The Power of Crying Out: When Prayer Becomes Mighty

by Bill Gothard

In his short book The Power of Crying Out: When Prayer Becomes Mighty,2 Bill Gothard attempts to show prayers expressed by crying out loud are the most effective. Gothard writes, 

“For most of my life, I assumed that crying out was simply synonymous with prayer. I’ve come to be amazed, however, to see the specific purposes and potential for crying outand how this is emphasized time and again in Scripture. God hears our prayers, and the Bible’s testimony reveals that, in a special way, He particularly hears us when our requests are voiced aloud.”3 [emphasis in original] 

Jesus condemned those who make a public spectacle of their prayers and those who speak many words in hope they will be heard (Matt. 6:5-7). The power of prayer is determined by the intent of the person, not the method of expression. Jesus calls us to examine our prayer before it is spoken. In contrast, Gothard tells us to cry out and then examine our prayers:

“As we call aloud our prayers, we can more easily recognize our heart’s condition before God. Hearing our own spoken words, we quickly detect any lack of fervency or humility or reverence. Listening to ourselves, we’re forced to examine our hearts.”

Does God really respond more favorably when our prayers are voiced aloud with great fervency? The answer is unequivocally, “No.”  

What Exactly Is The Point Of This Book?  

God answers prayers that are in accordance with His will. Move your mind to the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). The cry of our Savior could not have been more fervent. Jesus literally was sweating blood. He was about to face the excruciating pain delivered by the cross. His human nature desired to be delivered from the pain He was about to face. Nevertheless, His human will yielded to that of the Father. Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane is a model for the believer. Ultimately, prayer is not a tool to change our circumstances or the mind of God. Effective prayer is aligning our will with the will of God.  

The Power of Crying Out paints quite a different picture of the purpose and mechanics of prayer. Gothard clearly makes a distinction between normal prayer and crying out to God in a loud voice. The distinction Gothard makes is that there are some situations that favorable answers to prayer come only after the prayer is voiced aloud. As he says it, “I saw that the Bible makes a distinction between ‘prayer’ and ‘crying out to God’.”6 

Does It Work? 

Throughout the book, there are anecdotal stories supporting Gothard’s belief there is special power in crying aloud in prayer. Stories of cancer being cured,7 criminals lowering their guns,8 engines stalling,9 financial success,10 freedom from lust,11 and more, permeate the book.  

But God is not sitting in Heaven waiting to see what and how people will pray. He already knows our prayers—they are a part of His eternal knowledge and sovereign plan for this world. We are called to bring to our Father requests and petitions (Phil. 4:6). However, to think if one cries aloud God will answer the prayer favorably for them is unbiblical. God certainly answers all our prayers. The answer, however, is often not what we desire.  

Success stories long have been effective marketing tools. Companies that sell cosmetics, dieting methods, and exercise equipment parade the beautiful, slim, and fit to promote their product. The wise consumer understands, as the fine print usually states, results may vary. Gothard also asserted his own ‘fine print.’ In the “Points to Ponder” section he writes, 

“Have you ever cried out to God in a crisis, but nothing happened? Did your cry reflect total humility? Did you acknowledge your complete weakness? Was there unconditional surrender to God’s will on every matter? Are there still areas in your life where you have not fully surrendered to Him?”14  

If this is the criteria for answered prayer, then God will never answer the prayer of a Christian. What Christian can honestly say he is completely humble, completely acknowledge his weaknesses, and has unconditional surrender in every part of his life? The Apostle John tells us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). It is for this reason we lean on the wisdom of God and not our own understanding.  

In an attempt to give an answer to the one whose cry is not acted upon by God, Gothard writes Chapter 11—“When God Delays His Answer.” The title says it all. Implied in the title and explicit in the chapter is the idea that if God has not answered your cry—just wait, He will. “I’ve been amazed at how just one cry will bring immediate results. But, we should not always expect this to be the case. Sometimes we need to keep crying night and day.”15 [emphasis in original] 

Gothard continues in this chapter with a story of how God provided real estate to his ministry ALERT.16 The wife of the founder of ALERT “began to cry out to the Lord with the prayer of Jabez,17 asking for expanded facilities.”18 Gothard relates that they cried out several times after it looked like they would not get the land. Finally, they received the land. Gothard concludes, 

“God’s Word tells us of ‘His own elect who cry out day and night to Him,’ and how God will respond to them ‘speedily’ as He patiently hears them. His timely response will always come according to what He wisely determines is the best schedule, in reward to our faith.”19 [emphasis in original] 

The Scripture Gothard is referring to is Luke 18:7-8. In context, Jesus is talking to His disciples about the coming of the Kingdom of God. In Luke 18:1, Jesus begins a parable of a godless judge. A widow who wanted justice against her adversary constantly petitioned the judge. The judge gave her justice so she would not badger him any longer. Jesus responds, “And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:7-8).” 

This passage does not teach that we are to cry out for things in this world until we get them. Jesus is explaining the cry of the believer for justice will be answered. The Kingdom of God will come, and His judgment will be speedy. Gothard’s application of this passage to the provision of expanded facilities is completely without warrant and a classic example of pretexting.20 

God, Do You Hear Me? 

