I bet if I surveyed this audience most of you would conclude that your prayers are often ineffective. You seldom see results or answers that are as clear as you’d like them to be.
In 1996, a man visiting Stockholm stood to inherit a million dollars, according to a newspaper account. He had stopped off to pray at a church and signed the guest book of a man whose body lay there in a coffin. He was later notified that the deceased had died without heirs and had specified that “whoever prays for my soul gets all my belongings.” Don’t you wish your prayers yielded results like that?
Maybe you’ve wondered if God is even listening. Perhaps you feel like former president Franklin Roosevelt. He often endured long receiving lines and complained that no one really paid attention to what he said. One day he decided to try an experiment. To each person who came down the line he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother today.” The guests responded in typical fashion with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work!” It wasn’t until the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Unrattled, the ambassador leaned over and said, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
Truth be known, that’s the way a lot of us feel. We’re more surprised when our prayers yield answers that when they don’t. I guess When you think of what prayer really is it’s astounding that we’d get and answer at all. Ambrose Bierce once said that to pray was … “To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.”
What I want you to understand is that unanswered prayer should be the exception and not the norm. We were created by a God who is more willing to answer us than we are to ask him. As it turns out, that’s the biggest problem with prayer … us.
Jesus taught his followers the characteristics of effective prayer. If you want to pray and see results then begin to apply his advice.
1. It’s aimed at something specific.
Often times we see no results because we ask for nothing specific. When we pray we tend to generalize and not ask God what we really need.
“How often have we prayed, ’O Lord, be with cousin Billy now in a special way’? Have we stopped to consider what it is we’re requesting? Imagine you are a parent preparing to leave your children with a babysitter. Would you dream of saying, ’O Betsy, I ask you now that you would be with my children in a special way?’ No way! You would say, ’Betsy, the kids need to be in bed by 9pm. They can have one snack before their baths, and please make sure they finish their homework. You can reach us at this number if there’s any problem.’ We are very specific with our requests and instructions for our babysitters. We want them to know specifics. It should be no different with prayer.”
Whatever you want God to do for you or another person, ask specifically. It’s not a petty matter to God. He is intimately interested in the details of your life. Pray specifically. After all, how can God prove to you He’s answered unless it’s specific?
2. It’s approached with confidence.
In Luke 11 is the story of the man who woke his neighbor to borrow bread. Notice the reason given for the man getting his request granted by his neighbor. It was because of their friendship, but because of the man’s endless asking. (Luke 11:7-8)
He was bold. It took a lot of guts to do this. In ancient times most homes had only one room. On one end was a raised platform where everybody slept together – husband, wife, and all the children. Not only did the entire family sleep in this one room, so did all the livestock. The other fellow would have to get up, possibly wake up his wife and kids, stir up the animals, light a lamp, go unlock and open the door and give the man some bread.
The one knocking was confident because he knew his neighbor’s reputation was on the line. Remember, hospitality was a huge deal at that period of history and he didn’t want to lose good standing in the community. Jesus’ point isn’t that He will do things grudgingly because his reputation is on the line. Rather, He teaches us that we can be confident in prayer because of God’s character. He is compassionate and gracious and loving. He wants to answer our prayers.
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it” (Hebrews 4:16). Ask specifically and ask confidently because God cares for your needs.
3. It’s applied with persistence.
Most often we don’t see results in our prayer life simply because we give up too soon. “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks” (Luke 11:9-10 NLT).
Jesus’ point is that the persistent seekers find what they’re looking for. They find answers. Let me point out, however, that we don’t always get what we ask for. We will always get an answer if we ask, seek and knock, but it may not be the answer that we want.
There’s a misconception that prayer is simply getting God to give you what you want. Actually prayer is a means by which God changes us. If we’re persistent he shapes us to want what he wants. He actually gives us the desire to want what right when we seek him in this way.
Pray specifically. Pray confidently. Pray persistently.
4. Its answer is appropriated through trust.
The thing that you’ve got to know is that God is not like a genie. He’s not some malicious tightwad in the sky either. Our heavenly Father is a perfectly loving Father, who always has our best interest at heart. He’s on our side. He’s pulling for us. He wants to meet our needs more than we really understand.
If you have kids think about how you love to meet their needs. God is the same way, but to a greater degree. He’s a perfect parent who gives us the absolute best. Why? He loves us. It’s for this reason that we can trust him. Effective prayer derives from a trust in the character of our and build on that same trust.
Prayer that gets results can be the norm in your life rather than the exception. Commit yourself to pray specifically, confidently and persistently. Entrust yourself to a heavenly Father who loves and cares for you more than you could ever dare to dream.