Does Prayer Really Work? (10 Secrets to Effective Prayer)

Does Prayer Really Work? (10 Secrets to Effective Prayer)

Have you ever prayed and then didn’t hear a response?  Do you wonder if you were heard?  Have you ever felt abandoned by God for not answering your pleas?  Are you frustrated with God, or feel betrayed by Him for saying no?  Does the idea of praying to someone “invisible” feel odd, but you still have an inexplicable inner desire to do it?  Do you wish you could feel closer to God and truly trust Him in your life?

I’ve asked the same questions and have experienced some of these feelings.  There is a tremendous difference between talking to someone you cannot physically see or audibly hear and someone you can.  So, why not just converse with humans?  There must be something about prayer that helps people thrive because according to a 2020 Gallup Poll, 85% of Americans pray, which is especially interesting when you consider that 54% of the respondents seldom or never attend services of any religion.  

People have an inherent drive to believe there is something bigger than themselves; and wanting to connect relationally with that being is only natural.  Seeking guidance and help from God makes sense when you understand there are limits to your power and control over your life.  The most important elements of life - like peace, fulfillment, and intimacy - cannot be bought or earned.  They can only be received or imparted from Yahweh - God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is accessed through prayer.

[Are you unsure if you are a Christian?  This article will help:  How to Become a Christian in 2 Life-Saving Steps.]

So, how does prayer really work?  How should you approach prayer in order to obtain the answers you need?

In this article, you will learn 10 essential elements of life-enhancing prayer.

1.  Be informed about the meaning of prayer

Simply put, prayer is a two-sided conversation with God.  You are meant to have a personal and intimate relationship with Yahweh (Colossians 1:19-20), and that can only develop if you are in communication with Him.

Your relationship begins with mutual acceptance.  By recognizing that you are fully known and fully loved by God and acknowledging that He is worthy of all your praise (Psalm 86:12), you can start to grow in trusting Him.

Through worshipful and vulnerable prayer, the authentic desires of your heart will be fulfilled because real communication with God aligns your heart with His (Romans 12:2, Matthew 6:9-10), making a way for Him to guide you in deciding what is most important to you in life and choosing those priorities and values (Proverbs 3:5-6).  

[Do you want to go deeper?  Check out this article:  5-Step Guide to Fasting and Praying with Intention.]

2.  Be transparent about your fears & desires

God wants you to freely express your feelings and desires with Him (Philippians 4:6).  If you’re like me, it can sometimes be difficult to be honest even with yourself about fears and longings; so you might be wondering how you can be transparent with God. 

It is powerful to realize that God knows everything going on in your heart and mind, not only before you speak it, but also before you know it!  In prayer, you are not informing God about something He doesn’t already know, but, rather, God is helping you connect deeply with Him, as well as understand and entrust to Him your thoughts, feelings, and wishes (Psalm 139).  

The Bible is full of heartfelt prayers.  King David’s words, as recorded throughout the Psalms, are especially honest and poignant - so much so that they can sometimes be uncomfortable to read.  Here are just a few examples Psalm 42, Psalm 43, Psalm 80, Psalm 88, Psalm 143:1-10.   

Scripture contains many accounts of believers earnestly pleading with God for what they wanted.  One example is Jacob, who was terrified of meeting up with his brother, Esau, because Jacob stole Esau's birthright.  Jacob wrestled with God until he received from the Lord the answer to his prayer for protection (Genesis 32:6-28). 

Even Jesus was honest and vulnerable in the way He prayed to God, the Father.  This can be especially seen when He asked God to give Him another way to atone for our sins, and then submitted to God's plan (Matthew 26:39). 

With your heart wide open to God, you can feel heard and validated, and be fully ready to hear His response which will always be filled with unconditional love and your best interest (Philippians 4:6-7).

[Additional Reading for Inspiration:  Does God Want you to Rediscover Your Childhood Dreams?]

3.  Be willing to let God point out anything harmful in your heart or mind

Jesus instructs believers to make requests of Him and they will be given (Matthew 7:7-11).  But all it takes is one time of asking for what you want and not getting it to realize there’s something about that verse that must have a contextual meaning you're not understanding.  James 4:3 sheds light on this instruction by explaining that asking with wrong intentions does not result in getting what was requested.  God loves you too much to give according to what you’re asking when it is unknowingly harmful.

