Pastor and author John Snyder describes how persistent prayer has strengthened his faith as he has struggled with a vision problem for much of his life, and he encourages listeners to likewise persist in prayer and trust in God for all things.
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John Fuller: So, do you know what it's like to pray and pray and pray for something and you get to a point where you wonder, is God even listening to me? Does He care? Well, we'll hear from a man on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, who has prayed and prayed for 40 years and God has taught him a lot through those decades. Our host is Focus president, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, this is an especially appropriate topic for this, our National Day of Prayer.
Jim Daly: John, it is and most people, I think we realize the importance of prayer or at least most people cry out to God when they need something. And that's not fruitless. I mean, it's good that people are doing that, but God wants us to talk to Him on a daily basis. I mean, it's relationship. We're created in His image. We're created for a relationship and prayer is how you talk to God and today, we do want to talk about that, given this is the National Day of Prayer and I think it's appropriate for us to do that.
And we've invited Dr. John Snyder to join us about a book that he wrote. I love the title, Your 100 Day Prayer and the subtitle, The Transforming Power of Actively Waiting on God. John, let me welcome you to Focus on the Family.
Dr. John Snyder: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Jim: This is a daunting title. Did your publisher say, "We may not sell a lot of books asking people to pray for 100 days?"
Dr. Snyder: I'm trying to remember how that title came about. I know the 100 days was just something, it was part of our family tradition. We have always set aside 100, not because it's magic or anything, but because that sounded like enough time for things to happen.
Dr. Snyder: You know, when Jesus says, "Ask, seek and knock," He meant, keep on asking, seeking and knocking, present continuous. So, we thought, well, 100 days sounds like a good amount of time and gives God time to work with things, because He has to rearrange a lot to answer prayers. So, we just settle[d] on that one and I think we worked together with the publisher on the title.
Jim: Well, and you're a man who's speaking from experience, because you had some difficulties, some physical difficulties that, I guess, forced you to ask God for help. Tell us what happened and what was the issue? And how did you begin to deal with it?
Dr. Snyder: The issue was, I was in the first year of my doctoral program in Basel, Switzerland. It was Christmas time and I was studying late one night, and my eyes got real sore. So, I thought I over-studied.
The next morning, they were still painful and from that point on, they began disintegrating. So that by that next term or summer, I could not read, at all. It was over and I did not read again for seven years. So, my second year, I had to [be] working on my dissertation with utter dependence on God. I really, really prayed about this for years and I couldn't figure out why God would put me into a work, which is teaching, without giving me eyes to do it. It was a huge crisis for me.
Jim: Well, it had to be and—
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: --you had to be wondering, why me? Why would this happen to me?
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: Tell us what the diagnosis was for those that are listening, so we can understand better what was happening.
Dr. Snyder: The best diagnosis I've heard was from a specialist in New York City, who said, "It's a convergence issue. It's in the brain, not in the eyes," because they don't really know how a convergence works. They just know that it goes into the big black box and something happens and you can read.
But he said, "We wouldn't even know what to look for if we got in there." So, it was like holding out a brick. You can do it for a while, but then it gets real sore. That's what it is when I try to read, at least then. It's better now. I'll tell you in a few minutes.
But it's a convergence malfunction inside of the brain and it creates pain and so, I have to be very, very careful not to push 'em too far. Toward the end of the term there, I went back to the States to work in a church, 'cause I just couldn't study anymore.
In the process of working in a church, having lots of help there, met my wife and we learned how to work together. And so, we thought once we got married, we can actually go back to Basel. She can read to me. I can record on a tape what she reads and summarize it. Then I can create little study tapes, little sound bites. And through that, I can prepare for my oral exam, which we did for a whole year. She read 5,000 pages of theology.
Jim: That's a loving wife.
Dr. Snyder: Loving wife and she learned how to write Greek. I mean, it (Laughter) was unbelievable. She's a brilliant person to begin with and a wonderful wife, too. So, it just worked out. I mean, God sent her to me and sent me to her and it was just a wonderful combination.
Jim: Sounds like you married well.
