How to Pray: The Elements of an Effective Prayer
There is no greater joy derived than conversing with the Creator of Universe, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It brings greater joy and peace in knowing God knows us more than anybody else. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our fears, our failures, our longings and even our innermost secrets.
How sweet it feels to bring forth to the presence of God our worries, needs and wants, our problems, desires, uncertainties, hopelessness, helplessness, discouragements, disappointments, rejections, and just to have somebody to talk to. The fact we have somebody who is willing to hear us, listen to us, and ready to help us is enough to always approach the throne of God in prayers.
Thus, prayer is the channel through which we communicate with God. It is through this means of communication we can communicate to the Supreme Being who resides in spirit form.
It is beneficial to know how we should approach the throne of God. The manner a person approaches God through prayers determines whether that person's prayer will be effective in inviting God's response. Thus, it is worthy to consider the following points when approaching God's throne.
Elements of An Effective Prayer
Is there right way or wrong way to pray? Not exactly! It doesn’t matter whether you pray alone or in a group of Christians, whether you pray kneeling or standing up, whether you pray with your eyes opened or closed or your hands lifted up or not. There is no right or wrong formula. All God asks from us is to pray in humility.
Jesus illustrated through a story the importance of maintaining a humility heart. He told his listeners the story of a Pharisee and tax collector. One prayed in meekness while the other one boasted of his own good works by following the law of God to the letter. He was proud. One of the seven deadliest sins God hates as outlined in the book of Proverbs is pride. The Bible even states pride destroys a nation, which also applies to an individual.
"Then he told this story to some who boasted of their virtue and scorned everyone else:“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’
“But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.” (Luke 18:9-14)
2) Faith: An Expectant Heart
God expects us to have the ‘heart of a child.’ What does this mean? It means we should come into the presence of God with expectant hearts. Remember, when children ask something from their parents, they have faith and are hopeful their parents will respond to their requests.
Whenever we ask God to meet our needs, we should believe God is able to meet our needs. He is able to do it. God doesn’t like a doubtful heart because it doesn’t trust God who is able and more exceedingly able to do something which even to human reasoning is impossible.
This is clearly stated in Hebrews 11:6: “You can never please God without faith, without depending on Him. Anyone who wants to come to God must believe there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely look for him.”
"And we are sure of this, that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. And if we really know he is listening when we talk to him and make our requests, then we can be sure that he will answer us." (1st John 5:14-15)
Jesus said even if your faith is like a mustard seed, implying your faith is small; it can still do wonders for you can say to the mountain move from here to there and it will obey. What is this faith? Hebrews 11 explains it: “It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.”
Hebrews 11 contains stories of men of God, known as men of faith, who believed beyond doubt, who trusted beyond reasoning that God was more than able to help them or meet their needs. Read that chapter, Hebrews 11 to build your faith and to have a glimpse of the power that is contained in having faith in God.
In reply Jesus said to the disciples, “If you only have faith in God—this is the absolute truth—you can say to this Mount of Olives, ‘Rise up and fall into the Mediterranean,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and have no doubt! Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you have it; it’s yours! But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive you your sins too.” (Mark 11:22-25)
How to Pray
3) Interceding - Praying For Others
Most of our prayers are self-centered, “I need this,” “Please, God help me in this;” we barely take time to pray for others. In our prayers as much as possible we should remember our brethren in the Lord, our families, friends and those in authority in the government. In fact, it is better to first of all pray for others before we ask God to meet our needs.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1st Timothy 2:1-2)
4) A Thankful Heart
It is a sad fact most of us never remember to thank God for everything. We take things for granted: the fact we can talk, smile, eat, walk and see. Some of us, whenever we approach God through prayers, we fill Him with our needs, our requests, not devoting part of that time thanking God.
It doesn’t feel good when somebody keeps on asking or requesting for your help without ever uttering the words, “Thank you” after helping them. Next time he asks for your assistance, I bet you will have second thoughts of wanting to help that person.The same rings true in our prayers. If we are always ungrateful let us not expect next time to receive what we had asked. Will God still continue to hear us? Yes, but…
Do you remember the story of the people of Israel who were rescued from the oppressive hands of the Egyptian Pharaoh? How God fed them in the wilderness? These people should have been thankful. But, they weren't. They murmured and complained a lot to an extent God couldn't endure their ungrateful heart anymore. God avowed these people, except Caleb and Joshua, will never set foot on the Promised Land. Their children would be the one to take possession of what God had promised to their parents. In fact, a journey that would have taken less than 14 days to reach Canaan, the Promised Land, took 40 years.
