Prayer is meant to give you a personal, direct line of communication to the Creator of the universe. You can make requests of the Almighty God and have Him direct some of His unlimited power to fulfill them, be they for peace, prosperity, protection, wisdom, healing or myriad other blessings for you, your family, friends, enemies, nation or the world.
Many people, however, find that their experience fails to live up to that promise, certainly with consistency. Many wish they received more answers to their prayers. Many people who believe in the power of prayer still want to be more effective at praying.
Are your prayers being answered? If not, why not?
Often we hear public expressions of and calls for prayer, particularly after crises hit, from heads of state, leaders in politics, business and religion, relatives and others: “Our thoughts and prayers are with them.” “Our prayers go out to the victims of this tragedy.” People hold prayer vigils. Many individuals seek to commune with God when terror strikes our nations or illness afflicts a loved one.
Do these prayers make any difference? Is God listening? A growing number of people today believe the answer is no. In a secular world, more people even mock the idea of prayer.
This question needs to be answered. If these prayers are not being heard, why even pray? Yet if they are being heard, then why do we still see so much suffering, trouble and strife around us? Look at the state of the world: Billions of people languish in poverty and illiteracy, climatic disasters are breaking records, wars rage on most continents, and the doomsday clock ticks close to midnight. Why? Is it because God cannot hear us? Or does He hear—and refuse to answer? Or is there another explanation?
What Is Prayer?
The Bible has much to say about prayer. The book you are reading is written according to the foundational belief that what the Bible says is true—that it can be trusted and ought to be followed.
Scripture gives a great deal of instruction on how to pray. It explains to whom we should pray, our attitude when praying, what we should pray about, and many other details. It gives many spectacular examples of answered prayer and many promises from God to answer prayer.
If you apply yourself and implement what this book teaches, you will gain access to Almighty God! He will listen to you. This privilege is worth more than all the gold on Earth!
Prayer is not mental magic or mumbo jumbo. It is not a psychological pep talk that makes you feel better.
The Hebrew word for prayer used most often in the Old Testament means intercession, or supplication. The literal meaning is to prostrate oneself, or bow down. In the New Testament, the Greek terms translated prayer means to supplicate, worship or make prayer.
Supplication is an earnest request or humble entreaty. To supplicate means to ask for earnestly and humbly. To entreat means to make a request in an earnest or urgent manner. Prayer can also refer to intercession or a plea. These definitions are all contained in the one word prayer.
Prayer, then, is intercession or earnest, intense supplication with God.
Prayer is our part of a two-way conversation with God. God talks to us through His written Word, the Holy Bible, and we can talk to Him through prayer. This allows us to get to know God as He comes to know us.
When you study the Bible, God is talking to you. When you pray, you are talking to Him. You get to really know God in this manner, just as you become better acquainted with people by conversation.
Real prayer is communication with Almighty God through our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is us talking to our heavenly Father in an attitude of humility, contrition,awe, reverence and deep respect. It is backed by the power and authority of Jesus Christ.
During Jesus’s ministry on Earth, His disciples asked Him, “Teach us to pray.” How did Christ respond? “And he said unto them, When ye pray, say …” (Luke 11:2; also Matthew 6:5). He didn’t say, “If you pray.” God expects to hear from us. Matthew 6:11 makes it plain that we should pray daily and ask God to supply our needs.
Notice Luke 18:1: “And he [Jesus Christ] spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” And in Luke 21:36, Christ said, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always.”
The God who sits at the controls of the universe is a living,active God. The Bible reveals that He controls all power, energies and forces. The fourth chapter of Revelation gives a spectacular description of Him in His heavenly throne room. He sits on a magnificent throne overlooking a dazzling glassy sea that gleams like crystal. Surrounding Him on lesser thrones are 24 impressive spirit beings wearing crowns of gold who serve within God’s government. Around His throne are four more spirit beings of even greater office, power and brilliance. And at His right hand is the living Jesus Christ. Out from God’s throne proceed flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder—and angelic messengers going to and from Earth.
Do you know this God? Do you pray to this God? You should!
God is more real than you or I—or any of the things about us.
Why, then, does He seem so far away, until it seems He has faded in the distance? Why does He seem mysterious and unreal? Why do the objects with which you come in daily contact, your friends, your pleasures, seem more real—when actually they are less so?
