Fueled by Fervent Prayer

What transformed me in 1957 from an introverted, self-absorbed high school senior with no college plans into a college student with a passion for service, leading a half-dozen Youth for Christ high-school clubs? A combination of forces invaded my life, chief among them the authenticity and fire of prayer. The New Evangelicals were fueled by fervent prayer, and becoming part of YFC meant hours on one's knees with students and leaders in confession, intercession, and calling on God to do mighty works.

God's invitation to Jeremiah resonated in my soul: “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things.” As a child, I had prayed earnestly, and as a teen had experienced some remarkable “coincidences,” but YFC brought a community of intense prayer. For instance, during the invitation at Billy Graham's New York Crusade, I was praying for seekers with such obvious intensity that someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted to go forward.

Billy, YFC's first full-time employee, had a rich history of fervent prayer, especially at his crossroads moments. The same with Harold Ockenga; his mother's prayers and his own wrestlings with God formed a lifetime of commitment to prayer. Near the end of Ockenga's life, we interviewed him for Christianity Today. We asked how he had simultaneously functioned as president of Fuller Seminary in California and as pastor of historic Park Street Church in Boston. His immediate answer was to reach for a stack of prayer cards he turned to each morning. He would pray about each concern and then leave it in God's hands.

In the early YFC, however brash or shallow some of its leaders may have been, they joined with hundreds of others asking for God's forgiveness, wisdom, and empowerment. We heard countless stories of the power of prayer, including YFC leaders gathering around Billy in prayer long into the night, with the result of God's forever after blessing his invitations to receive Christ.

In 1959 I faced a 32-hour bus ride from eastern Pennsylvania to Kansas City to attend YFC's Director's School. I prayed earnestly that the trip would not be a dreary time-waster but a catalyst for my training to reach young people.

On the bus, I noticed three passengers bond because they were all doing the same tragic thing—going “home” because their spouses had rejected them. All were young—an airman just returned from Korea, a Mexican woman, and a 19-year-old girl, baby in arms.

A heavy snowstorm brought unusually good spirits to the bus as we started singing about snow and travel. Later, in the darkness, I talked and prayed with the beautiful but devastated Mexican woman about her future and her spiritual life. As I write this, I still see the teenage wife with her baby stepping down off the bus to meet her parents. The entire trip seemed a dramatic answering of my prayers.

At church a few weeks later, a phrase from a YFC song resonated in my soul, especially in light of the bus ride: “For who am I, that I should choose my way?” God, I was determined, must choose my path, and that would be possible only through prayer.

Prayer is mysterious, sometimes maddening in its seeming non-results, sometimes exhilarating in its sense of genuine connection and answers. Ole Hallesby once said, “Prayer is for the helpless.” I early recognized this reality.

Recently my friend Philip Yancey published a marvelous book titled simply Prayer. Yancey quotes Karl Barth's observation that “the most active workers and thinkers and fighters in the divine service in this world have … been the most active in prayer.”

This is exactly what I was drawn into as a young adult, and as with Graham and Ockenga, prayer for me has been an essential lifetime quest.


[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #92 in 2006]

Harold Myra has been CEO of Christianity Today International since 1975 and is co-author of CTI's 50th anniversary book, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham.
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