Ronald Dunn, now in Heaven, was a prolific writer and speaker on prayer and the deeper life. He pastored in Texas and authored many books. What follows are stories taken from his book “Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something: The Incredible Power of Intercessory Prayer.” Published in 1991 by Thomas Nelson.
First story. (I’ve heard this from numerous speakers, but it’s Ron’s story.)
I was speaking at a banquet for a church’s intercessory prayer ministry when (this mother of a teenager) shared a recent answer to prayer. A few days before, as she was getting a pie ready to put into the oven, the phone rang, It was the school nurse. Her son had come down with a high fever and would she come and take him home?
The mother calculated how long it would take to drive to school and back, and how long the pie should bake, and concluded there was enough time. Popping the pie into the oven, she left for school. When she arrived, her son’s fever was worse and the nurse urged her to take him to the doctor.
Seeing her son like that–his face flushed, his body trembling and dripping with perspiration–frayed her, and she drove to the clinic as fast as she dared. She was frayed a bit more waiting for the doctor to emerge from the examination room, which he was now doing, walking toward her with a slip of paper in his hand.
“Get him to bed,” he told her, handing her the prescription, “and start him on this right away.”
By the time she got the boy home and in bed and headed out again for the shopping mall, she was not only frayed, but frazzled and frantic as well. And she had forgotten about the pie in the oven. At the mall, she found a pharmacy, got the prescription filled and rushed back to the car.
Which was locked.
Yes, there were her keys, hanging in the ignition switch, locked inside the car. She ran back into the mall, found a phone, and called home. When her son finally answered, she blurted out, “I’ve locked the keys inside the car!”
The boy was hardly able to speak. In a hoarse voice he whispered, “Get a wire coat hanger, Mom. You can get in with that.”
She began searching the mall for a wire coat hanger–which turned out not to be easy. Wooden hangers and plastic hangers were there in abundance, but shops didn’t use wire hangers anymore. After combing through a dozen stores, she found one that was behind the times just enough to use wire hangers.
Hurrying out of the mall, she allowed herself a smile of relief. As she was about to step off the curb, she halted. She stared at the wire coat hanger.
“I don’t know what to do with this!”
Then she remembered the pie in the oven. All the frustrations of the past hour collapsed on her and she began crying. Then she prayed. “Dear Lord, my boy is sick and he needs this medicine and my pie is in the oven and the keys are locked in the car and, Lord, I don’t know what to do with this coat hanger. Dear Lord, send somebody who does know what to do with it, and I really need that person NOW, Lord. Amen.”
She was wiping her eyes when a beat-up old car pulled up to the curb and stopped in front of her. A young man, twentyish-looking, in a T-shirt and ragged jeans got out. The first thing she noticed about him was the long, stringy hair, and then the beard that hid everything south of his nose. He was coming her way. When he drew near, she stepped in front of him and held out the wire coat hanger. “Young man,” she said, “do you know how to get into a locked car with one of these?”
He gaped at her for a moment, then plucked the hanger from her hand. “Where’s the car?”
Telling the story that night, she said she had never seen anything like it–it was simply amazing how easily he got into her car. A quick look at the door and window, a couple of twists of the coat hanger and bam! Just like that, the door was open.
When she saw the door open she threw her arms around him. “Oh,” she said, “the Lord sent you. You’re such a good boy. You must be a Christian.”
He stepped back and said, “No ma’am. I’m not a Christian. And I’m not a good boy. I just got out of prison yesterday.”
She jumped at him and hugged him again–fiercely. “Bless God!” she cried. “He sent me a professional!”
After the closing service of a Bible conference one woman came up to me to tell me how much the week had meant to her. Then she stepped back, clasped her hands to her chest, tilted her head, and with a wistful look in her eyes, said, “Oh, you have such a beautiful wife; you make such a beautiful couple–your whole life is just beautiful!”
I guess I should have told her about the argument my wife and I had had that morning. It probably would have encouraged her more than all my sermons.