You may say, “Because I can see, feel and hear these things or people.”
But that is not really the reason at all.
You don’t see the air you breathe, but it seems very real to you. You cannot see or hear or feel the power of gravity, yet it seems very real to you ….
Perhaps you say, well, these things are real to me because they are close to me. But that is not the reason. God is as close as any of these—He, too, is real, and He is close! Yet He seems unreal and far away!
Now let me tell you the real reason. … God seems unreal and far away only to those who have not established and are not actively maintaining close personal contact! It is not a matter of distance or visibility—it is a matter of contact.
—Herbert W. Armstrong, Plain Truth, May 1963
As great and powerful as the true God is, He delights in the person who seeks to know Him and talk to Him in prayer (Proverbs 15:8).
Opening the Way to the Father
In Old Testament times, there was generally only one known member of the Godhead. This very being later divested Himself of His spirit nature, descended to Earth, and was born as a human being (Philippians 2:7-8).
When the disciples asked Him one day, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Christ began His instruction, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven …” (Luke 11:1-2). Christ was revealing God the Father. Even more, He encouraged His disciples to have a personal relationship with the Father! The Son wanted them to develop a daily, personal, intimate, family relationship with the Most High God.
This Father-son relationship between God and converted Christians was officially opened at Christ’s death. As Jesus cried out for the last time and breathed His last breath, the veil of the temple miraculously tore in two, from top to bottom, exposing the holy of holies and eliminating the division between the golden altar and the ark (Matthew 27:50-51). This symbolized the reality that we now have direct access to God’s throne room in our prayers!
The blood of Christ’s sacrifice paid the penalty for the sins of mankind. From that point, all who repented and called upon that sacrifice could be reconciled to God the Father (Ephesians 2:18).
Christ gave mankind access to the highest authority in the universe! How? The answer reveals much about our present relationship with Christ.
Our High Priest
Christ taught us to pray to the Father. The time we spend in prayer each day, we direct to God the Father—albeit “in Christ’s name.”
Though Christ directed our prayers to the Father, He also revealed that He would serve an intermediary role in those prayers. Just before He died, He gave His disciples this instruction: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23; see also 1 Timothy 2:5).
The reason for this is that we are sinful human beings, and the Father will not abide sin. Thus, He placed Jesus Christ in the sacred role of High Priest for us (Hebrews 5:5). Jesus Christ must come into the Father’s presence on our behalf. 1 John 2:1 calls Him our Advocate.
The fact that Christ lived as a man makes Him much more effective as our High Priest. “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour [help, aid] them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18; read also Romans 8:34). Christ knows how hard it can be for us: He experienced our very temptations. He can express those thoughts to the Father.
Christ lives to fulfill this intercessory role for us! (Hebrews 7:24-25). Fulfilling this priestly job is a major, daily responsibility (Hebrews 9:24).
Not All Prayers Are the Same
The Apostle John made this thrilling statement: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15).
Jesus Christ said, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22).
These are bold, plain, absolute promises! Set your mind on them and ask yourself how sincerely and deeply you believe them.
Importantly, though, the Bible also explains that not all prayers are the same. It explains why some prayers are ineffective, and some never even reach God’s ear. It spells out several conditions that must be met for God’s promises of answers to apply. Chapter 2 of this book will show you, from your own Bible, seven of those conditions.
This explains why many prayers go unanswered.
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16). Do your prayers accomplish much?
We live in a material world and are all affected by the age of materialism. Our world has lost the knowledge of God and the power of prayer. As a result, this world is extremely limited in spiritual power, even among many who call themselves Christians.
Society discourages us from relying on God. Is it any wonder Jesus Christ would ask: “[W]hen the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Too often, prayer is seen as a religious duty or ritualistic exercise. People either pray solely because they feel it is expected of them, or because they are troubled and seek relief. Either way, the focus is selfish. Such people are left without answers to their prayers (James 4:3).
Through the Prophet Isaiah, God says that He is so displeased with some people that “when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear” (Isaiah 1:15).
The Bible is clear that any petition we make of God must be made with full assurance that we are asking according to God’s will and that He will respond. The Apostle James makes this plain: “But let him [the man petitioning God in prayer] ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (James 1:6-7).
