Mark Batterson: Listen; prayer is the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do. Prayer is the difference between letting things happen and making things happen. Prayer is the difference between you fighting for God and God fighting for you.
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John Fuller: And as many of us are praying this day for America, the National Day of Prayer, we’re going to hear more about praying boldly. And welcome to Focus on the Family. This is John Fuller, and your host is Focus President and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: That’s right, John. Pastor Mark Batterson gave this message to our staff for the National Day of Prayer last year, and we thought it’d be very appropriate to share with our listeners today. He actually pastors National Community Church in Washington DC, so he’s ministering right there in the U.S. capital.
And what I love about this message is that it’s about the prayers you might be praying right now for your family, for your loved ones. And Pastor Mark will emphasize the fact that we need to step out in faith if we want to see a breakthrough in those areas. And toward the end, he is going to share his own story about a miracle that he experienced after 30 years of praying for healing - and you’re not gonna want to miss that.
John: Alright, so here’s Pastor Mark Batterson on this National Day of Prayer edition of Focus on the Family.
Mark: Well, a joy to be with you today. Thank you for letting me be a part of this team for just a little bit this afternoon. And I want to talk about the power of a single prayer. If you have your Bible with you, uh, or your smartphone, uh, you can turn to Acts, chapter 10. We’ll get there in just a moment. But let me kind of frame why I want to talk about this. Do you remember in Luke 11:1, the disciples say to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to preach?” Oh, no, that’s not what they said. Uh, “Lord, teach us to lead.” No. “Teach us to disciple.” No. What did they say? “Lord, teach us to pray.” Because when you change the way that you pray, I think it changes the way you parent. Yes? It changes the way that you lead. I hope it changes the way that I preach. When you - when you change the way that you pray, it changes everything.
They had prayed their entire lives. They knew how to pray, but not with the kind of authority and intimacy that Jesus prayed to His Father. And so they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Maybe you’ve been praying your entire life. Could we level the playing field? Anybody here that you feel like you pray too much - too much? And your prayers are too powerful, God answers them too quickly?
Um, you know, hands never go up because, uh, the truth - you know, my batting average in prayer is no better than anybody else’s. And I’ll tell you why - because I’m not omniscient. In fact, I think someday we’ll probably thank God for the prayers that He didn’t answer as much as the ones that He did. But I believe in the power of prayer. And I just want us to maybe say today, with those disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.” How does that sound? Okay, here we go. Acts, chapter 10 and verse number 1: “At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius, a Centurion in what was known as the Italian regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing.” And then we learn two things about Cornelius: He gave generously to those in need, and he prayed to God regularly. Now, I like that. That’s underlined in my Bible because it tells me all I need to know about Cornelius.
If you’re taking notes, and I see a few of you with your pens out - and so let me give you something to write down. When you pray to God regularly, irregular things will happen on a regular basis. If your life is a little stagnant or boring, spiritually speaking, I wonder if you’re praying the way that you could or should. Because what I found is that when I start praying, God starts doing things that - in fact, here’s how I like to say it - the more I pray, the more coincidences happen. And I don’t believe they’re coincidences. I believe that they’re providences.
Listen; prayer is the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do. Prayer is the difference between letting things happen and making things happen. Prayer is the difference between you fighting for God and God fighting for you. And so when we pray, God begins to move on our behalf. And so Cornelius is praying to God regularly. And then verse 3, “One day” - and if you want, go through the Bible, search that concordance and plug in “one day.” I love these moments where one day, one day, one day. You’ve got to let this get in your spirit. Here’s what I believe. If you do the right thing day in and day out, one day, God is gonna show up and show off. And that’s what happens. One day, at about 3 in the afternoon, he had a vision. And I didn’t learn this in seminary. I mean, take this for what it’s worth. But the least likely time for me to get a vision from God is at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Like, circadian rhythm is dipping, right? That’s when I go down to my coffeehouse and I get my second caffeinated drink of the day. Uh, 3 o’clock in the afternoon - gets this vision from God, sees an angel. And the angel says, “Cornelius.” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. And the angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”
Let me just pause here for a moment. I like this imagery of a memorial offering before God. Let me tell you one of the challenges in my prayer life. I have this tendency to pray for things over here. And by the time God answers them over here, I forgot that I prayed for them back here, and so then I fail to give God the credit over here. Is anybody with me? The problem is - is we forget what we pray for. And that’s why, next to my Bible, my prayer journal is pretty sacred because a prayer journal is history before it happens. And I love being able to go back into my prayer journal and see the places where I was praying for something and then connecting the dots and seeing how God answered them.
