Walk through any bookstore, and you're likely to run across one of author Stormie Omartian's runaway best-sellers—The Power of a Praying Wife, The Power of a Praying Parent, The Power of a Praying Husband, The Power of a Praying Nation, as well as Praying God's Will for Your Life. Stormie dominates the Christian booksellers' best-seller list; her books have ranked in the top 5 for more than 27 consecutive months. And they're used in countless church small groups and Sunday school classes around the world.
But what's amazing about Stormie is that she blushes when someone calls her an expert on prayer. "A lot of people think because I've written books on prayer that I know something special. But you know what? The truth is, I'm just desperate for God," she insists. It's that desperation that seems to be the theme through Stormie's … well, stormy … life.
Raised by a mentally ill mother who verbally and physically abused her, Stormie spent her childhood locked in closets trying to avoid the rats that lurked there. She spent much of her teens and twenties searching for the love and acceptance she never received at home, which led to suicide attempts, heavy alcohol and drug use, and a failed marriage. Nothing helped her insecurity and pain—until a friend took her to church. There Stormie discovered the love and acceptance she'd longed for through a relationship with Jesus Christ. But calm still didn't enter Stormie's life. Although she met and married Michael, a fellow Christian, Michael's tendency toward verbal abuse brought back all the pain and insecurity of her childhood. Not until 15 years into their marriage did Stormie finally discover the secret to successful living: desperate prayer and total obedience to God.
It was prayer that helped her forgive her mother, strengthen her marriage (Stormie and Michael have been married now for 38 years), heal her insecurities, and learn parenting skills to raise her three children, Chris, John David, and Amanda. And it brought her through a year-long recovery after she nearly died from a burst appendix.
While other people might have turned to bitterness and anger, Stormie turned to God, who's shaped her into a gentle, genuinely lovely woman. "That's the Lord," claims Stormie. "He's spared me so many times. I found a way out of my suffering, and I want to share that with other people, to let them know there's hope." Here's what Stormie had to say about the power of prayer in this exclusive TCW interview.
When did you first realize prayer's power?
When I brought my first child, Chris, home from the hospital 36 years ago. Because of my mother's mental illness, I didn't have a positive role model for parenting. When Chris would cry and I couldn't get him to stop, I'd lose it and get angry. I realized that if someone didn't intervene, I could abuse him as my mother had me. That realization terrified me.
I prayed, "God, help me raise this child. I have no idea how to do it. I don't want to live with this horrible anger that makes me want to beat him to stop his crying." I'd put Chris in his crib, go in my room, and cry to God, "Lord, you've got to transform me because I can't change myself. But the Bible says you can. Heal me."
Every time I felt anger, I went to God in prayer. The more I prayed, the more God lifted it from me. By the time my daughter, Amanda, arrived, I didn't struggle with anger anymore.
Did prayer help you overcome your traumatic past?
Definitely. My journey from brokenness to wholeness didn't happen overnight; in fact, it took 14 years from the time I began the process until I was able to help others with the same problems. When I was a new Christian, I thought once you received Jesus into your life, that was it—no more problems. The truth is, while I'd secured eternal life, my life here on earth still needed work!
But my best friend since high school came to Christ the same year I did, and we started attending the same church. Because we had similarly dysfunctional families, we understood each other's prayer needs. We began praying regularly together over the phone several times a week. Through each low time of discouragement, each difficult decision, our prayers for each other were instrumental in our spiritual growth and emotional healing.
As I matured in my faith, I knew I wanted to forgive my mother. I learned, however, that unforgiveness as deeply rooted as mine must be unraveled one layer at a time. Whenever I'd feel any anger, hatred, and unforgiveness toward her, I had to learn to take charge of my will and deliberately pray, "Lord, my desire is to forgive my mother. Help me to forgive her completely."
Over several years of doing this more often than I can count, I suddenly realized I no longer hated her; I felt sorry for her instead. Being in touch with the heart of God through prayer for my mother brought such forgiveness in me that when she died a few years later, I had absolutely no bad feelings toward her.
How did you learn to pray so effectively?
It was because I was desperate for God—for his help in overcoming the scars of my past. Every time I read something in the Bible about prayer, I did what it said. For example, the apostle James says we don't have because we don't ask (4:2), so I thought, I might as well go ahead and ask! But James 4:3 adds, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives.…" I realized I have to be obedient to God if I expect him to answer.
Is praying specific prayers important?
I think it is. There's nothing wrong with telling God what you want, but you've always got to pray, "God, more than anything else, I want what you want."
I try to be honest with God about how I feel, what I need, what I long for and don't have. But first I go to God in confession to make sure my attitude's right. For example, if I harbor unforgiveness toward my husband, it puts up a wall between God and me. Only confession clears the channel between us and God.
What if a woman feels her prayers don't sound "good enough"?
Oh, I feel that way, too. I've often thought, I'm nobody. Why would God answer my prayers? But thank God he's not impressed by eloquence; he's impressed by our longing for him.
How do we get that longing?