Dr. Snyder: Married well (Laughter), sure did.
Jim: Let me ask this.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: Even with a wonderful wife, you had to be, I would think angry somewhat toward God. Did you feel forgotten or angry?
Dr. Snyder: All that.
Jim: What did that look like--
Dr. Snyder: Outraged—
Jim: --for you?
Dr. Snyder: --would actually be a closer description.
Jim: How did that manifest itself?
Dr. Snyder: Hm.
Jim: You seem like, you know, you're a Ph.D. I can see you're a professor. You can process these things. So, you got angry just like the rest of us.
Dr. Snyder: This was the biggest challenge I'd ever faced. And I was confused. I was angry. I doubted why God would do this. I even doubted God's presence and there were times I doubted.
Jim: You couldn't think your way out of it, could you?
Dr. Snyder: No, I couldn't think, no, I was blocked. It's like playing chess with a chess master. You can't win. And so, that anger lasted a long time. It was not the few weeks; it was the years and it would come back in waves.
Jim: How do you process that though, John, really? There are people listening that are going through something. I don't know what their issue is. It could be the loss of a job. It could be a whole host of things. You had the loss of your sight. How did you process? Help us. Give us a handle. If I'm in a bad spot right now with God, what would you say to me if we were sitting across from each other, having a cup of tea or coffee?
Dr. Snyder: I think the No. 1 lesson I learned was what I had known intellectually all along, which is God is sovereign. He is God. He can do anything He wants at any time and does. So, I stopped trying to figure God out and psychoanalyze Him. I just decided that, yes, He's God. He allowed this to happen. It passed His inspection, didn't surprise Him any. So, there must have been a purpose, like Paul's thorn, whatever the thorn was. And he prayed and prayed repeatedly. My guess is, it was more than three times, but three times represents repetitive.
Jim: Did you resonate with that part of Scripture?
Dr. Snyder: Oh, yeah. That became almost my favorite explanation, where God says, "No, I'm not gonna answer your prayer in your way, Paul. I'm gonna leave this with you, because in leaving this with you for life, I will teach you that your strength is in Me and not in your resources."
Dr. Snyder: So, that was the big lesson, and it really did bring back the lesson of sovereignty in a very powerful way.
Jim: How do you get from point A to point B though? Is it as simple as time?
Dr. Snyder: It's time plus, time plus an opportunity to go through the stages of grief and anger and resentment and questioning and doubt. And as time goes by, God has a way of demonstrating His ongoing love for us. And so, my word to people who have gone through something like that, whatever it is, is to give it time. Don't throw in the towel.
We don't have to understand why God does something. We just need to remember that He's God and He's a good God. God is good and near. That's been my theme since I started preaching. I've been preaching now, this is my 50th year, preaching.
Jim: I can only imagine counseling someone in a pastoral role like you have, and they're letting you know their issues and their difficulties, and you're patiently listening to them. And then they say something like, "Well, you wouldn't know. You've got a Ph.D. You're doing well. Do you ever get that?
Dr. Snyder: Oh, yeah, yeah, it looks like I've been raised with a silver spoon in my mouth, which is so far from the case and I could talk for hours about that. I say, look, I know what it's like to doubt God, to wonder why God is doing what He's doing, not having answers. And I'm just encouraging you to hang in there. Don't walk away. You have to finish the book of the mystery novel. You have to stay for the play, third act of the play. If you walk out in the second act, you'll never know what the point was. So, don't walk out. Don't give up.
Jim: What did your second act look like?
Dr. Snyder: The second act was adaptation. After you go through the resentment and the anger and the, you know, the fear and the, you know, blaming God for all this, and you sort of move into a different phase of, okay, I got it. This is gonna be with me for a while, maybe for life. I figured it was for life, because I had everybody pray for me. I went to every faith healer, every pastor, everybody who had a reputation for being a good prayer, you know, with lots of results. Nothing ever happened. And after a while, I just said, okay, I think this is for life and I can face that now.
Jim: Let me ask you though, you didn't lose hope in God?
