“When God Calls, You Better Show Up!” — Neil Ahlsten, Entrepreneur

Neil Ahlsten
Neil Ahlsten

Throughout history, people have used the tools available to help them communicate with God.  Prayer is recorded on cave walls by the aborigines in Australia and elsewhere. Biblical prayer was put in written form and distributed when the printing press was invented.  Prayer was broadcast on radio by our leaders during World War II.  I recall the television day beginning in the 1950s with the National Anthem and prayer.  More recently, people have used PCs and the Internet to help them pray.  Prayer requests and prayers themselves can be emailed and sent as text messages.

Entrepreneur Neil Ahlsten, a former Google business development manager and UC Berkeley summa cum laude graduate, is applying technology to prayer in a new way. His startup company, Carpenters, is developing a smartphone app called “Abide.”  The beta version of the product is now available on iTunes.

Abide – The Product

Abide will not be the first smartphone app focused on prayer, but Ahlsten says it will be quite different from anything available today.  The dozen or so prayer related apps on the market are text oriented.  In contrast, the centerpiece of Abide is the audio recording and sharing of prayers.  Ahlsten remarks, “Text is straightforward, but audio is complex.  Perhaps that is why others are not using audio.”  He adds, “We want to help people experience prayer and God together.  Audio is a better way to do that.”

What Abide does is allow someone — typically the person requesting prayer — to eavesdrop on another person’s conversation with God. Moreover, since the prayer is recorded, it is available for listening over and over again.

Although Ahlsten does not want to disclose publicly the future roadmap for Abide, he did describe the basics of how Abide works. With Abide one can request prayer and send that request to one or more people on the requestor’s contact list.  Those receiving the request can record a prayer and email their prayer back to the requestor. Those receiving the request do not need to have the app installed themselves to listen to the prayer.

Focus on the User Experience

Ahlsten reveals that the key to his company’s development effort is its focus on the user experience. “We want to make it frictionless to pray for people,” says Ahlsten. He learned from his experience at Google to test every detail of the user experience and to test it again and again.  “We want to go off the charts by making this really meaningful,” remarks Ahlsten.  He has people of all ages using and testing the product, including Dave Butts, chairman of the National Prayer Committee. “We have prayer warriors who love the product,” says Ahlsten. One tech savvy tester commented in an email to Ahlsten, “Neil, this is the single best piece of digital content I have ever received in my life.”

Researching the Principles of Prayer

Ahlsten and his team have spent considerable time researching the Christian principles of prayer. “We have discovered some deep insights that port extremely well to the mobile experience,” says Ahlsten.  He notes, for example, that prayer is a three way experience – the person praying, the person listening, and God receiving the prayer.  This three-way experience continues to happen every time the prayer is heard.  “You listen to a prayer five times and God can still speak to you because prayer is authentic communication with our creator,” comments Ahlsten.  This is similar to a believer’s experience in reading prayers and other text in the Bible. God speaks to us — and often in different ways — no matter how many times we read the same text.

God Calls, Ahlsten Obeys

How did Ahlsten decide to leave a high-powered job at Google — what he refers to as “a very lucrative career in a very lucrative space”?  He simply states, “When God calls, you better show up.”  It was on a business trip in Africa in 2012 that he first sensed God’s call to apply technology to Christian faith.  He comments, “God put on my heart that the church in general was missing where technology was going and how it was being used.”

Ahlsten began to think about using mobile devices for prayer, but for the most part he says he thought it was “a dumb idea.”  That is, until early 2013, when God gave him a specific message.  “While I was at church praying,” Ahlsten recalls, “I felt God pass over me in a humbling way. I was literally in tears when I heard Him say, ‘You are not big enough to understand what I do in prayer.’”  With that message, Ahlsten began to look seriously at developing a prayer app.

