Christians have analyzed prayer's idea of "ask and you shall receive" since man's earliest pleas to God. For Mark Batterson, head pastor of D.C.'s National Community Church, the best prayers are those that boldly go where no prayers have gone before.
This idea of going big or going home is central to Batterson's new book, The Circle Maker. Debuting next week, it tells the story of Honi the Circle Maker, an ancient Hebrew who drew a circle in the sand and stood inside it until God ended a drought in Israel. Honi's dedication, Batterson argues, has huge implications for what takes place in contemporary prayer today.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Batterson suggests that supplication before Christ requires taking a stand before his throne. It's only when we persevere, he proposes, that our prayers are finally answered.
CP: You are the pastor of National Community Church, a D.C. ministry with seven locations. How has operating in the District changed the way you minister?
Batterson: We went into church planning with the traditional mindset of renting property to build a church. When we got to Capitol Hill, we realized that wouldn't work.
We stumbled on this idea of meeting in movie theaters and now it's in our DNA. We love ministering in marketplace locations. Our seventh location is in Barracks Row and we're now renovating it as a single-screen location. We want to have 20 locations by 2020. Some of those will be international communities. Our eighth location, for example, will be in Berlin. We'd also like to consider planting other locations in the Northeast.
CP: What about your ministry appeals to so many young people? NCC has a significant youth congregation.
Batterson: I think twenty-somethings are very cause oriented. We're involved in a lot of different kingdom causes. We appeal to a younger demographic as we're not just talking about it, we're doing it. They don't want a diluted Gospel. They want someone to get in their face and challenge them with the truth. We preach a raw Gospel that young people respond to. They don't want a spirituality compartmentalized from their Monday to Friday life.
CP: New media such as podcasting and Twitter are important to your ministry. How has technology changed how we share the Gospel?
Batterson: We're at about 33,000 followers on Twitter. I've realized that when I tweet something I have the potential to have a touch point with a tremendous amount of people. New media is like a megaphone. It amplifies your ability to reach more people. On the receiving end of that, it's a great way to keep a pulse on what my staff and congregation are doing. I stay in touch with more people more of the time.
CP: Your upcoming book The Circle Maker is derived from the legend of Honi the Circle Maker. What appealed to you about Honi's tale?
Batterson: The Jewish people understood the power of story. When I read this story – a true story mind you – it inspired me to pray with more faith.
I've always believed in the power of prayer. One prayer can accomplish more than a thousand plans. That isn't a magic formula, but it's an idea that if you pray, keep praying and then praying some more. There's a difference between "praying for" and "praying through."
We've lost our ability to persevere through prayer. My church, for example, has the core value of working like it depends on you and praying like it depends on God. If you take a good work ethic with a good prayer ethic, miracles happen.
CP: Why is prayer so important?
Batterson: If God is omnipotent and hears our prayers, then is there anything else that has the potential of prayer to change things? I think the answer is no.
There's nothing you can do that has greater power or potential than prayer. Prayer is the difference between you fighting for God and God fighting for you. When you pray, God fights for you, goes before you, blesses you and prepares good works in advance for you. The greatest tragedy in life is that some prayers go unanswered as they go unasked.
CP: You claim God is eager to answer our prayers. Why is He so excited to hear us?
Batterson: I'm an Earthly father. I can't wait for Christmas – not for the gifts I'll receive but for the gifts I'll give to my kids. I love doing that for them.
If I enjoy that as an Earthly father, how much more does our Heavenly Father love blessing His children? Many people don't pray with confidence as they don't understand the simple truth that God is for us.
CP: What is the most important aspect of praying correctly?
Batterson: We shouldn't pray vague prayers. They're a copout. We're afraid to pray with specificity. It's like we pray with a lack of confidence because we're afraid to ask whatever it is of God. In recent years, I've discovered the value of a prayer journal. There's something powerful about writing out a prayer and being specific.
CP: What would you say to those people unconvinced by your stance on prayer?
Batterson: There are two sides to prayer. There are prayers that God answers and that we thank Him for. Then there are the others God answers in ways we don't expect. Those are times when we ask for the wrong thing.
I hope my book challenges people to think about what they're praying for. God doesn't just want to change our circumstances, but us as people. That's far more important. Prayer is more about getting to know God than getting what you want from God. Prayer is where we begin to download the heart of God and get to sense His desire for our lives.
Your entire life should be a prayer. I've never met anybody that says I pray too much or too effectively. It's OK to feel like you've fallen short in prayer. The goal is to get people praying with more intensity and consistency.
CP: Why is Christianity important to you?
Batterson: I am a sinner in need of a savior. There's only one person who went to the cross for me. That's Jesus Christ, and he changed my life.
The more I get to know Christ, the more profound is his grace and power and what he is able to do in a fragile human being. Prayer is the way I tap into that grace and power. It's my lifeline, my conduit, my connection and my Wi-Fi. Prayers are eternal. They outlive us and never die. When you pray all bets are off. You never know what God will do.