Prayer is a Christian’s most powerful means of effecting change in our own life, the life of those around us, and in the world. Having said that, there are some caveats to bear in mind.
- Most importantly, when we pray we must have a right standing with God. We cannot expect God to heed our requests if we are living in rebellion to Him.
- We must pray in accordance with God’s will.
- We are to pray with confidence, knowing that, as long as 1 and 2 are true, God has already granted our request and it will come to pass in our physical world.
- We are to be persistent in our prayers; accepting that, as humans, our perception of time and the world around us are limited. God may well be at work granting our request but in His own time and His own way to maximize the benefit.
The privilege of approaching God with our supplications rests on our relationship with God through His Son: Jesus Christ. Only those who are part of God’s family can claim Him as their Father (John 1:12-13) and expect Him to honor his pledge to answer our prayers (1 John 5:14-15). He makes no such pledge to the unsaved, except in regards to those who accept Jesus and ask for forgiveness of their sins (Romans 10:8-9).
Aligned with God’s Will
To know God’s will our spirit must be submitted to God (James 4:7) and we must release the outcome we desire and be willing to accept His plan. We come to know God’s will by studying the scriptures. This is where God speaks to us, helping us learn about Him and His plan for our life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We must pray in agreement with God’s purpose, (Romans 8:26) not seek selfish desires.
Does this mean we cannot pray for our own desires? Certainly not! But we must not approach prayer as though God were our sugar daddy. It would be inappropriate for me to pray for a shiny new car just because I want to impress my friends. But if my car just died and I need one to get to work, to church, and to do the things I do in the community; it would certainly be appropriate to pray to God for a solution. But I must be open to His solution.
There are some things that never fit with God’s will: such as revenge, or willing harm to come to others. Requests prompted by pride, ambition, or anger are out of bounds. Nor should we pray over trivial matters such as what color shirt to wear today. Nor common-sense issues like whether we should call in sick so we can go fishing instead.
Pray with Confidence
As long as we have a right standing with God and are praying in agreement with His will, we can and should pray with confidence. We should depend on the Holy Spirit to help us align our prayers with the Lord’s will, but our prayers should never be timid. James 1 says, “6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;”
Progression of Prayer
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus uses three verbs to describe prayer: ask, seek, and knock. You will notice the changing intensity of these actions. They go from a request, to a search, to a physical action.
Prayer is more than holding up a list of desires. Praying to God involves two way communication: we speak to God through prayer and He speaks to us through His Holy Word, and the Holy Spirit. We must be attentive if we are to hear Him.
We ask (make a request), seek (search the Word for what He has said on this topic) and explore all possible solutions (knocking on doors) instead of focusing on one solution, or on the problem itself.
Prayer is not simply demanding things of God. If we are dissatisfied with the results of our prayers or wonder if God hears us, we need to reexamine the points listed above: are we walking with Jesus, is what we’re asking aligned with God’s will, and are we open to alternative answers? If so, then it’s a matter of patience and persistence. Continue praying and watching, assured that He will answer.