In order to make the material about this step in the process of revival easier to digest, it has been spilt into two parts. This is part 1 and it deals with what is prayer, the reasons for praying, and the requirements for effective prayer. Part 2, which is coming soon, will be dealing with the life of the prophet Elijah and how being effective at praying played a large role in his ministry and life.
So far we have covered who God’s people are, a brief overview of God’s process for revival and what he promises to do if we follow that process, and humbling ourselves before God. Now we are going to look at the second step in the process and that is praying. But more specifically we are going to look at effective prayer.
If you remember from our brief overview of God’s process for revival, then you will remember that we said the following about our prayer. We as God’s people must desperately call on him for mercy and must completely trust and depend on him for help. Our prayers must come from a faithful heart, and we must continue to call out to God until he answers. In other words our prayers must be effective. But before we explore how to pray effectively we must first look at what prayer is and the reasons for praying.
What is Prayer and the Reasons for Praying
On a very basic level prayer is a term used to describe how we communicate, converse or talk to God. Which means that prayer can be “multifaceted”. Which simply means that it can take different forms and involve several elements, much like any other form of conversation. The Bible uses several other terms to describe talking with God such as: calling on God (“I call on you God, because you will answer me; listen closely to me; hear what I say.” Psalm 17:6 CSB), calling on the name of the Lord (“A son was born to Seth also, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.” Genesis 4:26 CSB), crying aloud to the Lord (“I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.” Psalm 3:4 CSB), lifting up one’s soul to God (“Lord, I appeal to you.” Psalm 25:1 CSB), seeking the Lord (“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call to him while he is near.” Isaiah 55:6 CSB), approaching the throne of Grace with confidence (“Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 CSB), and drawing near to God (“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” Hebrews 10:22 CSB). Which leads us directly into our next topic of why we should pray.
Why should we pray? Or better put what are the reasons we should pray. There are three big reasons we should pray. And they are: God tells us to, it is the necessary connection that helps us get to know and understand God’s plans for our lives to receive God’s blessings and to experience his faithful promises, and it is the way for spiritual activity to begin.
- God Commands us to pray.
Of all the reasons to pray this one seems to be the most obvious. We are told to pray by the psalm writers (“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4 CSB), the prophets (“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call to him while he is near.” Isaiah 55:6 CSB, “For the Lord says to the house of Israel: Seek me and live!…Seek the Lord and live, or he will spread like fire throughout the House of Joseph; it will consume everything with no one at Bethel to extinguish it.” Amos 5:4, 6 CSB), the apostles and early church leaders (“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” Ephesian 6:17-18 CSB, “Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2 CSB, “Pray constantly” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 CSB), and Jesus himself (“Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41 CSB, “Now he told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not give up.” Luke 18:1 CSB, “Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” John 16:24 CSB). God used everyone in the group of people listed here to deliver his message that he desires to have a relationship with us and that he wants to spend time with us. And the way we spend time with God and develop a relationship with him is through prayer.
- Prayer is the necessary connection that helps us get to know and understand God’s plans for our lives, to receive God’s blessings and to experience his fulfilled promises.
It is prayer that connects us to God’s power and purpose. Here is how Jesus described it to his disciples.
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”-Luke 11:5-13 NIV
What Jesus is saying here is very simply this: we don’t have because we don’t ask. And prayer is what connects us to the one who is able to give us what we ask for. So, if you are looking for healing ask for it. If you are looking for spiritual guidance, then ask for it. But you have to keep asking for it. It can’t be a one and done type of thing. You have to persistently keep asking for those things that you are seeking. Because that is where the real power of prayer comes from.
- God uses our prayers as the way of causing spiritual activity to begin.
If we go back to our passage in Luke, we see these words of Jesus.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.-Luke 11:9-10 NIV
What do we see illustrated here? What is the giving, the finding, and the opening all conditioned upon? The giving is conditioned on asking, the finding on seeking, and the opening on knocking. They are all conditioned on us doing something. We have to be active in our faith in order for it to do any good. What then does Jesus mean by ask, seek and knock? How do we ask, seek and knock? And the answer to both of these questions is prayer. When we are not asking the right questions of God and seeking to find God’s answers to those questions then we are holding back or delaying God’s plans for ourselves and for others also.
