7 Habits of Effective Prayer
Prayer is extremely important. But you probably already knew that. Most people don’t need to be convinced that prayer is one of the most important practices in a believer’s life. What seems to elude a lot of people is the “how” of prayer. How do you maintain a healthy prayer life? How do you pray with any sense of satisfaction and effectiveness? Prayer is important, but prayer is hard. Yet, it can look like prayer comes easy for some people, but it doesn’t. Not right away anyway. An effective prayer life is developed over time through a series of habits or key characteristics. So how does the Bible characterize an effective prayer life?
It takes a child-like faith to pray effectively, and children speak their minds. Prayer is taking both your burdens and joys and instead of burying them, bringing them honestly before God. Prayer is pouring out your soul to God. Prayer is not meant to be a formal business presentation full of big theological words. A Christian cries out, “Abba, Father!” That is what it means to pray “in the Spirit.” It’s to pray with a sense that God is your heavenly Daddy who wants to hear what’s on your heart. The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” That request in itself was an honest prayer. One of the best ways to get your prayer life off the ground is to tell God that prayer is coming difficult for you or that you don’t even feel much like praying today. Now you’re beginning to really pray. You’re being honest.
To pray most effectively, you need a regular time, place, and list. This might be one of the most challenging aspects of prayer because it takes a lot of self-discipline. In the Bible, men like David and Daniel prayed regularly three times a day. And for Jesus, the Mount of Olives was his designated place of prayer. Paul had a list of churches and people that he would pray for. Prayer is like anything else, if it’s not planned for, it probably won’t happen. So, imagine you plan this all out. What do you do when you just don’t feel like praying? Well, what does a faithful employee do when he’s not in the mood to work? He shows up anyway. What does an athlete do when he doesn’t feel like practicing? He shows up anyway. Everyone knows the discipline of keeping important appointments even when you don’t feel like it. Just do the same thing with God. Make regular appointments, and then keep regular appointments with God.
It’s easy to just “say your prayers,” but it’s not as fun. Praying in generic terms is the “safe” way to pray because you don’t have to be confronted with not getting what you asked for. Yet Jesus asked specifically, “Remove this cup.” Like Jesus, ask for specific things with specific timelines. Pray for people by name. Be specific. The more specific you are about your requests, the more definite the answers will be.
The Bible is full of reminders to pray with thanksgiving. Giving thanks is the secret recipe of effective prayer because it gives you a better perspective on life. Thankfulness is more than just recounting all the good things in your life, although that’s important. A prayer of gratitude also takes into account God’s sovereignty in your life. Effective prayer is coming to the place where you can say like Jesus did, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” Prayer is not just God’s means for changing things; prayer is God’s means for changing you. God wants you to be honest about what’s really going on while acknowledging that you don’t see the whole picture. Thankfully he does. There’s a big difference between making your complaint to God (being honest) and complaining about God (being ungrateful).
It’s hard to pray when you don’t think it does any good. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that God will answer you on the very day that you pray? Well, David wrote, “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased” (Psalm 138:3) Think of it this way. Imagine that you are on a raft heading down a narrow raging river and suddenly in front of you there is a wide rock sticking a few feet above the water. Either the rock must somehow be removed, or the water must somehow rise and take you above it. On the day David prayed, God didn’t remove the rock; he raised the water. You see the same thing in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed, but the cup wasn’t removed. Instead, “An angel appeared strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). Sometimes God removes the rock, but other times God raises the water. Be confident that through Jesus you have access to God, and your prayers do make a difference.
One way to pray with more confidence is to let God’s promises and purposes in Scripture motivate your prayers. This is what it means to pray “In Jesus’ name.” It’s not a superstitious magical formula tacked on at the end. Praying in Jesus name is praying according to his revealed will and kingdom purposes. Use God’s word to motivate and inform your prayer life.
Finally, Paul reminds Christians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess.5:17). This doesn’t mean that you need to pray every minute of the day. Rather, it’s like a hacking cough that could flare up any minute of the day. It’s being ready to talk to God at any moment. A strong marriage involves both sit-down dinners and also passing conversation. If it’s just dinner, then the relationship becomes too formal and rigid, but if it’s always casual conversation, then the marriage lacks intimacy and fellowship. It’s the same with prayer; you must have concentrated time, which the Bible calls, ‘supplication,’ but also casual time, which the Bible calls, “all prayer.” It’s always a great time to pray.