Bestselling author Max Lucado (@MaxLucado) is a friend of Bible Gateway. We publish his weekly email devotionals An Encouraging Word from Max Lucado and his five-day short-run devotional On the Road to Calvary (click to sign up for them), as well as his Christmas email devotional Five Days of Hope.
[Click to see all of Max Lucado’s books in the Bible Gateway Store]
In his book, Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer (Thomas Nelson, 2014), he says prayer is the only tutorial the first followers of Jesus ever requested. And Jesus gave them a prayer. Not a lecture on prayer. Not the doctrine of prayer. He gave them a quotable, repeatable, portable prayer.
In the following question-and-answer, he shares insights he expresses in his book.
Before Amen gives readers a simple way to incorporate prayer into their everyday life.
Max Lucado: It seems to me that the prayers of the Bible can be distilled into one. The result is a simple, easy-to-remember, pocket-sized prayer: Father, you are good. I need help. They need help. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen. Let this prayer punctuate your day. As you begin your morning: Father, you are good. As you commute to work or walk the hallway at school. I need help. As you wait in the grocery line. They need help. Keep this prayer in your pocket as you pass through the day.
What prompted me to write Before Amen was the fact that I needed help in my prayer life. There are a lot of books on prayer for people who excel in prayer, but I needed a book on prayer for people who struggle to pray. So really, this book emerged out of a personal challenge that I’ve had in my life—of trying to simplify prayer, understand it more deeply, and practice it more daily.
Should prayer really be simple?
Max Lucado: Prayer, for most of us, is not defined by a month-long retreat, or even an hour of meditation. Prayer is conversation with God. Prayer can be the internal voice that directs the external action.
What do you say to people who think they aren’t good enough at praying?
Max Lucado: That’s a common feeling, yes. But God will teach you to pray. Don’t think for a minute he’s glaring at you from a distance with crossed arms and a scowl, waiting for you to get your prayer life together. Just the opposite. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you and you will eat with me” (Rev. 3:20 NCV). Jesus waits on the porch. He stands on the threshold. He taps … and calls. He waits for you to open the door. To pray is to open it. Prayer is the hand of faith on the door handle of your heart. The willing pull. The happy welcome to Jesus: “Come in, O King. Come in.” The kitchen is messy, but come in. I didn’t clean up, but come in. I’m not much of a conversationalist, but come in. We speak. He listens. He speaks. We listen. This is prayer at its purest form. God changes his people through such moments.
How personal should prayer be?
Max Lucado: Prayer starts with an honest, heartfelt “Oh, Daddy.” Jesus taught us to begin our prayers by saying, “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). More specifically, our “Abba in heaven.” Abba is an intimate, tender, folksy, pedestrian term, the warmest of the Aramaic words for “father.” Formality stripped away. Proximity promised. Jesus invites us to approach God like a child approaches Daddy. Become as little children. Carefree. Joy-filled. Playful. Trusting. Curious. Excited. Forget greatness, seek littleness. Trust more, strut less. Make lots of requests and accept all the gifts. Come to God like a child comes to Daddy.
How can we trust that God hears our prayers?
Max Lucado: God’s unrivaled goodness undergirds everything else we can say about prayer. If he’s like us, only slightly stronger, then why pray? If he grows weary, then why pray? If he has limitations, questions, and hesitations, then you might as well pray to the Wizard of Oz. However, if God is at once Father and Creator, holy unlike us and high above us, then you, at any point, are only a prayer away from help.
Is your world different because you prayed? In one sense, no. Wars still rage, traffic still clogs, and heartbreakers still roam the planet. But you are different. You have peace. Most of us can take our problems to Christ, but leaving them there? For good? With faith? Resist the urge to reclaim the problem once you’ve given it up. Jesus responds with this invitation to life: “Bring your problems to me.” State them simply. Present them faithfully and trust him reverently.
What do you say to someone who isn’t being physically healed? Is God not listening?
Max Lucado: He will heal you: instantly or gradually or ultimately. He may heal you instantly. One word was enough for him to banish demons, heal epilepsy, and raise the dead. He only had to speak the word and healing happened. He may do this for you. Or, he may heal you gradually. If Jesus heals you instantly, praise him. If you’re still waiting for healing, trust him. Your suffering is your sermon. He will heal you, my friend. I pray he heals you instantly. He may choose to heal you gradually. But this much is sure: Jesus will heal us all ultimately. Wheelchairs, ointments, treatments, and bandages are confiscated at the gateway to heaven. God’s children will, once again, be whole.
You describe the “They need help,” part of the prayer as intercessory prayer at its purest, a confluence of paucity and audacity.
Max Lucado: Yes. It’s says, Father, you are good. They need help. I can’t, but you can. “I can’t heal them, but God, you can.” “I can’t forgive them, but God, you can.” “I can’t help them, but God, you can.” This prayer gets God’s attention. He never sleeps. He’s never irritated. When you knock on His door, he responds quickly and fairly. Intercessory prayer isn’t rocket science. It acknowledges our inability and God’s ability. We come with empty hands, but high hopes. Why? God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20 NKJV). He “shall supply [our] needs according to His riches” (Phil. 4:19).
Theologically, what does prayer do? In particular, praying “in Jesus’ name.”
Max Lucado: Prayer slaps handcuffs on Satan. Prayer takes problems out of the domain of the devil and into the presence of God. Prayer confesses: “God, can handle it. Since he can, I have hope!” When we pray in the name of Jesus, we come to God on the basis of Jesus’ accomplishment. “Since we have a great High Priest [Jesus] over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22 NASB). As our High Priest, Jesus offers our prayers to God. His prayers are always heard. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23 NASB).
You uncovered some interesting statistics about prayer. Which was most surprising to you?
Max Lucado: Of all the statistics that I uncovered regarding prayer, I think the one that surprised me the most had to do with the practice of unbelievers. One out of every five unbelievers prays every day. I don’t know exactly to whom they pray or exactly why they pray, but they do, which to me speaks to that inner desire that even the most reticent among us have to talk to our Creator. We long to connect, and we long to connect with God.
What message do you want readers to take away from Before Amen?
Max Lucado: I hope readers close the book, convinced that God will help them pray and that prayer matters. God invites us to pray, and when we pray it affects the future. It impacts the direction of our lives. Yes, it even impacts the direction of history. And it certainly impacts the condition of our hearts. We’re happier after we pray. We’re healthier after we pray. We’re better people people after we pray. I hope when people read Before Amen they will believe that prayer truly matters.
Bio: More than 120 million readers have found comfort in the writings of Max Lucado. He ministers at the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Denalyn, and a sweet but misbehaving mutt, Andy.