Think about these scriptures. God certainly has the power to fulfill any prayer request He chooses. But in deciding whether to do so, He takes note of the motivation, the attitude and the level of faith of the one praying, among other factors.
In order to be assured your prayers will be answered, you need to understand just what the purpose of prayer is, and why God commands it. Why is it so important to God that we pray? This is a question worth pondering.
Seriously consider this: Jesus Christ said that “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Yes, God knows your needswhether or not you pray.
Why, then, would God actually wait to fulfill those needs until you come to Him in prayer?
Imagine an individual lying in his sickbed, suffering intense pain. Imagine God the Father watching from His throne room, ready to heal—and with dozens of angels poised to provide spiritual comfort the moment they receive word (e.g., Luke 22:43)—but God says, Wait. I want him to ask first.
Why would God do that?
The main answer is, He is a Father, trying to build a relationship with His son or daughter. He wants that two-way communication flowing!
Prayer is the foundation upon which your relationship with God is built.
The Bible often speaks about prayer using the terminology of a child speaking to his or her father. Jesus said this: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:7-11). What a wonderful picture!
We should develop a childlike desire to draw close to our heavenly Father in prayer.
Children often want to connect with their parents first thing in the morning. As soon as they awake, they might walk down the hallway to Dad and Mom’s bedroom and climb into bed with them. They yearn for that connection.
We need to cultivate that impulse with our spiritual Father. God intends that our prayers reestablish that connection and build the father-child relationship. The extent to which you yearn for that time with Him is a good measure of whether your prayers are really accomplishing God’s purpose. God wants to hear from you. He is always there, waiting for your “footsteps in the hallway.”
Think of Christ’s statement in Song of Songs 2:14: “O my dove … let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice ….” As Gerald Flurry’s booklet The Song of Songs brings out, this is Christ crying out to His lukewarm saints in this end time, longing to hear them. Yet in a sense, God says this to all of us,every day: Let me hear your sweet voice! He wants to communicate with you and hear from you.
God wants us to seek Him and make our requests known. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thingby prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). God wants us to tell Him, as we would a parent or close friend, how we feel and what we think. 1 Peter 5:7 states, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” We do this through heartfelt prayer—personal, private, sincere communication with our Creator.
Put God First
It is critical that we do not allow other concerns to push aside our communication with God. The First Commandment requires that we put God first above all else. In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ reiterated this truth, promising also that if we do this, then He will supply all our physical needs in this life (Matthew 6:33). Yet in this fast-paced society with so many demands on our time, finding adequate time for God can be difficult. We all have limited time and must prioritize our time with God.
We must fight to do spiritual battle every day. We have to fight to remain faithful to the great God. We have to fight to get our prayer in. We have to fight thinking that we are “too busy” to pray. If you get “too busy” to pray to God and don’t fight to put Him first in your time, then you are in the carnal zone. Never allow that to happen.
How can you consistently make time for God each day? You decide to. Each day you must determine to put first things first. Make a commitment to putGod first in your daily allocation of 24 hours.
Set aside a regular time to pray. Don’t give God the leftovers of your day! Give God the best part of your day! In most cases, the best part is first thing in the morning, when you are refreshed after a good night’s sleep and before the distractions of the day begin. After you rise each morning and are fully awake (a few stretching exercises and a shower may help), put prayer and Bible study first. Schedule it that way and strive to maintain it; learn to adjust if interruptions occur. You will be amazed at how much better your day will go if you make time for prayer and study first thing in the morning.
No matter how busy Christ was, He always went out early in the morning, by Himself, to connect with His Father (Mark 1:35)—not out of duty, but from sincere desire! This is a very childlike attitude. We do not naturally have this desire, so we have to ask God for it, and we have to nurture it.
Adjust your schedule to fit your needs. Organize your time so you can spend quality time with God every day.
The Need for Prayer
You need to recognize just how desperate is your need for that regular, intimate contact with your heavenly Father.
Talk to God every day—especially when you are struggling. You were created to need Him! Like some of your electronic devices that won’t work unless you charge the battery, you won’t work properly unless you are recharged by contact with the great God every day. You need God more than you need oxygen!
Jesus understood this need. Hebrews 5:7 says this about His prayer life: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.” It was critical that Christ live His entire physical life perfectly free from sin so He could offer Himself as an unblemished sacrificial lamb for our sins. He knew He could not accomplish this majestic spiritual feat on His own (John 5:30)—it was only possible with constant help from His Father. Only the Father could save Him from sin and its wages, death (Romans 6:23). Thus, He continually stayed in close contact with His Father. He prayed regularly and fervently.
