Three Keys to Effective Prayer

Posted September 28, 2017 by Amy Wang
Other editions: Chinese(中文)

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If you've heard any horror fiction stories about people granted three wishes by a magic genie, you know that getting what you wish for can be dangerous. If we want our prayers to be effective, we need to learn how to ask for the right thing and in the right way.

The purpose of prayer, however, goes beyond fulfilling our personal needs. It is to build a relationship with God and to give us an opportunity to participate in God's work. Although God wants us to cast our cares on Him, He also wants us to prioritize His kingdom, His righteousness, and His will first. Below, I will share a few key principles from scripture to pray more effectively. In particular, I believe God hears the prayers of the righteous who (1) keep His commandments, (2) ask according to His will, and (3) persevere in prayer.

Key #1: Be Righteous and Keep God's Commandments

God will allow our words to influence Him if we allow His words to influence us first.

The first key to effective prayer is to be righteous and keep God's commandments. I believe the prayers of certain small groups I've attended have been particularly effective because of one or more righteous persons in those groups (James 5:16). The Bible says God's ears are open to the prayers of the righteous (1Peter 3:12) who keep His commandments (John 15:7, 1John 3:22-24) but He does not hear us when we regard iniquity in our hearts (Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:1-2). If we want to influence what God does, isn't it reasonable that He should want to first influence what we do? (Murray, chapter 22). This way, we honor God's name and act like citizens of His kingdom, in accordance with the priorities in the Lord's prayer. In this model prayer, Jesus began with "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come." Hypocrisy, in contrast, blasphemes God's name (Romans 2:23-24).

The Israelites once complained that they fasted but God did not take note. God answered that if they performed justice and mercy for the needy instead of quarreling with one another, then when they cried out, God would indeed say "Here I am" and He would guide and satisfy them (See Isaiah 58:3-11, Micah 6:8). Christians today may equate attending church and studying the Bible with righteousness, but hearing the Word does not profit us unless we live by it (James 1:22, Matthew 7:24-27). I am amazed by the testimony of the righteous man, Job, because he did indeed follow the royal commandment to love his neighbor(James 2:8)-- Job helped orphans, widows, those who were perishing, and the poor, blind, and lame (Job 29:12-17). Although it is hard to measure up to God's standards (Romans 3:23), let us at least strive toward righteousness as if we were running a race (Philippians 3:12, 1Peter 1:16, 2Peter 1:5-11). To the extent we fall short, we can confess it to God and ask Him to cleanse and forgive us (1John 1:9).

Key #2: Ask According to God's Will and Priorities (Thy Will Be Done)

1John 5:14 says, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."

The second key to effective prayer is to ask according to God's will and priorities. Even if we are following God's way, one reason why many prayer requests are not granted is that we have not learned to ask according to God's will and priorities. 1John 5:14 says, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." In the Lord's prayer, Jesus prays for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Even Paul and Jesus Received a Negative Answer

Even righteous men do not always get what they hope for, including Paul and Jesus. God denied the apostle Paul's prayer request to remove the thorn in his flesh, saying that God's grace was sufficient (2Corinthians 12:8-9). The thorn's purpose was to keep Paul humble despite the abundance of his revelations from God (2Corinthians 12:7). God also did not grant Jesus's request for God to take away the "cup" He was about to endure on the cross if it were God's will (Luke 22:42). It was not God's will because Jesus's death also served a purpose— to save humanity. When God provides a negative answer to a righteous man, He has a specific purpose for doing so.

Ask Wisely, Because You might get what you ask for

When we do not put God's will first, God may still grant our prayer request to teach us a lesson. For example, God gave Israel the king they wanted, but it came with heavy taxes and hard labor, of which they had already been forewarned (1Samuel 8:17-22). In another example, God gave Israelites the meat they wanted when they tired of eating manna. However, it was accompanied with a plague and leanness of soul (Numbers 11:31-33, Psalm 106:14-15). (See Twisting God's Arm for more examples).

What if instead we were to purposefully ask for what pleases God? Remember that Solomon asked God for wisdom and knowledge to rule the people wisely, and God was so pleased with his request that he even gave Solomon things he had not asked for (2Chronicles 1:10-12). If we seek God's kingdom and righteousness first, we can trust that God will provide for us what we need (Matthew 6:33). Let us therefore seek to understand what God's will (Ephesians 5:17) and priorities are. For example, He desires our sanctification (1Thessalonians 4:3) and He wants us to prioritize His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

Key #3: Persevere in Prayer

The third key to effective prayer is perseverance. There are three helpful examples of perseverance in the bible. The first example is that of the widow who persists in asking the unjust judge for justice (Luke18:1-8). If even the unjust judge listens because of the widow's persistence, how much more will a good God listen to our reasonable requests for justice if we persevere in asking? In the second example, someone asks his friend for bread late at night, who gets up to help because of the persistence of the request (Luke 11:5-13).

Finally, there is a story of Moses holding up the staff of God during Israel's battle against the Amalekites. Every time he held up the staff of God, the Israelites won and when his hand was down, they lost (Exodus 17:11-12). When Moses' hands wearied, Aaron and Hur supported his hands to ensure victory. Today, we can seek to continually hold up our hands in prayer and seek others' help when our manpower is inadequate.

Again, perseverance comes with a catch: You might just get what you asked for, and it might not be what you hoped for. Thus, it is advised to add the same condition to our prayer request that Jesus added, "if it is according to your will."

Four Answers: No, Slow, Grow, Go!

In Too Busy Not to Pray, p.86, Bill Hybels writes the following, (My comments in brackets).

“If the request is wrong, God says, “No.” [My grace is sufficient for you.]
If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.” [Wait, persevere in prayer.]
If you are wrong, God says, “Grow.” [Confess to God and repent. Renew your relationship with God.]
But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “Go!””"

God can speak to us or convict us through his Holy Spirit in ways that may communicate a Yes, No, Wait, or Grow. Oftentimes, however, we may deal with silence when we pray. One of my prayers that went unanswered for a long time was a nasty infection that refused to go away. It was certainly a humbling experience. According to scripture, I was either unrighteous and/or it was not God's will at that time! I wondered if there were anything wrong with my relationship with God. I also joked that maybe God planned one day to send me as a missionary to a country where people were in need of the same treatment I had needed. Truly, I do not know God's will for allowing it even now, but I am glad to eventually have recovered, and who knows that someday my experiences could be of use to someone else?


Jelita says on 2017-10-04T11:31:55-04:00:
This is awesome , Thank you. I have question, what if we are going through the hard time and wanna asking for God's help , meanwhile we might feel sorry about what we did before what kind of prayer that we should do?

Amy says on 2017-10-04T12:25:02-04:00:
Good question! 1 John 1:9 says if we offer a prayer of confession, God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us.

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