John Eldredge and his wife have been through a lot over the past 30 years. “You know: The marriage stuff, and the kids stuff, finances and all that,” he says. In addition to his work as widely influential author—he is the bestselling author of Wild at Heart—Eldredge is the president of Ransomed Heart, a multi-faceted resource ministry that for Christians. He’s busy.
One of the things they’ve gone through is recognizing, when they’re really honest with themselves, they don’t pray nearly as much as they want. At the same time they were learning more about prayer, Eldredge says, he talked to many of his friends who were simply giving up on prayer. Even though they’ve been follower of Christ for a long time, they essentially had to learn how to pray later in life—including learning to stop telling people they would pray for them.
As he explored prayer more and more and deeper and deeper, he began to form a book about it—afterall, he is John Eldredge. Earlier this month, he released Moving Mountains: Praying with Passion, Confidence, and Authority. “I think the book really came out of a heart to restore hope in folks, and to share a little bit of our story with them and try and inspire some confidence,” he explains.
We talked with Eldredge about what he learned and about how we can all learn to pray better.
Why is it do you think that people have given up on prayer?
Here’s what I think has happened in so many of those cases: There’s been a disappointment; there was something that really meant a lot that we were praying about and nothing seemed to change. It was the hurt. It was the discouragement.
I think if we pushed a little bit more into those stories, here is probably what we would find: We waited until the house was on fire. You waited until your mom had cancer. You waited until you got the divorce papers served. You waited until there was the phone call, and your friend’s in a bad place and then you started praying.
That’s brutal. Don’t do that to yourself. That’s like learning to ski by starting on double black diamonds.
I think prayer can make a difference in those scenarios, but that’s just not kind. The big thought is that prayer is something you learn and you grow into like anything else in life.
That’s true with anything. Reading. Playing an instrument. All the things you enjoy in life. I think we’re sort of surprised to discover that prayer is exactly like that.
What did it look like for you to become a better prayer?
For me it was the realization that, first off, my prayers were very one-sided. I made prayer speeches to God. I would come into prayer and lay out my earnest. It wasn’t for show. My heart was in it. I was committed. “Please Lord,” and “here” and “this.” But then I would just walk away, and realize it wasn’t a two-way communication.
I wasn’t letting God speak back and speak into the situation. That was a pretty big turning point for me.
I think another piece was “bottle rocket prayers.” My prayers were kind of like bottle rockets. You jump in the car, and you’re flying to work, and you realize, ‘Oh man, I forgot to pray about the meeting that’s coming so you shoot up the quick prayer.’
So learning perseverance—learning that prayer is not a quick little act, but something I stay with over time.
You stopped telling people “I’ll pray for you.” Why?
I’m so embarrassed. I just had to stop telling people, “I’ll pray for you,” because I wouldn’t.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care. Here’s how the scenario typically goes: You’re just talking with someone over coffee, or maybe you run into them at the market or whatever, and they share a little bit of their life. Your very natural response is, “Oh man, that’s brutal. I’ll pray for you.” But I realized that I would drive away and never would pray for that person. Distraction, forgetfulness—to be honest maybe I didn’t want to be hassled by it—I don’t know, but I just wouldn’t. For integrity’s sake, I just couldn’t live with myself anymore.
Instead, what I do is, I will just pray for them right there. Now if it’s a text and somebody’s like, “Man not in a good place,” I’ll just text a prayer back. I’ll just start praying for them right there as I’m typing it out.
Do it now. Now is the time. Because there is always some reason not to pray later.
Peppered throughout the book is the language of “prayers that work.” What does it mean for our prayers to work?
I did that because people hate that phrase and I wanted to address that—let’s address the elephant in the room. If you are praying, you’re doing so because you want something to change. We’re not just doing religious chanting here. And the elephant in the room is that some prayers work and some prayers don’t.
Jesus, quite often in His teaching, he is simply describing reality. He’s just saying, “Here’s how God has set up the universe. Here’s how these things work.” For example, if you try to exalt yourself, you’re going to be humbled. It’s going to happen. If you humble yourself, you’re going to be exalted. Those are basic truths about the universe.
This is very, very helpful for Christians to begin to let that into their worldview. Because it’s true with prayer. It takes some very simple things like healing prayers. When you’re praying for the sick, Paul says in Roman 12:1, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” That means consecrate your body and before we try to invoke healing saying, “Jesus we just pray for restoration” first thing we do is bring that body and consecrate it to God and if there’s been misuse of that body—alcohol abuse or whatever it is—bring that back under Christ so that His blessing can flow. There’s a way things work and learning that in prayer is super helpful.