If you like to read, you know that there are hundreds of books available on the subject of prayer. Books written by men and women who are a lot smarter than I am. So, you might be wondering, what can I say about prayer that others have not already said and probably said much more eloquently? To be honest, the answer is, “Probably not much!”
Yet, when we read the Bible, we see prayer is one of the most prominent subjects. Prayer is modeled over and over throughout Scripture. Individuals prayed for protection, for children, for healing, for each other, for direction, for peace, and the list goes on and on. Prayer was even a vital part of our Lord’s ministry and His time on this earth. Needless to say, prayer is important for us all.
While much has been written about prayer, it seems there is room for additional ideas that might help us with the time we spend in prayer. That is my desire with this short blog—to possibly give you some new ideas for making your prayer time intimate with our Lord and effective for you and those you are praying for. Toward that end, I have three suggested ways to pray that I hope will help your prayer life be effective and meaningful.
First, our prayer life will be vibrant and meaningful when we stay devoted to God in prayer.
Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.
Be steadfast, be faithful in prayer. That is what devote means. How? By keeping alert. Have you ever been praying and the next thing you know you wake up several hours later, or you lose your train of thought during prayer, or your mind wanders to other subjects as you are praying? I would venture to guess one or all of these have happened to all of us at one time or another while praying.
But Paul’s encouragement is to stay alert when praying. Do whatever it takes to be alertly devoted to God in prayer. Remember in Luke 6 when Jesus spent all night praying to the Father before selecting the twelve? He also prayed until 3 A.M. then walked on water to the disciples struggling to cross the Sea of Galilee.
I’m not saying that we have to pray all night to be devoted prayer warriors, but it would definitely be an indication of the intimacy we share with our God as we talk with Him in prayer. We know there are many ways to devote ourselves to prayer. I love the example of devoted prayer that King Hezekiah gives us when Judah was sent a threatening letter from the Assyrians in Isaiah 37:14-20:
Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. Hezekiah prayed to the LORD saying, “O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God.”
Hezekiah lived his life desiring to be devoted to God, and his prayer is yet another example of this truth. You alone are God of all kingdoms, Your throne is above the angels, You have made all things, deliver us so that all of the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone are God! Yes, Hezekiah wanted Judah to be delivered from the Assyrians, but he also wanted all people everywhere to know that the Lord alone is God.
By the way, did you notice the end of Colossians 4:2? Keep alert in prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving. I believe God is giving us a little cheat sheet here relating to staying alert and being devoted in prayer, focus on thanksgiving. When we think about it, we have so much to be thankful to our Lord for giving us. As a matter of fact, if we could bring everything to mind in one setting, we just might end up praying all night by thanking God for all He is and all He has done in our lives and in the lives of those we love and care for.
This thought leads nicely into the second action I believe will help us pray effectively: praying consistently.
After discussing the armor of God, Paul encourages the Ephesian believers in chapter 6 and verse 18:
“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.“
Again, Paul mentions alertness in prayer. We are tasked with doing whatever it takes to stay alert as we pray. God once again gives us a little cheat sheet here when it comes to prayer. First, pray in the Spirit. Remember Paul’s encouragement to the Roman church as they groaned within themselves and waited eagerly for the glory that is to come?
Romans 8:26-27 – In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Have you ever been praying and just thought, “I can’t think of anything else to pray for”? The idea Paul is focusing on here is to be quiet and let the Holy Spirit bring to mind what and who to pray for. That is praying in the Spirit!
The second hint God gives us that leads to alert prayer in Ephesians 6:18 is praying for all the saints. When we start to pray for all of the Christians that we know and the issues they are dealing with, we are back to the possibility of praying all night! Paul is such a good example of this idea of praying consistently. Here are a few verses from the introductions to several of his letters:
Romans 1:8-9 – First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you.
1 Corinthians 1:4 – I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 1:15-16 – For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.
Philippians 1:3-4 – I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.
Colossians 1:3 – We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.
1 Thessalonians 1:2 – We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.
2 Timothy 1:3 – I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day.
You get the idea. Paul consistently prayed for those who were in the churches God used him to establish and those he knew in the faith. No wonder he encouraged the Roman church to continue in prayer (Romans 12:12) and the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), because that is what he did. And he encourages us to do the same in Ephesians 6:18 – with all prayer and petition praying at all times in the Spirit and with all perseverance and petition for all the saints!
Finally, I believe our prayer time will be effective, and encouraging, when we pray expectantly.
King David was an amazing prayer warrior. Just read through the Psalms that he wrote and see his trust in God to hear and answer prayer. Here is just one example from Psalm 5:3:
In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.
Notice David’s confidence in prayer. “You will hear my voice,” and he will “eagerly watch.” What David is saying is that He will not only confidently pray to the God he knows listens and cares, but he will eagerly watch for an answer. He will look for and anticipate God’s answer to his prayers.
It makes me wonder how often we eagerly wait for God’s answers to the prayers we offer to Him. Do we look for and anticipate the answers God might have for us? Many of us will say, “Of course I eagerly look for His answers when I pray.” The early church probably would say the same thing. But do you remember the story of Peter in prison in Acts chapter 12?
In order to please the Jews, Herod put Peter in prison, planning to put him on trial and probably kill him the next day. That night, an angel came and miraculously freed Peter and walked him right past four squads of guards. Peter heads straight to the place where the church was gathered and here is the exchange:
Acts 12:13-16 – When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.
The incredible thing about this story is verse 5 says: So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. And verse 12 tells us that they were gathered at Mary’s house (the mother of John Mark) where many were gathered together and were praying.
Do you see what the early church was doing? They were gathered together praying fervently that Peter would be released but when he was, they didn’t believe it. They weren’t eagerly watching and looking for God to answer their prayer, so they were surprised when He did and didn’t believe that it was true!
Before we are too hard on the early church, it is sad to realize we often do the same thing. We pray humbly, we pray consistently, we pray fervently, but we don’t always pray looking for God’s answers. We take the attitude that we have done our duty by praying and leave it at that.
So, that is our challenge—like David, to eagerly watch for God’s answers to our prayers, with the caution to not watch for the answer I want or I think is best but watch for God’s answers.
Effective prayer takes on many forms and is part of an effective daily walk with our Lord. And to help with that walk, we offer these three ways that might help your prayer life to be effective:
- Pray devotedly – keeping watch with an attitude of thanksgiving
- Pray consistently – praying in the Spirit, especially for fellow believers
- Pray expectantly – eagerly watching for God’s answers
As we do, we can agree with James 5:16c – The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.