You need the same understanding of just how much you need daily help from God.
In our modern, materially oriented, mechanical society, it is easy for people to look to God only as a last resort, when they are really desperate—and to forget that God is the source of every good gift (James 1:17). He is the source of wisdom, understanding and knowledge (Proverbs 2:6; James 1:5). He is the source of peace (John 14:27) and of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). God—not men—is the source of promotion and advancement (Psalm 75:6-7). He is our protector (Psalm 91). He forgives us and heals us (Psalm 103:3). And when our ways please Him, He grants us favor even with those who hate us (Proverbs 16:7).
Once God calls and begins to work with us, we can receive nothing apart from Him! (John 3:27). Realizing this, we should be diligent to seek Him in prayer regularly. Without His direction, guidance, favor, power and help, we can accomplish nothing worthwhile (John 15:5). What we do ultimately accomplish, and the spiritual progress we make or fail to make, is in direct proportion to our realization of this fact (Psalm 127:1).
Beyond that—and more urgently—you must realize that none is righteous of himself (Romans 3:10-12). Your human mind, without God’s Spirit, is opposed to God and unable to keep His law (Romans 8:7-8). Your heart (which the Bible uses to represent the basic motives and intentions of the mind) is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
You are subject to the broadcasting of “the god of this world,” “the prince of the power of the air,” Satan the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). He is responsible for inspiring human nature and all the evil in the world. He has indeed deceived the whole world! (Revelation 12:9). He broadcasts evil moods, attitudes and impulses to human minds (though he has no power to force anyone to think or do wrong). The unsuspecting automatically respond to and obey Satan’s impulses without realizing what is taking place in their minds. Humans have thus acquired Satan’s nature, which we call “human nature.”
Even Christians who are aware of Satan’s influence still stumble and commit sin because of weakness or temptation (e.g., 1 John 1:8; Romans 7:15-24).
The only possible way to overcome the power of Satan and the pulls of the flesh is to rely on God! (verse 25). You need the power of God, which He supplies to true Christians with His Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables Christ to live in us (Galatians 2:20) and gives us the strength to overcome. We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
Without that Spirit, you are not a son of Godand will die in your sins! (Romans 8:13-14).
We cannot attain eternal life without the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives! However, we must ask the Father, in prayer, for that spiritual power and help (Luke 11:13). And it must be replenished daily (2 Corinthians 4:16). That requires prayer! (e.g., Philippians 1:19).
Daily prayer is essential for salvation! Without God’s help, none of us can overcome the sinful pulls of our human nature. And only if we overcome sin and allow God to build His holy, righteous character through the power of the Holy Spirit, can we be born as sons of God (Revelation 21:7). Without active and effective prayer, therefore, we can never be born into God’s Family.
This is why God commands us to pray! Prayer is not an optional religious exercise. It is a core need that affects your eternal destiny!
In Luke 11, the disciples asked Christ to teach them to pray—they didn’t know how. We too must first seek wisdom from Christ on how to pray. Through the Holy Spirit, He will help us. He Himself was a man of prayer.
Learning how to pray correctly is a crucial part of the process of becoming God. It is reshaping your thoughts, passions and desires to match God’s!
God is love. His law is love. Christ listed as the two great commandments: 1) love toward God (this includes God’s Family); and 2) love toward neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). As explained throughout this book and as you will learn by building a robust prayer life of your own, we practice and grow in that love through Christ-led prayer. Love for God and His Family grows, as well as love for our neighbor, or the world.
Prayer is love. You will see in Chapter 6 how Jesus Christ prayed perfect prayers as an expression of His perfect love.
The more you meditate about this, the more you realize just how crucial—how central to the life of a Christian—our prayer life is. Prayer is a major part of fulfilling our calling in God’s Work today. This shows you why improving the way we talk to God in prayer should be our top priority in life!
If you have not begun to do so, start now to establish direct contact with your Creator. God hears and delights in the prayers of those who seek to please Him and do His will (Psalm 34:17; Proverbs 15:8; 1 Peter 3:12). Pray to God every day. You will begin to experience blessings beyond measure!