No one is born an expert in prayer. We learn by doing, as we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Christ’s Disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. Jesus did not ridicule them for not being prayer experts; instead, He taught them a simple, straight-forward, but comprehensive prayer, “Our Father, who is in heaven ……” Luke 11: 1ff. This prayer covers all the essentials of a prayer:
- worshipping our Heavenly Father
- acknowledging that He is holy
- acknowledging that we await His Kingdom
- submitting to His sovereign power
- petitioning Him as our Provider to meet our needs
- acknowledging that we are sinners who need His forgiving grace
- acknowledging that He is our Protector from sinning and our Deliverer from evil
- acknowledging that the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory belong to Him
We can deduce by the Disciples’ request that after months of following Jesus, they felt uncomfortable about praying. The good news is they were not bashful to ask the Lord for help, so can we.
Do you struggle to pray? Do you believe you should be super-holy before you approach God and ask for anything? Are you too shy to pray, or do you think your need is too small to bother God? You are not alone. Even the most seasoned prayer warriors sometimes feel inadequate. In John 14: 15ff, Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit to help us. In Romans 8: 26 – 30, Paul tells us, believers, that when we feel inadequate, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf and pleads with God. Therefore, you don’t have to pray perfectly in order for God to hear you.
We, who are followers of Christ, pray to God through Christ, because we know that He is the one who pleads to the Father on our behalf (John 15: 7 – 8). He is the bridge between God and us. When Jesus intercedes on our behalf, God does not see our imperfection anymore; instead, He sees us through the perfection of Christ (2 Corinth 5: 21). Therefore, anyone who believes in Jesus, can seek God’s help in His Name.
The Garden of Gethsame where Jesus prayed. This is a recent photo of the Garden as it is today (used by permission).
There is nothing mystical about prayer. Prayer is a conversation with God. Effective prayer has four major components to it: i, talking to God, which includes worshipping Him, ii, listening to God, iii, obeying God, should He require you to do something as part of receiving the answer to your petition, and iv, thanking God for answered prayers. The more natural you are when you talk to God, the more likely you are to pray from your heart.
Jesus said we should be like little children. Children pray effective prayers because:
- Their prayers are short and simple
- They believe
- They are guileless
James chapter 5 says, “Effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. . . . .” James 5: 16 – 18 (NKJV). The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.
Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then he prayed for rain, and down it poured. The grass turned green, and the crops began to grow. James 5: 16 (b) – 18, (The Book).
This does not mean that you should ask God to send drought for three and half years, but rather, like Elijah, you too could have faith that moves mountains and brings down rain, or stops it, for a just cause. Elijah asked God for extreme measures, after everything else had failed to help the children of Israel return to God. If you ask God with the right motive and a clean heart, then the Lord will grant you your wishes too (Matthew 9: 27ff).
Christ exhorted us believers to have faith when we pray, but we often pray according to the limitation of our human understanding – what we think is best for us. When God answers, He answers according to the vastness of His understanding – the big picture He sees – not only what is best for us in the short run, but also what is best for us ultimately. You have probably heard many Bible teachers and preachers say God’s answer may be “Yes”, “No”, or “Wait”.
Let’s say a ten year old is hungry and needs to eat. His parents don’t put that on their lists of things to accomplish sometime in the next twelve months, they look for food and feed him immediately, or within hours, with snacks in between.
Let’s say the ten year old has asks his dad for a coupe for his birthday. Though his father could afford a thousand Minis, as a wise parent, he will say,
- “No, TJ, you’re not getting a coupe”.
“But I want it, Daddy. It’s so cute, it looks like a toy. I could hug it.”
“I know it looks like a toy, but you can’t have it. You’re too young,” Tim Senior replies.
“I won’t drive it on the road. I’ll drive it only around the compound and I’ll give my little sister a ride, if she wants. I’ll be real careful Dad. I won’t drive over Mummy’s flower bed and my sister and I will stay out of trouble, and we won’t get in Mummy’s hair. We will be real good and entertain ourselves. Promise!”
“I know. But the answer is still no, TJ. You’re getting no coupe. You need a driver’s license to drive one of those,” Senior insists.
Twelve years later, on TJ’s college graduation day, Tim Sr hands him the keys, not for a Ford coupe, but a new, silver-blue Maserati Convertible, complete with all his favorite gadgets and more ! Twelve years ago, his father’s answer was really, “Wait until you’re older and I’ll get you the best gift, because I love you.”