Everybody has longings—for a husband, a child, close companionship, a better job, a bigger house. However, most of the time what we're really longing for is God's presence in our life. We just misinterpret the longings.
For instance, 19 years ago my family and I moved to Tennessee. Michael was working long hours, and my kids, who were in junior high and high school, didn't need me as they used to. I was alone most of the time and so lonely.
Finally I couldn't take it anymore. I burst into tears and prayed, "God, this feeling in me hurts. Take away this loneliness." Suddenly, I felt his presence so strong in my heart that the loneliness lifted. God helped me recognize my loneliness as a call to be with him. So every time I felt lonely after that, I'd pray, "Lord, I'm lonely for more of you."
You could have fallen into self-pity.
That's exactly what I did at first! I felt sorry for myself and thought, I'm going to be lonely all my life. But when I looked to God instead of someone else to fulfill my needs, he took my loneliness away. When I do what Jesus says to do in Mark 11:24—to ask him for something—God actually answers! I've been blown away by God's answers to prayer. Once I started to receive answers like that, I thought, If I prayed about this and he answered, what else might he answer?
But what about when God doesn't seem to answer?
I have a family member for whose salvation I pray. … a wonderful person who's closed off to the gospel. When I think of this person's background, I understand the reasons. But I wonder, Lord, I've been praying for this person to come to you for 25 years. How much longer do I have to pray for this? But I can't stop praying even though I don't see an answer.
Sometimes I think God allows things to go on and on so our roots grow strong in him. It requires us to lay down our desires and say, "Not my will, God, but yours be done." When we're burdened about something, God either will change the situation—or our heart.
I'd like to be able to quit praying about my husband's anger, but apparently that's a prayer I'm going to have to pray for the rest of my life. I don't get it! I don't know why certain prayers seem as though they never get fully answered. Michael's gotten so much better; it's nothing like it was before. But I don't understand why there has to be any anger. So I'm still praying, because a wife's prayers for her husband are more powerful than anybody else's.
Why do you say that?
Because God's made the husband and wife one. So when you pray for your husband, you essentially pray for yourself. What happens to my husband happens to me. If he's had a bad day, I guarantee I'll have a bad one, too. So it's to my benefit if I pray for him to have a good day.
Is that why you started praying for Michael?
I started praying for my kids first. Up until 23 years ago, it never occurred to me to pray anything more than "protect Michael" kind of prayers. But Michael brought anger into our marriage. Whenever he was upset about something, he'd lash out at me and the kids. After 15 years of marriage, the verbal abuse got so bad, I couldn't take it anymore; I wanted out. I had no option but to pray a desperate prayer: "God, this situation's killing me. Everything in me wants to take the kids and leave."
After one particularly rough week, Michael went on a business trip and my kids spent the weekend with some friends. The empty house only magnified how empty I felt. So I told God, "I need answers. I'm not eating until I hear something from you." I stayed in my bed, read my Bible, prayed, journaled, and fasted.
Why did you fast?
The Bible's filled with references to prayer and fasting as the way to receive God's wisdom and power. I knew if I wanted to see a breakthrough, fasting was the way to do it.
So it's going to the next level?
Yes. It's about putting God first. Every time I felt a hunger pang, I'd pray about my marriage. I'm sure God had been speaking to me about my marriage for years, but it wasn't until I began to fast that I really heard him.
And what did he tell you?
That instead of praying, "God, make Michael more this, less that," I was to pray, "God, change me to become the person you want me to be—and change Michael to become the person you want him to be."
That doesn't seem fair!
You're right. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. It took me several hours just to come to the point of saying, "Okay, God, I'll stay in the marriage and do things your way." I sobbed. I felt as though I was dying inside. But I stayed—with no guarantee our life together would change. I didn't start praying that way for Michael because I felt like it, but because I wanted to obey God.
Did you ever think, Why am I the one who has to pray?
Oh, I asked that many times. That's when God would say, "I'll work with whomever is willing. You're willing—you start."
But wasn't it difficult to pray for Michael when he got angry?
I'd have to start by confessing I didn't want to pray for him! I'd hold onto some hurt, some anger for the things he'd say. But the more honest I became with God, the more he showed me that while I may have forgiven an incident, I hadn't forgiven Michael. I had to confess that and then pray for help. Once I did, I was shocked at how quickly God started answering my prayers.
What started changing?
Instead of confronting, pleading, ignoring, debating, or giving him the silent treatment, I'd withdraw from Michael and go pray for him: "God, what is this anger? Where is it coming from? How can I pray about it?" God gave me insights into the reasons for Michael's misplaced anger, such as his being raised by an overbearing, overcritical mother. As my reactions changed, Michael softened.
I started to pray for his relationship with our kids, and was amazed when I watched it dramatically improve. For example, Michael began taking father-son golf trips with our son Chris. They're doing all this stuff together they didn't have a chance to do years ago because Michael spent so much time at work when the kids were young. Our family's really tight now.
