Principles of Effective Prayer

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“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

One of the greatest blessings that we Christians enjoy is the privilege of prayer. Through prayer we find

  • peace to replace anxiety (Phil. 4:6-7),
  • spiritual strength from God through His Spirit (Eph. 3:14-16),
  • wisdom for the bumpy journey of life (Jam. 1:5), and
  • power to pull down strongholds of Satan that hinder the work of God (2 Cor 10:3-5).

Prayer is multifaceted and should include praise, petition, and expressions of our thankfulness. Note Col. 4:2, which urges us to “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”

Jesus addressed an aspect of prayer when He encouraged His disciples to pray, and not to lose heart (Luke 18:1), admonishing them, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mat. 26:41).

God has given Scriptural guidelines to help us understand the different aspects of prayer. Let’s consider these “principles for effective prayer.”

Prayer is to Be Offered “In Faith”

Jesus said to His disciples, “Whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mat. 21:22). Thus, when we pray we must have faith in God and in His ability to answer. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).

God is always ready to build our faith. Once when a father brought his child for healing, Christ asked, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” The father responded, “Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief!” Here is a pattern for us as we cry to God for help in difficult conditions.

We are also told that we have the help of God’s Word to strengthen our faith. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

As we learn through Scripture who God is, what His purposes are for our lives, and how trials and even suffering are part of His plan to mold us, we will gain insight into how best to align our prayers with His will. Thus our faith will be strengthened.

Prayer Must Be in Harmony With God’s Will

God always answers the prayer that is offered with an attitude of submission to His will. “This is the confidence which 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” (1 John 5:14-15).

However, Paul cautions that we do not always know how to pray as we ought (Romans 8:26-27). We therefore need the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our praying (Jude 1:20). We must be careful that we do not insist that God answer our prayers in the manner we think is best.

As sincere as we may be, we can insist on the wrong thing in prayer. If God answers our prayer the way we want Him to, the end result may be terrible tragedy.

Remember the prayer of Hezekiah requesting God to heal him from a fatal illness. God answered his prayer, but the answer brought a curse upon the entire nation of Judah in the form of a son born to Hezekiah after he was healed. This son was to become the most wicked king Judah ever had (2 Kings 20:1-11; Isaiah 38:1-9 and 2 Kings 21:1-3).

Jesus provided the proper example for us to follow in His prayers at Gethsemane. In His hour of greatest need He prayed, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done (Luke 22:42).

Too often our prayers are unanswered because they are more concerned with our will than God’s will. James warned, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions [your own desires]” (James 4:3).

Prayer Must Be Offered in the Spirit of Humility

Jesus emphasized the importance of humility in prayer when He gave the example of the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican. God heard and answered the prayer of the publican because of his humility (Luke 18:9-14).

Isaiah reminds us that God’s presence dwells with the contrite and humble (Isa. 57:15). And as the psalmist asserts, He will not ignore nor forget the cry of the humble (Psa. 9:12).

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Prayer is to Be Offered from a Clear Conscience

A clear conscience is achieved by walking in all the light God gives a person. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7).

If a person does not daily read God’s Word and strive to align his life with it, his conscience will become clouded, darkened and confused. A Christian must keep his conscience “void of offense” toward God and his fellow man daily (Acts 24:16), for John tells us that “if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:21-22).

A clear conscience requires that there be no willful sin in your life. Willful sin may nullify all prayer except the prayer of repentance, for the psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psa. 66:18).

Further, there must be no unforgiveness toward anyone in your heart. Unforgiveness is sin. And Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions” (Mark 11:25-26).

We must correct our relationships with others (as far as possible on our part), before we can expect God to answer our prayers (Mat. 5:24).

Prayer Must Be Steadfast and Persistent

Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened” (Mat. 7:7-8).

It is well known that the verbs ask, seek, and knock are in the present tense and signify persistence in the activity. The failure to receive an immediate answer to prayer does not mean the answer is not on the way.

Perhaps the best example of persistence in prayer is Daniel. He humbled himself, fasted, and prayed for twenty-one days before he received God’s answer. God sent an angel who informed Daniel that Satanic forces had fought against the answer. The angel said, “Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince [a demon] of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael [an angel], one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:12-13).

Persistency in prayer is not for the purpose of persuading God to do something He is reluctant to do. Rather persistency in prayer demonstrates not only the intensity of your sincerity and desire, but it also gives you experience in overcoming satanic opposition. When we are persistent and learn whatever lessons of growth God is wishing to teach us, the Holy Spirit is released to bind Satan and to answer our prayer.

God Has Chosen Not to Do Some Things in Human History Unless His People Pray.

Let us remind ourselves of the words of God recorded by Ezekiel: “I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezek. 22:30-31).

Prayer is extremely important for the Christian. If Christians do not pray, there are some things God will not do. And let us remember that Jesus made only one prayer request of His redeemed people: “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Mat. 9:38).

The Believer’s Main Business

Let us remember that prayer should be the main business of each believer. As someone has said, “When the books are opened and the spiritual history of the nations of the world is unfolded, it will be written for all to read that the prayers, not the mayors, kings, prime ministers, presidents or president’s men, are the real molders of events.

Prayer should be the main business of each believer.

When the archives of heaven are thrown open for the universe to behold, it will then be revealed that history was made, not in the council chambers of the great, nor by armies and navies, nor by parliaments of nations, but in the hidden and secluded prayer closets of the saints.

The movements of men and nations of earth are conceived, inspired, and motivated in the unseen.

The spirit forces in the unseen are monitored, influenced, and controlled by the power that is released only by the prayers of God’s people.”

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.