On the other hand, if the now twenty-two year old TJ asks his father to go to beautiful Hawaii to surf. Tim Sr. may say,
- “No, they’re expecting a storm.”
“I need to practice for an upcoming national tournament. I need the big waves to prepare for the tournament,” TJ insists.
“No, I don’t think it’s a good idea, son. The weather forecasters were seventy-five percent certain. Stay home,” Tim Sr. replies, because he has another piece of information he hasn’t revealed to TJ.
“But I’m a pro. I’ve surfed on big waves and this particular beach has the best waves the world over and I want to increase my chance of winning.”
“I know son. But I still think you should stay home, or, go to another beach to practice.”
Let’s say though TJ appears to suffer from affluenza, as a loving, obedient son, he abandons his trip to Hawaii, or goes to another beach. A week later, he sees a news flash about a storm. The storm had hit the island and wiped out that section of the beach where he had been planning on surfing and on the very day that he would have been out there surfing!
As a loving parent who cares for his son, Tim Sr. had every right to forbid TJ from going surfing to that particular spot, because he knew the forecasters were expecting a storm that had a seventy-five percent chance of being the big one.
While Followers of Christ often live, simple, frugal lifestyles, and we often pray for legitimate needs such as: the need for healing, the need for a job, resources to care for our families and global needs, God, our Father, is rich in every resource. He could give us anything we ask, at any time, as Jesus promised. Never will He say, “No”, unless it is for the best. He always times His answers to ours prayers to maximize the benefit to us physically and spiritually. Therefore, when God appears to say, “No”, yet you’re sure your motives are pure and the need is legitimate, His immediate answer could very well have been, “Wait”. In such cases, God’s answer to wait will only make sense in hindsight.
However, when God’s answer is, “No”, sometimes we may not understand fully while we are here on earth, we will get the full picture when we see Him face to face.
Remember these truths often, as you mature in your Christian walk.
In Luke 11: 1 – 4, Jesus counseled His followers on how to pray a simple, straight forward prayer. On another occasion, He prayed a simple prayer at Lazarus’ tomb to raise him up, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so they will believe you sent me…..” [John 11: 41 (b) – 44]
Some of the prerequisites for getting prayers answered:
1. Believe in Jesus and ask God, the Father, to help you in His Name (John 14: 12 – 14)
2. Before asking your Heavenly Father for anything, you must forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that the Father will also forgive you (Mark 11:25, James 5: 18; Psalms 66: 17 – 19)
3. Ask in faith and don’t doubt (Mark 11: 22 – 23; Hebrew 11: 1- 6; James 1: 5 – 8). If you have doubt, ask Him to help your unbelief and to build your faith (Mark 9:24)
4. Ask with a pure motive, i.e, don’t ask God to bless you, so that you can do wrong either against Him, or against other people (James 1: 13). That is not the intended purpose for praying to the Christian God. As we mature, prayer helps us to align our hearts with God’s heart so that our desires become God-focused and not self-focused:
- Know what God promised through His Holy Word that He will, or will not, do.
- Check your motive. How do you know if your motive is wrong? Most likely your conscience will let you know, or you may check the Bible for what pleases God. Also, you can ask a more mature Christian, or your pastor, to counsel you.
- Be prepared to receive His answer as from the Sovereign God who sees the big picture. Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Your will be done.” And went on to save the world (Matthew 26: 36 – 46). Without His willingness to surrender to His Father’s plans, there would be no salvation for us today.
5. Keep it simple. (Matthew 6: 7)
6. Use your natural voice. Don’t try to sound spiritual.
7. Always respect God. He is our Father and friend, but He is also the Almighty, Holy God, the Creator of the universe – the Burning Bush God (Exodus 3:1 – 6).
8. Make worshiping Him part of your prayer life.
9. Sometimes God answers by giving you direction on what to do. Be obedient and follow through. God will never entrust you with great things, until you’re obedient in the small things.
10. Remember to thank Him and give Him credit when He answers your prayers.
With this simple guidance, you can begin praying in faith. If you haven’t yet committed your life to God through Jesus Christ, you can do so now, or you may do so whenever you are ready, hopefully sooner, than later. When you have made this important decision, let other followers of Christ know, so that you can have support and friends with whom to network and socialize.
Always remember that the Name of Jesus is the powerful Name through whom believers pray. You don’t have to be perfect first to pray, because Christ is the perfection through whom we approach the throne of God; but you do have to revere and obey God, in order to get the full benefit of answered prayers and have a deeper relationship with Him.