But some of His blessings only come when we ask. James says, “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:3) This is an amazing truth. Through prayer, we have been given the privilege of initiating blessings, for ourselves and for others. But too often we treat prayer so lightly that our prayers become ineffective.
The kinds of prayers that result in blessings are deliberate and intentional. Too often my prayers are not that kind. I send off “arrow” prayers thoughtlessly all day long, forgetting them as soon as I’ve made them. I might as well be talking to myself. For shame! The great privilege He has given us in prayer calls for a consciously thoughtful approach to His throne.
Here are five questions that can help make our prayers more thoughtful, and therefore more effective, when we are willing to take the time to pray deliberately.
1. “To Whom am I praying?”
The answer is obvious–so obvious that our awareness of the One we are coming to can get lost in our coming if we’re not careful. God–the reality of his presence and the beauty of his character–must be our focus in prayer.
A focus on God does not come naturally. It must be deliberately sought and deliberately maintained as we pray. Our visible surroundings will overwhelm invisible realities if we don’t consciously remind ourselves of what matters when we pray, and what matters first and foremost is the One we are speaking with.
I find praying on my knees helps to keep me focused on God. It puts my body in the proper position before Him and it keeps me more aware of His presence.
2. “Do I really want what I’m asking for?”
Deliberate praying involves thinking carefully about what I really want from God. Many of my prayers are perfunctory. I pray for someone just because they have asked me to, without giving careful thought to their needs or their wellbeing, or I ask God for trivial things that don’t really matter to me past the moment.
When Jesus approached the man by the pool, he asked, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6) When God asks me if I really care if He answers a particular prayer, sometimes I have to say that I don’t.
How can I expect Him to take my requests seriously if I don’t take them seriously myself?
3. “Is this request in line with God’s will?”
After I decide a request is in line with my own desires, I need to think about whether or not it’s in line with God’s desires. When I look at a particular request in the light of who He is, and what His will is as revealed in the Bible, sometimes I find I need to refine my request.
My desires are always more superficial than God’s. I might want to see a loved one physically healed when God wants to do something more significantly wonderful for them through their pain. I might want to find a parking spot close to my destination when God wants me to take a longer walk!
Effective prayers are ones that are in line with God’s perfect will.
4. “By whose authority am I coming with this request?”
One of the most astonishing privileges we have as believers is the right to exercise Jesus’ authority in prayer. We have no authority on our own, but He has entrusted us with the ability to change things eternally through our requests “in His name.” He has made God’s throne accessible to us.
We may come to that throne boldly, as a little child might run to his father’s arms with complete abandon. But it is a throne of grace. We come by way of Jesus. When we deliberately recognize both of these great truths, our prayers will be empowered and we will be blessed in our praying.
5. “Do I really believe God can and will answer this prayer?”
When we deliberately answer the first four of these questions, acknowledging the reality of God’s presence, making requests thoughtfully and wisely, and realizing that we come to God through Jesus, we will naturally be led to a place of greater faith, and faith is essential if we are to see answers to our prayers.
“If you believe. . .” Jesus says. “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matt 21:22)
How amazing! How frightening! The power He has given us in prayer is awesome, but if we don’t deliberately claim His answers by faith our prayers will not be effective. This last step is what releases His power through us.
Coming to Him in faith completes our prayers, and it delights the heart of Jesus.
God longs to bless us and others by answering our prayers, but He can only do that when we are willing to submit to the discipline of spending conscious, deliberate, focused time in His presence.
He longs even more than we do for us to enjoy deep fellowship with Him, but the kind of intimacy that fellowship entails also only comes through intentional, deliberate prayer times.
May we choose to identify with His longings for us and grow closer to Him as we train our minds and hearts to pray effectively.
Parts of this post previously published in “Something About The Joy”