While God wants you to share your true feelings and desires with Him, you can only receive His best for you when you pray with an openness and readiness to hear and follow His direction.  This will allow you to obtain what your heart truly needs, which may include things like a sense of security in trusting He will provide for you, courage to take risks, healing from an emotional hurt, or forgiveness for a sin.  

Scripture teaches that life choices stem from the heart (Proverbs 4:23) so it is essential to maintain a healthy inner self.  Thankfully, God purifies the hearts and minds of those who ask (Jeremiah 17:9-10, Psalm 51) paving the way for your prayers to align with Him.  

In a time of stillness, ask God to show you anything harmful in your mind or heart...and then just listen.  You will be amazed at how gently He shows you what you need and then leads you in how to get it.

[Take a 31-Day growth journey through daily Bible readings on Mindset.] 

4.  Be in prayer with others

The Bible says that when two or more people pray together, God’s presence is there (Matthew 18:20).  Praying with others will help you deepen your connection with God, become more unified with other Christians, and give you the courage, wisdom and strength to follow God's will in your life (Acts 1:12-14). 

Involving others in your prayer requests can help you express your thoughts and feelings because your fellow Christians can ask you questions and express empathy.  It also gives you an opportunity to receive wisdom as they share insight with you about what they've learned as well as anything God reveals to them in prayer (James 5:13-16).  

[Delve deeper into benefits of community prayer:  4 Reasons Why Asking for Prayer is Beneficial.]

It is important to recognize that people can sometimes think they are communicating God's message to you when they are actually speaking or praying according to their own thoughts or opinions.  If you sense this happening, it is best to seek out people that will pray with an attitude of seeking God’s direction rather than asking Him only to fulfill your specific request.  

5.  Be ready to wait

Receiving answers and getting what you want does not always happen right away.  This is the case in every aspect of life and in every relationship; it is no different with God.

One thing that is particularly challenging about waiting for answers to prayer is that oftentimes when a person asks God for something, it is during a time of crisis or great need.  In some cases, waiting can be very difficult and can lead to feelings of betrayal and hurt.  It is times like these that highlight the importance of remembering that God alone knows what is best regarding both outcomes and timeframes.  

Have you walked through a crisis and only later saw that the good things in your life today came through your time of great need?  Have you ever prayed for something, didn’t get it, and then realized you were asking for the wrong thing?  Desires and needs change, and time almost always provides more clarity.  That is why it is so valuable to wait for the Lord's perfect answers (Psalm 38:15, Psalm 27:13-14).

One story that comes to mind is when Noah and his family entered the ark to escape the forty days and nights of rain that flooded the earth.  After the rain they needed to wait for the water to dissipate so they could safely leave the boat.  They were able to watch the process and could easily see when it was unsafe to disembark.  Then, after being in the ark for ten months, they saw that the water had dried off of the earth (Genesis 8:13) but God still did not direct them to go ashore.  In fact, He had them remain aboard for another two months.  I can picture myself in that situation suggesting to my family that maybe we’re supposed to get off the boat and that we just missed God's instruction.  It would have been difficult for me to see the dry earth every day for two months all the while knowing that leaving would provide relief from the unpleasantness of eating year-old-food and of living in close proximity to all the human and animal excrement.  But in Genesis 8:14 we see that while the water was dried from off the earth, they needed to wait for the layers of earth to dry out.   Noah and his family could not see what was going on below the surface.  If they had left the ark before God directed, they would have been in danger.   

[Take a 28-Day growth journey through daily Bible readings on Sleep & Rest.]

6.  Be persistent

Jesus taught believers to keep on praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  To encourage them not to lose hope in bringing requests to Him, Jesus told an inspiring parable of a widow that kept asking a judge for justice until she received it (Luke 18:1-8).  When you know you are praying in God’s will, you can have full confidence that you will receive that which you are requesting (James 1:5-8). 

