What is Effective Prayer

I am sure you have heard these statements before:   “Prayer works.” Or “I need more prayers.” Or “Sending up prayers.” I want to talk today about an aspect of how we view the prayer life and efficacy in prayer.

Is prayer effective when we have the answer to our prayer? God tells us “Yes” or “No” or “Wait.” Is prayer effective when we have the result of prayer? God heals after we have prayed. God provides when we ask Him to provide. Do these responses mean that we prayed effectively? Is prayer effective because we prayed so many times with so much emotion? Is prayer effective because we had a group of at least two to three praying in agreement? Is this what makes prayer effective?

What is effective prayer?

I’d like to answer this question differently. I am coming to see prayer as “effective” not based upon the answer or in obtaining the result of prayer but upon the one who prayed having intimately connected with God’s heart. Effective prayer is the prayer that by faith approaches God to dialogue with Him, to listen and to speak. In other words, effective prayer is not about obtaining or causing something to happen. Effective prayer is, at its heart, loving God and enjoying His love as one listens to His thoughts and heart about the situation at hand and responding back to Him.

Richard Foster says in Streams of Living Water (1998) that the prayer life is “the steady gaze of the soul upon the God who loves us” (p. 49). Why is this important? The goal will determine how we pray. The goal reveals how we view our relationship with God. It reveals to us what we ultimately believe about God. If my goal is to gaze upon God in love then I will pray in greater trust, consistency, and in joy. He already knows what I am going to ask (Matt 6:8). He already knows what is best and he will accomplish all that is on His heart (Jn 5:17). He invites me into prayer to share His heart, to be drawn into His thought processes, and to embrace the glory of His reign. I can steadily approach the throne of grace in all my times of need (Heb 4:16) and for those around me not simply to procure a desired result but to enjoy God in the praying even as He answers my prayers. 

If my goal is to get results, then I open the door for frustration, I might struggle with faith, and I might turn God into a “genie-in-a-bottle.” Results-oriented prayer life can be revealed, at times, in the statements, “I need to pray more. I need to pray harder. I need to believe more. I need to get more people to pray with me.” While Jesus told a parable to teach the disciples to persevere in prayer for a desired result, namely for justice (Lk 18:1-8), He centers upon the goodness of God, His approachability, and His timeliness in caring for His people. Jesus ends the parable by asking about faith. The faith aspect of perseverance moves from “faith to acquire a result” to faith that draws the believer to embrace the active, full and joyful presence of God the Father. 

Spending time daring into His Presence to listen and respond does not exclude the urgent prayers, or the “one-off” prayers, or any other kind of praying. God listens to all those prayers and He wants His children to tell Him everything that concerns them (1 Pet 5:7). The life of prayer includes the long drawn out moments of listening and responding as we join Jesus in His ministry of intercession. It also includes stop-and-go prayers and everything in between. However, I firmly believe that a vibrant prayer life flows from the time spent in loving gaze upon God who loves us. The hallmark of our prayer life is learning to enter into the Presence of our good and holy Father by the mediation of the Son and the enabling of the Holy Spirit. It is cultivating a walk with God in such that at any given moment the eyes of our heart can look up and see the face of God looking back at us in love. It is in this that prayer becomes effective for it begins to consume and transform us. This should be our goal in prayer.

Practical steps:

  1. Carve out time each day to think deeply, earnestly, hungrily upon the love of God as revealed in the Scriptures. As your hunger grows for savoring the love of God, increase your time spent dwelling upon His love.
    1. Jeremiah 31:3
    2. Romans 5:5, 8
    3. John 3:16
    4. 1 John 4:10
  2. As you continue to experience the love of God through thinking deeply upon His Word, ask God to let you listen in on Jesus’ intercession. This might seem weird, but you are a special guest/adopted child seated with Jesus in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). Jesus is always praying (Heb 7:25). Therefore, in recognizing whose you are, and where you are, and because of the great love with which God has loved you, ask Him to let you listen to His heart. Ask Him to let you hear how and for whom so that you might join Him in Spirit and in truth. Be quiet and listen. It might take a while if you are not used to listening. But the time spent knowing His love and His Presence will sustain you as you wait for God to help your ears to hear (Matt 11:15, Jn 10:27).
  3. As you spend time gazing upon God who loves you, and as you listen to His voice as He intercedes, when He invites you to join Him, begin praying what you have heard from Him. You will know when He invites you to join Him because you heart begins to cry out “Yes!” and your mouth wants to verbalize your agreement with God’s heart.

Extra thoughts:

  1. What you pray is between you and God. Discernment’s first duty is prayer. When you see and hear with your heart, your first duty is to speak with God. I caution you to be extremely slow to share that with others. If God wants you to share how you are praying with others, He will make it clear to you. Until then, keep your focus on God in loving gaze.
  2. Learning to gaze upon God in love and to listen in to His heart will open you to spiritual warfare. Read Ephesians 6:10-18 and put on the full armor of God. Take your stand by keeping your gaze upon God. Take your stand by making each thought bow before the throne and Scripture (2 Cor 10:5). If you think a thought or feel an emotion, even a good thought or good emotion, place it under submission to God. Ask God to fill your heart and mind as you desire to spend time enjoying His Presence and love. 
  3. Learn the difference between conviction and condemnation. Conviction from the Holy Spirit will reveal the vileness of sin in light of the holiness of God and will lead you to want to rid yourself of sin so that you might enjoy more of God’s holiness. Condemnation comes from Satan who bases sin on identity in order to disqualify you before God and to fill you with shame that leads you to want to turn your eyes away from the loving gaze of God.
  4. Lastly, though there are other tips, humility and reconciliation/redemption are signs of having heard from God. When we hear from God we are humbled by His Presence and voice (1 Kings 19:12-13). Hearing from God reminds us of our dependance upon Him and awakens a holy “smallness” in His people that embraces grace and mercy. As we hear from God, we learn that His heart is for reconciliation and redemption (2 Cor 5:20). I won’t say that one will never hear a thought of judgment or wrath, but as Jesus invites us into His ministry, what we hear from God will be geared towards reconciliation and redemption. Jesus’ ministry is to seek and save the lost. Hearing His heart, our hearts will join in that as well. Enjoying His love causes us to long for others to enjoy His love as well.