The Scriptures make it clear that praying is not just hit-or-miss. If a person is going to pray to be heard and to be answered, he must follow certain guidelines.
Jesus outlined some of those guidelines for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “In this manner, therefore, pray: / Our Father in heaven, / Hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9). “In this manner,” Jesus said; then He set up a proper formula for addressing our Father. When we recognize that fact, and pray in accordance with God’s laws or rules concerning prayer, then we will certainly learn how to pray effectively.
The Law of Believing
The first law is the law of believing. Prayers of doubt or fear will not, indeed cannot, be strong prayers. This is true because of the laws of faith that relate to prayer. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). This law states that you must believe that God exists as a powerful, sovereign Lord. This law further states that you must believe that God will answer you (“is a rewarder”) when you pray.
If you can comply with both requirements, then you can pray, “Father, I know You are all-powerful, and that You will respond to Your children when they call upon You.” When heathen discuss their gods, they may say, “This god is the god of the hills. This is what he can do.” Or, “This god is the god of the valleys. This is what he can do.”
But we’ve got the God who is God of everything. He made the whole earth—the entire universe. So when we pray to the One who created everything, we know we are focusing our prayers upon the One with the ability to produce the needed results. We can pray in the confident assurance that He possesses the power to meet any need.
So when we have confidence in Him, our prayers to Him in Jesus’ name will not be in vain.
They will be answered.
When Elijah confronted the 450 false priests of Baal upon Mount Carmel, he proposed a test. The priests of Baal were to prepare an altar of sacrifice, as was Elijah. Then each was to pray. Elijah challenged the Baalite priests to “call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God” (1 Kings 18:24).
The Baalites’ idol failed to answer them. Elijah’s God answered his prayer by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice.
If you have been born again you have already experienced a miracle in prayer. You can say, “I know God answers prayer because He saved my soul when I prayed. And He delivered me from my sinful habits.” Knowing the miraculous power of God in your life enables you to pray with the confident intensity that will make your prayers effective.
The Law of Sincerity
Insincere people don’t get their prayers answered because they are living a lie. The heathen can’t get their prayers answered. I have watched the heathen worship in a haphazard manner that indicates insincerity. Even if they knew who God was they could not receive from Him because their lives are built on the shifting sands of lies, falsehoods, artificiality, and deceit.
When one prays sincerely, all facades are stripped away, all deceit is gone, and the heart is laid open before God—in total sincerity, with an open spirit, with all hatred gone. There is no other way to approach our God of love. He loves the whole world, and He will forgive the whole world—if only it will come to Him in sincerity.
The law of sincerity is this: Anyone in a place of total sincerity before God will discover a blessedness beyond anything he had hitherto dreamed. But there is a cost involved—the cost of commitment, of time.
A minute of prayer here and a minute there—not praying today, if I feel like it, then forgetting to pray tomorrow—is not done in sincerity. God cannot do great things in the life of such a person. But when the set laws of praying are discovered, practiced, and adhered to, the results will change your life!
The time to begin praying is not when you are in trouble, as so many people do (I call that “foxhole praying.”). If you pray when things are right, God will come to your rescue when you are in trouble. I can guarantee it.
The Law of Perseverance
Daniel prayed for three weeks to receive the understanding of a vision before the answer came. Three weeks! Would he have received the answer if he’d stopped on the fifteenth day? Or even the twentieth day? Of course not. But Daniel stuck to it; he prayed until the answer came. He persevered.
When Elijah prayed for rain on Mount Carmel, he prayed seven times. And each time he sent his servant to see if there were signs of rain. When the servant came back the first time he said, “There is nothing.” And seven times Elijah said, “Go again.” (1 Kings 18:43). What if he had stopped at four times? Or five times? Or even six times? There would have been no rain and the drought would have continued.
Some say, “But Elijah was different. Elijah was a prophet. I can’t expect the same victories as Elijah.” What does the Bible say about that? “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain” (James 5:17-18).
You see, Elijah was a man of flesh and blood like you and me. But Elijah knew the law of perseverance, and he held on until the victory came—total, blessed victory.
I’ll even venture to say that Elijah may have gotten tired of praying those five, six, or seven times. He probably didn’t even feel like praying. Most people pray only when they feel like it. But that’s not the time to pray. You don’t pray by feelings, but according to needs. You pray when you know in your spirit that it’s time to pray, even if in your body you don’t feel like praying. That’s when you persist in prayer and your needs are met.
