Empowered by God, the intercessor has the ability to cut down enemy forces and pick out targets for God’s lightning bolts of glory. Prayers that “strike the mark” are prayers authorized by the Holy Spirit and endowed with divine power to accomplish the will of God.  – Strike the Mark by James Goll, Page 19.

The quote above is how James Goll defines “effective prayer” in his new book on prayer Strike the Mark.

Learning to Pray Effectively

Prayer has always been a big part of my life. As I often mention in my testimony, I knew the reality of God through the witness of my mom’s life . . . Not only in her character and behavior but the fact that God answered her prayers. She would pray . . . And things would change . . . She prayed prayers that would, as Goll defines it, “strike the mark.”

But I went through years of my own journey as a Christian before I believed that my own prayers were as effective. Maybe it was because I was trying to use more reason than faith. Maybe It was because I felt like I needed more instruction. Maybe it was due to years of sermons in churches that would preach God’s word but acted more like skeptics when it came to the power of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives today, where miracles were essentially relegated to the realm of myth.

Regardless, I prayed . . . But when it was really important . . . I would call my mom to have her pray for me because I knew her prayers would “strike the mark.”

But there is only so long that one can ride on anyone else’s faith. I knew I needed to have confidence in my own relationship and communion with God, and so I searched for not only answers but direction in how to pray. I searched online and read books on prayer, but in the end, I had to learn through a firestorm of life’s trials before I learned the power of prayer.

I wish I had this book then. That trial would have been a little less stormy if I had more direction.

 

Conditions of Effective Prayer

I’ve read several of Goll’s books in the past. What I appreciate most about his writing is his continual stressing of the importance of practicing repentance and living a life of personal integrity if we want to have fellowship and communion with God. Too often, this foundational issue is ignored. Whatever the spiritual discipline, we must first humble ourselves before God and ask Him to renew our hearts and minds. (Psalms 51:10-12.)

A Guidebook to Prayer

Strike the Mark covers both the nuts and bolts of prayer and also gives an overview of the variety and diversity of prayer in the body of Christ. It covers who can pray, when we pray, and the types of prayer: thanksgiving, high praise, worship, dedication or consecration, prayers of commitment, prayers of petition, prayers of intercession, prayers of supplication, prayers of commitment, prayers that decree a blessing, prayers that thwart the enemy, and prayers that decree a blessing. Goll gives guidance on praying each of these types of prayers as well as examples.

Just as the Holy Spirit operates through different gifts in different individuals, Goll notes that there are not only different types of prayers and prayer seasons, but that individuals can be oriented to different types of prayer just as different instruments are designed to produce a different sound in an orchestral harmony. We are “God’s orchestra of prayer.” (page 20.)

Goll also devotes several chapters to praying for a purpose other than personal fellowship and petition, such as exposing demonic strongholds and breaking generational curses.

The book is well organized with an outline of the topic covered at the end of each chapter, supporting verses, and a prayer, or “target practice.”

This is an excellent resource for both new Christians looking for guidance on prayer as well as experience intercessors.

On Criticisms

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I buy books solely because of bad reviews. For example, one of my all-time favorite books, The Spirit of the Rainforest, I bought because of an eviscerating one-star review by a skeptic who called the author a liar. The skeptic was just looking for accounts of “spiritual experiences” and wasn’t interested in the “Christian claptrap.” (The skeptic was obviously spiritual, not religious). Before I attended graduate school, I used to tell myself I couldn’t buy any more books until I read the ones I had. But after that flaming review, I had to buy Spirit anyway, and I’m glad I did.

The same is true of Michael Heiser’s Supernatural, I moved that book to the top of my “to read” list because of the bad review of a self-proclaimed scholar who apparently considers all Biblical scholars that actually believe in the authority of Scripture fools and who considers writers such as Elaine Pagels a more reliable expert.[1]

This is the same sort of situation with Strike the Mark, my stack of “to read” books is very high. Did I need another one to add to the list? Probably not. But as I mentioned at the earlier in this review, I’ve appreciated the books by James Goll that I’ve read in the past and one of the very first reviews posted after the book launched was one that seemed to be extremely uncharitable even before I read the book myself.