A short time later, Ahlsten received confirmation to develop a prayer app when he was on telephone call with Christian leader Os Hillman.  During the call, Hillman felt compelled to pass the phone to a colleague to pray for Ahlsten. Ahlsten recalls that although the man on the other end of the phone knew nothing about Ahlsten or his ideas, he began praying from John 15. Ahlsten recalls,

Abide in the vine, is what this guy kept saying.  Abide, abide, abide — which is of course the name of our product. This guy said that he saw a network of people praying together and went through a list of things he was envisioning in great detail, including seeing an Asian woman who is aligned with us. In fact, we have an Asian woman as our designer. He said all of this, yet he knew nothing about us. It was mind blowing.

Purpose in Life

Ahlsten says his purpose in life “is to be in a posture of listening, to be obedient to what God is telling me to do, and to do what is right.”  The development of Abide was not the first time that God tested his obedience by asking him to step out in faith.  Between his sophomore and junior years at UC Berkeley, he sensed God call him to live on the streets of San Francisco to minister to the homeless and understand what the homeless experience. “‘Go do this’ is what I heard the Holy Spirit telling me,” says Ahlsten.  “’Just take a bag, and I will find a place for you to live’ is what I heard God say.  So I did just that.”

The Company

Carpenters has five full time employees as of this writing.  The company was formed as a for-profit C-Corporation in the spring of 2014.  It raised $400k in seed money, which Ahlsten believes is enough to carry the company through full-featured release of the product later this year.

Carpenters has what business author Jim Collins would call a “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.” Ahlsten comments, “We hope to have 40 million people using Abide to pray twice per week.”  This is a lofty goal, but does raise the question, is there a conflict between engaging in a for-profit business and ministry?  Ahlsten emphatically states there is not.  He views his work as his ministry.  He notes that a profitable business is a sustainable business.  His intention is to invest the company’s profits in other technologies that will further the company’s missional goals.

Ahlsten did not divulge Carpenter’s business model, except to say that it will provide a version of Abide free of charge.  The company’s focus, he says, “is to create enough value for customers to allow us to build a sustainable ecosystem around the product.”  This may mean ads or paid versions of Abide.

Although God led Ahlsten to start Carpenters, he says “God gave me no promise for success. This is a ministry, and I am called to make an impact.”

___________

Also see Abide Prayer App Launches (December 16, 2014)

9 thoughts on ““When God Calls, You Better Show Up!” — Neil Ahlsten, Entrepreneur”

  1. ricardo mandanas

    PRAISE GOD HE IS ALIVE. He does not allow His creatures know Him not. Praise His Name FOREVER.

  2. I only just found this through YouVersion Bible app. I was flipping through suggested readings and ran across Imaginative Contemplations. I had some Christian meditations from a long time ago (45 minutes sessions) and thought, “this sounds interesting, but not quite up my alley.” I decided to make it an active plan so I could listen to it and see what I thought. I did session one this morning. WOW. It was wonderful. So, to be safe, I looked up Abide.is and researched that, then it lead to me Carpenter’s Code where I read more which then lead me to this page and, (recognizing you as the co-founder of Abide.is with Mr. Tse) I decided to read this article too. I never would have thought that there would be such heartfelt, active Christians in Silicon Valley (more metaphorical location than physical!). I am very excited to see what God will do with Abide and future apps/programs/directions for you and your team. Thank you for producing a powerful Christian app for the common person! Please thank your team for me also!

  3. With regard to the comment about Matthew 6 verse…all I know is that in my experience, in the past year I have received amazing prayers from dear brothers around the world, who felt God put me on their mind, and they called me to pray with me and for me, but I did not pick up the phone, so they left a message. And those messages have been gems that I have held onto because, like God often does when he speaks through other people, they spoke the truth and resonated with my own prayer life and Scripture reading most remarkably. What’s been challenging is that there are quite a few of these saved in my voicemail so that I have had to find ways to save them other places so they can be deleted to free up space in my voicemail. Abide provides a solution to this problem, so I’m excited to see it develop.

