I get the sense that some Christians feel defeated in their prayer lives. Perhaps the problem is that it seems as though their prayers are going unanswered. Few things will discourage one more than the sense that their prayers are not getting beyond the ceiling. Conversely, nothing will revitalize your prayer life like receiving definite answers to your petitions. What Christians need to realize is that there are principles laid out in the Bible for effective prayer. The Word of God shows us the right way to pray, and it also alerts us of pitfalls that we should avoid. If your prayers seem hindered, it might be due to a failure to follow these ten Scriptural guidelines in prayer:
The starting place for prayer should be humility. When we get on our knees to pray, we are humbling ourselves before the Almighty God to acknowledge our utter dependence upon Him. The world tells us to rely upon our own wisdom and strength; the Bible tells us that without Christ, we can do nothing.
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (or Tax Collector) to people who trusted in themselves. Two men went to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed a proud, self-righteous prayer in which he looked down upon the tax collector. The humble tax collector couldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven. He prayed sincerely and humbly, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus concluded the parable by saying that the tax collector “went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In Matthew 9:28, Jesus asks two blind men if they believe that He is able to restore their sight, and they reply in the affirmative. Then in verse 29, Jesus touches their eyes, and says, “According to your faith be it unto you.” Then their eyes were opened.
Faith moves mountains, and it also moves the heart and hand of God. It opens our eyes and allows us to see Jesus. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). In Mark 11:24, Jesus says, “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” He clearly links faith and prayer in this verse.
It follows then that unbelief can limit the effectiveness of our prayers. In Matthew 13:58, we learn that Jesus did not do many mighty works in his hometown of Nazareth because of the unbelief of the people there. How sad that the people who should have known Jesus the best, seemed to believe in Him the least!
3. Confession of sins
Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” The NIV translates the word for regard as cherished. So if we cherish sin in our hearts, instead of confessing and forsaking it, the Lord will not hear our prayers.
The encouraging news is that 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In the mnemonic prayer acronym ACTS, C stands for Confession (A for Adoration; T for Thanksgiving; and S for Supplication). Confession should be an essential part of our prayer life. It restores power to our prayers.
If we want God to hear and answer our prayers, we must forgive others. Few things will sap the vitality out of your prayer life like bitterness. Immediately after the verse mentioned above when Jesus was talking about faith and prayer, He says the following in Mark 11:25-26 (NKJV):
““And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.””
Jesus says something very similar to this in Matthew 6:14-15 after the Lord’s Prayer (or Model Prayer). In fact, in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus seems to link the forgiveness we receive from God with the forgiveness we give to others: “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” (Matt 6:12 NKJV) We should be as ready to forgive others as God is to forgive us.
5. Correct Motives
If you pray for a Ferrari, don’t be surprised if God does not answer. We need to examine our motives in our prayers. God supplies our needs, but He is not obligated to give us our selfish desires, especially when it might be harmful to ourselves or others. It’s been said that some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. God knows far better than we do what is best for us. James reminds us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3 NKJV) Jesus set the example for us with his selfless prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not as I will, but as You will.”
In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells us the Parable of the Unjust Judge or the Persistent Widow that “men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” A judge who did not fear God granted a widow’s persistent request for justice against her adversary because he wearied of her requests. How much more will God answer his children they cry out to Him day and night, since He loves and cares for them! So don’t give up after praying for something one time. Be persistent in your prayers, especially if you know that what you are asking for is something within God’s will. Your persistence is a sign of faith. Remember that Jacob wrestled with the angel all night long before he was blessed.
7. In Jesus’ Name
In John 14:13-14, Jesus says, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” This is not so much a formula as an acknowledgement of faith in the mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. We have access to God because of what Christ has done (Hebrews 4:14-16). We are also ambassadors for Christ and we do his work here on Earth. When we ask for something in his name, we are asking for it on his authority. The power rests in his name. And as Jesus said in the above verses, the Father is glorified in the Son when we pray in Jesus’ name.
8. Proper Treatment of Spouse
In 1 Peter 3:7, we learn that mistreatment of our spouse can negatively affect our prayers: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” We can’t worship God and then treat people, especially our family, in a bad manner. Our relationship with God affects our relationship with others, and vice versa.
9. Consideration for the Poor
Proverbs 21:13 warns us that, “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.” How we treat the indigent and destitute can affect our prayers. One of the Beatitudes says, “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 NKJV) If we want God to hear our cries, then we need to listen to the cries of others. Lord, give us a heart of mercy.
In Luke 17:11-19, ten lepers were healed by Jesus on the way to see the priest, but only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank him. How many times does God answer our prayers and we forget to thank him? We need to come to God with a thankful heart so that we appreciate all that he has done for us in the past. Gratitude will also give us a better perspective so that we know what to pray for.
My intention in writing this article is not to make a checklist that you have to go through before you can pray, but rather I intend it as a guide that can help you identify problem areas in your prayer life. As you look over these ten principles, you can get an overall picture of the proper heart attitude that is necessary for an effective prayer life. It’s important that we base these principles of prayer upon the Bible. This list is not exhaustive. You may find other principles in the Bible that help you in your prayer life, but these are basic principles that should help get you started. I pray that this list is a blessing to you.