It should be noted that we are not against the idea of crying aloud to God. In some cases, it is a natural outflow of the heart. Our criticism concerns Gothard’s claim there is a qualitative difference between silent prayer and prayer spoken aloud.21  

It is the heart of the prayer God hears. Words? whether spoken silently or aloud—are an outpouring of the heart. Words spoken aloud do not guarantee a pure and humble heart. The heart full of envy, pride, and jealousy can also speak aloud. Gothard gives many examples where the Bible records crying aloud to God. The mistake Gothard makes is taking what is descriptive in Scripture and making it prescriptive for everyday life. God is looking for a heart that cries out, not a voice that cries out. 

There is nothing we can do to grab God’s ear for a special hearing. Job attempted to get such a hearing with God. He lamented chapter after chapter in hope God might hear his case. Job pleaded that God might explain his suffering. The Lord responded out of the storm, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3). 

Just as Job could not move God to a response, neither can we. God hears the cry of the heart, but He is not moved by our passion. Our prayers do not have power within themselves. They cannot change the mind of God nor deliver an answer of our choosing. The power of prayer is found in the One to whom we pray, not in the prayer itself. 

Gothard is correct to stress the notion of fervency in prayer. God certainly hears the sincere prayer. Gothard makes two incorrect deductions, however. First, Gothard equates crying aloud with fervency. Second, he believes the fervent prayer is always answered in the affirmative. Gothard makes these two deductions when he writes, 

“Much of our prayer lacks the kind of fervency God requires for effective results. But when a person sincerely cries out to God as his only hope for deliverance, provision, or protection, we can be quite certain the cry will be fervent.”23 

If Gothard were to use the phrase “cries out” to mean a cry of the heart and not necessarily a cry of the voice, his above quote would be accurate. However, in the context of the book, it is clear Gothard is referring to the cry of the voicea cry spoken out loud. 

God longs to hear our heart cry to Him. Our prayer should be that we might be delivered through the trouble of this world. The cry of the heart should be centered on the very person and nature of God.  

God’s People In Prayer 

Prayer is our fellowship with the Bridegroom. The Church is the bride of Christ. What is a marriage without communication? We pray to God, and He speaks to us through His Word. The heart of a Christian should desire the will of her Groom. Pray to Him and also listen to Him. God will not answer a prayer in a way that is contrary to His Word. You can bank on it.  

This cannot be overemphasized: God does not answer prayer that is in conflict with His Word. Prayer is not an opportunity to inform God of His will. The unknowing do not explain to God “how it is.” The unknowing seek the omniscient One to ask “how should it be?”  

Prayer is not some mystic thing, where we try to find the right combination of word and phrase that will make God snap to attention and expand our ministry or whatever else. People in the occult 25 use prayer, word phrases, and mysticism to gain power for them. This is not the way of the Christian. The power of prayer lies in the omnipotent One—exactly where it should be. 

Final Thoughts 

Gothard needs to stop looking for a mechanistic method for prayer. This is a view of prayer similar to what we find in an occultic system of reality: a + b = c (The Prayer of Jabez + our praying it = expanded ministry); b + d = q (need in our life + crying aloud = positive answer). It is the idea that if I know the right ingredients to prayer, then I can insure the answer to prayer. The Christian idea of prayer, however, is one of relationship with God. Prayer is seeking to commune and communicate with our heavenly Father with whom we have a relationship. God hears our prayers whether audible or inaudible.  

Books such as Gothards The Power of Crying Out plague the American church. This mode of thinking has infected the Christian life and church. Self-help is the antithesis of the Gospel. Paul continually reminds the Roman church that they were saved by faith. Faith is a noun and not a verb. Our faith is in what God has already done—His Cross, and the promise of what He is still going to do—separate the good from the evil. Self-help is falling back into a different gospel. Self-help is a desire for knowledge to control life. If faith is a verb, an action, then it is not faith at all. Christian faith is a noun; faith is no better than the God our faith is in, what He has done, what He does, and what He will do. We pray in faith. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:  [Missing endnotes are the result of editing-out the cited text in question.]

2 Bill Gothard, Power of Crying Out: When Prayer Becomes Mighty, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2002)  
Ibid., 19.
Ibid., 26.
Ibid., 12.
Ibid., 10
Ibid., 17.
Ibid., 38.
Ibid., 40.
Ibid., 47-48
Gothard, 73.
Gothard, 79.
Air Land Emergency Resource Team
For a review of The Prayer of Jabez, see Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter 2002 edition of the Midwest Christian Outreach Journal.
Gothard, 79.
Ibid., 81.
Pretexting is reading one’s own ideas into Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to define our ideas. 
Interestingly, Neil Anderson in his book Bondage Breaker, exhorts the Christian to not speak their prayers aloud because Satan can then hear them and use those prayers against the believer. We do not believe this to be true. But, what is evident with both of these books is the spiritual “no-mans land” in which the Christian is left. This illustrates the need for the believer to test the writings of all authors against Scripture.
Ibid., 75.
Bill Gothard is not in any way associated with the occult. We are simply pointing out the nature of occultic prayer.

* Adapted and/or excerpted from an article in the Summer 2003, MCO Journal: “For Crying Out Loud: Looking at Bill Gothard’s Book The Power of Crying Out: When Prayer Becomes Mighty, pp. 8 & 9-12; a review by Randall Birtell & Randal Ming. (Birtell and Ming are the Scranton, KS Branch Directors of MCOI, and are both completing their Master’s Degree in Apologetics.) 

Biblical Discernment Ministries - 1/2004