Dr. Snyder: I did; yeah, I did. It's kind of like this, you know, a first—
Jim: Up and down.
Dr. Snyder: --yeah, the first phase was anywhere from the peak of faith to almost atheism, when I thought, well, God doesn't even exist really. I mean, what kind of a God would do this?
Jim: Did you feel guilty for feeling that?
Dr. Snyder: Oh, yeah, sure, guilt on top of everything else, but I also learned that God has big shoulders and God doesn't like to be blamed or accused, but He has big shoulders. And I remember Jeremiah accused God of being a liar, which I don't recommend, but he did. That's how low he was and he was a prophet of God.
Jim: How did God respond to Jeremiah?
Dr. Snyder: Just with His grace and mercy and he saw that. It's even in the same chapter, you can see how the grace and mercy is manifest. So, I've accused God of about everything in the book and He didn't throw me away. He didn't turn His back. And I realized that God is a God of enormous unimaginable grace. He's gracious to a fault--
Dr. Snyder: --beyond our wildest recommendations.
Jim: And aren't we grateful for that?
Dr. Snyder: Yeah, we wouldn't be here, right?
Jim: That's for sure.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah, I never would've gotten to do this at all if it hadn't been for God's mercy and grace.
John F.: Well, John Snyder is our guest on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly and the book that kind of undergirds our conversation today, along with his very powerful story, is Your 100 Day Prayer: The Transforming Power of Actively Waiting on God. And we've got details about that and the CD or download of this conversation with extra content at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And I'm wondering as I hear you speak, John, how much of this heart change occurred through your prayer times with God, because you undoubtedly cried out and wrestled with Him in prayer a whole lot after losing your sight, apparently for life.
Dr. Snyder: It was really losing my ability to read and to converge on a page. Can I tell you about how that got reconciled or resolved at the end? After seven years of being gone from Basel and after meeting my wife and learning how to work together, we decided I could go back to Basel, finish my degree and I could be a blind professor, a functionally blind professor, but I couldn't be a functionally blind pastor. So, the main problem was--
Jim: Well, why not? Help us, 'cause there may be—
Dr. Snyder: --I had a—
Jim: --someone listening.
Dr. Snyder: --I had a blind professor in college, so that I saw that work, but I've never seen a blind pastor. They may be out there, but I don't know any.So, I thought, the most likely thing for me to do of the two choices. So, I thought that's what we'd do.
Went back to Basel and the only thing I had to do with my eyes for the oral exam was to be able to … they're gonna put some text in front of me, Greek or Latin text. I had to be able to read those on the spot and talk about them. That was the one thing I couldn't do. So, we said, look, I've got one year to do this. God has to do something in that year, or I can't finish the degree. So, we went thinking that God has to do something before we could be successful.
Jim: So, you kept movin' forward.
Dr. Snyder: We moved forward and about two months before the end, I was experimenting with a physician there in Switzerland. He was an eye specialist, so he was halfway between our apartment and the lecture hall. So, twice a week I would stop by and he would experiment.
And one day he pulled a pair of funny-looking glasses out of an old shoebox he got from some child, thick as a Coke bottle. [I] put 'em on; said, "Try that." You know, why? It was a trial and error. [I] put 'em on. I dragged the paper across my nose, 'cause that's how close the paper had to be to read it, but I read for five minutes with these lenses.
Jim: So, you could see.
Dr. Snyder: I could see and I could read. And so, we knew we were on the right track. We didn't know why. So, with those lenses, he developed something with the lenses where I could hold the paper farther away and with those glasses, I built up to about an hour of reading. And so, I knew then, that when the time came, I could put those glasses on and read those texts and that was the missing piece, which actually happened.
Jim: And then over time you were able to work that to where you can read for seven or so—
Dr. Snyder: Well--
Dr. Snyder: --when I left Basel, just before I left, he ground a lens for me that approximated this construction he had made. He still didn't know why it worked. It just worked. And so, with those glasses, I went home and I built up to 7 ½ hours a day of reading—
John F.: Oh, my
Dr. Snyder: --three segments of 2 ½ hours. And I can still do that, but I don't have time. What I do now is about an hour and a half in the morning and I have to go off to my work. But with those, I was able to do everything I needed to do. Except I have to do it in the morning and once it's done, there is no more reading for the day.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: Your eyes just get fatigued, huh?
