“Bob Leland said you would know what to do with this.”
With those few words, the young man handed me the piece of paper and walked away. He gave it to me just before the start of one of the services at New Brunswick Bible Institute two weeks ago. Looking at the paper, I saw that it was folded and stapled, with “Pastor Ray Pritchard” written in tiny, neat handwriting.
I knew before opening it what it was.
Seeing that paper reminded me of a visit I had with Bob and Amber Leland when I was a pastor in Oak Park and they were missionaries serving in Irian Jaya. Once when they were home from the field for a few months, they shared an amazing story with me. When we got together, Bob had something definite on his mind. He took out some sheets of paper and said he wanted to check on the answers to some prayer requests. There must have been almost 50 different items covering many different areas of our church life. Each one had been written down and the date noted. Some were labeled “Continual” and others were for specific needs. We went over each request one by one. Bob asked me to tell him if the request had been answered or not. He would write down Yes, No, or Not Yet depending on what I said. Some of the requests were for things such as revival in the congregation and spiritual power in the preaching of God’s Word. Others were very particular, such as additional workers for our children’s ministry. On and on we went, covering the church, the staff, and also Oak Park Christian Academy. Some of the requests went back four or five years. I marveled as I thought about the faithfulness of these two servants of Christ laboring in prayer from the “Bird’s Head” coastline of Irian Jaya.
I asked Bob when he and Amber started writing down prayer requests and noting the answers. He told me they started in 1971 because “we were bored with our prayer life. It seemed like we prayed and prayed but never heard about any answers.” So 40 years ago they began writing down specific requests. Whenever they agreed to pray for something or someone, they decided to go back later and find out how God had answered their prayers. And that’s why they had come to my office for one final visit. They wanted to know what God had done through their prayers. Bob told me that after many years of doing this, they had discovered that approximately 89% of their prayers are answered Yes, 2% are answered No, and about 9% are answered Not Yet. “It’s hard to argue with that,” he said with a smile. Bob is right. It is hard to argue with that.
He told me that story 11 years ago. And in the years since then, we have seen them a few times, mostly when we travel to preach in Maine or New Brunswick (he and Amber have retired to northern Maine). Here’s what amazes me:
He and Amber still pray for us.
As you can see from the fragment of the paper I scanned, they follow our weekly prayer updates with great interest. At the bottom of the page, I see a note that so far 11 prayers have been answered Yes with not a single No answer so far. Seven are listed as “unanswered” and 11 are “continual” requests for things like safety in travel, wisdom, open doors, and so on.
Bob and Amber have found a practical solution to the problem of boredom in prayer. They simply keep track of God’s answers. That is certainly biblical. The percentages just make the story memorable. Why should we be surprised when God answers our prayers when we pray in his will? Should we not expect God to keep his Word? Perhaps we would all benefit by keeping a record of our prayers and God’s answers. Certainly this is in the spirit of Jesus who said, “Ask and you will receive” (Matthew 7:7).
God bless Bob and Amber Leland, and God bless all the prayer warriors who fight the great battle on their knees. Through their labor of love, unseen by the world and little known to the rest of us, the cause of Christ moves forward around the world.