In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13), Jesus gave an outline on how to pray. Practicing this outline while praying is important if one desires to receive answers to his or her prayers. But there are some other essentials that must also be considered. It would do little good to follow the outline given in Matthew, chapter six, if one fails to realize and practice these essentials. These are fundamental requirements that will be addressed in this article.
One cannot expect an answer to prayer if one does not really have faith and believe in God. A striking example of this is found in Matthew 13:58. Jesus had gone back to visit His home. “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” Regardless of disbelief, the lack of faith does not invalidate the faithfulness of God (Rom. 3:3), but God requires faith before He will answer prayer. What is faith? “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). The fact is: ” . . . Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (v. 6). The Apostle James spoke of the need for faith. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (Jas. 1:5-6). Jesus Himself spoke of believing faith on many occasions. One example is found in Mark 11.
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (vv. 22-24)
Another Scripture to consider is Philippians 4:6. It reads: “Be [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Does God hear the prayers of those who believe? Yes, indeed. “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps. 34:4-6). “I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live” (Ps. 116:1-2).
Ask According to God’s Will
While it is absolutely necessary to believe and have faith in God, we must also ask according to His will. A prayer contrary to the will of God will not be answered. To receive answers to prayer we must understand what God will and will not do. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:15-17). It would do little good to pray for something that is not God’s will.
Often we do not know what to ask for in prayer. Yet, the Bible assures us we can be helped in this. Here are the Apostle Paul’s words: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with [sighs] which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). God looks on the heart. He already knows our needs. Barne’s Notes tells us that we receive a new source of consolation and support, which is derived from the Spirit dwelling in us. And that we are sustained, supported, and assisted in carrying our burdens, so that we are able to bear them. While often we do not really know what is best, or what God is willing to grant, the Holy Spirit greatly aids us in our infirmities even if we do not completely understand God’s purpose in our trials. The meaning of the text is this: “The Spirit greatly aids or supports us in those deep emotions, those intense feelings, those inward sighs which cannot be expressed in language, but which he enables us to bear, and which are understood by Him that searcheth the hearts” (Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft).
One of the great prophets was Daniel. He constantly sought to do God’s will. Daniel states: ” . . . I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:3).
Look what happened next.
And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God; Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved . . . . ” (Dan. 9:20-23)
Daniel was greatly beloved because he constantly sought to obey the will of God. God is no respecter of persons and according to the purpose of our individual calling, He will do the same today. While Daniel was a prophet who was given great understanding in long-range prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled, in whatever way and purpose God is working in our lives we can also receive answers to our prayers. But we must ask according to God’s will. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).
Must Be Sincere
At one time or another most of us have attended occasions when public prayer was made. How many people pay attention to what is said, and how many have been moved by the prayer? With some exceptions most of these prayers are not for the benefit of the listeners but to exalt the one who gives the prayer. Often these prayers are long and laborious. While public prayer is appropriate on various occasions, many of these prayers have little meaning. Jesus warned about this very thing. He said: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:5). Again, He said: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation” (Matt. 23:14).
Worship can be artificial, and prayers are not excluded from this bane. Here is what the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isa. 29:13). “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (Isa. 48:1). Many people are far more concerned about what other people think than they are about how God thinks. Their prayers belie this hypocrisy. To be effective in prayer we must be absolutely sincere, free from dissimulation and exaggeration. Jesus said: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:7-8).
David was a man after God’s own heart. Here is what he said about sincerity in prayer: “Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips” (Ps. 17:1). Sincerity was not the nature of the people of Israel. When they prayed God said: “And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds . . . ” (Hos. 7:14 NKJV). The Moffatt Translation of this text is: “They never put their heart into their prayers, but howl away for corn and wine beside their altars.”
The fact is: Unless one is absolutely sincere and honest when praying, one can expect no answer from God. All is open and exposed before God, so effective prayer means being honest with ourselves and with God. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
Must Be Humble
This present age is marked by arrogance and pride. There is not much humility to be found. Humility means without pride, to be compliant and submissive. One of the most difficult things for most humans to do is to admit wrong. You may have seen the poster that states: “The trouble with most people is that they won’t admit their faults. We would admit ours if we had any.”
The Apostle Paul wrote:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce,despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Little understood by the world today is the sovereignty of God-His awesome power and capability. This ignorance is a reason so many men are arrogant, why many feel equal to or superior to God. Even when praying, this arrogance and pride is often reflected. But that will change.
The Bible states:
Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low . . . . And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day . . . . when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. (Isa. 2:10-12, 17, 21)
Those who realize the power and authority of God are humble before Him. When they come to pray they manifest that humility. Here is how God regards humility: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15). “Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:1-2).
Being humble means that one is willing to admit his sin. He is open and exposed before God. He does not justify his actions. He makes no excuses, but asks for God’s forgiveness and mercy. Like Jeremiah the prophet, he can say: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jer. 10:23-24).
