Lent is a great time to talk about the spiritual disciples. These disciplines are so valuable for Christians. It is through the disciplines that we grow in knowledge, faith, and maturity as disciples. If we fail to practice the disciplines we will easily slip back.
Prayer is one such discipline. Prayer is such a valuable gift God gives to us. Yet, it is something that many of us may not be so good at practicing. One of the reasons many Christians might fail to pray is the perceived lack of effectiveness. We wonder if it does any good. So in this week’s email I wanted to share several keys towards unlocking an effective prayer life.
1) Pray. It does not get any simpler than that. The biggest obstacle to God answering our prayers is simply our failure to ask (James 4:2). Put God to the test. See if he will respond.
2) Pray consistently. We are blessed when we pray fervently and persistently. As Americans we often look for instant gratification. When we are not met with the instant gratification we give up. Jesus tells the story of the persistent widow who cried out to the judge day and night for justice. He says, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen one, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” (Luke 18:7)
3) Pray together. Jesus says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20).
There are two aspects to this point. The first is to have more than one person praying. The second is for these believers to pray together. They are not praying separately apart from each other. They are praying with each other. There is a difference praying with someone and praying for someone. Praying with someone implies a physical presence with that other person. As it says in the book of James, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them . . . ” (James 5:14)
There is a myth running around the Christian Church that the more people we have praying, the more effective our prayers will be. We put the names of people we know on a prayer list and then we enlist an army of prayer warriors to make their appeals to the throne of grace. But we do not find this instruction in the Bible. The Bible says the prayer of a single righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16). Based upon Scripture I would rather have one faithful Christian praying with me than a thousand prayer warriors praying for me. It doesn’t matter if I have 2 or 2,000 people praying for me, yet no one praying with me.
On Sunday morning we invite people to sign our connection cards so that we can pray over those needs. The prayer warriors go to work over those prayers. But even more importantly we offer the opportunity for you to come forward and to pray with someone. This is Biblical.
4) Ask for forgiveness. Another important aspect of effective prayer we cannot overlook is the forgiveness of sins. James says, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16). Psalm 66:18 declares, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not listened.”
Often times our difficult outward circumstances are linked to an inner spiritual condition. We don’t come with pure hearts. We don’t come with pure motives. “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)
Are you praying out of bitterness, anger, greed, selfishness, hatred, covetous? First ask God to work a miracle inside you and to create within you a clean and pure heart. Pray for him to make you right with him.
5) Pray with praise. Prayer is an act of worship. Prayer acknowledges God as the one who is able. Psalm 66:17 reads, “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.” Does your prayer acknowledge God is bigger than your circumstance? Is your prayer prayed in faith that God is your healer and deliverer? Prayer is a declaration that Jesus is the victor who reigns over sin, death, and the devil.
6) Pray with humility. Do you come before the Lord with an attitude of I deserve it? We too often put God in the role of servant, but God is not our servant. He is the king. We are his servants. We sometimes treat God like a vending machine. We think if we put the right things in and push the right buttons, we will get what we want. But God is not the one to have his buttons pushed. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
Effective prayer is not evidenced when I get what I want. Effective prayer is evidenced when the kingdom of heaven invades the kingdom of this world. Effective prayer is evidenced when light shines in the darkness while mercy and grace conquer injustice. Effective prayer is evidenced when God is shown to be the Lord of all creation and is brought glory for his goodness.
7) Pray with thanksgiving. Ask yourself what ingredients are you giving him to work with? Do live with an attitude of gratitude? 2 Thessalonians says 5:18 says to give God thanks in all circumstances. Here is something I have come to learn. Grateful people are grateful people. Ungrateful people are ungrateful people. It doesn’t matter the circumstance. It doesn’t matter how many prayers God might answer. You are one or the other – grateful or ungrateful. Do you give God thanks for the things he has already done in your life? If you are not already giving God your gratitude, what is going to change?
In the end, when we take prayer seriously, we start to hear God speak to us in incredible ways. Most people look at prayer as our way of talking to God. And that is true. But the thing is that when you start talking to God he will start to reveal himself in ways you had never imagined. It is my hope that some of these thoughts will help you to develop a richer prayer life. There are certainly other keys to effective prayer beyond these, so if you have other valuable keys to unlocking an effective prayer life, feel free to share in the comments section.