I am both purpose driven and goal oriented. When I set goals, I am very specific about what I want to do or to happen. If I don't know what I want to get done, it usually does not get done. Even worse, if I don't know what I want to get done, I don't know if I am really accomplishing anything at all!
In a similar way, shouldn’t our prayers also be specific so that we can see specific results from that prayer? Think of Elijah's prayer referenced in James 5:17-18, Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
This passage refers back to 1 Kings 17 and 18. Elijah prayed specifically for a drought and got a drought. Later he prayed specifically for rain and got rain. In between that time, he challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown on Mt. Carmel. He prayed specifically that God would send fire from heaven to consume his offering, and God answered in that specific method. God not only answered the prayer, but made that answer a visible testimony to his power, causing a turning from Baal to Himself.
I wonder sometimes if our general prayers are not from fear that if we pray too specifically we might not see the answers we're looking for and so fail. Seriously? Once we give something to God in prayer, it’s His. It’s up to Him to respond in whatever way He thinks best. We neither succeed nor fail in prayer, but trust in God’s judgment. God will work out all situations for His good and the good of those that love and follow Him.
A former missionary to Indonesia has written:
We had just built a new house for a co-worker and were planning a house warming to thank the other missionaries who had helped. We had invited them and our local missionary pilot. The only problem was that dry season was upon us and we didn't have enough water in the river for a float plane landing.
People started to pray for this. Up to the afternoon before the housewarming, we had no rain. Esther, a nearby missionary and one of the invitees, radioed that she and the Christians in her village were praying for rain. The next morning, she radioed over early, with obvious disappointment in her voice. She was so sorry they couldn't come, because there had been no rain on their river, and assumed none on ours.
"Esther," I said, "last night after dark it began raining here. It rained all night. Then, just as the sun came up, it stopped and the clouds broke up. We're fine for a landing!"
I later checked around. Five miles to the east, west, north and south of our station, there was no rain. Over us and in the surrounding jungle, it rained all night. Then, just at dawn the rain stopped, the clouds broke up, and the conditions were perfect for a landing.
Specific prayer brought a specific answer.
On another continent and another time . . .
In 1984 Open Doors with Brother Andrew and other Christian organizations "called for a seven-year campaign of prayer for the Soviet Union . . . with the specific goal of complete religious liberty and Bible[s] available for all." In 1990 multi-party democracy was instituted. In 1991 a failed coup led to the total breakup of the Soviet Union and the banning of the Communist Party.
Do the math! 1984 + 7 years of prayer = 1991 on the dot!
But there’s at least one more story of prayer here.
When dictator Joseph Stalin wanted to stamp out Christianity in the 1920's, he confiscated Bibles. For some reason, though, he did not destroy them. He stored them in local warehouses. In the early 1990's a mission team discovered a storehouse of Bibles not far from them and received permission from local authorities to take and distribute these Bibles.
Going to the warehouse, they hired some locals to help with the work of transferring the books to cars and trucks for transport back to the city. One of the young men hired was not a believer and spent his time mocking and harassing the Christians. As the day wore on, the missionaries realized that this guy was no longer around. Searching, they found him crying in the back of the warehouse.
This young man had decided to see why these books were so special, but did not want the Christians to see his curiosity. He went to the back of the warehouse to look at one. Choosing a Bible from the top of the stack, he opened the cover and found his grandmother's name written on the first page. God had arranged to have his grandmother's Bible taken from her and stored in that warehouse for 50 years until this very man came along to find it.
They later found a prayer written by that grandmother when her Bible was taken. “God, don’t let the church die. Help my grandchildren to know you and believe.”
How specific can you get, in both petition and God’s response?
I’ll not say much more, because I don’t want to take away from the impact of these true testimonies. Go through the Bible yourself. Look at the prayers, in the form of specific requests, spoken by God’s people through the word. Look at God’s responses. Then, by faith, make your own prayers as specific as theirs and watch what God does.