the shape of leadership

Reactive and Proactive Prayer

Seeking God for today’s needs and tomorrow’s vision

Most followers of Jesus would acknowledge there is power in prayer. We’ve seen the difference prayer makes in our own lives, in our churches and among our family members and friends. But have you ever stopped to consider the difference between reactive prayer and proactive prayer?

Reactive prayer responds to the needs of the present. Rather than whining about problems or lashing out with anger when adversity comes our way, we choose to react with prayer.

The Early Church exercised reactive prayer when the religious leaders of the day threatened Peter and John for preaching the gospel. Acts 4:23-24 says, “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”

As they prayed, these believers reminded God of how people united against Jesus when He walked the earth. And then they prayed these words: “‘Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:29-31, emphasis added).

These early believers responded to the threats with prayer, and God moved on their behalf.

Our family experienced the power of reactive prayer a couple of years ago when our teenage niece experienced a relapse of leukemia. Her first battle included months in the hospital and a bone marrow transplant. But when the leukemia returned 18 months later, the doctors gave her a very slim chance for survival.

During this second round, our niece became a candidate for a revolutionary new T cell treatment after chemo proved unsuccessful. She was sick and weak, and her body was declining rapidly. That’s when my wife posted a request on social media for people to fast and pray.

Many Christians responded, together fasting more than 180 meals in one week. A few weeks later, people fasted another 160 meals. In both cases, we saw the health of our niece take a positive turn. In the end, she made a full recovery.

One of the most important things church leaders can do is pray.

When this horrific disease showed up, we — along with many friends and family members — engaged in reactive prayer. We responded to the need by presenting it to the Lord in prayer … over and over and over. Our niece was receiving great medical attention, but we knew she needed a miracle. Praying was all we knew to do.

It’s easy to react with complaining when we face adversity in our lives. But God invites us to react with prayer instead. With the number of needs that bombard us each day, reactive prayer should be a nonnegotiable. But there’s another type of prayer, too — proactive prayer.

While reactive prayer responds to the needs of the present, proactive prayer responds to a vision for the future.

After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to the apostles on multiple occasions. Acts 1:4-5 records one of these instances, when Jesus said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

That’s exactly what the apostles did. They returned to Jerusalem and then went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

Why were they praying? Because they were anticipating the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised to give them. In other words, they were praying proactively for the promise. Their prayers weren’t a response to a need, but rather a response to a promise — a vision — of something good to come.

Reactive prayer addresses today, but proactive prayer creates tomorrow. When Jabez prayed, “enlarge my territory” in 1 Chronicles 4:10, he was praying proactively about the future. He was taking ground. He was moving forward. He was trusting God for a better tomorrow.

One of the most important things church leaders can do is pray. When we pray with members of our congregation, we often pray reactively — in response to the needs and struggles they share with us. But as we’re dreaming about the future, privately and with our teams, we must pray proactively. We must dream about the possibilities and pray for their fulfillment.

Our reactive prayers show people we care. Our proactive prayers show God we have faith for a better future. Both types of prayer are critical in the life of a leader.

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