How to Pray an Effective Christian Prayer
Have you ever wondered why some prayers are effective, and others aren't? Or how it works when two people, both Christians, are praying in competition with one another. For example, when two (or more) people have applied for the same job and they’re both praying like mad to get the offer. Let's see what the scripture has to say on prayer. James says the difference is in our motives:
1Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that war within you.2You want things, but you do not have them. So you are ready to kill and are jealous of other people, but you still cannot get what you want. So you argue and fight. You do not get what you want, because you do not ask God.3Or when you ask, you do not receive because the reason you ask is wrong. You want things so you can use them for your own pleasures.- James 4:1-3
James says pretty clearly that even if we pray for the right things, if our reasons are selfish, or outside of God’s will we’re praying in vain. If we spend our prayer time asking God to reveal His will to us,then we will find it easier to ask for what we need within his will, instead of things that are outside of it. I believe this will lead to us drawing closer to Him, and leading a more contented, peaceful life.
As possibly the weirdest illustration anyone has ever used on a topic like this, I was flipping through the tv channels late one night and stopped on a story about a Laotian man who believed God’s will was for him to be successful at his current endeavor and use the money from that to set up assistance for Laotian refugees to get to safety, and teach them the Word at the same time. He had been a refugee himself, and watched two relatives die of starvation when he was six years old. Here’s where it gets weird. The endeavor he was embarking on in order to further God’s will was to win a poker tournament! At this point I was hooked; I had to see what happened next. A little later a big hand comes up that will practically eliminate either our hero, or another competitor. A woman in the audience who was with the other player stands up and starts yelling “no weapon formed against me shall prosper”. She was obviously claiming scriptural promises as a way of asking God for her friend to win this hand. The question is, was winning this had part of God’s will? The Laotian man, who was mic’ed for the tournament, walked away from the table for a moment and said something like “God, I believe I know your plan for me. If I’m right, then I have to win this hand.” Our hero went on to win this hand, and ultimately the entire tournament. I know it’s a weird illustration, but I was fascinated by this confrontation between two prayers for the same thing. Did it just depend on which one reached God first? If that’s the case, then tall people would have a huge advantage, and anyone who wanted to make sure their prayers were answered would take up mountain climbing. I believe the Laotian man’s prayers were answered because his aim was to do God’s will, as opposed to simple greed.
Finding God's Will
I think we’ve established that we need to be in God’s will for our prayers to be granted. How do we know what God’s will is? We listen. Luke said:
18So be careful how you listen. Those who have understanding will be given more. But those who do not have understanding, even what they think they have will be taken away from them." Luke 8:18
When we spend time honestly, earnestly listening, then God is faithful to reveal at least enough of his will so that we know what He wants us to do next. If we don’t spend that time listening then we can’t possibly know if what we’re asking for is in line with His plans. When we know that what we are praying for is within His will, we can be assured that he will he will hear us. Hebrews says:
16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.- Hebrews 4:16
So, once we have listened to God, and know his will, we can approach him with confidence that he will meet our needs.
Another valuable component of prayer is thanksgiving. Philippians says:
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. - Philippians 4:6
Part of prayer is worship. Part of worship is giving thanks for the things that God has already done, or has already given us. If we’re ungrateful for what we have, it seems unlikely that we would receive anything else we ask for.
The last, and maybe most overlooked, component of a prayer that God will honor is forgiveness. According to the Lord’s prayer:
”Matthew 6:10-14 This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:10-14.
Note the portion which says “forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors”. This implies that before God can forgive us, we must be willing to forgive those who have wronged us. If we still have unforgiven sin in our lives, then we can’t expect God to honor our requsts. Therefore it’s critical to forgive anyone that we have something against before we can expect Him to answer our prayers.
What If His People Prayed?
When to Pray?
Now that we know how we should pray, and what we should pray for. When should we pray? ! Thessalonians 5:17 says that we should “pray without ceasing”. Does that mean we should sit quietly and pray all day long, instead of going to work, or spending time with our kids? No. I believe it means that we should constantly be open to God as we go through our day. He can open up wonderful opportunities throughout a normal day if we are just listening. Sometimes it is necessary to just “be still and know He is God”, but it’s just as necessary to listen to Him throughout the normal chaos of our day. When I discipline myself to do this, I find that I can focus better through the chaos and find the right priorities on a day to day basis.
Since this is the longest post I’ve written thus far, I’m sure I’ve bored you out of your mind, so I’ll close now with a challenge to train yourself to pray according to His will, and to “pray without ceasing”, and a great song by Casting Crowns (if you haven’t figured it out by now, you will soon realize that I think their music is amazing), called “What if His People Prayed”. I hope you find it as enjoyable and as challenging as I do.
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