Heroes of the past influence our modern world in more ways than we can imagine. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and there are few places where that’s more true than prayer. There have been some incredible intercessors that have gone before us.
I recently traveled 37,000 miles around the world on a modern-day prayer pilgrimage. I met the Pope, danced with rabbis, visited monks, walked on coals, and revived my prayer life. I discovered a world of prayer traditions across the Judeo-Christian faith family, and dug into the history of our family’s greatest prayer warriors. Here are ten I discovered along the way:
- Francis of Assisi
Francis, the patron saint of ecology, was a nature-loving monk, and his followers have founded dozens of hospitals and universities. He’s one of the few saints revered in all three major branches of Christianity. I’m inspired by Francis’s boldness in prayer and action – in a time of enormous war and upheaval, Francis traveled to meet the Muslim sultan, in hopes of winning him to Jesus. While he didn’t succeed, he didn’t get executed either. In fact, the sultan so appreciated his boldness that Francis stayed for an entire year.
Takeaway: Where can you practice boldness in your life? Maybe it’s a conversation you’re putting off or a new chapter you’ve been making excuses for not moving forward. Be bold and start today!
Lawrence was a monk who washed dishes and cooked meals, and tried to pray without ceasing. He became so famous for his habit that someone interviewed him, and published a little book called, The Practice of the Presence of God. The book hasn’t been out of print in over 300 years, with over 20 million copies in English alone. Lawrence believed it was easy to be close to God in prayer — if you didn’t wander far from Him during the rest of the day. I discovered Lawrence’s home after many months of research, and the impact of his simple prayer philosophy has helped me, and millions of people, to constantly commune with Christ.
Takeaway: Find ways to connect the everyday to the eternal. When you wake up, pray about being alive in Christ. As you shower, ask God to cleanse you from unrighteousness. As you put on your clothes, put on the armour of God. As you walk or drive to work, pray about your spiritual journey.
Teresa of Avila
Teresa is the Doctor of Prayer in the Catholic Church – a high honor, especially for a woman born 500 years ago. I visited her simple monastery in Spain, just outside the beautiful walls of Avila. Teresa believed we are all on a spiritual journey, and there are seven “levels” in the process, ranging from practicing humility to achieving ecstatic spiritual marriage. While the lower levels of prayer, including the humble recognition of God’s work in our life, are very helpful, things got a little crazy towards the end. Teresa was said to levitate. I tend to stick to her first few ideas, trying to see where God is at work in my life.
Takeaway: Think about the times during the day you could focus on God more often. When do you get distracted, and how can you incorporate God into your life in those times?
Benedict of Nursia
This pious monk is considered the father of Western monasticism, and for good reason – he literally wrote the book on it. The Rule of Saint Benedict has served as a guidebook for millions of monastics throughout the centuries, famously summed up by the phrase “Ora et Labora” – pray and work. The patron saint of monks and spelunkers built a dozen monasteries in his lifetime, but his last one was truly impressive: a hulking hilltop fortress called Monte Cassino. I’ve visited the massive stone fortress where Benedict died, and reflected on the impact of his prayer and work. Benedict believed that prayer and work aren’t mutually exclusive, and that times of work and prayer can go together. Prayer infuses mission with meaning.
Takeaway: Instead of trying to fix your problems by work alone, start with prayer. Then, as you work, continue to see it as an offering or a constant supplication. Let your work and prayer be one.
John of the Cross
The Christian life is beautiful, but it isn’t easy. In this life we will have trouble. John of the Cross was no exception. His level of devotion was so extreme that another group of monks kidnapped and imprisoned him, bringing him out for regular public floggings. It was during the desperate time that he wrote the epic poem Dark Night of the Soul. He eventually tore the hinges off his cell and escaped, and went on to found a handful of monasteries. Like John of the Cross, and Mother Teresa many years later, I too struggle with dark nights of the soul. John’s life encourages me to weather those difficult times – to make Christ my rock and anchor in the storms of life.
