There is a strange story in the Old Testament about Moses praying on a mountain while Joshua and his army fight a battle below (Exodus 17:8-14). When Moses kept his hands lifted up, the Israelites were winning but whenever he lowered his hands, the enemy troops were winning. Of course he got tired out, since the battle was going on all day, so Aaron and Hur sat Moses on a stone and “held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” And Joshua won the battle.
Interesting story. The end.
But not the end. Verse 14 says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered…’” Why did God want this story written down, to be passed on to future generations? What can we learn from it today?
Power of intercessory prayer
I think it is a lesson on how important it is to pray.
If you look at this from an earthly standpoint it makes no sense at all. What do an old man’s hands being raised or lowered at a distance have to do with an army winning or losing? But what Moses was doing on the mountaintop directly affected how Joshua was doing in battle. Joshua’s success was dependent on Moses praying for him.
Over and over in God’s Word, believers are called on to pray. A poignant example is in Isaiah 62:6-7:
Upon your walls, Jerusalem,
I have stationed sentinels;
By day and by night,
they shall never be silent.
You who are to remind the Lord,
take no rest,
And give him no rest,
until he re-establishes Jerusalem
And makes it the praise of the earth.
God wants us to plead with Him, to remind Him, to petition Him.
However, when we look at what is going on in the world today…
- Terrorist attacks
- Shootings at schools, movie theaters, malls
- Natural disasters
- Corruption in the court system
- Loss of faith
- High suicide rate especially among youth
…we can be tempted to think, “How can my prayers possibly make a difference in this world that is getting worse and worse?”
God calls us to pray
But God wants us to pray. He has set things up so that our prayers are essential to His acting in situations. He waits for us, He waits for our prayers. We may not understand that, we may not agree with His methods, but that’s the way the Lord decreed it.
So we have to get more serious about praying, AND we have to get smarter about how we pray.
I’m going to give you 2 keys to having a good strategy in prayer that will make your prayers more effective.
- Target areas
- Keep it simple
Key #1 – target areas
I believe God assigns to each one of us certain areas that He wants us to be diligent in praying for, a little corner of the world to cover with our prayers. This includes your family and loved ones, but it also will include situations that are close to your heart.
How do you figure out what target areas God has assigned to you? One way is to think about what people or situations you often pray for. When it comes time for the prayers of the faithful at Mass, what intentions come to your mind right away? That’s a good indication that God has assigned those to you.
The key here is not to worry about all the mess and problems in the world. That is what Satan wants us to focus on because then we become overwhelmed, discouraged and lose hope.
Don’t waste your time worrying about how God is going to sort all of the mess out. That’s His problem. Your job is to stay focused on your assignments.
Key #2 – keep it simple
If we make our prayer routine complicated or overly detailed, we’re going to stop doing it. That’s just human nature. If it is simple, we will stick with it and persevere.
The most important thing is that we pray from the heart. Simple, heartfelt prayer.
The Church has always been big on intense, burst prayers, called ejaculatory prayers. These are simple prayers, easy to memorize, that you can pray throughout the day while you do other things.
- My Jesus, mercy!
- Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you, save souls.
- God help!
- Jesus, my God, I love you above all things.
As God brings someone to your mind during the day, you don’t have to stop what you are doing, drive to a church, pull out your Bible and your prayer book, and launch into a half hour of prayer. If you think you have to do that, it’s not likely that you will pray very much.
But if you say, “My Jesus, mercy!” – for the political candidates, for a suffering neighbor, for peace in the Middle East, etc. we will soon be praying “day and night” as God wants. We can do this while cooking dinner, paying bills, changing diapers, driving a car.
So what is a good strategy for praying smarter and more effectively?
Keep it focused. Keep it simple.