Dr. Snyder: Yeah, if they get too sore, then I have to close them for a full day before they get back to where they were.
Jim: Oh, man.
Dr. Snyder: So, I've been very careful.
Jim: And I mean, your appearance, you wouldn't know it, but like a guy over 50, like John and me both (Chuckling), we all wear glasses and I would never suspect you would have that issue looking at you.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah. It's not something I could ever possibly imagine. I never heard of it; the doctor never heard of it and he's a specialist. He said, "I don't know what you call this, but this is what happens. This is what makes it work."
Jim: Well, we have laid the groundwork for you to talk about praying, because you prayed, not just for this issue, but all the issues your family would encounter. Talk about your book, Your 100 Day Prayer and how did you formulate that out of this situation? And then how do you apply that today?
Dr. Snyder: As I was saying earlier before the show, 100 days of prayer was something our family just learned to practice. Before any major decision, before a transformation, before, you know, moving from one country to another or whatever, we would precede with 100 days of consistent prayer, which just meant usually like five minutes a day as a family. We'd gather around the bed and even when our children were small, we would pray for five minutes about that issue. That wasn't the only thing we prayed about in the day, but that was this issue, whatever it was, five minutes a day.
Jim: So, both consistency and remembering it every day.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah and expressing it—
Dr. Snyder: --every day and hearing my children express their thoughts, my wife expressing hers and looking to God every day saying, "Look, we don't understand. We want Your guidance. We want Your help." We want something else, particularly with the eye thing, we did that many days." And that was the result of prayer, by the way, what happened, just some very odd coincidences that went at that whole thing with the glasses. So, we discovered over the years that the 100 days was enough time for things to change. God likes to use time to rearrange, because an answer to prayer requires a lot more than just happening to us, right?
Dr. Snyder: A lot of people have to get different positions and—
Dr. Snyder: --it's life; things have to change. So, we found the 100 days to be a realistic one and sometimes on the 100th day or the 110th day, or maybe the 90th day, things would begin to happen.
John F.: Hm.
Dr. Snyder: But we've done that to this day.
Jim: Now, you were forthright to say, 100 days, there's no magic in that. You're just saying the discipline of it. It's almost like—
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: --fasting. When someone fasts, there's something spiritual that happens.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: Your senses are stronger. You seem to be more in tune with the voice of the Lord in your heart. At least, that's been my experience. John, you, too?
John F.: Yeah, those are rich times—
John F.: --where the heart just opens up to whatever God might have.
Jim: Well, and it's like the Lord is responding to that faithfulness. I think that's what it is. He loves it. I think a smile—
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: --is on His face when He says—
Dr. Snyder: I agree.
Jim: --"Look at my son; he's fasting—
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: --for Me!" I just think He moves in that way.
Dr. Snyder: I think so, too and I think when Jesus said, "Keep on asking, seeking and knocking," He didn't explain why. Just like He didn't explain to John the Baptist why He should be baptized. He said, "Do it." Telling he needed to do, so do it. Similar her. Keep on asking, seeking, and knocking and you will see the results of it.
Jim: John, the critics of our faith would say, that sounds like a mean-spirited God. Put that in some context. You're speaking to Jim, the atheist. I'm certainly not that, but I'll role play for you. And usually what I have found talking to people that have not heard an answer to their prayers, they get stuck in that cycle of resentment. They don't move to the next level. They do reject God, because they're bitter and they're feeling like I don't mean anything to Him. He means nothing to me. Speak to me in that way.
Dr. Snyder: I've seen many of my friends walk down that road. A woman got stood up at the altar on her wedding day, very faithful, strong believer, just snapped overnight like that. Some of my friends were disappointed in some major life issue and drifted off and wandered away out of resentment, resenting God was the issue.
