Does Prayer (really) Work?
For many years I went to God in prayer … but honestly I didn’t really feel like there was much power in my prayers. And that is when I learned there was a fundamental problem with my prayer life – my best guess is that some of you will be able to resonate with this dilemma.
Most of my prayers were monologues to God and not dialogues with God!
I was treating God as if He was a genie at a fast food drive through window. I would pull up – place my order – and expect to pick up exactly what I ordered from God about 2 minutes later.
Because of this routine, I was continually frustrated by prayer.
[Tweet “Don’t let your prayers be a monologue to God, instead make them a dialogue with God.”]
Only after several decades of work can I honestly say that my prayers are now dialogues with God.
What I am getting ready to share with you has taken me years to discover and put into practice – this is kind of like my Cliff Notes to prayer.
Here is what this dialogue can look like between you and God.
How Do We Talk To God?
Some of the best, behind the scenes, back stage pass wisdom into prayer is given by Jesus in the book of Matthew.
Matthew 6:5-7 – And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
1. Regularly. – vs. 5,6,7
Over and over Jesus says, “when you pray.” Not “if you pray” or “you get in such a jam that you have to pray” … but “when” you pray. Jesus assumes that his disciples would have a regular time for prayer woven into the daily fabric of their lives. Maybe you are a morning person. That’s great; pray in the morning. But what if morning is your worst time of day? Then pray at night.
The time of day is not the main thing. The main thing is that you make an appointment for some uninterrupted time alone with God every single day!
2. Humbly. – vs. 5 “do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
I don’t know how many of you have ever been to a church where people pray huge — long — flowery — ultra dramatic — impressive prayers; as soon as somebody starts praying they begin using words they never use in every day life, or they go into King James language.
Jesus realized that there is this tendency in us to want to impress people by the way we pray. It sounds silly, but it’s true; sometimes we try to pray the perfect prayer in order to get praise from people!
And Jesus says you can do that. You can pray to get praise from people. But if you do that, if you use prayer as a way to impress – then enjoy that applause you get from people because, congratulations “you have received your reward in full!”
3. Privately. – vs. 6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Jesus is obviously not saying it is wrong to pray in public; He is just stressing how crucial it is to also pray in private. Find a place of few distractions where you can actually concentrate!
– A private place where no one is judging or rating your prayer.
– A private place where your prayer is more desperate than detailed.
– A private place where your prayer is more real than rehearsed.
4. Specifically. – Vs. 7 – And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Do you ever pray the same prayer over and over without thinking about it?
Do you ever pray blanket prayers that cover anything and everything?
Jesus says that when we talk to God our words should be chosen wisely, intentionally and purposefully.
If you will begin to pray regularly, humbly, privately and specifically, then I can guarantee you what will happen next in your prayer life: God will talk to you!
[Tweet “The miracle of prayer is certainly not that we talk, but the miracle of prayer is that God listens and responds!”]
How Does God Talk To Us?
Bill Hybils in his book Too Busy Not Too Pray suggests four ways that God responds to all our prayers.
As I look back over the landscape of my spiritual life, these four things have helped me understand what exactly is going on when I pray to God. He may not always respond the way I would like Him to, but He always responds.
1. If the REQUEST is wrong … God says “No”
We can pray some pretty self-centered and shortsighted prayers, can’t we?
Have you ever found yourself praying for your wishes rather than God’s will?
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
I’m so glad God loves me enough say “No.” Can you imagine where you would be today if God said “yes” to each and every one of your requests over the years. First of all, I would own a candy store. I would have been married in about 6th grade to Jenny. I would be a professional soccer player. I would have never been sick. My kids would never be sick. No one in my family would ever be sick. I would be living on the beach in Hawaii selling shell necklaces I made to tourists!
Sometimes your prayer is just wrong, so God says no.
2. If the TIMING is wrong … God says “Slow”
This is worse than a “No,” isn’t it? Do you ever pray, “Oh dear God, please don’t say slow, just say no“? But God doesn’t say no; He says slow!
There are many of your prayers that God would love to answer in a positive way but the timing isn’t right. It’s not that you are wrong. And it’s not that your prayer is wrong. It’s just that the timing is wrong.
Do you realize there is no such thing as coincidence with God?
God has never once looked down and said, “Oh, I wish I had waited!”
Sometimes the timing is just not quite right, so God says slow.[Tweet “God is rarely early, but He is never late.”]
3. If YOU are wrong … God says “Grow”
As I look back on my prayer life, I guarantee you this is this point that short circuits my communication with God.
– There are things I need to admit.
– There are things I need to confess.
– There are things I need to resolve.
Did you know that unconfessed, unresolved, unadmitted sin … short circuits your prayers!
Listen! The LORD is not too weak to save you, and he is not becoming deaf. He can hear you when you call. But there is a problem—your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.
Isaiah 59:1-2 (NLT)
Friends, the #1 thing that repairs and restores an open line of communication with God is sincere, authentic, humble confession.
There is absolutely no doubt that God wants to do something in you before He does something through you.
A daily dialogue with God is often where He illuminates these growth areas of our lives.
Sometimes you are the one that is wrong, so God says grow.
4. If the request is right, the timing is right and you are right … God says “Go”
Nothing fires God up more than answering your prayers. But as you can see there is a lot that goes into one single answered prayer. The request, the timing and you have to be just right.
I challenge you today to expand your view of how God answers our prayers.
I have heard it said that when we work, we work. But when we pray, God works.
He does not always do all the work.
More often in prayer God works in us and then through us. We get to work, too.
I don’t claim to understand how all that works.
But I can assure you that Prayer Really Does Work!