Not all praying is effective. If this were not the case, our lives and the world we live in would be radically different. Just think of all that has been offered up to God as “prayer,” and you will soon realize how ineffective many of those requests have been. The Lord makes it abundantly clear that our praying is first of all a matter of the position of our hearts as revealed by the profession of our lips. That’s why, in Luke 18:9-17, Jesus commends the penitent tax collector and criticizes the Pharisee. At issue was the heart of each man.
I once spoke with a bleary-eyed man who declared proudly that he had just spent the night in prayer. Unfortunately, his agitated spirit and sighs of resignation betrayed him. Could this man have tarried through the night with the Master? In all probability, he had simply allowed the Lord to watch him worry through the night hours. Nothing could be more energy consuming and less effective! That is not praying.
If we desire to pray effectively, or with definite results, we would do well to reconsider the pattern our Lord prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount. In that pointed address, Jesus made it clear that the major concern is where the heart is. We are to “pray in this way,” urged our Lord, helping us to understand that it is “out of the abundance of a man’s heart that he speaks” (Luke 6:45). The manner of our praying, after all, reveals that which fills our hearts.
Jesus made it clear that four elements should so fill our hearts that they rise to the surface as we pray.
1. Reverence for the Person of God. “Our Father Who is in heaven, hallowed be Your Name” (Mt 6:9). Effective pray-ers are taken with the majesty, holiness, and magnitude of God. They do not approach Him as one would a mere man, casually, or even carelessly muttering out of distracted spirit. They have been allowed, in the Name of Jesus, to stand before the Creator of the universe. His Presence is nothing short of overwhelming!
2. Recognition of the Purpose of God. “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). The purpose of God in allowing us the privilege of prayer, is not that we should get what we want, but what He wants in our lives. Friends often tease me about what I believe is God’s plan for getting all we want. If I could just get to the place in life where all I want for my life is all God wants for my life, then all my life I will have all I want, and He will have all of me He wants. I stand by that, and believe it is the primary purpose of prayer. The outcome, of course, is nothing less than a surrendered heart.
3. Request for the provision of God. “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:11-13a). Notice how even these requests reveal the position of the heart. They speak of contentment (enough for today), confidence (forgiveness and a forgiving spirit) and consecration (deliverance from temptation and the evil one) .
4. Rest in the Preeminence of God. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Mt 6:13b). I have no struggle with the fact that some early manuscripts do not contain this closing phrase. It seems consistent to me that the Lord would, in effect, bring this model prayer to a close in essentially the same way He began, with an attribution to the glory of God. Much of our praying seems to begin with God and end with man! It is as if once our need is expressed, we somehow need to give God some further hints as to who could solve the issue, and how it should be resolved successfully. We should be seeking Divine effectiveness in prayer, not mere human success!
As we pray for spiritual awakening, it would be wise to consider what it means to pray effectively.
Otherwise, our much praying will little avail.
2 Tim 1:12
Note: During the month of September, LifeWay is featuring the book A Passion for Prayer. I encourage you to stop by and ask for a copy.