Buzz was driving his rusty pickup truck with his buddy Lube, along a tree-covered, dirt road in Tennessee. Suddenly, he jammed on the brakes, slid through a mudhole and stopped just ten feet short of a low overhead bridge. Slowly he read the sign: “Caution Bridge Clearance: 6 feet 8 inches.” “Oh-oh, we’s in trouble. This truck’s 6 foot, 10 inches high,” said Buzz. The homegrown boys sat quietly for a while, wondering what to do. Finally Lube sat up, twisted around and looked out the rear window. “Hey Buzz”, he said, “There ain’t no police around; let’s go for it!”
Like Buzz and Lube, if we ignore the rules, we will get results we are not looking for! Young Christians may be blessed as God answers their most unconventional of prayers, seemingly without regard for principle, but as we mature and come to understand the ways of the Lord, He expects obedience. In this chapter we want to look briefly at some of the principles God expects us to follow if we want our prayer lives to be successful. View full chapter
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6). Thanksgiving reflects a good attitude. It is the key to an open heart, which, like a parachute, only works when it’s open. We might think that prayer is mainly asking, but it is more correctly about agreeing. Expressing thankfulness starts our journey of agreeing with God. It rearranges our minds from the negative to see what is true and noble, right and pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy so that we can press on and agree further with God. (See Philippians 4:8).
Jesus told a story of two men who went to the temple to pray: one, a pious religious leader and the other, an undesirable tax collector. The religious man was arrogant. He thanked God that he was not a sinner like other men and boasted about how he kept the law, fasted regularly, and paid his tithes. The tax collector, on the other hand, stood in a lowly manner, confessed he was a sinner, and pleaded with God for mercy. Jesus said the second man’s prayer was accepted by God because he was humble. He said, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14).
In Jesus’ Name
The promise of Jesus Christ is: “I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13). Through Jesus, we come to the Father. He alone paid the price for our sin, and no other name can assure us of access to God. That is why we pray in the name of Jesus. This name carries legal authority to cast out demons, heal the sick, and save the lost sinner. In times of great difficulty, “Jesus” may be the only word that we can speak. I remember times when I was so sick I could not think clearly and times of being so downcast that I had no strength to pray. In my pain I have laid, curled in a ball and repeatedly whispered the name “Jesus.” Soon the Holy Spirit came at the sound of His name, soothed my soul, healed my body, and brought me peace.
“Ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:6-7 NASB).
Prayer must be mixed with faith to be effective. This involves hearing God, agreeing with what He has said, and then acting to obey Him. If God has not said it, how can we believe it? We may presume that it will happen, but unless we hear from God, we will not know for sure, and we cannot have real faith. But no matter how hard or inconvenient the Word might seem, if God has said it, we must agree with it. We must then act upon it, or else our faith is dead and useless. This is risky business! It involves departing from our own understanding and putting our trust in God. But as we do so, it unites us relationally with God. If we talk with Him often and listen to Him carefully, we will soon learn to recognize His voice and be able to pray in faith.
Sometimes, if we are honest, it is difficult to forgive those who have wounded and betrayed us. The Bible gives a prescription to help us at such times: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28). As we choose to implement this principle, it will remove a spirit of offense and heaviness and replace it with the presence of the Lord.
When feeling spiritually disheveled, we should try to think of the person who has mistreated us the worst. We must discern if there is any unforgiveness. Then tell the Lord we forgive them for the specific wound that hurt us. This is the first ingredient of the healing recipe. Secondly, request extravagant blessings to come upon them. Ask the Lord to bless their families, give them health, and prosper them financially. Try to go into great detail, adding blessing to blessing. The results are wonderful! For as we do so, God begins blessing us by increasing our faith, giving us peace, and releasing the manifest presence of His Holy Spirit to us. God grants forgiveness to the perpetrator but also changes us so that we can truly enjoy life abundantly .
We all know that we can pray with wrong motives and be consumed with ourselves. Those prayers will be a waste of time. I have never felt comfortable with prayers that ask for personal riches. It is one thing to request our daily bread but quite another to ask for a Rolls Royce car. James wrote: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3). Getting our motives right is so important if we want God to answer our prayers.
Prayer is also misdirected when it is done publicly to draw the praise of others. Jesus told his disciples, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray...to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:5). Once again, motives are so important. The correct motive of every prayer should be that God Himself is glorified, not us, as Jesus Himself made clear. “And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:3).
The true disciple learns to pray according to God’s will. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us...we know that we have what we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14- 15).
A young child was watching his daddy wash his new truck with his soft sponge. Suddenly Dad heard a terrible scratching sound. Quickly he ran around the truck and found his four-year-old washing the vehicle—with a rock! Of course, the boy was only trying to be helpful, but he was not being sensitive to his father’s will. In fact, although he did not intend it, he was working against his father’s desire.
The River of God
As we follow these principles, prayer draws us into the heart of God. What comes from His heart becomes our classroom for spiritual instruction and gives us purpose so our lives can make a difference in the world. His principles are more than just tools that one must use religiously; they are the channels that carry the river of God.
Along with these seven principles of prayer, I also want to recognize seven types of prayer in the Scriptures: thanksgiving, our gratitude to God; petition, the request for daily needs; dedication prayer, the presenting of offerings, including our lives; supplication, a desperate appeal for help; intercession, representing and identifying with another’s needs, and praying God’s purpose into existence; prayer in the Spirit or praying in tongues, the use of a supernatural prayer language; praise and proclamation, extolling the Lord for who He is, what He has done, and announcing His will.
It is to these different types that we now turn our attention in the following chapters.