Effectiveness in Prayer
Good News Magazine
May 1979
Volume: Vol XXVI, No. 5
Issue: ISSN 0432-0816
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Effectiveness in Prayer

In today's busy life it seems that there is never enough time to do all the things we want or need to do. When there is not enough time to go around, what do you neglect?

   Now, as never before, true Christians should be drawing near to God in prayer.
   Yet some members of God's Church confess they have not prayed for days, weeks, months or even years. But why wait until it is too late for help? "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6).

Just what is prayer?

   Prayer is simply conversing or talking with God. And it is an important part in the worship of the Great Creator.
   Prayer gives us an opportunity to express our thanks to God for the many blessings we are given in the physical and spiritual realm.
   We have an opportunity in prayer to ask God for help, for guidance, for strength. And very importantly we may ask the same things on behalf of others (intercessory prayer).
   Prayer is the completion of a two-way conversation between God and man. God speaks to us through His Word, and we speak to Him through prayer.

A condition of effective prayer

   Before coming to God in prayer we must repent of sin. If we are living in sin and doing nothing about it, God will turn a deaf ear to our prayers - until we change our attitude (John 9:31, Isa. 59:2, Ps. 34:15, 17).
   God will not hear sleepy-time, ho-hum prayers either.
   "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13).
   A half-hearted approach, with wandering thoughts, has no promise of ever being heard or answered by God. We ourselves do not listen to someone who is rambling, half asleep and not making much sense.
   The apostle James puts this thought beautifully: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jas. 5:16).
   The Greek word translated effectual is zelos, elsewhere translated zeal, ardor, fervent mind. The word fervent is energeo, elsewhere translated active, and the source of our English word energy. So a prayer should have zeal and energy.
   Don't worry about your physical surroundings, your problems or your limitations. Throw off those physical bonds and realize that the Great God of Heaven is listening.

Jesus' model prayer

   Some people run out of things to pray about very quickly. One reason for this is they think prayer is only for asking, usually for themselves. But is that all it is? Consider the model prayer Jesus gave to His disciples.
   To begin with, Jesus said to pray "after this manner" (Matt. 6:9; a parallel is also in Luke 11). He did not mean one should simply memorize and use these words over and over. He had just finished telling His disciples not to use vain repetitions (verse 7). The Living Bible words it, "Pray along these lines," and the Revised Standard Version, "Pray then like this." So Jesus' prayer is simply an outline of categories to pray about.
   "Our Father." First of all, we note the words are, "Our father," not "my father." We are reminded there are others who share this family relationship. Then we need to be fully aware it is to that Great God on His throne in heaven to whom we have come, yet to One who truly is our loving Father, with great concern for each child.
   Still making sure we are properly mentally oriented, "Which art in heaven." God's throne is presently (still) located in heaven, perhaps beyond the farthest star, a distance so vast we are unable to comprehend it. And yet spiritually He is not far from anyone of us (Acts 17:27).

Honor and praise to God

   "Hallowed be thy name!" Our first request is that honor and praise be to God. We may here ask God to help each of us to hallow, respect, hold in proper awe, the Great God and His name. Then we may petition, " thy Kingdom come." As we see the myriad evils and troubles in this present world, we should be able with more fervency, day by day, to pray for the soon coming of God's Kingdom from heaven to earth.
   We may also pray that the proclamation or announcement of that soon-coming Kingdom might be soon preached in all the present world so that this age will end and that new age dawn.
   "Thy will be done on earth." God only intervenes in this present world as it suits His purpose, primarily in events that will lead to the fulfillment of prophecy. We may certainly pray for that. We are also exhorted to pray for civil rulers so that we may live at peace as much as is possible here and now.
   Another major area where we desire God's will to be done is in His Church. We ought to pray for the leaders in the Church, various business and administrative personnel, the college and magazine staffs and, of course, the worldwide ministry. Pray also for the effectiveness of the broadcast, the telecast, the literature and other means by which the Gospel is proclaimed.
   "Give us this day." This request for daily bread is not just for food alone. And notice it is not for my daily bread but our. God wants us to be concerned and pray for other people and their needs too!
   Lastly we should pray for ourselves and our needs, and that we might do those things that God wants us to do.
   Ask for God's guidance in your life, in all the things you will do for the day. Pray that you might overcome yourself, Satan and the world in every right way.