And what I say to an atheist is, yes, you're right. The fact that nothing happened when I prayed can be explained with atheism; that's correct, but it can't explain why something did happen. And when something does happen that's really extraordinary and it's the result of prayer, it's obviously the result of some intelligent rational Being getting involved, how do you explain that one?
So, God isn't in a hurry to prove Himself that He exists. He doesn't need that, but He does use these times and He does use these very difficult experiences to bring about His purpose and His purpose ends up being the best thing that could ever happen to us.
I think we've gotta stop tellin' people that becoming a Christian is a walk in the park. You know, come to Jesus. Things are just gonna be great from now on. That's not true. God puts us through things that we wouldn't want to go through, because He has a purpose in it. You know, pain will happen in this world. We will get pain, whether we're in disobedience or obedience. Jesus talked about pruning. Those who produce no fruit are cast out. Those who produce fruit will get pain. Ever seen a tree get pruned? It looks pretty rough, doesn't it?
Dr. Snyder: But—
Jim: --for the tree.
Dr. Snyder: --but that's the tree that God is nurturing and preparing—
John F.: Uh-hm.
Dr. Snyder: --for His purpose, which is always, always good. But you have to hang around long enough to see the fruit come out of that tree.
Jim: Well, John again, you're a man that's lived with pain, brutal pain in your eyes. Your eyesight was gone for a number of years. It gradually came back, because of discipline and working with it and the accidental stumbling upon a solution with very thick glasses that your doctor discovered. But in all of that, again, I'm thinking of the person that's stuck in their pain. I can't get that out of my mind. Someone's listening who's just really resenting God. You got an answer. You had the person find a way for you to read that Greek in your last year of your dissertation. What if you got to that day after putting in all that work and you could not have read the sheet in front of you? What would your reaction have been like in that moment?
Dr. Snyder: I was prepared for that, because I thought, okay. There's no promise here that God is gonna rescue me at the last minute. [I] hope so. I pray that, that will occur. But over those years of seven years, I had been prepared for God to say no, just one big fat no. [It] didn't have to be later or not yet or yes, but, but it may just be a no and I was prepared to walk away from Basel with no degree and go back and do whatever He led me to do. But it took those seven years for that to happen.
And when I run across somebody who's really stuck in that place, which are many--many people are stuck; they started off trusting and believing. And people have to pray for them, because they can't pull themselves out of the hole. And I think that the praying church, the believing church needs to take those people under their wing and pray them back into the fold.
God will do something, but again, we can't always anticipate what God's gonna do. He might say, "Yes." He might say, "Not yet" and He may just say, "No, I'm never gonna answer that prayer for you, because I've got something better beyond it and you have to hang around long enough to see the better."
Jim: Well, it's interesting. I think I've come to that same conclusion with parenting, that you know, when you look at a good parent in the context, let's put it as in the context of a father, when you have spoiled children, what do you do? Hey, you give 'em a little pain. You take away the comfort and I think so often we overcomplicate how God, our Father deals with us. I think He's created us so we can see Him plainly right in front of us. So, when we're spoiled adult children (Laughing) of His, maybe even as a nation, if I could be that bold, a materialistic-driven nation, what does He do? Well, He gives us a little pain so we will turn back into Him.
Dr. Snyder: If you look at what God took away from the Hebrews when they became disobedient or indifferent, was He took away the prosperity and took away their freedom. Well, what's happening to us now? We're losing both, because I think we're a nation that has just put God in the backseat—
Dr. Snyder: --for the most part and now we're seeing the fruit of that.
Jim: Well, that's a profound thought and that's one thing we can pray for over the next 100 days—
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: --on this National Day of Prayer here in the U.S. Pray for our nation to repent and for us to seek the Lord and to turn from our wicked ways, right?
Dr. Snyder: I agree. I think that's the only hope for this nation, is to—
Jim: I do.
Dr. Snyder: --is to pray and to come back to God.
Jim: You talk about some prayer points and I think this is a good place to wrap up. You talk about the importance of never giving up, honesty. Fill those in for me and give me a handful of the others. And John, we should post some of these practical prayer points on the website.
John F.: Great idea.
