Keys to Effective Prayer
Does God answer prayers today? Does He answer your prayers? You can have your prayers answered—and the results can be dramatic!
According to a Barna Research poll: "More than four out of five [U.S.] adults (82%) pray during a typical week." That may sound impressive, but how many pray every day? Remember that in the "outline prayer," Jesus taught us to pray daily (Matthew 6:11).
Does prayer actually change things? According to Barna Research, "Americans believe in the power and impact of prayer. Four out of five (82%) believe that 'prayer can change what happens in a person's life.' (1994)." Do you personally believe that?
The Bible gives many examples of God's intervention in the lives of those who seek Him and trust in Him! Note the example of the prophet Daniel: "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days" (Daniel 6:10). Daniel was thrown into the lion's den, but God rescued prayerful Daniel and preserved his life (vv. 11–12)!
Your Bible also reveals the power of prayer. Many recall that Jesus' prayer raised Lazarus from the dead (cf. John 11). But His disciples also experienced such power in prayer. When the Apostle Peter was in Joppa, he saw a dead Christian woman, much beloved by the widows who mourned her death. We read that "Peter put them [the mourning widows] all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord" (Acts 9:40–42). Yes, the Apostle Peter raised a woman from death!
"But these were great men of faith," you may say. "What if I don't have that much faith?" God's Word gives us the good news that we can have faith. Throughout the Bible, God gives many principles, or "keys," to effective prayer. If we use these keys, we can have our prayers answered.
Many people use memorized prayers. As a boy, I prayed the "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer, but my parents also helped me to pray for others in my own words. When you pray, speak to God in your own words, and be sincere.
Remember that you must speak to the true God! There are many false gods, and many people do not believe in any God at all. You need to prove to yourself whether God exists! God is the Creator. He is the lawgiver, both of natural law as Einstein saw it, and spiritual law as the Bible reveals. Nobel prize winner Albert Einstein could see the design and awesome intelligence in the creation. He wrote that the scientist's "religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection." (Einstein: A Centenary Volume, ed. A. P. French, p. 305)
God has given us overwhelming evidence of His existence and purpose. Still, some vain, egotistical, arrogant and ignorant people claim that there is no God. Do you know what God calls atheists? "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1). Although some "intellectuals" may ridicule faith in God as foolish, it is they who are revealed as fools.
God is ready to have a conversation with all who truly seek Him, even in the most desperate circumstances. When Nebuchadnezzar had taken the people of Judah into captivity in Babylon, Jeremiah explained that they still had hope. "For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 29:10–14).
That same principle applies to you! You can have a conversation with the Creator of the universe! He says that you can find Him, if you seek Him with your whole heart. You can pray or talk to Him, and He says: "I will listen to you!" How wonderful that is!
As you read of how God helped people, and delivered them from great stress and trials, you can have more faith. Read the account of the ancient Israelites' escape through the Red Sea, of Daniel's deliverance from the lions' den and of Shadrach, Meshech, and Abed-nego being saved from Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. Read of the miracles that Jesus performed—healing the diseased, the blind, the deaf and the lame. The Apostle Paul wrote that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). The Bible is the Word of God. Read it every day! Understand what the Creator God has actually accomplished in the past—and what He promises you today!
God gives us promises that money cannot buy. One of my favorite scripture verses gives a wonderful perspective on what God can do: "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:20–21).
What kind of problems do you have? Health problems? Financial problems? Employment problems? Family problems? Academic problems? Mental health problems? God can solve any problem you have! We have to do our part, of course—He cannot solve our problems if we are actively working against His help—but we can be comforted in knowing that He can work miracles for us, "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think." As you study the Bible, you will find examples of answered prayer, and encouragement that your own prayers will be answered, as God has promised.
We must each take responsibility for our actions. Yet our human nature makes it difficult for us to admit our faults, problems and sins. We cannot continue to practice sin as a way of life, while expecting that God will answer our prayers. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1–2).
