Prayer is something that we know we are supposed to do, something important, something that, it seems, will solve a lot of our problems… just by asking the right way, in the right formula, with enough faith, and according to the will of God, we can move mountains from one place to another, that is, we can do the impossible.
It sounds impossible to me. How on earth can we do that… how can we have enough faith, when we are told our faith is tiny and insignificant? How can we know the will of God, whose ways are beyond our understanding? What is the right formula? What words are the right ones? What is the right way to pray?
All these questions arise from things we hear people say, or preach, what we read in scripture, and mostly because a lot of the time we feel our prayer is ineffective.
Prayer is a practical thing, and it stems from looking at how God actually relates to the world, and how we relate to God. We should probably define prayer as “Personal communication from us to God”  This covers a wide range of things that one might want to communicate with God about.
a. Some might say, that because God knows everything before we pray, why bother? Well the point of that is that it’s not about God wanting to know what we want, but more about us finding out what He wants. And what does God want? He wants us to believe, to trust, into Him. That is, to have faith in Him. Primarily, the bible teaches us that we are to pray with faith, that is, to have trust and dependence on God.
Think about the opening line of Jesus’ prayer, which He taught the disciples; ‘Our Father…’ We’re firstly to think of God as father, the one who is loving and wise, and who gives good things to His children (Luke 11:9-13), with this example in mind, God asks us to pray in faith; Matt 21:22; cf. Mk 11:24; James 1:6-8; 5:14-15). So the first reason is faith building, effectively.
b. This is not all though, this trusting and believing is only the beginning. The second reason God wants us to pray is relationship. In order for us to know God, to trust God, we must communicate with Him. Can you imagine having a wife, or a best friend that you never spoke to? How would you know them, what they want, how they think, how they feel about you? It can’t be done. Anyone who says otherwise is quite simply, a liar.
c. Thirdly, Prayer helps us to feel involved in God’s plan, and more importantly, praying humbly and devotedly to God, in faith, is glorifying to Him.
2. OK, so we know why God wants us to pray, however often we feel our prayers are ineffective, or that God hasn’t answered them for some reason. Lets look at a few things that make prayer effective, or how we know it is effective.
a. Firstly, we pray, and God does respond, James 4:2. We have the ask, seek, knock sequence in Luke 11:9-10. When we ask, God does respond. It’s quite simple. One of the major reasons this is so crucial to us is made clear in 1 John 1:9. And read 2 Chron 7:14. The prayers of God’s people clearly affect how God acts, especially towards us.
b. Secondly, apart from Christ, our prayers would be useless. Christ mediates between us and God, 1 Tim 2:5. More than that though, we do not have righteousness of our own, as we are not perfect, so God sees us as He sees Christ. This is called imputed righteousness. The language used in scripture is legal, like in a court, and also the kind of language used in accounting. Because we have no righteousness of our own, God chalks up Jesus infinite righteousness to our accounts. It’s a bit like getting a huge visa bill, and when the repossession agents come round, your friend steps in and hands them a wad of cash which covers your bill. You still have bad credit, but legally you are all square again.
Our prayer is effective then, because our prayers effectiveness isn’t based on our own righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ, which has been credited to us.
c. Thirdly, Prayer is effective, or made effective because we are praying in Jesus name. Now, this doesn’t mean adding ‘in Jesus name’ to the end of our prayers as if it was some kind of magic formula. If you look at all the prayers in Scripture, none of them have ‘In Jesus name’ added to the end of them. We are told to pray this way in John 14:13-14 and many other places, though, so what does it mean?
This is along the same lines as our righteousness, as I mentioned just before. To do something in someone’s name is to do it with their authority. It’s interesting also to note that someone’s name also represented them, and also their character. So prayer in Jesus name is prayer consistent with His character and His person. Its praying according to the will of Jesus (1 John 5:14-15)
As imperfect sinners, we don’t have the authority to ask God for anything, but seen as righteous, and with the authority of Christ, who has dominion over all of creation, we can be assured of our prayer being effective.