Michael has a heart for God. He really wants to do right. He's not so strong-willed that he won't change, that he won't say he's sorry. Things are so much better between us than they were before. I feel as though God's redeemed our relationship because of my being able to pray for it. And my recent near-death experience from a burst appendix transformed Michael into a praying husband.
What do you say to the woman who no longer feels anything for her husband?
I've been there. At one point, I told my husband I didn't love him any more. I didn't say that to hurt him; I said that to let him know how badly he'd hurt me. I didn't feel anything, not love, not tenderness. But God restored that.
Are you saying God can resurrect a marriage?
Yes, he can. I've seen it. I've gotten so many letters from women who've said they were separated or divorced, but when they started to pray, their marriage was restored. Some of these stories are astounding.
Only our God is a God who transforms us from the inside out. All you have to say is, "God, I'm willing to open my heart to you."
But that's no guarantee prayer will transform a "D" marriage into an "A" marriage.
Right. You're still dealing with individuals who have free will. It always takes two people. If a husband's so strong-willed he won't change, God won't violate a spouse's free will.
I recently received a letter from a woman who'd been praying for her husband for a year after he left her to live with someone else. He's had a kid with this other woman. She was tearing herself up, thinking she was supposed to keep praying for him to come back even though she didn't feel the Holy Spirit asking her to. I wrote back, "You prayed. You've done everything you can do. Be released from him. He's chosen his life. Unless God puts it in your heart to keep praying, don't feel as though you're doing wrong by letting that go. Just pray, 'God, I release this relationship into your hands. If you want to restore it, restore it. If not, release me.'"
What about the married woman who suffers physical abuse?
I have zero tolerance for that. I don't advise a woman to stay and pray; I tell her to get out and get counseling. Pray from afar. The Lord never condones physical abuse.
Were you involved in a women's group while you struggled in your marriage?
Oh, yes. We met every Tuesday, and I shared with them what was going on. They prayed about it for me every week.
Did you tell Michael what you shared with the group?
Yes, I told him. He even wanted to share some of our struggles with the group himself! We trusted these women. And we knew they weren't going to betray our confidence.
Where would your marriage be had you not been involved in this prayer group?
There wouldn't be a marriage. There would have been a divorce.
Even if you'd prayed on your own?
I didn't get to the point of being able to pray effectively on my own without the aid of what these women gave me. They helped me develop my walk with God. When you're accountable to each other and you all share with and pray for each other, that matures you.
What other advice do you have on prayer?
I challenge women to think, What could I accomplish today if I allowed God to work through me? What would I like to see? Think of something you want to do beyond what you can do, and pray for that.
So you're advocating praying big prayers.
Yes. Too often we underestimate prayer's power. When you realize that power, you realize you can't afford not to pray. The more you have to do, the more time you should spend praying. And that, in turn, blesses what you're doing.
I also want women to know they can pray blessings into their life.
Is that why you wrote The Power of a Praying Woman?
It's because I realized women are often so busy praying for others, they neglect to pray for themselves. I want to teach women how to pray for their life in a way probably no one else does for them.
Jesus said, "I came so that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10, NASB). That's the kind of life he desires for us! But our best efforts to break out of our self-defeating cycle of bad habits or negative patterns can't happen without God's power. And that can't happen without prayer. I want women to move into powerful praying for themselves.
But that almost feels.…
Selfish that we're praying for ourselves? Exactly. But it's really not. It's okay to say, "Bless me, Lord." I discovered that in my prayer group. I'd just written The Power of a Praying Wife. I knew God had worked in my marriage, and I wanted God to work in other women's marriages, too. So I asked God to let that book be a breakthrough. I didn't feel as though I was praying a selfish prayer; I knew this book had a powerful message, and I wanted it to go all over the world. I felt I was praying in line with what God wanted.
So when this book took off right after that, I was filled with awe. So far it's been translated into more than 15 languages. Every time I get copies of a translation for another country, I break down and cry. I mean, why would that book go to places such as South America and Nigeria? Only God can do that. It certainly isn't anything I've done.
The Bible's full of passages in which someone prayed, "Bless me, Lord." We need to know it's okay to pray, "God, bless my life today. Bring into it what you want. I'm open to whatever blessings you want to give—and whatever correction you want, too." You ask so you can be a channel for what God wants to do through you, no matter if you're single, married, old, or young. Every woman can pray over her life. I think it's essential.
How can a woman get her husband to pray for her?
It's funny you ask that. One woman asked me, "How can I get my husband to read your book The Power of a Praying Husband?" I said, "You pray!" There's no other way you can get your husband to pray for you other than to ask him to—and then pray yourself.
And keep at it?
Some day, when we get to heaven, I hope we'll see all the ways God answered our prayers even when we didn't know about it! That's why I really want to encourage women to pray. Sometimes it feels as though our prayers aren't heard, that we're babbling into space or that our words hit the ceiling. But if you pray in Jesus' name, they are powerful. Those prayers are heard, and they are doing something—even if you don't see God's answers this side of heaven.
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