One example of this in Scripture is when Elijah prayed that God would make Himself known to all the people who were trying to decide if they would worship God or Baal, the false god of fertility and rain (1 Kings 18).  He challenged the king of Israel and all who pled with Baal for rain, by instructing them to call upon Baal to set an animal sacrifice aflame before their eyes.  After many hours of screaming and cutting themselves to please their god, the fire never came.  Then Elijah, after drowning the altar and filling the surrounding trench with water, called upon the Lord to set his sacrifice aflame.  The Almighty God answered beyond imagination by not only burning up the sacrifice but also the wood, stones and dust on the altar, as well as the water in the trench; and it resulted in the Israelites worshiping the Lord alone.

When you're unsure if what you're asking for is something within God's will, it is especially important to ask Him for wisdom (James 1:5) and to attune your ears and heart to the Lord's direction.  The apostle Paul persisted in asking God to remove the "thorn in his side" and then he received an answer.  God said "no" and told Paul that His grace is sufficient to help him live a full and soul satisfying life amid the ailment. 

Continuing to seek God (Ephesian 6:18) keeps lines of communication open between you and the Lord, allowing Him greater access to your heart so you can receive His fullness in your life (Psalm 40:1-3, Psalm 33:20-22).  

[Take a 31-Day growth journey through daily Bible readings on Faith.]

7.  Be receptive to the answer being “no”

One of the hardest things about prayer is when requests go unfulfilled.  It can cause feelings of frustration, fear, abandonment, and torment.  It is an experience requiring a faith that goes beyond human capability.  It is in times like these that I find myself praying, "I believe; help my unbelief," (Mark 9:23-24).  God understands that we will sometimes struggle to trust Him.

When I do not get what I'm asking for, I find it helpful to spend some time remembering how God has always been with me, shown me His love, and provided what is best for me. 

On this topic, Matthew 7:9-11 comes to mind.   During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asked the crowd, "which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?"  He went on to point out how much more our heavenly Father gives good gifts to his children.  I have often wondered why the question was not also asked, "which one of you, if his son asks him for a stone, will give him bread?"  The reality is that children oftentimes ask for things that are not good for them; and this applies to adults as well.  Thankfully, when God's children ask for something harmful, He instead gives good gifts. 

Before moving on, I would be remiss not to mention the ultimate example of when God the Father said "no."  Jesus earnestly  (to the point of sweating blood) asked His Father for another way than the crucifixion to fulfill the mission of saving people from sin (Luke 22:39-46).  And, yet, Jesus ended His prayer by saying "not my will, but yours, be done." 

[Devotional Reading:  How One Woman Found Healing from Mental and Emotional Turmoil Through Jesus Christ.]

8.  Be mindful that confusion is not from God

Have you ever asked God to show you what to do when trying to make a decision?  Maybe you have had an opportunity to take a job or move; or maybe you're in school and trying to figure what to major in.  Or even bigger, maybe you're in a relationship and you're unsure if you should get married. 

A natural and wise step is to ask God for clarity and direction.  I've heard many people say that after praying and receiving a sense of what to do from the Lord, they second guessed themselves, wondering if what they sensed was from God or from themselves.  It is important to know that if you are confused when you are seeking the Lord's direction, Satan is behind the confusion. 

The Bible says that when you ask for wisdom, God gives it generously (James 1:5).  When you pray, He may tell you right away what to do or He may not.  Why is that?  Sometimes, God wants His people to wait for an answer.  Other times, He is silent because it is a decision He wants you to make, trusting that He will prompt you if you are on the wrong track.  And, sometimes God waits because He wants you to gain awareness of your likes, dislikes, desires, and fears, as well as to build confidence and gain freedom in making decisions.

Interestingly, Scripture shows us that God brought confusion to those who determined to do evil.  This occurred multiple times in the Israelites' exodus from Egypt and entering of the Promised Land (Canaan).  God confused the Egyptians trying to recapture the Israelites (Exodus 14:24-25).  Later, when God was preparing them to take over the Promised Land (Exodus 23:27), He told them that He would secure their victory by throwing each enemy camp into confusion as the Israelites went through the land of Canaan.  One example can be seen in Joshua 10:10 about the battle against Gibeon.

[Take a 31-Day growth journey through daily Bible readings on Making Plans.]