    1. Praise the Lord! I was led to this article and this exciting new ministry you are taking on through a posting on ‘Finding God in Silicon Valley’ website. As Christians, we all know how vitally important prayers are for our daily walk with God. So I am naturally fascinated by this new app, but then when I read how this app is to work, I actually had to ponder on it for a moment. Even though I don’t do often, (as I consider it a privilege) but at times of great need, I do send out prayer requests to brothers and sisters I truly trust for their prayers. I have never thought to have to listen to their actual prayers for me, the thought and the faith I have that my prayer warriors are hard at work praying for me is often enough to let me draw on the peace and strength from God to carry on, although often God is gracious enough to allow me to have some ‘proofs’ later. ^_^ So I guess I was wondering whether we really need an audio prayer apps at first. However, God then reminded me that the times when I actually got to listen to brothers and sisters pray for me, how loved, encouraged and moved I felt. The other thing that jumped to mind as I was thinking about how God can use this app, recently, there is this beloved pastor who was diagnosed with a rare but very aggressive form of cancer, he kept a blog trying to use his last time on this earth to encourage and draw people closer to God with his real experience walking with God through this valley of death. While it is touching to read all the postings of prayers, the pastor himself posted lately that, being greatly weakened by the disease, it is getting more and more difficult for him to even carry on daily life activities. I can only imagine, even though he covets for brothers and sisters’ prayers, he probably could not read through all of them or reply to all the postings any more. Had he had this app, he could have had easier and more personal access to all the prayers poured out for him, what great encouragements and blessings that God rewards His faithful servant with would that be!!!

      Thank you for answering God’s calling, as somebody who just left the corporate world to join the nonprofit since I believe this is God’s calling for me, I probably can share a bit of the struggle but also the great blessings that you are going through. God is faithful, yes, He does not promise us with ‘success’, in this worldly sense, but He promises us spiritual growth and maturity when we heed his calling and eternal love and life!

      As for the concern of whether this app could be used in a way that’s not pleased to God, you know, this is a sinful world, even Christ’s body, the church, is plagued with all things that God cannot be pleased with, but is that a reason we should not gather together and have fellowship with each other and worship God together, of course not, it just gives us more desire for God’s mercy and love that never ceases.

      I will definitely pray for your ‘prayer’ apps.

  4. Thanks for the great comment on Matthew 6:5-6! It’s an important point. My understanding of this passage is that Jesus speaks of these people as hypocrites because they pray publicly ‘so that they may be seen by men.’ They aren’t praying to glorify God or submit to God’s will.

    At Abide, we do not want to glorify people’s own interests or present anyone as spiritual because they are recording and sharing prayers. Rather, the goal is to let people share conversations with God for the edification of others. There are many examples of prayers that are recorded and shared publicly in the Bible. In John 17, Jesus prays in front of His disciples, and this prayer is recorded in scripture for us to read and pray ourselves that we may better understand and align ourselves with God’s will. There are many other examples of publicly recorded prayers – Abraham’s prayer in Genesis 18, Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90, David’s many prayers in the Psalms, Paul’s prayers such as Philippians 1:9-11, and so on. These prayers are shared to lift up God and align us with His will, and not so the speaker can show off in front of others.

    Unfortunately, all of us — including me — have a sinful nature that wants us to seek our own interests over God’s. It’s possible people will use Abide in ways that Jesus speaks against in Matthew 6:5-6. But I don’t believe this verse is irreconcilable with recording and sharing prayers.

    Blessings.

  5. “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)

    I don’t see how this app and this verse agree.

  6. What a beautiful story from Neil Ahlsten! We all need to be reminded of the statement “You are not big enough to understand what I do in prayer.” I feel that if we truly understood, we would spend more time on our knees.

    Thank you, Skip, for interviewing such a wonderful man of God. For the church to be present in technology and in Silicon Valley, God is raising great people like Neil Ahlsten. Amen for that!

  7. Mary Ann Ruebusch

    I rise very early each morning to pray before dawn – my favorite time of day. I don’t usually turn my computer on, but this morning something called me to check my email. As I read this inspiring piece, I felt I was in prayer. Such a beautiful, meaningful message – abide. “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” John 15:4. Lingering in God – abide…

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