The Psalmist certainly knew his own weaknesses and shortcomings.
He wrote: “Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!” (Ps. 119:4-5). “Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes” (v. 12). “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness” (v. 36). “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (v. 71). “Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed” (v. 80). “My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes” (v. 171). “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity . . . ” (Ps. 141:4).
Being humble, open, and exposed before God, along with the willingness to admit faults and sins, is an important key to answered prayer. Those who desire God’s help need to take this seriously.
Must Be Fervent
How many times have we observed people who really lack a sense of urgency when urgency is called for? The words that come out of their mouths fail to convey a sense of seriousness. Can one pray with a lack of earnestness and expect results? Not likely.
Consider the example of King Hezekiah.
“In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live” (Isa. 38:1). What did Hezekiah do? “Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore” (vv. 2-3). What was God’s response? “Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years” (vv. 4-5). While Hezekiah’s prayer involved a matter of life or death, it does demonstrate that God hears the prayers of those who manifest earnest, serious sobriety.
In the New Testament, the Apostle James wrote: ” . . . The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16). To be effective, prayer must be meaningful, intense, and, fervent. This is clearly illustrated by what took place in the garden of Gethsemane. Of Christ we read that ” . . . in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared” (Heb. 5:7). When one comes before the Lord of the whole earth (Micah 4:13), should one not have fear? But notice, in addition Jesus prayed so earnestly we read: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). When He prayed to the Father, He was fervent and meant what He said. Are we fervent, and do we mean what we say when we come to God in prayer?
David, the man after God’s own heart, was intense and earnest in prayer. He wrote: ” I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble” (Ps. 142:1-2). How many times did David say: “For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee” (Ps. 31:22). When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that Christians are to be fervent in spirit, he urged them to be intense, zealous, and on fire in what they do. Prayer is certainly one aspect of the Christian life when this admonition should apply.
Must Be Persistent
When we know we are praying according to God’s will, we should expect an answer. For this is what hope is-the desire with anticipation. Paul explains: ” . . . Hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom. 8: 24-25). Patience is the key. To illustrate this principle, Jesus gave the example of the unjust judge.
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. (Luke 18:1-5)
This parable does not mean God wearies of our prayers, but that we must sometimes be persistent in order to receive an answer. Paul admonished the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). He meant that it was necessary to continue to pray for an answer when it does not immediately come. God does not always give us what we request right away. One of the purposes in life is to learn patience. “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (Ps. 27:14). “Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually” (Hos. 12:6). “Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually” (1 Chron. 16:11).
Character building is a process that requires the development of patience. It is one of the blocks in overcoming. Here is how The Apostle Peter described it:
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. (2 Pet. 1:3-7)
Among other things, the New Testament instructs us to be, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:18). Again, Paul admonishes Christians to be “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing [steadfastly] in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). “Be [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).
In the parable of the sower (Mark 4), some seed fell on stony ground and failed to produce. Jesus described it as follows: “And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended” (Mark 4:16-17). We can certainly assume these folks were not persistent in prayer, an important key for receiving answers when we pray.
Pray in Private
We are aware of those occasions when public prayer is appropriate, but personal prayer is another matter. Private prayer should be private because prayer is simply talking to God. Many things we may talk to God about are so confidential that we may wish only God to hear them. Jesus set such an example. He needed private time with the Father. “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matt. 14:23). On another occasion we read: “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave specific instruction about private prayer. This was in direct contrast to the practice of the hypocrites-those who profess religion but do not practice it.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matt. 6:5-6)
In addition, Jesus added: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). The Pharisees and scribes, in particular, made a pretence of long public prayers (Matt. 23:14, Mark 12:40). Prayer time should be quality time and by following the outline prayer Jesus gave in Matthew 6:9-13, the length of time will take up more than a few minutes.
Pray Being Obedient
Much is stated in the Bible about the need to be obedient to the Law of God if one desires to receive His acceptance. Consider what has been recorded by the prophet Malachi:
“And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand” (Mal. 2:13).
What had they done?
Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously. (Mal. 2:14-16 NKJV)
Many of the Israelites had become so wicked that God instructed Jeremiah: “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee” (Jer. 7:16). The man who had been blind from birth told the Pharisees: “Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him” (John 9:31). Though rebuffed by the Pharisees, this man was absolutely correct in what he said. The book of Proverbs states: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight” (Prov. 15:8). “The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous” (v. 29). “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov. 28:9). Another important text is Psalm 32:6: “For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found . . . ”
The keys to answered prayer are outlined in this article. Anyone who desires help from God, and is sincere in this quest, can and will receive God’s help. But he must take the information given above seriously, and he cannot afford to omit any of these vital keys.