Have you heard the expression "Pray Until Something Happens" (or P.U.S.H.)? As a child of the 1980s, many Christians in my generation used to have it embroidered on a bracelet that they wore around their wrist as a constant reminder.

There's much that's good about this idea! In his prayer for the Colossian Christians, the Apostle Paul says "Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you" (Colossians 1:9).

The question is: why stop praying once something happens? In his excellent book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (the book which inspired the PrayerMate app, incidentally) Don Carson makes the observation "there are some things for which we should not stop praying". In fact, he says, there is often a connection in Paul's prayers between the things that he gives thanks for (answers to prayer that he has already observed) and the things that he therefore prays for. Carson observes that "although we are inclined to pray for people and situations when they have fallen into desperate need, Paul's common practice is to pray for going concerns".

Consider, first, our own practice. We may of course pray when things are going well. But is it not true that we are inclined to pray with a great deal more urgency when things are going badly? In itself that is not bad... But if we pray only at those times, we are overlooking a great lesson from the apostle's prayer life. The frequency with which he links his thanksgiving for signs of grace in the lives of this or that group of believers, with his petitions for more signs of grace in the lives of the same believers, cannot be accidental. When Paul learns of the work of God in some church, he gives thanks; then he prays for still more of the same" (Chapter 6, "The Content of a Challenging Prayer")

In other words, there is real value in praying consistently for things over the long term - and that when we see God working in response to our prayers, that's an incentive to pray all the more for that situation, not to stop praying and move on to more urgent needs.

That consistency in praying week-in-week-out for situations over the long haul is really what PrayerMate is built for. The short-term needs and urgent requests I can just about bring to mind, once I sit down and put some thought in to it. But the thing that always encourages me most when I open the PrayerMate app and look at the list of suggested prayer topics for the day is the number of people and situations that come up which I otherwise would have completely neglected to pray for: people who I haven't spoken to for far too long, applications from sermons I heard months or even years ago, mission partners in a far away country who may have sent me a prayer email some time ago but who I know would value my ongoing prayer not just a quick arrow prayer at the point of first reading that email.

Praying Over the Long Term with PrayerMate

Let's take a look at some of those examples and consider how PrayerMate could be used to help us pray for them consistently over the long haul.

1. Praying for people you see less regularly

PrayerMate lists work best when you think of them like concentric circles - out of the box, the early lists are for yourself and your own walk with God, then you move out to the next circle and pray for your family and those closest to you, then your church and your friends, then finally to the wider world / World Mission. The scheduler makes sure that each prayer session contains a spread items from across all of these lists, but this means you tend to get just one or two items from each list at most.

For praying for those people you see less regularly, you might find one of the later lists such as "My friends" useful. You can easily add a new list by going to the "Lists" page and pressing the "New list" button at the bottom of "My lists". The order of lists can be changed here too, by pressing what looks like a "shuffle" button on iOS or by dragging and dropping on Android.

Once looking at your list, you can press the "+" button at the bottom of it to add a new subject for the person you want to pray for - either type a single name in to the text box on the "Add" page or use the "Enter a list of names" button to add multiple names in one go.

Another technique you might find helpful when praying for people that you don't see too often is to get a sneak preview of who you're likely to be praying for next time, and then send them a quick message to ask for suggestions of how you can pray. Once you have completed a prayer session, on the final page you can tap the praying hands icon to request a new prayer session, which will give you a hint of what you are likely to pray for next time. Then you can use that as a prompt to fire off a few quick text messages - a great way to encourage you to keep in touch with people as well!

2. Praying sermon applications

It's easy to feel convicted by the application of a particular sermon, but then even a week later you have totally forgotten about it and that good seed has been snatched away. PrayerMate can really help with this by helping you pray in those applications over the long term. You might find the "My walk with God" list helpful for this: when something in a sermon particularly convicts you, go to the "Lists" page, find "My Walk With God" then press the "+" button at the bottom. You can then create a new subject, perhaps giving it the verse reference of the sermon as the subject name. Once you have created that new subject, then you press the "Add something else to pray for this" button to add a blank card, where you can type out the verse or the particular thought that has challenged you, and a reminder for yourself of how you want to be praying in the light of that. Over time you can build up a good number of these, so none of them come up too often - just often enough to challenge you afresh and encourage you to pray for God's help to change.

3. Praying for missionaries

Have you ever had that experience of receiving a prayer letter from a missionary friend in your email inbox, and then it just sits there unread for a bit, before you finally feel guilty enough to open it and read it, and then it basically goes no further than that? This was one of the problems that inspired the creation of the PrayerMate app, and it includes some great features to help address this. Perhaps you will find the "World Mission" list helpful here, or you could create a new list especially for those missionaries whom you support. Add a new subject for each missionary. Now when you receive a prayer letter, you can either copy and paste some of the requests to a new card on their PrayerMate subject (press "Add something else to pray for this" on their subject page, then "Blank card"), or you can even attach their prayer email directly: if it's a PDF, simply share it to PrayerMate, or if even if it's not then we have a blog post about how you can convert any email to a PDF.

Adding them to PrayerMate like this means that you don't just pray through their requests a single time when the email first arrives, but you can actually pray over those concerns week in week out until their next prayer letter arrives (or it helps you to notice that they haven't sent one in a while and for you to check in with them that they're keeping their head above water!)

Conclusion

Answered prayer is sometimes about those dramatic turnarounds in the short term that clearly indicate God's miraculous intervention - and praise God for those moments because we certainly need the occasional encouragement like that! But sometimes the most encouraging answers to prayer are only seen with the benefit of hindsight after praying for weeks, months, years, even decades - and that's going to require patience and perseverance in prayer. So, yes - pray until something happens! But then keep praying - pray even more earnestly for that thing, as you see signs of God's grace in that person or situation, asking for even more of God's work there.

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