It is very hard to forgive someone who has hurt you. However, God makes it clear we should forgive those who wrong us. When God says we should do something, it is for a good reason.
Scientific studies have tabled the benefits of forgiving those who have wronged or hurt us. As hard as it is to forgive, we should aim to forgive others. When Jesus was crucified on the cross, he told God to forgive those who have crucified him, have mocked him, have falsely accused him for they don't know what they have done.
If you find it hard to forgive ask God to help you. Surely, He will assist you. Remember, if you do not forgive those who have wronged you, God will not forgive you. If God does not forgive then your prayers are in vain. If you want to be forgiven of your sins, then you should forgive those who have hurt you. It is for your own benefit, not God or the person who hurt you.
“…first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins too.” (Mark 11:22-25)
6) Vain Repetitions
The Bible encourages us to pray regularly. As often as we can we should always pray. Nonetheless, we should avoid repeating words or phrases for no good reason. If you don’t have anything more to say then don’t repeat what you had said. God is not hard of hearing. Don't request something repeatedly. The Bible clearly states God knows what we want before we ask Him.
It does not matter how long you pray. What matters is what you are praying for. Whether your prayers are short or long doesn’t matter. The content matters.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Mathew 6:7)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7).
“Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Lack of a thankful heart, being proud, not acknowledging God and not having an expectant heart are some of the reasons why we do not receive what we ask. This includes having a double mind (doubtful), and,
“It is because we don’t pray according to the Holy Spirit’s will.” This means we pray for selfish reasons, what the Bible terms 'praying in the flesh.' We pray for things for all the wrong reasons. Do you need a car? No problem! But what for? To show off? Nah, you won’t get it! At times our requests are not answered because God deems the time is not yet ripe for Him to effect our request(s). At other times God has good reasons not to grant our requests even if we do not understand why He has not decided to answer our prayers.
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)
The Lord's Prayer - An Example of an Effective Prayer
The Lord's Prayer is not a prayer we are supposed to utter in our prayers. Jesus illustrated through the prayer how we ought to pray.
The prayer starts with exaltation. That is how we are supposed to start our prayers. By thanking God. By praising Him. By acknowledging who He is. Showing our gratitude.
The second step is to pray for the saints of God and those in government including our friends, loved ones and other people.
The third step is to pray for our needs.
The fourth step is to ask God to forgive us. Also, we should remember to ask God to help us, give us the strength, to forgive those our hearts find it hard to forgive. Remember, if you don't forgive those who have wronged you, God cannot forgive you.
"In reply Jesus said to the disciples, “If you only have faith in God—this is the absolute truth—you can say to this Mount of Olives, ‘Rise up and fall into the Mediterranean,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and have no doubt! Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you have it; it’s yours! But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive you your sins too.” (Mark 11:22-25)
Then, we should ask God to help us in our daily lives to live according to His will, to help us in our weaknesses, strengthen us, help us in areas we are easily tempted, and to guide us.
Lastly, we should conclude our prayers by thanking God for taking His time to hear our prayers and praising Him for who He is and what He is going to do in our lives and the lives of other people, the government, our nation and the world.
The steps should not be followed in that order but we should aim to begin our prayers by praising God, and end with the same, thanking Him.
Bible Verses On Prayer
1 John 5:14
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us.
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
1 John 5:15
And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
I call on you, My God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
He will respond to the prayer of destitute; he will not despise their plea.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.
When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Benefits of Prayer
- It draws us closer to God, that is, it bonds our relationship to a deeper level. We get to know God more than what is indicated in the Bible.
- It aids in the healing process of the wound – hurt – inflicted in our hearts by someone.
- It aids in attaining peace of mind and heart.
- It aids in being able to make clear or wise decisions in our everyday life.
- It comforts us in situations we feel sad, discouraged, lonely, hurt and depressed.
- It strengthens our faith and therein our resolves to push on no matter what.
- It develops in us the spirit of patience.
- It renews our hope.
- It increases our confidence.
- We learn to crucify our flesh.
- We learn step by step how to pray effectively and what to pray for.
- We learn to hear the voice of God.
- It helps us to control our thoughts.
- We learn what God wants us to pray for.
- We feel the lightness of burden that was weighing heavily on our shoulders. Jesus said we should cast our burdens unto Him. We do so through prayers. Such burdens might include bitterness, anger and worry.
- We learn how not to be selfish by praying for others. Thus, we learn how to have the heart of God.
- It assists us to remain focused, disciplined and determined in our Christian life and in fulfilling our goals and dreams.
- It helps us to understand God better and His love for the lost people.