The Nature of Effective Prayer
Prayer is a conversation between a person and God. This may seem to be too simple a definition, but basically prayer is a “conversation”. It is not a religious ritual, and it should always be personal.
The salutation for a prayer
As it is true for any conversation, letter, or message, it is important that one’s prayer be addressed to the right person. That person must be God, the creator of all that is, who is identified as the “Father” by Jesus, and who is the almighty ruler of earth and heaven. No conversation, letter, or message that is sent to the wrong person or to the wrong address is going to be received or answered.
It is readily understood by most individuals today that if they want to communicate with a particular person, regardless of the format of their message whether by voice, written on a piece of paper to be sent by postal mail or a fax machine, or composed for email delivery over the Internet, the appropriate phone number must be correctly dialed or the communication must be correctly addressed! The same principle applies to prayer. It must be addressed to God, to the one true God whose identity, nature, location, work, authority, and availability is described in the Bible.
A prayer addressed “to whomever it may concern” or to any of the false gods of various religions or the idols that have been created in human philosophies is ultimately not going to be answered, because it hasn’t gone to anyone who can respond. This may seem to be an intolerant statement, but common sense should make it clear that it isn’t. Few individuals would expect a manufacturer to respect a warranty for a product that they had not made or even to make a positive response to an inquiry regarding a problem that someone was having with something that they didn’t make.
If you are having a problem in your life or suffering some infirmity in you body that isn’t being effectively treated, it is necessary for you to contact your “maker”. You must have a conversation with God. No one else can respond to your message. If you want to send a message of “thanks” for everything GOOD that is happening in your life, make sure that it is addressed to God.
The content of a delivered prayer
The usual content for many prayers by Christians or Jews is a list of actions that they want God to take on their behalf, things that they want God to do for them. This is somewhat normal, because most people want to run their own lives and handle their problems and meet their needs on their own. They may be reluctant to address any different message to God in an effort to maintain their own sense of independence.
But this normal tendency to give God a list of one’s personal needs that he/she wants God to supply can be overcome. It is probably most commonly overcome by some training in appropriate and effective prayer during one’s childhood by one’s faithful Christian or Jewish parents, and then it is reinforced and further demonstrated by other individuals in a Christian or Jewish congregation.
It may also be overcome when one realizes in a very real way that God is not the divine dispenser of gifts for one’s needs and wants, but that he is one’s divine creator who wants a personal relationship with individuals who make up all of humanity. It is at this point in one’s life when the content of one’s prayers shifts from a list of needs to that which is going to strengthen one’s relationship with God.
This insight into who God is and what he wants may cause an individual to send God a personal message of repentance and faith. This is a message of repentance for having ignored God or rebelling against him for many years and a personal statement of trust and commitment to seek to live in a relationship with him for the rest of one’s life. It is such a message that really establishes the line of communication between an individual and God. An example of such a prayer can be viewed in my statement on “The Plan of Salvation” on this web page: “The Plan of Salvation” under the heading “A suggested prayer for an experience of salvation”.
Once such a line of communication that includes sincere repentance and a daily life of faith has been established between an individual and God then the range of content for one’s prayers, for one’s conversation with God, is greatly expanded! Such conversation and messages will still probably include some requests for God’s help in meeting specific current needs in one’s life, but the content of one’s prayers will now begin to include more words of praise and thanksgiving for God’s love and goodness and requests for his grace and compassionate care and powerful blessings for others.
Jesus gave His disciples and those who seek to pray to God, the “Father”, some instructions regarding prayer and a model prayer that are excellent guides for this conversation. These instructions and model are found in the Bible, in the book of Matthew in chapter 6 verses 5-15.
The format of effective prayer
As it is true for most messages and conversations, it well to keep one’s prayers brief and well focused. God is not impressed with a long expression of repeated praises or requests in one’s prayers. Before one utters any words of prayer, God already knows what you need, so repetition doesn’t impress God, as Jesus indicated in his instructions regarding prayer that are cited above.
God is available to anyone who sincerely wants to have a conversation with him without that person having to repeat a mantra of words that are suppose to have some sacred significance. Humility is the most appropriate mood for prayer, and personal sincerity is the most acceptable format.
Your expressions of praise, thanksgiving, and petition may be made out loud or they may be expressed silently in your focused thoughts and words. Such thoughts and words will be most effective, will convey one’s sincere message, when they reflect the real vocabulary of the person making the prayer. God does not have a set of religious words that he wants included in everyone’s prayers.
But Jesus instructed his disciples and those who want to communicate with God, his “Father”, that they should pray in his name. He said this: “my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (see John 16:23 in the Bible). This is not a specific formula for the closing of every prayer to God. It is a recognition that it is Jesus who makes valid the message, that gets it through the initial set of filters that God has established for conversations with his human creatures. One’s prayers, conversations with God, should clearly be in a form and with content that is intended to glorify Jesus and contribute to his ongoing work for the redemption of humans to God, his “Father”.
It is also well to include in the format of your prayer or conversation with God a means of getting a response from God. No one enjoys trying to carry on a conversation with anyone else who will not let him or her get a word in edgewise. God doesn’t enjoy such conversations either. Don’t leave your prayers or conversations with God without silently waiting for his response. Keep your focus on God, on your relationship with him, on what is going to glorify God’s redemptive work in Jesus in a mood of readiness to receive God’s response to your message.
God will respond. He may say “No” to your request. Or He may say “Not now”. Or He may say “I have a better way to accomplish what you are requesting my help to do.” Or He may say “Your request is granted and here is your next assignment.” You may have to wait awhile for his response, but it will come.
The best context for discerning God’s response to your prayers is in the study of his Word, the Bible, in regular worship and fellowship with other believers, and in regular efforts of service for his glory and that of his Son, Jesus. So your conversation or prayers with God are not just momentary exchanges of ideas and messages, but they are an ongoing part of your daily relationship with God. Many of you may recognize the fact that you don’t have to be in direct conversation with someone with whom you are well connected to be exchanging messages with him or her. That quality of communication should be part of the format for your prayers to God, if they are going to be effective.
Summary comment regarding prayer
A lot of books, articles, poems, and hymns have been written about prayer, but this statement covers the basics. Prayer is your personal conversation with God, with the God who made everything, including you, and who is identified as the “Father” by Jesus, and whose nature and work is described in both the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible.
The content of your prayers can include requests for God’s help with personal needs, but they should also include words of praise and thanksgiving for God’s love and GOODness and requests for the needs of others.
The format of your prayers should be brief, without vain repetitions, expressed in a mood of humility and sincerity. Your prayers may be audible or silent. They should be in accord with Jesus’ redemptive work with humanity and designed to bring glory to him. For a basic description of this “work” see my statement on “God’s work of redemption”. Your prayers should include a means of getting a response from God, and this may take some additional time. The response will come if you are in a personal relationship with God and your prayers are not just a religious exercise that you are performing. God will bless you as you engage in personal conversation with him.
The above Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society, Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.