By Cindi McMenamin, Crosswalk.com
Chances are you either believe in the power of prayer, or you don’t. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between, wanting to have the kind of “success” that others have when they pray, but you’re not exactly sure how.
Perhaps you’ve prayed for something and felt it was to no avail. Maybe you felt no one was listening or you believed you weren’t doing it right. Worse, you might even believe God has abandoned you or is punishing you by refusing to answer your prayers.
We know from Scripture that prayer is the privilege we have to converse with the Almighty God, to take our requests before Him, and to see Him at work in this world and through believers. But how exactly does prayer work? Here are seven principles to keep in mind as you come into God’s presence through prayer:
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1. Prayer involves a relationship.
When I receive emails or letters from people who tell me God is not answering their prayers, there is seldom any mention in the email about their relationship with God. They often provide a list of the things they do for God—their service, the number of years they’ve attended church and served in various ministries—but there is rarely mention or indication of their love for God and their gratitude for what He has already given them. With no evident love or gratitude, there is quite possibly no surrender—only expectations of what God will do or disappointment in how He’s failed them.
It may help if you start considering prayer as a way to get to know God, not to get things from God. Prayer never changes God, but it can and should change us. Consider the time you come before Him, asking for something, as time you are working on a relationship. I believe the reason God doesn’t instantly give us what we ask for, at times, is because He’s more concerned about our relationship with Him than our immediate pleasure. Simply said, He wants us to keep coming back…time and time again …until we want Him more than what we are requesting of Him.
2. Prayer consists of listening, not just talking.
Prayer is two-way communication between you and God. You wouldn’t do all the talking after meeting with a friend, and then leave, would you? Just as God promises to listen to us when we pray, we have an obligation to listen to Him as well. To cultivate an ear to hear His voice, we must open His Word, pay attention to what He’s doing in and around us, and seek godly counsel from mature believers.
Try spending some time in prayer without asking for anything, but instead praising Him for who He is and thanking Him for all He’s done. When I do that, I often find that what I originally wanted to request of Him doesn’t matter anymore as focusing on His love, goodness, and ability to govern all things for my best, makes me just desire Him, not what I wanted Him to deliver. Spend more time in prayer listening to God than talking to Him. It may change what you pray about. And, although you might be praying to change God’s mind on a matter, it’s possible He’s wanting to change your heart on the same matter.
3. Prayer must be accompanied by faith.
Jesus said, whatever we ask for in prayer, believing, we will receive (Matthew 21:22). He even said, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 NASB). Furthermore, in 1 John 5:14-15, the beloved disciple of Jesus told us, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (NASB).
Truly faith is an integral component of prayer. So, if we are petitioning the Living God for something, but don’t really believe He can or will do what we’re requesting, James 1:5-8 says have become “double-minded, unstable in all [our] ways” and we “ought not to expect that [we] will receive anything from the Lord.” Faith must accompany your prayers. Don’t even ask, if you think God can’t or won’t do what He knows is best.
4. Prayer is soliciting God’s wisdom and best for our lives.
When we pray, we tend to think we know what is best for our lives, or for someone else’s. Thus, we can tend to run through our checklist with God to make sure He’s on board. Yet, God knows all things and is full of wisdom. So, we have the sovereign will of God to contend with when we ask for something. And we can rest assured that He only wants good for us. Therefore, if you’re praying for something and not getting it, it could be that it isn’t eternally best for you, or it isn’t time.
Psalm 84:11 says it all when it comes to prayer: “For the Lord God is a sun (who lights our way and directs our path) and a shield (who protects us from what this world or Satan launches at us)…; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (NKJV). Looking at that entire verse, we can conclude if we are walking uprightly while asking for something in prayer and not receiving it, God is withholding it out of His love, protection and desire to guide our lives in the best way possible. Sometimes God’s “no” isn’t really a “no.” It’s a “not yet—I have something far better for you that you haven’t yet thought to ask for.”
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5. Prayer relieves us of our burdens and anxiety.
Philippians 4:6-7 instructs: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (NLT).
That verse implies prayer is the greatest stress-reliever there is, and the best antidote to anxiety. Receiving what we ask for isn’t what brings peace, but the actual practice of prayer itself—submitting our will to His and then resting in His love and wisdom of what is eternally best for us and those we love. Give your burdens and anxieties to God. He’s the Only One who can really take care of them anyway. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is comfortable, and My burden is light” (NASB). Letting Him carry your burdens through prayer brings peace, rest, and a stillness to your life that is much healthier—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
6. Prayer is about trusting God our Father for all that we need.
I’ve heard many believers say they never pray for themselves. They believe it’s selfish. They will only petition God on behalf of others. While it’s commendable that they don’t want to be selfish, they may be depriving their Heavenly Father of the joy He receives when we ask Him for what we need and see Him provide.
In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” And in verse 11, He said, “if you, despite being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (NASB). We don’t have because we don’t ask.
Although Jesus told us in Matthew 21:22, “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (NKJV), prayer isn’t always about asking. But we are told throughout Scripture that our Father in heaven wants His children to ask Him for what they need. To ask is to demonstrate our trust. Oswald Chambers wrote, “Keep the thought that the mind of God is behind all things strong and growing. Not even the smallest detail of life happens unless God’s will is behind it. Therefore, you can rest in perfect confidence in Him. Prayer is not only asking, but is an attitude of the mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural.”
7. Prayer requires surrender.
Praying is ultimately about laying down our will for God’s. Jesus, as He prepared to go to the cross, prayed to His Father to relieve Him of that burden if there was some way He could escape it. Yet Jesus’ prayer was “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). If that became the motto for our life and prayers, we would hardly have anything to ask, but for Himself and the theme of our life would be Psalm 73:25-26: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but You, Lord are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Prayer is bringing God our concerns and laying them at His feet, trusting Him to take care of them for us. Prayer is telling Him our fears and resting in His peace. Prayer is depending on Him, more than anything or anyone else, for all that we need. And prayer is a daily channel of communication with our Heavenly Father, thanking Him for all that we have, chatting with Him about all that’s on our hearts, expressing our joy for Who He is and all He’s done, and enjoying His presence. Psalm 16:11 says, “In His presence is fullness of joy.” We get to experience His presence through prayer, and the resulting joy that comes through a surrendered relationship with Him.
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