But now let me flip the coin. The good news is God does not forget. Every single one of our prayers is a memorial offering to Him. Let me kind of bring it closer to home. Anybody have praying grandparents - grandparents who prayed for you? Uh, quite a few hands. So I had a grandfather who had a little habit at night. He was hard of hearing and wore a hearing aid. And at night, he would kneel down next to his bed. He would take his hearing aid off. He would put it on the bedside table, and he would start to pray. And he couldn’t hear himself, but everybody else in the house could hear him, including me. Those are some of my earliest memories - hearing my grandfather pray for me. And, uh, some of the most powerful moments of my life - you ever have God do something that you know you didn’t do anything to deserve it? In some of those moments, I’ve heard that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit say, “Mark, the prayers of your grandfather are being answered in your life right now.” I believe that you are the answer to someone else’s prayer. And I believe that our prayers will be answered in ways that it’s not until we cross the space-time continuum and God is going to connect the dots across nations and generations between our prayers and His answers. I think that’ll be one of the greatest moments in eternity.
The good news today is your prayers don’t die when you do. Prayer does not have an expiration date. God will answer those prayers long after you are long gone. And so those prayers are a memorial offering to God. Verse 5: “Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon, who is called Peter. He’s staying with Simon, the tanner, whose house is by the sea. When the angel that spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier, who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.”
I’ll make this quick. Uh, a little geography - Caesarea was 32 miles away from Joppa. Do you know how far I flew to get here? A lot further than that - hundreds of miles. And it only took a few hours - no big deal. But in the first century, average person never traveled outside a 30-mile radius of their birthplace. So here’s the deal. God is never going to tell us to do something that’s contrary to His good, uh, perfect and pleasing will as revealed in Scripture, but God will often call us to do something that we haven’t done before, to do something different - in other words, to step out of our little 30-mile universe. And that’s what Cornelius does. I think one of our challenges is this. We want God to do something new while we keep doing the same old thing. And I think here’s what I’m getting at - you need to pray, and then you need to pray some more, and you need to pray through. But at some point, you also have to get up and take a step of faith. And here’s the definition of faith. Faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second step.
Let me kind of invite you into my world a little bit. So this church that I have the joy of pastoring in D.C., our first year, we would average about 20 to 25 people. And we didn’t have anybody, uh, to lead worship, so I lead worship. And the only thing, um, worse than my voice is my rhythm, and we didn’t have a drummer. So what I’m getting at is this. Our first year, our predominant prayer was, “Lord, send us a drummer, send us a drummer, send us - save souls, but send us a drummer because I think that’s what we really need.” And so we must have prayed this 100 times. And there was this moment where I had prayed it probably, you know, 101st time, and I felt like God said, “Well, why don’t you go out and buy a drum set?” Would you like to know my response to this? “I mean, as soon as you send us a drummer, I will go out and buy that drum set.” Because I want God to go first because then it doesn’t require any faith. But it was one of those moments where I felt like, “Oh, man, I need to take a step of faith.” Now, here’s why it was so challenging. At that point, our total income as a church was $2,000 a month. It cost 1,600 to rent the D.C. public school where we met, which left $400 for our salary and all other expenses. Now, this is so long ago that, uh, I couldn’t Google it. I had to look in something called a newspaper. And, uh, I think it was the wanted ads or something - you know, found a used drum set. Anybody want to guess how much that used drum set cost? Yeah, $400. God works the same way in your life as He does in mine.
If I’m gonna push Him, might as well push Him all the way. And so I’ll be honest. I’m driving out of the city, out of D.C. to Silver Spring, Maryland, to go buy a $400 drum set, and I’m thinking to myself, “This is crazy. This is crazy. I’m going to buy a drum set for an imaginary drummer that doesn’t exist with money that we don’t have.” I picked that drum set up on a Thursday. And that Sunday, wouldn’t you know it, kid walks in, clean-cut. We’ve got a lot of military in D.C. He was Marine Corps - not just Marine Corps - drum and bugle corps.
We have a simple rule. We have about 150 people on our worship team across our 70 campuses, but we still have this rule that dates back about 20 years. If you play an instrument for the president of the United States, you don’t even have to audition; you’re on our worship team...
...Automatically. God didn’t just send us a drummer; He sent us a rock star. And I learned such a valuable lesson - that sometimes you’ve got to take that 32-mile step of faith and see what God does. And so here’s where we’re at. We’ve got one person praying. His name is Cornelius. What happens when two people pray? Well, this is where the plot thickens in verse 9. About noon the following day, they were on their journey and approaching the city. Peter went up on the roof to pray.