Requirements of Effective Prayer
Now that we know what prayer is and why we are to pray it is time to look at what the requirements are for effective prayer. But before going in them there is something else that needs to be said and that is prayer os not a particular formula of things to say or do. And now here are the requirements of effective prayer: we must have true and sincere faith that God hears our prayers, and that he has the ability to accomplish what is needed and that he will do what he knows is best in the situation; prayers should be made in Jesus’ name; the affect of prayer is greatest when we ask those things that are in harmony with God’s perfect will; we must be living in God’s will if we expect him to respond positively to our prayers; and we must be persistent in our prayers.
- We must have true and sincere faith that God hears, that he has the ability to accomplish what is needed and that he will do what is best in the situation.
The first requirement of effective prayer is very simple: having faith in God. You have to believe that God is able to do whatever it is that you are asking God to do. Jesus makes this absolutely clear in two places in the gospel of Mark. In the first he says, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NIV). And in the second he says, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23 NIV). For it doesn’t matter if you meet all the other requirements for effective prayer and don’t have the faith that God will answer your prayer and that his answer will be the best answer for whatever the situation is.
- Prayer should be made in Jesus’ name
Let’s clarify something right from the start before we move any further. This doesn’t mean that we need to tack the words “in Jesus name” on the end of every prayer that we pray. But what it does mean is that we are to have the same attitude and thought process that Jesus would have had in our prayers. Because when the Bible speaks of doing something in someone’s name it means doing it with that person’s approval and in their authority, which means being aware of who that person is and all they represent. So praying in Jesus’ name is about the attitude we have when we pray. It is ensuring that our prayers are made in harmony with Jesus’ character and intentions—meaning who he is and what he wants to do through us.
- The effect of prayer is greatest when we ask those things that are in harmony with God’s perfect will (i.e. desires, intentions, plans and purposes).
In 1 John the apostle John tells us this: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14 NIV). This echos what Jesus taught in the model prayer “Your will be done on earth as it is heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NIV) and what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest and death (Matthew 26:42).
But how do we know what God’s will is? The first way is simple and easy. God shows us what his will is through the Bible. We can be absolutely sure that the Word of God will reveal what the will of God is.
The second way is a little more complicated. It is more complicated because it involves seriously seeking to understand what God’s will is. In other words on those things that the Bible is silent about we have to do our own research and study to determine what God’s will is. And this only comes through prayer, reading the Bible and observing what God seems to be doing already. The bottom line is this: it is only when we know God’s will that we can pray with any kind of confidence.
- Not only must we pray according to God’s will, but we must be living in God’s will if we expect him to respond positively to our prayers.
This is the one we all struggle with. We all want to know God’s will for our lives, but we are not willing to surrender our wants and needs to God’s will. And that is the problem we face in being effective in our prayers.
Jesus said this way in Matthew, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV). Whose kingdom and righteousness is Jesus referring to here? He’s referring to God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. And what are those things that he will give to us if we are seeking his kingdom and his righteousness? He will give us all those things that we need, but have been trying to get through our own ways and our own means.
Remember what Jesus told us in 1 John that we “receive from him anything we ask because we obey his commands and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22 NIV). And what is it that please God? Seeking his kingdom and his righteousness first. For obeying God’s commands, following his instructions, loving him, and trying to do what pleases him are all necessary for receiving the answers to our prayers.
- For our prayers to be effective we must be persistent in our prayers.
This last requirement ties directly back to the first requirement. Remember the first requirement is that we must true and sincere faith that God hears our prayers, that he has the ability to accomplish what is needed and that he will do what he knows is best for the situation. If we truly believe this, then we will be persistent in our prayers. However, a great deal of the time we don’t believe that God has heard our prayers and that he is able to answer our prayers. So we just quit asking, because we didn’t get our answer right away.
In the gospel of Luke Jesus told a story to illustrate this point. The story is about a widow and a judge. And this is what Jesus said:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”-Luke 18:1-8 NIV
Part 2 is coming soon. And in it we will be looking at the life of the prophet Elijah and how effective prayer played a great role in it.