What is prayer? In simplest terms it is talking with God. Knowing how to pray, however, is not enough. We must learn to pray effectively. That means we must pray in such a way that we experience God’s intervention in the things we pray about.
Effective prayer begets more prayer. In other words, when a person prays and sees the difference prayer makes in her life, she will become emboldened in the area of prayer. If you have ever had an ordeal you seriously prayed about, and with time you saw in no uncertain terms that God had answered your prayer, such an experience should have encouraged you to become more prayerful.
Ineffective prayer has the opposite effect. To some people prayer is no more than a religious ritual. They don’t believe there is anyone listening on the other end. To them prayer is but a one way conversation or simply a form of meditation, etc. No one who views prayer that way can be zealous about it.
The premise of this article is that you believe God hears and answers prayer. I won’t try convincing anyone of that. That would be beyond the scope of a short writing such as this one. My objective in this article is to present a biblical strategy for praying more effectively.
First of all, praying effectively is not happenstance. One day Jesus’ disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). Though their request suggests that they acknowledged the need for instruction in prayer, it also says they understood that (1) prayer is important and (2) how we pray makes a difference.
Jesus responded by first giving His disciples a model for prayer. “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven…” (verse 2). Like many of you, I was taught this prayer as a child. I merely recited what my mother had taught me. But when I came to know Christ, the model prayer became my starting point. Now that I have matured as a Christian I don’t necessarily quote the model prayer each day, but it is the solid foundation on which my prayer life has been built.
In the model prayer that Jesus taught His disciples, we learn of the kinds of things we should talk to God about: (1) His relationship to us as our Father, (2) the holiness of His name, (3) our doing His will, (4) our daily provisions, (5) His forgiveness, and (6) our need for Him to keep us from evil.
Secondly, Jesus taught His disciples that when they pray they must do so with persistence: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (verse 9). In the Greek language, out of which this verse was translated, all the verbs are in the present tense, which denotes a continuous action. So Jesus is saying we must continue asking, and it will be given us. In other words, when we pray we must be persistent in what we pray for.
Thirdly, Jesus taught His disciples that when they pray they must trust the heavenly Father: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (verse 13). The point is that if we can trust our earthly parents when we ask something good of them, we should trust our heavenly Father even more.
Fourthly, the importance of spending ample time in prayer cannot be overemphasized. At times Jesus prayed the entire night. We cannot be effective in prayer spending only a few minutes a day with God. Effective prayer requires us to reach a point of intense communion with Him, and that requires time.
The awesome thing about prayer is that it ushers us into the presence of God. Think about that. The Almighty God of heaven visits His children when they pray! The psalmist was amazed by this truth as well (see Psalm 8:3-4).
It is imperative that the leadership in local churches make it a priority to disciple its members to become effective prayer warriors. In every local congregation I have pastored or been a member of prayer meeting is the least attended of all regular worship services. I am certain that if attendance during morning worship were anywhere as pitiful as it is in prayer meeting, pastors would panic due to the financial implications.
Money alone is not enough. In order for a church to be vibrant, it must be undergirded by congregants who know how to pray effectively.
At the onset of this article I said effective prayer begets more prayer, and ineffective prayer has the opposite effect. On the basis of these statements, I am led to conclude that most believers do not regard their prayer life as effective. This I say because an untold amount of local congregations are under terrible Satanic assault, yet only a few of the church members come to weekly prayer meeting. If they really believe in the power of corporate prayer wouldn’t they come together and pray for God’s intervention?
Now let’s take the subject of prayer to another level. One day when Jesus’ disciples were unsuccessfully trying to cast the devil out of a young man, the Lord said to them, “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Sometimes prayer—no matter how effective—is not enough. In these instances, prayer coupled with fasting is required.
I don’t claim to be a person whom God uses regularly to work miracles. But as I write this article I can honestly say that the most incredible acts of God that I have experienced through me have occurred as I devoted myself to a time of fasting. I do not believe these were coincidences.
Now let’s review what Jesus taught His disciples about prayer. In effect, He gave them a model for prayer, He stressed the importance of persistence, and He told them to trust their heavenly Father. Some believers pray the right way, but they fail to be persistent. Others pray the right way and are persistent, but they fail to trust God. To be effective in prayer, we need all three of these ingredients.
There is but one way a person can pray this way. It is called relationship. This is what drives the content of our conversation.
If you were to meet someone for the first time today and the two of you began talking, you would talk the way strangers talk to each other. With time as the relationship changed so would the content of the conversation. This is how our prayer life must be. Remember, Jesus began the prayer with the words “Our Father.” The premise of His entire teaching on prayer was that those who embraced it were children of God. Until one becomes a member of the family of God, though he may pray, he will do so as one talking to a stranger. And a person will not pray with persistence to an unknown God nor will he trust in the same.
The disciples could not have asked a more capable person to teach them how to pray. On earth Jesus was phenomenal because of His prayer life. You see, He did not minister as God but as a servant. Accordingly, He did not use His divinity for advantage. Prayer was not an option for Him but a must. He taught His disciples how to pray so they too could be phenomenal on earth. That is His will for us as well.
Frank, I love your topic and especially your well-thought-through approach to helping believers pray. It is so simple in theory, yet when the really tough times come---the times you question everything you've known---that is where you see prayer in a different light.
My favorite line in your article was the following: "It is called relationship. This is what drives the content of our conversation."
If for no other reason, having a close walking relationship with our Savior is enough reason by itself. Thank you so much.