Pray for forgiveness

   "Forgive us our debts." In Luke's account this is worded, "Forgive us our sins." Here is an opportunity to ask God to forgive us the sins we commit out of ignorance or weakness, as we determine not to commit those same sins again.
   And let's not forget the forgiveness of the sins of others as well. We ask God to forgive us "as we forgive" others. Such forgiveness is one of the major points of Christian doctrine.
   "And lead us not into temptation." The word temptation might better be translated sore trial. What does this have to do with the much tribulation through which we must enter God's Kingdom? (Acts 14:22).
   There are two main ways we learn spiritual lessons. One is by experience. Some say it is the best teacher. No doubt it is the most effective. But it is best to learn from God's instruction and save yourself unnecessary pain and suffering.
   But God says, "I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jer. 17:10). It is necessary for God to try all of us to find out in advance what is in our heart or mind, and whether or not we will follow the right ways in all circumstances. He may allow circumstances where our attitudes or lusts will become evident — sore trial. Actually it is not God who tempts us, but our own lusts (Jas. 1:13-14).
   Matthew 26:41: "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation." We may also pray that God will not consider it necessary to lead any of us into the great tribulation (Luke 21:36), or that "hour of trial that is coming on the whole world" (Rev. 3:10, RSV).

Ask God's protection

   "Deliver us from evil." Notice this is not a prayer for me but for us. This word evil is translated more properly evil one. We here may ask God's protection from Satan and his demons.
   We have seen that the first three requests relate to God (His name, Kingdom and will) and help us get our mind on God and His activities. The last four relate directly to our needs (daily bread, debts, temptations, protection). In conclusion we again direct our thoughts back to God, our Creator, because He has all power now and forever to bring these things to pass. And our final "Amen" affirms again the content of our prayer, saying in conclusion, "Be it so."

Other instructions

   We are told to pray for all saints (Eph. 6:18). To " pray for us," that is the ministry (I Thess. 5:25), to pray for all men including rulers and other authorities so that we might live at peace (I Tim. 2:1-2), Samuel, the prophet and judge, knew that it would be a sin for him if he did not pray for God's people (I Sam. 12:23).
   After all these things, if you still think you need instruction on how you should pray, read in the Scriptures how other people prayed. You may find a prayer list helpful as an aid to memory of things, circumstances, people, problems you want to pray about.
   Jesus Christ said, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you" (John 16:23). What does it mean to ask in His name? It means we ask by His authority and by His permission.
   We should come to God in prayer with faith and confidence. "Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
   Jesus also said, "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). If we did ask contrary to His will how could we have any faith that He would fulfill our request?
   And if we ask only things that we selfishly want, God may not answer that prayer! "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (Jas. 4:3).
   But if an otherwise acceptable prayer is not immediately answered, does this mean that God has gone back on His word? Absolutely not. God has not told us when He will answer. His answer for the present may be "No," or "Possibly I'll do it later, because now is not really the best time for you, considering all the circumstances."
   And He sometimes tries our patience, so we may develop more patience, trust and faith in Him.
   But there is an old saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." The parable of the importuning (persistent) widow and the unjust judge wall given to make this evident. See Luke 18:1-8.
   "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily" (verses 7-8).

