Effective prayer: Part 1

Do you know how to pray? How do you know you know how to pray? I often hear Christians say they’ve prayed about a particular thing or situation, I say it too, but often those prayers don’t make a tangible difference. Sometimes, it seems we’ve become so familiar with the routine and act of praying that we give little thought to what we’re doing, why we are doing it, and what, if anything, should happen as a result. How often do you pause to ask if your prayers achieve anything? If you don’t think they do, why bother praying? Scripture says the effective prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much [James 5:16]. Through the cross, Jesus made us righteous [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Therefore, it’s inarguable that the prayers of every believer should produce results [John 14:12]. So, do you pray assured of results?

If you grew up in a traditional church like me, you probably learned communal prayers by heart, and you can probably still recite them. Centuries before Christ, the Jews cultivated a culture with a significant emphasis on prayers. They had prayers for national festivals and community events, prayers for individuals and prayers for various activities in the home, including a prayer thanking God for healthy bodily functions when using the lavatory (something many of us take for granted). Every Jew was familiar with prayer and could recite several prayers and passages of Scripture from memory. So, it’s intriguing that having lived and travelled with Jesus for three years, the Bible records that the only thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray.

It’s worth reflecting on the implications of this revelation. They must have seen Jesus do lots of things as they followed Him around, so what was it about Jesus’s prayer life that made His disciples ask Him to teach them to do the same? Two thousand years removed from the events of first-century Palestine, we tend to see the divinity of Jesus more than His humanity when we read the gospels. So, we may inadvertently ascribe advantages to Jesus that He didn’t possess because He laid aside His divine privileges when He became a man [Philippians 2:7]. But, the disciples saw a human being like them accomplishing astonishing results through prayer [Hebrews 4:15]. Jesus did teach them how to pray, and after He left them, they too went on to achieve notable results through prayer.

Many of us can relate to those disciples. We read the gospels and the book of Acts and find Jesus and His followers accomplishing great things through prayer. If like me, that isn’t your experience, you can either ignore what you’ve read or ask yourself what you’re missing. One thing is evident; we can pray amiss [James 4:3]. When we do, we don’t get results. That implies that there are prerequisites to praying effective prayers. If we ignore them, our prayers will most likely remain fruitless, and the frustration of those experiences will invariably lead us to give up on a genuine belief that prayer works. Conversely, if our prayer lives are fruitful, we’ll experience a dimension of life that few ever attain.

Life is hard and riddled with uncertainty. Not even the wealthy, powerful or famous are immune from the vicissitudes of life. Yet, Jesus taught that His followers could exempt themselves from the worries and fears of this life [Matthew 6:25-34]. Elsewhere, we learn that one of the rewards of a fruitful prayer life is attaining a life without anxiety and possessing a dimension of peace that surpasses human understanding [Philippians 4:6-7]. We know this dimension of life is possible because Jesus demonstrated it with His own life and instructed us to follow Him. It would be cruel and out of character for Him to ask us to emulate His life if it wasn’t possible.

Sadly, human nature often conflates possible with ease, and we erroneously believe that since God wants us to have something, little effort is required on our part to attain it. Scripture calls believers to allow the mind of Christ to dwell richly in us [Colossians 3:16]. That’s a high calling, and I’m discovering that possessing the mind of Christ requires an intentional pursuit of the knowledge of the ways of God [2 Peter 1:5]. So, if I want my prayer to be effective, I must study the prayer life of Jesus. I must also examine the great prayers of our spiritual ancestors in Scripture which brought about remarkable results to understand the principles that governed how they prayed. I must do so from a posture of humility, utterly relying on the Holy Spirit to grant me wisdom and understanding [Job 32:8,  Proverbs 4:7, Colossians 1:9].

I’m not there yet, but If I can lay hold of the truths and promises in God’s word regarding prayer with conviction, my prayer life will be fruitful. Then like Jesus, I’ll sleep through the storms of life in perfect peace [Isaiah 26:3] and remain unflustered in the face of impossible situations because of my confidence in God [Daniel 11:32, Matthew 19:26]. Essentially, I’ll become a vessel demonstrating God’s all-surpassing greatness, impacting my sphere of influence through prayer [2 Corinthians 4:7]. There are days I doubt if any of this is possible, but I’m convinced that God’s word is true [Romans 3:4]. So, I press on in faith, believing there’ll be a consolation to my pursuit [Matthew 7:7-11, Hebrews 11:6]. Besides, I’ve already experienced the alternative. I know the frustration of praying amiss and the futility of praying without genuine expectations.

By all accounts, an effective prayer life is advantageous to the believer, while a lacklustre or fruitless prayer life will result in defeat and frustration. Which do you have? Which do you want?

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