So as with the other books I mentioned, that bad review not only decided my purchase of this book, but it moved it to the top of my priority list to read.

Responding to the accusations in this particular review, the first leads off with a complaint about a single sentence in the introduction. The reviewer writes:

The first thing that struck me in this book was the author stating, right up front, that he “prayed in tongues” for about six to twelve hours a day, every day, for three months. That kind of hyper-specificity bothered me because for someone writing a book about prayer, the author seems to start off ignoring one of the primary things Jesus taught us about prayer. In Matthew six, He says to do what this man did at first—go into his house, his private place, and pray in private.

And yet, here we are in a book about prayer, ignoring one of Jesus’ specific instructions. Had he said, “After a time of concentrated prayer by myself and others…” I would have had no quibble. I don’t think Jesus was telling us we should pretend we don’t pray or anything. Just making that clear. – Chautona, Amazon Reviewer

Let’s point out the obvious, Goll was praying in private. In the same sentence she is referring to, Goll said he was in a “prayerful seclusion.” The full quote:

Prior to that, God had put me through ninety days of prayerful seclusion during which I had prayed in tongues for six to twelve hours a day. I had been sequestered in my home for three months straight, not doing any public ministry, but rather focusing on praying and singing in the Spirit.[2]

Not only is the criticism unjustified, but the reviewer so distorts the meaning of the actual text as to be straight up dishonest. Also, Goll’s example ties into the other sections of the book and illustrate his style of praying. He writes that he is better at praying for a specific time for a specific purpose and that he doesn’t do as well as a general intercessor.

Also, I do not agree with the critical reviewer that he should have just referred to it as a “time of concentrated prayer.” Some of us need specifics. “A time of concentrated prayer” can mean different things to different people: a week, a month, or even an hour. Knowing specifically what one person did can help set the context.

The distortion of the message of the book continues. Again from the review on Amazon:

One of my biggest problems with the book came in the early chapters. This quote illustrates it best.

“Not all prayers will be spoken in our native language, or any language at all. Sometimes we pray deep prayers that are not in understandable language, or not even in words at all. We may groan or weep or wrestle or travail. Many times, we may pray (or sing) in tongues. This kind of Spirit-led praying is guaranteed to strike the mark every time.” (emphasis mine).

My problem with that isn’t even about the whole groaning and travailing and tonguing… It’s that last line that I take issue with. I’m sorry, but I consider it borderline heretical . . .

Mr. Goll seems to consider prayers that “strike the mark” as only those that do what we want or think the Lord wants them to. In other words, prayers that are “successful.”

Goll makes very clear throughout the book that prayers are to be Spirit-led. The first accusation, that Goll is saying that “strike the mark” prayers are those that accomplish what “we” want, is unwarranted.

The second accusation is an odd one. If we are speaking God’s word and His Will, then yes, those prayers will always be successful. This is scriptural.

so shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: It shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Isaiah 55:11

Jesus healed all who came to him. (Luke 4:40) He did not have “hit or miss” prayers. His prayers always “struck the mark.” This is because he prayed exactly as the Holy Spirit directed. He only did what he saw the Father doing. (John 5:19)

 

Does God Always Hear Our Prayers?

Another criticism:

You see, prayer is our communication with the Lord. We pray TO HIM. Period. So, unless God is not God anymore, and has lost His power to receive what we send heavenward, prayers always strike the mark.

Yes, prayer is our communication with God and whether we ask or not, God knows our needs. His omniscience is not in question here. The question is will our prayers effect a result?

This statement also seems to indicate that the reviewer doesn’t understand how Goll defines the phrase, I began this review with his definition. Here it is again, “has the ability to cut down enemy forces and pick out targets for God’s lightning bolts of glory. Prayers that “strike the mark” are prayers authorized by the Holy Spirit and endowed with divine power to accomplish the will of God.”

