Placebo Prayers

Preaching is not an easy task. Sure, the physical act of preaching isn’t extremely difficult. Even pagans give speeches and get “preachy” all the time. But biblical preaching comes with its own set of challenges. For a guy like I am, just standing still on a little stand for a while can make my knees tight and sore. And vocal cords don’t last forever either! Thank God for amplification. But what happened to me Saturday, September 7 is something I will never forget, and it taught me a lesson I want to share with you.

Outreach Recap

Me, Andrew Jones, Miri Roberts, and Jason Roberts with Ohio Stadium in the background.

Before I get to the topic of “placebo prayers,” let me recap our outreach to Ohio State University. After an opening week at OSU with 13 laborers (August 31), we followed that up with a small team of just 4 evangelists. We do not lament the number of people that God sends into the harvest. But we recognize a few facts.

  1. The more evangelists that are present, the more folks we can reach with tracts.
  2. The more preachers that are present, the more people we can reach with preaching.
  3. And more preachers means important breaks for each preacher, allowing us to preach for a longer period of time in total.

Our normal routine at THE Ohio State University Football games is to arrive about 3 hours before game time. We usually worship the Lord Jesus Christ through song (using my custom waterproof hymnals), pray as a group, then split up to evangelize. After about 2 and a half hours the crowd has descended upon us and ventured to the game. Then we split and have a fellowship meal together.

Last weekend, we had 6 men preaching God’s Word in our group. We split into two groups of 3 and separated physically. This allows us to always have 2 men preaching the mystery of the gospel. So we were able to achieve nearly 5 hours of street preaching in 2.5 hours, with each man carrying no more than about an hour of the load. But this week, I was the only preacher, and I was committed to filling the time. How God enabled that to happen is truly remarkable!

What Happened To Me

Because I knew that preaching for 2 hours or more would be daunting, I waited until about 9:30 am to begin. I preached the gospel for about an hour and then stopped to take a break. I was exhausted. I had drunk my 32oz water and was purchasing a bottle from a vendor. I could feel my left side being sunburnt. My eyes stung because I try not to wear sunglasses while I preach. My legs were weak from standing on a little stool, a stool that wasn’t properly secured which I fell off of once during the preaching. So before I started I had asked the Things Above Us crew to pray for me in a slack channel we share. I knew I could not continue without the help of the Holy Spirit. I wanted to stop and “just pass out tracts.” Not that there is anything wrong with passing out tracts, but when you are called to preach … well … passing out tracts doesn’t exactly satisfy.

So I reached for my phone and opened slack and I typed “I’ve been preaching for an hour and I’m exhausted and I still have another hour to go. Please pray that the Lord give me strength.” Confident in the faithfulness of my friends and the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, I ascended back onto my preaching stand (after checking it was properly assembled) and began to preach God’s Word again. When I got tired, I reminded myself that my friends were praying for me and that I would not want their prayers to be in vain. I could “feel” the strength being given to me by God, and I knew that it was the prayers of my co-laborers and the always edifying Things Above Us crew which were helping. I survived 55 minutes before I looked at my phone. But there were still large crowds arriving to the game later than usual. So I continued. I preached another twenty minutes almost until noon and the crowd died down.

That’s when I looked at my slack up and noticed the following message. “Couldn’t send. Tap to try again.”

My update to Slack had failed to upload. While the TAU crew debated finer points of Twitter theology, no one had been notified of my special need for prayer. I could have no confidence that any of them had specifically prayed for my perseverance through exhaustion nor my voice during that second hour. Could the prayers have had a placebo effect? That was my initial thought.

But because God the Holy Spirit had always known my need, my Father in Heaven knows what I need before I ask Him (Matthew 6:8)! God was pleased to supply my need and allowed me to embrace prayers that weren’t even offered according to my plans. He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we ask or think!

Final Thoughts

God is able to help His dear children however He pleases. One of those ways is through praying for one another. But in this case, I learned that simply trusting that people are praying for me was enough to encourage me to do what was difficult for me. It may be that God orchestrated others to pray for me that day other than the crew I had enlisted. Maybe someone somewhere afar off thought of me randomly and decided to use that as an opportunity to pray for me! I know that in my life I try to not ignore when someone is brought to my mind seemingly out of nowhere. I take those opportunities to pray for and even reach out to that person. You don’t know if, in God’s providence, that is how He is blessing that person that day!


Here are some pictures from August 31st outreach

This is my son Wesley with me. It was his first time at an OSU football game for evangelism, but hopefully not his last.
You can see Wesley in the middle handing out tracts.
Here are Jason and Miri Roberts on both sides of what becomes a very busy sidewalk prior to game time!
Will Dietrich from Jeremiah Cry Ministries heralding the gospel with us.



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