There are a lot of discouraged pray-ers out there. Perhaps that is because God has not answered because we have not prayed in a way that aligns with His design for prayer. God’s Word gives us some clear guidelines for how we must pray if we want to see answers to our prayers. Here are five characteristics of effective prayers:
Mark 11:22-24 says,
“And Jesus answered saying to them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.’”
The principle here is that we must have faith that we have received what we have asked of God in order to receive it. If we believe that we are praying according to God’s will, we ought to pray boldly and in faith. We cannot doubt the will of God and expect answers to prayer. God doesn’t promise to answer the prayers of a double-minded man waffling between faith and doubt (James 1:7-8).
Luke 11:5-10 says,
“Then He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at and says to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and from inside he answers and says, “Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.’”
The clear lesson in this story is that God honors persistence in prayer. God doesn’t always give us what we ask for right away. Sometimes He tests our faith by allowing us to have to continually and consistently seek God in prayer. Persistence demonstrates faith. If we want to see answers to our prayers, we need to tarry in prayer, not just one time, but over and over again, not losing heart all the while. Programs and quick fixes seem a lot more palatable, especially to an uncommitted church attendee. But revival can only happen God’s way, and tarrying in prayer is His way.
3. Without Ceasing
1 Thessalonians gives us another qualification for answered prayer. It says that we must “pray without ceasing.” This could mean several things. It clearly echoes the fact that we must be persistent and persevering in our praying. However, as an individual, it is impossible to literally get into a prayer closet and never get out. That is practically not a good application of the passage. This could be rationalized away by saying that we should maintain an attitude of prayerfulness throughout the day as we consider all that happens in light of what the Lord would have us do. But if we consider that the command is written not to an individual but to a church as a whole, the exhortation could be applied to the community of faith. The church should be praying unceasingly. Many churches have a prayer room or prayer tower where people sign up to intercede for an hour each day. This is a literal application of the command. We sure can’t argue against prayer around the clock. However, without getting bent out of shape over the “letter of the law,” we would do well to apply the heart of the exhortation, which is to be praying regularly, frequently, often, and without ceasing. The idea is that prayer is important, so we should do it a lot, do it regularly, do it often, and while we are at it, keep doing it. The church must be marked by prayer, for it is a house of prayer. Practically, we should be looking to find ways to grow in our prayer lives so as to fulfill the spirit of the command and seek to please the heart of God. As both individuals and churches, the goal for prayer has been set high because God values its importance just as highly.
James 5:16, probably the most often quoted verse on prayer, gives us a rule about prayer that we often take for granted. It says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” The principle which this passage exposes is that the church’s prayer, as well as the individual’s, is hindered by the presence of unconfessed sin. This idea is illustrated with a practical example in 1 Peter 3:7 which says, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” If husbands are not treating their wives as God has commanded, they can expect not to receive answers to their prayers. In fact, praying might be difficult to begin with. As a church, do we want to see answered prayer? Are we tired of feeling like our prayers get “returned to sender”? We must examine our hearts and lives, and we must confess any outstanding sin to God and to those we have sinned against. God promises to forgive us, and we can go back to enjoying the promise and blessing of answered prayer.
5. According to God’s Will
1 John 5:14-15 reminds us that we must pray according to His will if we want to see our prayers answered. It says, “And this is the confidence that we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” To ask according to His will means that we are praying in accordance with what God wants done. This is no problem if we are abiding in Christ, for then He will guide us into what we ought to pray. The more we study God’s Word, the better we will know what to pray for. For example, God wants people to come to Him, so we should pray for that. God wants us to be sanctified, so we should pray for that. God wants to lead His people and give them wisdom, so we should pray accordingly. As we do so with clean hearts and in perseverance, we should expect God to answer in His perfect wisdom and according to His sovereign timetable. We never manipulate God in prayer, but rather we get to align ourselves with His will and be part of His plan and work on the earth.