There are certain groups of Christians, usually of the Calvinist persuasion, that seem to be under the impression that God accomplishes all His will without any interaction from man. This is not Scriptural, the most obvious response to this is that Jesus came and lived AS a man to redeem all men, but that seems to be the attitude here.[3]

This is part of the crazy story of the Christian, that not only does God love us so much that he came as man to save us from our own sins, but that He continues to work through man to accomplish His will. The picture of a tyrannical god who imposes His will over his subjects is that of the pagan gods . . . not Yahweh. We are always given a choice. We choose whether or not we will follow Him. We choose if we continue to walk in His will. Jesus lived as man so that we could become the children of God. (John 1:12)

What is more, as we walk in His will as His redeemed children, we are evidence of God’s glory.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:10-11 NLT

However, there are conditions to this . . . and the reviewer is wrong . . . not everyone who prays will have their prayers heard. Our prayers will be ineffective if we ask with the wrong motive (James 4:3); if we conceal and refuse to confess sin (Proverbs 28:13, Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:2, Proverbs 1:24-28) if we are in disobedience (Proverbs 28:9, Isaiah 1:15); if we exploit others (Isaiah 58:2-3); when husbands mistreat their wives (1 Peter 3:7); when we refuse to forgive (Matthew 6:12-15, Matthew 11:25-26, Matthew 5:23-24)

Where’s the Beef?

I think a clue into this reviewer’s perspective is given at the beginning of the review. She writes:

I need to be honest up front. I’d only made it a few paragraphs into the introduction before I knew this wasn’t the book for me. In fact, if I hadn’t requested a review copy and committed to reviewing it, I would have set it aside then.

If you are of the “Word of Faith” movement who is strongly in favor of things like the “Toronto Blessing,” please know that this may not be a review you want to read. It will likely offend you, and I don’t want to do that. Still, I have to be honest in what I see and why I do and do not like what I read and agree to review.

Obviously, she had made up her mind what this book was going to be about after, as she said, “only a few paragraphs.” Goll did mention praying for revival prior to the Toronto Blessing. Since the reviewer has a negative opinion on that movement that seemed to be all that was necessary for her to assume she knew what Goll’s position was, and so skimmed through the book and obviously completely ignored what he actually wrote.

She received the book for free and just had write a review since she said that she would, but didn’t seem to have any compunction whatsoever about misrepresenting the content.

The reviewer’s criticisms of this book are not valid or warranted.

The Power of Prayer

Christian,

Jesus did not only die to give you salvation and an eternity with him. He lived as man, laying his divinity aside, triumphed over sin and the grave so that you . . . yes, you sitting and reading this right now . . . could be free from the bondage of sin and be one more reflection of the glory of God.

How glorious a thing is that?

The critical reviewer of this book discounted this book as part of the “Word of Faith” movement. I’m not sure exactly how she would define that, but I have faith in God’s Word. I believe that it is true and when James writes about the power of prayer . . . I believe he meant exactly what he wrote.

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. James 5:13-17

Elijah, who lived prior to the cross, prayed as directed by God and affected wind and rain patterns. He had faith that God would do what He said.

How much more faith should we who say we believe in and have evidence of the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit have?  (James 6:10-11)

Do we actually have even the slightest bit of faith? (Matthew 17:19-20)

Once we begin our walk in faith, what then? How do we fulfill our calling as “co-laborers with God?” (1 Corinthians 3:9)

We have to learn how to seek God’s will, hear His voice, and follow God’s lead. Prayer is a vital component to that pursuit.

Strike the Mark by James Goll is an excellent resource book on prayer as we seek to come into closer communion with God.

James W. Goll. Strike the Mark (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2019) 205 pages.


Notes

[1] Just to be clear, Elaine Pagels is a respected scholar; however, her interpretation of research is concerning. She considers Gnosticism the “true” Christianity of the first century.

[2] Goll. 18.

[3] One of the things I’ve noticed about Calvinists is that they have a very difficult time understanding that Jesus operated fully as man while he was on earth. He “laid his divinity aside.” (Philippians 2:7-9) He never stopped being God, but his perfect life, his words, and his miracles were all as man was meant to be, perfected man but still man. It is because he lived as man that he was able to redeem man. This is the Orthodox Christian position.

However, I think the Calvinist tenet of “total depravity” is a barrier to understanding the fullness of our redemption. If man is “completely depraved” then Jesus couldn’t have really lived as man could he? The logical conclusion of this is that Jesus was “something other” than man and we can’t really expect to pray as Jesus did and have them answered. This is a form of Docetism, one of the earliest heresies that claim Jesus was not really human but only appeared to be.