Takeaway: Make Jesus your firm foundation. Rather than trying to fix or avoid problems, take time to do the greater work in prayer.
Roger Schütz was 25 years old when World War II started, and he decided that Switzerland was too safe a place for any Christian to be during a time of war. So he bicycled to France. One night he stopped in an almost-abandoned hilltop town called Taize, and an elderly woman invited him in for dinner. She asked him to stay in Taize, and he did. As the war progressed, Roger helped Jewish refugees flee from Nazi persecution. As the years went on, more and more people started to visit Taize — today, almost 100,000 young people visit each year, for prayer and meditation. My wife and I visited Taize, and it was a wonderful experience. We prayed before breakfast, before lunch, and after supper, and each time of prayer started with 8 minutes of silence. Our goal was to “maintain inner silence in all things so as to dwell with Christ.”
Takeaway: Rather than always asking for things during prayer, set aside a moment to simply spend time with Jesus.
Literally tens of millions of people are part of the Christian faith family because of the work of Wesley and his fellow ministers. The tiny preacher had a big mission – he’s famous for declaring “the whole world is my parish.” I’ve had the opportunity to visit Wesley’s simple house, where I discovered a curious walk-in closet off his bedroom – his prayer room.
Wesley spent two hours in that little room every morning, and it became known as “The Powerhouse of Methodism.” I’ve had the opportunity to pray in that closet, using Wesley’s own Bible – he always prayed with an open Bible, as he was always seeking a word from the Lord.
Takeaway: As you read through the Scriptures, turn Bible verses into prayers and pray them back to God.
George Muller was a legendary prayer warrior – according to his autobiography, he had over 5000 requests answered on the day he prayed them. Muller started 117 schools and ran a group of orphanages in England that took care of over 10,000 boys. He “retired” at the age of 70 and became a traveling evangelist, logging over 200,000 miles before the days of planes. Muller had five friends who were far from Christ, and he committed to prayer for them every day until they were part of God’s family. After a few months, the first man came to Christ. Within 10 years, two more had come to faith. After 25 years, the fourth man was saved. But the fifth man was a holdout, so Muller continued to prayer for him every single day… for 63 years and 8 months. Muller eventually died, and before his coffin was placed in the soil, his fifth friend committed his life to Jesus.
Takeaway: This is called prevailing prayer — it’s a gut-it-out, long-term commitment to doing the hard work of “moving the hand of God by prayer alone.” Commit to praying for the long-term.
The good Count Ludwig opened his vast estate to a group of Moravian refugees, and allowed them to start a village on his German property. The village was called Herrnhut, meaning “the Lord’s Watch.” Before long, they started fighting about theology and it got so bad that Zinzendorf made them sign a vow of unity and commitment to prayer. One thing led to another, and that prayer meeting ran 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, for over one hundred consecutive years. I’ve visited Herrnhut, the tiny town that fuelled a massive missions movement. It was so inspiring to see what a small group of people can do, when fully devoted to God. I love a quote by Zinzendorf that sums up his life: “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.”
That’s our calling – more of Him, less of us. As you pray, focus on thinking less of yourself and more on Christ and others.
Takeaway: That’s our calling – more of Him, less of us. As you pray, focus on thinking less of yourself and more on Christ and others.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of amazing prayer warriors on my journey. It’s been said that “each and every one of us could pray a prayer that could change the course of history.”I know it sounds cliché, but it really is true. I believe it, because many of my closest friends were won to Christ through prayer. Perhaps, someday, your name will be added to this list. Our work is often like pushing a heavy cart down an old track. But prayer is the steam engine that gives it real power.
Rather than trying to do it ourselves, let’s stand on the shoulder of giants and become prayer warriors in our generation. Our calling, like Benedict, is simple: pray and work. And somewhere, somehow, at some unknown intersection between prayer and work, God indwells our humble offering — God indwells us — and turns human actions into spiritual awakenings.
Photo by (flickr CC) Hartwig HKD