3. Those are some of the main reasons we can be assured our prayer is effective, firstly because we are told by God that He does respond to prayer. Secondly because we don’t pray based on our own righteousness, but on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. And thirdly because we pray according to the nature, character, will and in the authority of Christ, who is King of all creation. Pretty powerful reasons to believe prayer will be effective. So, the next thing you might ask is, does that mean we can’t pray to Jesus, only in His name? What about praying to the Holy Spirit?
Interestingly, there are only prayers to God the father in Scripture. That’s not evidence against being able to pray to Jesus or the Spirit, because most of those prayers were made by Jesus.
There is some evidence that prayer to Jesus is appropriate, for example Acts 1:24, the prayer being addressed to ‘Lord’. Also Acts 7:59 Stephen prays to Jesus. So its clear prayer to Jesus is acceptable. What about the Spirit?
There are no direct prayers to the Spirit in the New Testament. However we believe that the Spirit is Fully God, and equal with God. We also believe the Spirit is a person, someone whom we relate to, our comforter, teacher, guide, someone whom we can make happy, and someone we can grieve. It would seem wrong not to be able to pray to the Spirit, especially in areas He is concerned with.
To finish off, there are 6 things I would like you to consider in order to offer up the kind of prayer God desires.
1. Prayer according to God’s will is the first thing. We are told in 1 John 5:14-15 that this is the confidence we have, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. It’s easy to know what to pray if we pray about something that’s in a bible passage, which is one very good reason to memorise Scripture. Apart from the memorisation of Scripture, we should maintain a close relationship with God, in order to know the kind of thing that He would have us do. It might be appropriate to pray, saying ‘if it is your will...’ or ‘I don’t know if it is your will but…’ However it would not be appropriate for example, when say, asking for wisdom, or something we have a clear statement from God about (i.e. James 1:5).
2. Secondly, for prayer to be effective faith is involved. Faith is a response. A reaction from us. We find that in Mark 11:24 where it says ‘believe that you have received it’. You are told to respond by having faith, be trusting and believing it has and will be given. Biblical faith is never wishful thinking or desire; it is an assurance, and a response to that assurance (Heb 11:1).
3. Thirdly, obedience. There are many verses such as PS 66:18. which indicate clearly to us that even though we are justified and imputed with Christ’s righteousness, actively sinning is a hindrance to prayer. More often than not though, it is how sin works in our minds to make us feel inadequate and undeserving that hinders us from prayer. That is one aspect of it. The other aspect is that there is a certain requirement of personal holiness required by Christians, and the more we are obedient to the will of God, the less hindrance to prayer there is.
4. Number four is confession of Sins. This is not to be confused with confession of Sin. Sin is a state, our nature; it is a state of unrighteousness, of not being in relationship with God. This is what we are forgiven for, and justified from. We are restored to relationship with God, and right standing. What is in mind here is the day to day forgiveness of the things we know we have done which are apart from the will of God. They are the ‘things we do’ as opposed to the ‘state’. (See Matt 6:12; 1 john 1:9). It is also appropriate to pray for forgiveness for things you don’t realise you have done which are sins.
5. Number 5 is forgiving others. Matt 6:14-15. Mark 11:25. This is not the initial experience of forgiveness, but like number 4, it’s a day to day experience of living with people who sin against you, and you against them. Sin interrupts relationship, causes it to deteriorate, and as we know with humanity it has separated us from God. The idea is not to let sin do this by actively confessing it, and also releasing others from it. Holding unforgiveness against others is damaging to us and to them, and hardly a loving way to act. It isn’t ‘walking in the light’ – and so we must forgive.
6. Finally humility. James 4:6, 1 pet 5:5; James 4:10. A prime example of lack of humility is the Pharisee in like 18:12-14. God has a right to defend his own honour. He is not pleased with the prayers of the proud, as they are taking the honour that rightly belongs to God and bestowing it upon themselves. Humility before God, will result in humility before others, and is necessary for prayer to be effective.
Hopefully you will have found something in this lesson that will help you. If you can be assured of what grounds you have to pray, and what helps make prayer effective, Surly you will fell more confident, and hopefully will not let yourself be put off by thoughts of inadequacy and ineffectiveness.
 Bible Doctrine, W Grudem, Pg 158.