Jim: But John, what are some of those things when we pray, we should be mindful of?
Dr. Snyder: I think one of the key issues here is total honesty with God. We don't have to try to be religious or pray in a certain way. Ever hear of the prayer of a convict who just got converted? Full of four-letter words, I mean, something—
Jim: Yeah. It's—
Dr. Snyder: --you wouldn't like.
Jim: --bold and honest.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah, it's right from the heart and it's the language he knows. And I think that's what we need to do. All these flowery prayers that we try to construct that sound good, God isn't moved by that. I think we just say what's in our heart. Lord, I don't trust You anymore. I think You departed from me. I don't know where You are. I'm not even sure You're good.
God can handle that. That's not new stuff and I think we just need to express ourselves from the heart and say, "Lord, help me. Help me do this. Help me to hang on, because I can't hang on. You've gotta hang on to me. I'm not able any longer to hang on to You and if You don't hang onto me, I'm gone. I'm lost." And then you realize later as time goes by, He was hanging onto us.
Dr. Snyder: And it doesn't matter how we feel about it, what we think about it, what it may look like, what are the circumstances, we learn that God is near.
Dr. Snyder: He's near us and He's with us. He is good and He's faithful. But it takes time to get there. God uses time. He created time. He wants to work within time and He's never late or too early. But you have to let Him work it out the way He wants to. And so, what we learn in that waiting period is the fact that the sovereignty of God is true. God is in charge. He's God; we're not.
Jim: John, that is so true. The other element of your prayer points, which I loved, is dreaming. I think dreaming is from God's heart. He's placed that in us, so that we could have hope. I think we dream as human beings. I'm not talking about what you do at night. I'm talking about the idea, the hope for something better tomorrow.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah.
Jim: I think that comes from God, don't you?
Dr. Snyder: The whole idea of tomorrow being better than today is a biblical idea. In intellectual history, that is a biblical idea that was introduced by the Old Testament. It didn't exist before, because the ancients didn't think that was true.
Jim: That's amazing.
Dr. Snyder: Yeah. So, here we are with a God Who says, tomorrow can or will be better, because I'm there tomorrow, too. I make a promise; I will keep My promise. I will be with you. And so, I think God wants us to dream big, not small and to ask big, not small.
Dr. Snyder: We can ask for anything we want. God can always say no. He doesn't have to give us what we ask for, but sometimes He wants us to give us more than we ask for and I think He wants us to dream really big.
Jim: And John, what's so good about that and again, on this National Day of Prayer is, our nation was founded, I think, with that big idea, that you could come here. You could dream big. You work hard and you can achieve it. It's unique and it's one of the reasons I'm so grateful that we could cover prayer on this National Day of Prayer. Your book, Your 100 Day Prayer: The Transforming Power of Actively Waiting on God. Dr. John Snyder, it's been great having you with us.
Dr. Snyder: It's been great to be here. Thank you very much. Enjoyed it.
John: Well, we've really appreciated your reminders about the importance of being consistent in our prayers and pouring out our hearts to God really honestly and I know you'll appreciate John's efforts to help draw you closer to God in his book, Your 100 Day Prayer, which will walk you through that journey of talking with God about whatever's important to you. It's just a couple of pages a day and you can mark progress in it and write about answered prayers as you go through it.
And we'll invite you to order that book when you call 800-232-6459 or online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And when you send a gift of any amount to support the work here at Focus on the Family today, we'll send you that book as our way of saying thank you for impacting lives around the world for Christ and help families to thrive.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. We'll hear a touching and humorous presentation from Dennis Swanberg, paying tribute to moms, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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John SnyderView Bio
John Snyder is an international pastor, church planter and conference speaker, and the author of the highly acclaimed prayer guide Your 100 Day Prayer: The Transforming Power of Actively Waiting on God. He received his Master of Theology and Master of Divinity degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and his Doctor of Theology degree in New Testament Studies from the University of Basel, Switzerland. Currently, John serves as Interim Head of Staff at Warrenton Presbyterian Church, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Shirin, have two daughters.