9.  Be attentive so the "father of lies" does not trick you

Satan is humanity's ultimate adversary.  He uses any and all means to fulfill his purpose of utterly destroying lives (John 10:10).  Jesus tells us that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).  Though everything the devil says is untrue, he has an uncanny way of influencing people to believe his lies.  How does he do this?  He plays on people's emotions - emotions like fear, desire, anger, righteousness, confusion, sadness, depression, enjoyment, irritation, sympathy, excitement, disappointment, and shame.  

Emotions were created by God and, therefore, they are good.  However, if they are not brought before the Lord for direction and regulation, they can wreak havoc in your life.  The Bible says the heart is deceptive above all else (Jeremiah 17:9) and it needs to be guarded (Proverbs 4:23).

One of the devil's strategies is to strike when people are at their weakest points.  He did this to Jesus while He was in the desert.  When Jesus was hungry after a 40-day fast, Satan tempted Him first with food.  Each time the devil attempted to lure Jesus away from God's will, He responded by quoting Scripture. 

Like Jesus, you can resist the devil by quoting Scripture.  Arm yourself with the Truth by reading and meditating on the Word of God.  And, to ensure you are hearing from the Lord, pray as David did (Psalm 119:33-37) for understanding, a heart that longs for God, and a focus on His ways so that you may be guarded against Satan's temptations of self-seeking and meaningless pursuits.

[Stay in the Bible to guard yourself from lies. Try this technique:  How to Read the Bible Using the S.O.A.P. Method.]

10.  Be encouraged that God hears and cares for you

Especially in desperate circumstances, it is important to know that God sees and hears you when you pray (Micah 7:7).  He always does.  The Bible communicates this truth through the witnesses of several people, including Job, Elijah, and Hagar.

The prophet, Elijah, while despairing and being unable to eat, asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19).  Instead, the Lord sent an angel to encourage, strengthen, and feed him.  The Almighty God further bolstered Elijah's faith by revealing Himself to him through a quiet voice.  And then, the Lord sent him a ministry partner (Elisha).  

Sarah's servant, Hagar, while pregnant with Abraham's child and with nowhere to go, was sent an angel of the Lord to encourage, guide, and provide for her.  Hagar responded by proclaiming that the Lord is the God who sees (Genesis 16).

After losing his family, livestock, and home, and being struck with sores covering his entire body, Job cried out to God for help.  But, God remained silent for at least seven days (Job 2:13).  Why?  I don’t know.  I, too, have experienced the torment of receiving only silence from God during a hardship.  I don’t know why the Lord was silent with me; but now that I am on the other side of the tragedy, I can see how that period brought about a level of peace, contentment, relational depth, and joy I didn't know existed.  Like Job, I went from knowing about God to knowing God deeply (Job 42:5).  

[Do you feel uncared for by churchgoers?  Check out: I have Been Hurt by Church, What do I do? : A Pastor's Story.]

Takeaway

Scripture tells us to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) because being in communication with Yahweh is an essential element of life.  

Our heavenly Father sent us His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins so we can be forgiven and reconciled to God, making a way for all believers to boldly approach God with every failure, concern, and desire (Hebrews 4:16).   

[Are you unsure if you are a Christian?  This article will help:  How to Become a Christian in 2 Life-Saving Steps.]

God is the source of love (1 John 4) and every good gift (James 1:17).  He alone is the giver of peace (Romans 5:1-11) .  The Lord, who knows you better than you know yourself, has good plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11-13), so who better to ask for direction?

By regularly coming to God in prayer with transparency about your fears, desires, and sins, and by being open to hearing His responses, you can connect deeply with Him, gain wisdom, be strengthened and encouraged, receive peace, and build solid relationships with the family of God.

Do you want to learn more about the Bible or how to become a Christian?

Check out these articles:

  1. Bible Recap 101: Your Essential Guide to the Bible's Core Storyline
  2. How to Become a Christian in 2 Life-Saving Steps
  3. 1-Year Bible Reading Series for Healthy Living
Are you looking for a church? 

Check out these articles:

  1. 3 Essential Beliefs All Christian Churches Share
  2. 6 Tips for Choosing the Right Church For You

Do you live in the Concord, NH area?  We invite you to check us out. Grace Capital Church is located at 542 Pembroke Street in Pembroke, NH. 

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