God will not answer the prayers of hardened, unrepentant, practicing sinners. But what if you really want to change your life, and be delivered from your sinful habits and actions? God will help you, if you go to Him humbly, ashamed of your sinful nature. We see this in the Gospel story of the Pharisee and the publican (a tax collector):
"'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess." And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" I tell you, [Jesus said] this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted'" (Luke 18:9–14).
God will hear your prayer if you are really sorry and acknowledge your sinfulness, determined to change. As the Apostle John wrote: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). It takes courage to admit your sins, and to resolve to turn from them. But we must all humble ourselves and seek God with all our heart. Isaiah exhorted us to: "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6–7).
In the "model prayer," Jesus taught us to pray that "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Luke 11:2). God's will, not ours! Jesus desired to do His Father's will. When He prayed in agony on the night before His crucifixion, He asked that the cup of suffering be passed from him—if it were God's will (cf. Luke 22:42). But He surrendered His will to His Father's will, and was willing to suffer for you and for me. Notice that God strengthened Jesus to endure His sacrifice (v. 43), just as He will strengthen us if we pray for His will to be done. Sometimes, it may be God's will to answer your prayer with a "No." But if He does say "No," He will strengthen you to endure.
It is also important to understand God's overall will for us, not just in some specific trial, but in the whole Way of life He reveals in the Bible. The Apostle John shared a vital principle of answered prayer when he wrote: "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22). Are you keeping His commandments and pleasing Him? If you have this submissive attitude of obedience—as Jesus had—your prayers will be in tune with God's will for your life.
Human beings are by nature selfish. We want to get. But God's way is to give. Is this how you pray? Do you pray for others before you pray for yourself? And do you pray for God's will to be done, rather than your own will? The world encourages greed and selfishness, but Jesus exemplified selflessness. Even while He was being crucified, He prayed for others: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34).
We have already seen that we can grow in faith as we read the Bible. Hebrews 11 is called the "faith chapter." Here we read about the men and women of faith. You can have faith in God. God promises that if you seek Him sincerely, you will find Him: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
But first you will have to acknowledge the existence of an all-wise, all-powerful Creator God who loves you and every human on earth! We read: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" (Hebrews 11:1–3).
God is creating a spiritual family. He wants you to be His son or daughter! So, in your prayers, recognize God as your Father! Also, acknowledge God as the Creator, as King David often did in his prayers. King David was a man after God's own heart, as it tells us in Acts 13:22. David prayed with feeling and enthusiasm.
Many of the Psalms are the heartfelt prayers of David. He was very straightforward—very open and honest—with God about his feelings, his anxieties and his problems. He fervently expressed his faith and confidence that God would hear his prayer. He cried out: "I have called upon You, for You will hear me, O God; incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech!" (Psalm 17:6). David put his heart into his prayers, unlike many ancient Israelites, about whom God observed: "They never put their heart into their prayers" (Hosea 7:14, Moffatt).
We need to pray fervently, and we need to pray fervently for others! Do you pray for those who are ill? Remember what the Apostle James wrote: "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16).
Prayer is a privilege. It is our opportunity to spiritually come to the throne of Heaven. But we do not pray on our own authority. We pray in the name, or the authority, of our Lord, who instructs us to pray. It is the Son of God who in the Bible instructs us to "ask, seek and knock." Several times in the gospel of John, Jesus promises that God will hear our prayer if we ask in His Name. Jesus gives us the authority and the encouragement to pray. Asking in Jesus' name means that we are asking by His authority! Jesus instructed His disciples: "And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you" (John 16:23).
So, when you pray, realize that you are not coming before God's throne on your own authority, but on the authority of the Son of God: Jesus Christ.
Apply these seven keys of effective prayer, and you will see dramatic changes for good in your life, and in the lives of those around you. You can pray more sincerely, more effectively and more frequently—with faith and confidence.