Listen, I know many of the people who write the books and make the videos, and I’ve got news for you. They’re not doing any better than you are!
What I’m trying to say is, these people aren’t sitting around waiting for a vacancy in the Trinity; they are not spiritual experts who have found the secret and are now letting us in on it. They are fellow pilgrims sharing what they have seen along the way. They are digging wells in the desert for those who come after them.
A number of years ago, the late Alan Redpath, former pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago and a man greatly used of God around the world, suffered a severe stroke. Afterwards, while he was convalescing, he said, “I believe the Lord has taught me this lesson above all: Never undertake more Christian work than can be covered in believing prayer. Each of us has to work out what this means in personal experience in relation to our ministry, but I believe it is an abiding principle for us all. To fail here is to act not in faith but in presumption.”
A man came to my office one day to talk about a serious business problem. After he explained his situation, I asked, “Have you prayed about it?”
He looked offended. “Of course not.”
“Oh, that’s business,” he said. “I couldn’t pray about that.”
To my visitor, prayer was “For Official Use Only,” official meaning “religious.” Yet in prayer everything is considered official business. To the question: For what may I pray? Jesus answer, “Whatever.”
When I was pastor of a young, fast-growing suburban church, I found that the best hour for my personal prayer time was around midnight–everybody else was asleep and neither the phone nor the doorbell was likely to ring. One particular day had been hectic. It had been consumed by busywork. I hadn’t taken time to pray or read my Bible; I hadn’t done anything “spiritual.” I had written some necessary letters, returned a number of phone calls, planned meetings and worked on the church calendar–but nothing spiritual.
At midnight I came to my prayer time feeling unworthy. The first words out of my mouth were, “Lord, I know I have no right to ask You for anything tonight,” and I proceeded to apologize for being too busy to pray, read the Bible, or witness–too busy to do anything spiritual. I was praying like a wimp.
Suddenly it seemed as if the Lord said, “Suppose you had done a lot of spiritual things today–suppose you had prayed for four hours, read the Bible (on your knees) for four hours, and had led ten people to Christ. Would you feel more confident praying than you do now?”
“Yes, I would!”
“Then you are praying in your own name! You think I hear you because of your holiness. You think I am more inclined to listen to you if you have done a lot of good works. You are approaching me in your own unworthy name….”
I looked down at the floor of the throne room and saw that it was sprinkled, not with the sweat of my good works, but with the blood of His sacrifice.
Years ago I heard of an evangelist who used to go from village to village holding revival meetings. In every town, the first thing he did was organize a “shouting committee” that would sit on a pew in the back of the church and take down the names of everyone who shouted during the services. The next day they would go around town, checking up on the shouters, and if they found one with a bad reputation, they told him to stop shouting in their meetings.
And then there was the big fellow in one of my meetings who, when asked by a friend why he didn’t have a Bible, replied, “Oh, I just came to shout.”
“Just coming to shout” would not have set well with the apostle John. (I John 2:3,4)
A missionary told me about a letter he received from a little girl whose Sunday School class had been writing to foreign missionaries. Evidently their teacher had told them real live missionaries were very busy and might not have time to answer their letters, for the one he received said simply:
Dear Rev. Smith: We are praying for you. We are not expecting an answer.
One Friday afternoon when I was in college, a friend and I decided to drive home for the weekend. We piled into my ’46 Ford and, both of us being ministerial students, I asked my friend to pray for a safe trip. I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and heard him say, “Dear Lord, we pray that You will protect us and grant us traveling mercies–unless we can glorify Thee better on a hospital bed.”
That was the last time I asked him to pray about anything. Still, in a crazy kind of way, my friend was right. Whatever we pray for, it is a given that the glory of God takes precedence.
(In the process of giving some of my books to a young preacher, I’ve been scanning them and reading my notes in the margin–to see what I’m giving and what he’s getting, I suppose! These are some I had marked up in Ron Dunn’s book on prayer.)