Is prayer crazy?

September 12th, 2018

Crazy ideas change the world.

The Bible contains story after story that began with ideas that likely seemed far-fetched. Fight the giant warrior with just a sling? Leave the family fishing business? Gather together in Jerusalem and simply wait—for what?

Fortunately, the people in those stories had just enough faith in God to take crazy ideas seriously.

A couple decades ago, someone shared a wild option for our organization to consider. We do just one thing: we partner local churches (many are UMC) with local schools and equip the churches to mentor at-risk students at the schools. One mentor with one child. Simple. The new idea: Add a prayer partner to each relationship, someone willing to feel a burden and pray behind-the-scenes specifically and consistently for the student, the mentor, and their relationship. In other words, ask churches to recruit two people for every one student. In a single word: Crazy. Finding one volunteer is hard enough.

I’m so glad we went with the far-fetched idea.

Twenty years later, data arrived that demonstrates the value of this “different” approach. Specifically, evidence that points to passionate, specific, persistent prayers as delivering something amazing. Yes, I realize that this should not be new news. But before you suddenly stop reading this column, please answer this: Do you have well-researched data that shows prayer works?

I do. And it’s crazy-exciting.

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 student. In fact, twice as much impact as the next highest factor. In the clearest of terms: Students do far better when a persistent and passionate prayer partner joins efforts with a mentor.

The researcher, a secular expert on measuring mentoring’s effectiveness, asked me to explain the prayer partner role because he had not seen such compelling data before. Today, when he consults with other mentoring organizations, he boldly recommends they add another role to their program—an “accountability partner.”

Calling it a “prayer partner” must be a bit too crazy for some.

Full disclosure: Our organization did not originate this idea. Possibly the most effective, yet unheralded prayer partner was Pearl Goode, a little old lady from Pasadena.

When the 1949 Billy Graham crusade came to Los Angeles, Pearl volunteered to work the event and felt compelled to appeal to heaven for the ministry team. "That night God laid those boys on my heart as a burden," she explained in a 1963 issue of Decision magazine, "and I have been praying for them ever since. I went to the Crusade every evening as long as it lasted, and began talking to God about them, asking him to anoint them individually and to give them boldness in proclaiming the Word."

Following the L.A. event, she began to pray for every crusade, traveling to cities across the country without attracting attention. On buses, starting in the 1950s. Just her. Very crazy. Very behind-the-scenes. Eventually, crusade organizers noticed that her name consistently appeared on volunteer lists. Arrangements were made for her to travel with the crusades so she could continue this critical role.

At Pearl’s funeral service, Ruth Graham paid her very public tribute with these words: “Here lie the mortal remains of much of the secret of Bill’s ministry.”

But Pearl wasn’t the first in this role either. Go back in time to a hill overlooking Rephidim, found in Exodus 17. The Israelites battle the Amalekites, and the Israelites prevail whenever Moses raises his hands. This is man-to-man combat, so Israel’s success required individuals to do well. Eventually, this keep-your-hands-up-behind-the-scenes support becomes too much for him to continue and Israel suffers when his arms collapse; he needs a prayer partner or two. So Aaron and Hur stand beside him and prop up his arms.

That three-person team on a hill, Pearl’s willingness to own a burden, and our army of prayer partners all share a common passion: to see God move.

Do you have a Pearl? Seems crazy if you don’t.

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