The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:16)
When a baby is born, there is a suspenseful moment when all those in attendance watch eagerly for the newborn baby to begin breathing. In the same way, when a person is born again, be begins to sustain a spiritual life through prayer. A wise man, Rowland Hill, once said, “Prayer is the breath of a newborn soul, and there can be no life without it.”
Accordingly, when people speak of having a “prayer life” they should realize that prayer is not just a feature of spiritual life, but the thing that keeps spiritual life going. In prayer, you are talking to your Father-God in heaven, thanking Him, praising Him, blessing Him, loving Him, and asking His help for others and yourself in times of need. Meanwhile, He desires to speak love and encouragement to you. But sometimes it’s hard to know that God hears your prayers or that you can really hear His replies. The following keys to vital prayer will help you know that your prayers are heard and answered.
What is prayer?
Prayer is a two-way conversation with God. It is the most intimate relationship with the Creator you can have. In prayer, the depths of your spirit are in communion with the depths of the Spirit of God. Out of this can come instruction, guidance, and suggestions for new focal points in your prayers.
How should I pray?
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, He gave them what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). As you meditate on each phrase, you’ll see how The Lord’s Prayer touches on each facet of our lives and God’s character. It is a wonderfully complete outline for our prayers and is a good model to build on. As we pray The Lord’s Prayer, we begin by acknowledging God’s sovereign fatherhood when we say, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
Then we adore His name. Because His name represents His nature, we praise His very being when we say the next phrase, “Hallowed be Thy name.”
Next, we must be concerned about the extension of His kingdom. We must care that people should come to know Him and submit to Him, so we say, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Then we turn to our personal concerns and ask God for our daily bread — not only literal bread, but whatever we need to carry out His work. This prayer is for His daily provision for our immediate needs, and so we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Next comes a prayer of release from sin and guilt, the prayer of confession, repentance, and forgiveness: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Here we are asking God for His grace in our relationships with other people, because His forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others go hand in hand. If we are going to expect answered prayer, we must be willing to forgive other people, even as God is willing to forgive us.
Finally, we seek God’s protection from temptation and evil: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We ask Him to keep us walking in His way, so that we might be covered by His power and anointing and might not be susceptible to evil influences.
Another way to pray is to organize your prayer time according to the different modes of prayer. The first part should be praise for our heavenly Father, followed by intercession for the needs of others. Then, in prayers of petition, you ask for your own needs to be met. All prayer should close with praise and thanksgiving to our Father, who out of His love for us provides answers to our prayers.
Conclude prayer with praise, like Jesus concluded The Lord’s Prayer, saying, “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever, Amen.” (Matthew 6:13b)
How can I know that God will answer my prayers?
The Bible overflows with God’s repeated promises to hear and answer His children’s appeals. “And 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.” (John 5:14, 15) To pray according to God’s will means to pray in a way that is consistent with the principles in His Word. The Bible shows us that a righteous person’s prayers will be answered: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). But righteousness means a lot more than “clean living.” More than that, it means depending on Jesus Christ for answers to every problem you face.
The Old Testament prophet Elijah was one such righteous man. “He prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:17, 18). If you need to call forth showers of blessing in a dry and barren situation, remember that the key is righteousness — your trust in God’s promises.
As you commit your requests to Him, believe that His will is being done according to the greatness of His power and wisdom. Don’t underestimate God’s ability to make a way for you when one doesn’t seem possible. With our limited understanding and abilities, we often forget His boundless wisdom and power. Ask with faith, and be like Abraham when you pray. The Bible says of Abraham, “With respect to the promise of God, he (Abraham) did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:20, 21).
Lastly, Jesus told us to pray according to His name (John 14: 13, 14). He is the Architect, Creator, and Sustainer of all that is, and He promises in His words to the disciples, “All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you” (Mark 11:24). No obstacle is too great to withstand His power: “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him” (Mark 11:23). Begin on a regular basis to pray about the biggest obstacle you face, and command that particular personal mountain to move by the power of the name of Jesus.
How can I know God’s will?
God’s will is best understood through a combination of different sources — sources that balance and complement one another and protect the believer from errors. The first source is the Bible. If you are familiar with the Bible you will know the will of God, because He has laid it out for us there. The Bible says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” (Colossians 3:15).
That inner peace that you experience when you are in communion with Him (or the lack of it) can show you whether you are praying according to God’s will. God also reveals His will for us through godly counselors, people whose wisdom and walk with the Lord you can trust. We may also, sometimes, discern His will through circumstances that seem to favor or hinder a course of action.
But remember, in whatever way God reveals His will to you, it must agree with His Word, the Bible. He will not oppose Himself, “for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Once we have learned God’s will, we must stay in it, abiding in the Lord Jesus, who said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). We cannot abide in Jesus and at the same time keep holding on to unbelief, unforgiveness, resentment, or bitterness. Such sins will keep us from that intimate relationship that He desires with us, and they will cloud our ability to know His will (Psalm 66:18).
What about unanswered prayer?
Nowhere in His Word does God promise that all of His answers will be instantaneous. Unfortunately, far too many people try to measure God’s response by what they are immediately able to see with their natural capacities. We must wait on the Lord if need be. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Many people have become disappointed and discouraged because they did not see the answers to their prayers at the time when they thought they should. If an answer is delayed, don’t doubt. Doubting only undermines our ability to see any of our prayers answered.
The Bible says of one who prays, “But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For let no man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6,7).
Many times we think that God has failed to answer a prayer and that He has not honored His Word, when He actually is working out something in our lives far greater than we had imagined possible. We must be patient and bear in mind that His ways are far beyond ours. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher that your ways” (Isaiah 55:9).
Is it permissible to pray more than once for something?
Jesus taught in Luke, chapter 18, that at all times we ought to pray and not lose heart. He used the parable of the unrighteous judge and the helpless widow who kept on pleading with him for legal protection. Because of her persistence, the judge granted her request. In the same way, Jesus taught that the constant cries of God’s children are heard and their prayers are answered.
Jesus also 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” (Matthew 7:7, 8). We are also told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Rather than ask if it’s alright to pray again and again about a thing, perhaps we should ask if it’s right to ever stop praying about it until we receive an answer. Through our constant, believing prayer we not only receive answers, but we acquire a growing maturity in our life in Christ.
You can breathe easier now that you understand God’s desire for you to talk with Him constantly and His promise to answer your prayers, you can start praying with boldness and with the confidence that right now He is revealing answers to the dilemmas and uncertainties you face. Now your spirit will begin growing strong and vigorous with the deep, life-giving breath of prayer. God is supplying what you lack and honoring your petitions according to His will.
So, as you praise Him in your time of prayer, remember to praise Him as the One who hears and answers. Remember to give thanks often that He is not far away but near you, providing for you, fighting your battles, and directing your choices.
Scripture references are taken form the New American Standard translation of the Bible.