John: And we’re gonna step in right there just to let you know you’re listening to Mark Batterson on Focus on the Family. And you can get his book on prayer - it’s called,- when you make a gift of any amount to this ministry. You can do that by calling 800-A-FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Or donate and request the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Let’s go ahead and return now to Mark Batterson. He’s the pastor of National Community Church. They meet in theaters throughout Washington, D.C. And as you’ll hear in a moment, they also operate a coffee shop.
End of Program Note
Mark: I think sometimes, in our relationship with God - this is not rocket science - you’ve got to have a place to go and a time where you tend to meet with God. Now, I know the Bible says pray without ceasing. You can do that. You can do it while you’re driving. Just keep your eyes open. But you can do it anywhere. But I think you need a place to go. Peter goes up on the rooftop to pray. Part of why I like it is because my favorite place to pray is the rooftop of Ebenezers Coffeehouse. We’re actually kitty-cornered to the Security and Exchange Commission, which is a taller building. And so I go up on the rooftop to pray because I like praying in a place where God did a miracle. Because four people offered more money for that property than we did, two of them real estate developers, but we bought it, and we turned what was a crack house into a coffeehouse. When and where do you pray? And so Peter’s up on the rooftop praying. I’m gonna move pretty quick. He falls into a trance, sees Heaven open. And there are these four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. And voice says, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” And I love verse 14. “Surely not, Lord,” Peter replied. Now, I’m pretty sure that if you’re calling someone Lord, the two words that can never precede that are “surely not.”
But I get it because Peter had never eaten an unclean animal. It was against Jewish dietary law. But again, there are times where - here’s how I want to say it - and this is the pastor in me, and I really believe this - um, here’s what happens - have you ever had an argument with God? Okay. Here’s what I’ve learned: when you get into an argument with God, if you win that argument, you lose, and if you lose the argument, you win. I am convinced that most of us are just one lost argument away from the breakthrough, from the miracle, from what it is that God wants to do. So what I love is Peter is willing to lose an argument.
In fact, uh, it says that Cornelius and, uh, his crew that he had sent show up. They find Peter. And there’s this incredible, divine appointment. Let me zoom way out and just say this. God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. I believe He orders our footsteps. I believe He prepares good works in advance. And what’s amazing about this story when you zoom out is that Cornelius, an Italian soldier, and Peter, a Jewish apostle, should have never met. Listen, they don’t follow each other on Twitter. These are two people - and they’re more than 32 miles apart - these are two people who should have never ever met. But isn’t that what is amazing about following Jesus? He’s gonna take you some places you couldn’t get, and you’re gonna meet some people you shouldn’t know, and you’re gonna do some things that you’re not capable of doing, and He’s gonna get the glory because of it.
And so He sets up this incredible, divine appointment. We kind of come in for a landing right here. It says that Peter, uh, went downstairs, went with them - and then verse 24 - the following day arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and called together his relatives and close friends - and then, last little phrase here - as Peter entered the house. Now, that seems like a very anti-climactic place to end this message, right? But this is incredibly significant. This is the rabbit hole in. This is the wardrobe in . I call it the door to whosoever. It says, “As Peter entered the house” - now, you realize he’s breaking every law in the book. In the Council of Jerusalem, he gets called on the carpet because this is - he is not supposed to be here because at this point, the way as it was known was a sect of Judaism. You had to be Jewish to get in the game. But something happens. “As Peter enters the house, whosoever will, may come.” You know what happens. Cornelius and his family are saved and baptized. They become the first gentile converts.
And this is where I ask the question, how many of you here today are Jewish? And how many are gentile? Well, how did all of you gentiles get here? I’ll tell you how. Two thousand years ago, there was a guy named Cornelius who prayed to God regularly - gets a vision from God, has the faith to take a step and go to Joppa. And over here, there’s a guy named Peter praying, who puts his credentials on the table and goes and preaches the Gospel. And here’s the amazing thing: God does not answer, uh, these two people’s prayer one time in one conversion of one household. I would suggest that He answered that prayer one more time the moment that you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and me, put our faith in Christ. That’s the power of a single prayer.
Now, let me close with a testimony. My earliest memory is an asthma attack. About 3 years old - woke up, couldn’t breathe, went into my parents’ room. My dad rushed me to the emergency room - shot of epinephrine. And, uh, that adrenaline opened up my lungs. I could breathe. That routine was repeated night after night after night until finally, doctor diagnosed me with asthma - got an inhaler. And that inhaler became my best friend for the next 40 years. I slept with it under my pillow, played basketball in college. But I don’t remember a single practice or game where I didn’t have to take that inhaler. I played with it in my sock - never went anywhere without that inhaler. Thirteen years old - uh, code blue - I’m in intensive care. I think I’m taking my last breath. Uh, my parents are so desperate they call the pastor of the church that we had just started attending, Calvary Church in Naperville, Illinois. And the pastor of that church, Bob Schmidgall, is at the hospital in, like, 10 minutes. Again, it’s, like, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning. Little does he know that the 13-year-old kid that he’s praying for would marry his daughter eight years later.