Form and posture of prayer

   Where should we pray? Christ told us to pray in our closet, that is, in a private place (Matt. 6:6). We can concentrate better on our prayer and the Father, without distractions to interrupt. And if we pray in secret He will reward us. In search of privacy, Jesus and others prayed in solitary places in the out of doors, the desert, on a mountain top, on the flat housetops common at that time and in an "upper chamber."
   Some ask what physical position we should be in when we pray to God. People have strange and mistaken ideas, such as holding their hands a certain way, or women wearing a veil. But the Scriptures describe prayers given standing, kneeling or prostrate with the head touching the ground. Sometimes the hands are lifted, though not always. But nowhere is there any mention of holding the hands with palms together with the fingers pointed upward as on so many religious pictures or artifacts.
   Some people, because of physical infirmity, can't kneel or in some cases even stand. God's ability to hear and to answer their prayers isn't limited by such circumstances.
   However, the usual posture in the Bible for private prayer is to kneel on both knees. Public prayer was in a standing position, with exception, notably Solomon's public prayer at the dedication of the temple (I Kings 8:54). In one unusual example David went to the tabernacle to pray after his request to build the temple was denied. On this occasion we read that David sat before God during his prayer (I Chron. 17:16-25).
   To ask for our daily bread implies we should pray daily. But the Scriptures give us other evidence beyond this. David prayed three times a day (Ps. 55:16-17) at "evening, and morning and at noon." Daniel also prayed three times a day (Dan. 6:10). This apparently was related to the hours of prayer at the tabernacle and later at the temple, the hours of 3 p.m., 9 a.m. and 12 noon. You will find other references to these times in Acts 3:1 and 10:30.
   Other scriptures on this subject instruct us to continue "instant [or constant] in prayer" (Rom. 12:12). In Ephesians 6:18, we are told we should pray always. In the words of Paul in I Thessalonians 5:17 our prayers should be "without ceasing." How can we pray this way? Silently, throughout the day, while we go about our daily activities. As Nehemiah did as he stood before King Artaxerxes (Neh. 2:4).

Avoid extremes

   But avoid extremes. Some people in their zeal and enthusiasm pray more than they should. They become practically prayer-and-Bible-study hermits! Children and spouses are neglected while they spend long hours "getting in their prayer time." They are not giving as they should in outgoing concern for their family and the rest of the world. On the other hand, take heed to this appropriate saying: Seven days without prayer makes one weak!
   The Bible nowhere states how long we should pray each day — just like the financial offerings we give and the frequency or length of our fasting. God leaves it to us to decide, and watches to see what we will do.
   Jesus when He knew He was going to be crucified within 24 hours, prayed for a solid hour, then went back to continue twice more (Matt. 26:38 and following verses).
   On another occasion, when Jesus was about to make the important decision of selecting the 12 apostles, He prayed all night (Luke 6:12). So it should seem obvious that five, 10 or 20 minutes a day before our Creator God is insufficient.

God has promised help

   Though we may stumble around in our prayers, God has promised to help us. After all, He inspired Solomon to write, "The prayer of the upright is his delight" (Prov. 15:8).
   We learn from Paul: " Likewise the [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself [itself, KJV] intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26, 27, RSV).
   "Let us therefore come boldly [with confidence, RSV] unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
   If we had an audience with a great ruler, or person of great influence on this earth, we would be very excited and probably feel privileged. Think how far greater it is to be able to come into the presence of God, the ruler of the vast universe.
   "Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise" (Ps. 100:4).
   "But in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6).
   When you enter God's throne room, remember that Jesus Christ is seated at His right hand. Twenty-four great spirit beings are also there, with cherubim, seraphim and an innumerable host of angels as well. The driving force of the universe is listening. Pray with energy and zeal.

Three Times a Day by Ron Lohr

   If you were an engineer at a power plant and had to solve the problem of a sag in a utility line, the solution would be obvious. Add a third pole as a prop, and the power flow would be uninterrupted.
   This same problem can occur spiritually. For example, most Christians pray in the morning. That's the first pole. And almost all Christians pray at night. That's the second pole. But around midday the spiritual battle can rage the strongest. For increased spiritual strength add a third prayer.
   You say you pray all day long — when you drive to work or while you do the dishes? That's not what I mean! It's fine to walk with God, but I'm talking about prayer on your knees, giving God your undivided attention.
   Most of us eat three meals a day to be nourished physically. The Bible example is prayer three times a day for proper nourishment spiritually. David, "a man after God's own heart," set us this example. "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice" (Ps. 55:17). Daniel "kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed" (Dan. 6:10). This was his habit.
   You can get off course by the middle of the day. The Holy Spirit needs to be replenished. Without this extra prayer you tend to forget that you are in a spiritual battle, and that you must frequently relate what you are doing to God's standards.
   Since you began reading this, your mind has come up with at least half a dozen good reasons why you can't pray three times a day. Get on your knees and ask your Creator to help you see its importance for you personally.

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Good News MagazineMay 1979Vol XXVI, No. 5ISSN 0432-0816