization I work for partners local churches with local schools and equips the churches to run mentoring programs that reach at-risk students in the schools. These programs match a child with a one-to-one mentor as well as a prayer partner. Because every program abides by church-state separation guidelines, prayer partners remain behind the scenes. Their work is to pray for the mentor, the child, and their relationship.
Now for the data: A two-year evaluation of our program by a highly credible, external researcher showed that the existence of a highly engaged prayer partner serves as the single greatest predictor of a positive outcome in a child. In fact, it had twice as much impact as the next highest factor. In even clearer terms: children seem to do better when a persistent and passionate prayer partner supports the mentor.
Additionally, last year our organization encouraged churches that run our program to proactively ask the school how many additional children could benefit from a mentor. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the need for more mentors, the programs that participated in this initiative (called "The Journey") then asked a few passionate people to persistently lift the volunteer challenge to heaven in prayer.
Go ahead, guess what happened next. Here's a report from one church:
We now have (school) teachers who approach us for help, and we can't walk down the hall without a child asking if we could be their mentor. This year we have 28 children on the waiting list. We displayed two Journey posters on a sign-up table and we gave out laminated bookmarks (to be kept in the pray-ers' Bibles). All 28 were assigned in one day, and they were assigned to individuals who were not currently volunteering in our ministry!
Many additional accounts describe similar experiences.
Multiple factors contribute to such results. Prayer partners create accountability for mentors in our program, and better mentoring takes place as a result. Awareness that more children need mentors creates greater focus for the program, which leads to heightened recruiting urgency. Both rationales—accountability and urgency—likely contribute to the success experienced.