The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were in trouble because of their wickedness, and God was making plans to destroy them. Abraham interceded for the cities and, incidentally, for his nephew Lot. “Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place?” (Gen. 18:24).
And the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Gen. 18:26).
Then Abraham asked, “Suppose there were five less than the fifty?”(Gen. 18:28).
God said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it” (Gen. 18:28).
Abraham interceded with God until He agreed not to destroy the city if there were as few as ten righteous to be found there. Abraham was persistent in prayer! Have you ever wondered why Abraham stopped with the number ten? Abraham knew that there were ten members in Lot’s family, and he thought these ten were righteous.
Abraham hadn’t allowed for the fact that Lot’s children had intermarried with the Sodomites and become sinners and mockers of God. When Abraham saw, by the smoke rising over Sodom the next morning, that God had destroyed the city, he realized that it could only have happened because God had not found ten righteous people in the city. Abraham had persisted in prayer, and God had responded.
The Law of Humility
There are undoubtedly times and places when pride is in order, but not when one prays. Prayer will not be effective unless one approaches the Almighty in humility. Many people pray because they have a need—because they have met with some problem or deficiency in them-selves, their family, their community, or their world.
When this realization comes, that person must reach outside of himself to a higher force, a greater energy. So he reaches upward to God and says, “Father, I need Your help.”
A self-sufficient person will find it difficult to pray, because he has told himself and others, “I can take care of myself. I don’t need anybody. I don’t need God.” Certainly this person will not receive anything from God.
But there is another kind of pride that prevents answers to prayers. This is the self-righteous person. Have you ever heard anyone pray, “Lord, I have lived for You for forty years. I have taught Sunday school. I’ve been a deacon. I’ve given lots of money to the church.” And on the basis of his service record he expects to receive blessings from God.
God can’t hear the prayers of pride-filled persons. Prayers that are answered come from those who humble themselves before God. God says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
Those who pray in humility will receive from God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, / For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Those who come to God with praise will receive from God. Those who admit their need for God and His help will receive from Him.
The truly humble are those who turn to God in the good times as well as the bad. They are the people who touch God’s loving heart, and they are the ones who will receive from Him.
The Law of Prayer Structure
The way we structure our prayers is important. I am not referring necessarily to grammar and syntax, or even to the language we use when we pray. God hears and understands them all. But if we are to pray effective prayers it is important to formulate our prayers properly. Let me explain.
Our prayers should exalt or glorify God. Our prayers should begin with God. Jesus said,“In this manner, therefore, pray: / Our Father in heaven, / Hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9). Such a beginning speaks of one’s relationship to the Almighty—“Our Father.” It speaks of God’s dwelling place—“in heaven.” Also, the knowledge of and the acceptance of God’s holiness is articulated. In other words, by opening our prayers as Jesus taught, our thoughts are immediately reminded of the divine nature of the One to whom we are directing our petitions. This is important.
Our prayers should usher the participant into the intimate, personal presence of the Almighty. Jesus stated, “When you pray, go into your room”(Matt. 6:6). Whether He meant our bedrooms or merely a special place is beside the point. The point is that both the time and place of prayer should enable one to be apart from worldly, secular things long enough to make it possible for him to be with God and, thus, to commune with Him without interruption.
If one is to pray effectively, it is necessary for him to shut out the world, distractions, everything and everybody, so he can become intimate with the Father. A room with a closed door could be that place. A quiet spot in the woods could be that place. Wherever you can be alone with God for a time is a good place.
Daniel knew God better when he met Him regularly in a special place. Jacob knew God better when he had wrestled with Him all night. You can know God better when you seek Him on a regular basis, after travailing with Him, being with Him long enough, consistently enough, and deeply enough to become one with Him. It is then that you will become the kind of child of God He desires you to be. It is then that your prayers will be answered.
Our prayers will convince the unbeliever of God’s reality and will often bring revival. Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and convinced the people of God’s reality—when he prayed. The people of Israel turned back to God because of Elijah’s praying. Furthermore, these successes in prayer taught Elijah to pray in ways that he hadn’t known before.
God is no respecter of persons. He loves you and me as much as He loved Daniel and Elijah. When we recognize the laws that govern prayer, when we learn how to approach God correctly, bringing our needs to Him in humility and with praise, our prayers will be answered and our faith will be built up.