And so I get out of the hospital. A team comes over - a prayer team, and says, “Can we pray for you?” We said, “Yeah. Let’s pray that the Lord would heal my asthma.” And a miracle happened that night - not the one I expected. I woke up the next morning, still had asthma, but all the warts on my feet were gone.
A little confusing. I remember thinking to myself, “There’s someone somewhere who’s breathing great but still has warts on their feet.”
God speaks in a still, small voice. And I think at 13, it was the first time I heard that voice. It felt like the spirit of God said, “Mark, I just wanted you to know that I’m able.” I held onto that. July 2, 2016, we start a series at our church - “Mountains Move.” And I just make a statement. At some point, you gotta stop talking to God about the mountain and start talking to the mountain about God and declare His love and His goodness and His power and His grace.
And I challenge our church to pray the bravest prayer. I said, “I think the bravest prayer is a prayer that you prayed hundreds of times and God hasn’t answered.” I said, “For me, that would be that God would heal my asthma.” And it was probably one of the most vulnerable moments in 20 years of pastoring because I had prayed it hundreds of times. But I said, “I’m gonna to pray one more time that God would heal me.” And something amazing happened. A week went by. I don’t know that I’d ever gone a solid week without taking my inhaler - and then two weeks and then three weeks. And I’m just like, “Lord, are You healing me? Am I healed? What’s happening?” And I waited until day 50 because I was so afraid to say something. But I said, “You know what? By faith, something’s different because there aren’t 40 days in 40 years, and I’ve just gone 50 days.” I have not taken an inhaler since July 2, 2016. God healed my lungs.
And can I tell you what I did to celebrate? Thought, “I’m going to do something I could’ve never done.” That last fall, I ran the Chicago marathon. Why Chicago? Because it’s where I’m from. And it’s the flattest marathon course in the country.
This is not theory to me. This is not just theology. What I’m talking about today is not theoretical. It’s the most practical thing you can do. What a joy to be with you today. God bless you.
John: Pastor Mark Batterson on this special edition of Focus on the Family. The National Day of Prayer, of course, today, and we thought it’d be appropriate for Mark Batterson to share some very practical ideas about prayer. He did that with our staff.
Jim: What a great message, John. I really love the fact that the Lord healed Pastor Mark’s asthma after those many, many years - hundreds of prayers for healing. And I hope if you’re praying for something that seems impossible, you’ve been encouraged to keep praying today. Never give up! God’s timing is always perfect!
And if you want to learn more about praying boldly, I’d encourage you to get a copy of Pastor Mark’s bestselling book,. It will really make a difference in your prayer life. You can get a copy right here, through Focus on the Family for a donation of any amount, as you support our efforts to help families thrive in Christ.
And as we pray for our nation today, whether you’re attending a National Day of Prayer event or just praying on your own, I hope you’ll pray specifically about the sanctity of human life issue here in the United States. At Focus on the Family, we are pushing back against the trends to legalize abortion through all 9 months of pregnancy, and we are praying that our legislators will recognize that preborn babies have a right to life.
And I hope we will see many of you at our Alive from New York event in Times Square the day after tomorrow - that’s Saturday May 4th! And if you can’t attend, please pray for great weather and for all the details to come together, especially as perform live, 4D ultrasounds on the big screen. Pray that those images of precious babies will start a tidal wave of pro-life support. Pray that those who have been on the fence on this issue will be galvanized to defend life.
One of the key verses for this campaign is found right in the center of your bible, Proverbs 24:10-12. King Solomon, who had asked God for wisdom and was given it, shares this advice: “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not repay man according to his work?”
John: Wow, that is really a timely scripture, Jim.
Jim: That really is, John, and I believe that this is God’s call for us today. We need to defend life!
John: We really do, and we’ll encourage you to visit focusonthefamily.com/broadcast to learn more about the Alive from New York event this Saturday. We’ll link over to that.
And when you’re online with us, please make a donation and request a copy of Mark Batterson’s book,, as well as a CD of this broadcast. You can also call us if you’d like to donate over the phone or get details about May 4th. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459.
Well next time, an amazing story of a mother and daughter’s difficult decisions with unplanned pregnancies and God’s healing in it all.
Laura Lynn Hughes: God is not mad at you. He’s madly in love with you. And He wants you to bring your pain, anything that you’ve ever been through to His Son, Jesus.
End of Teaser
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