by Rayola Kelley
Prayer was a major topic when I became a Christian in 1976. There were books on how to pray. Church leaders were encouraging prayer that could change the world. Sadly, it turned out to be a fad. It makes you wonder how something that is scriptural can turn out to be a fad. There are three reasons why a scriptural truth becomes a fad. 1) People are trying to promote formulas concerning the things of God, rather than learning the purpose and principle behind such truths. 2) Others are trying to bring life to a truth in order to strip it of any legalism, and make it effective. Therefore, it often becomes a matter of experiential practice. However, truths of God vary as to how they may impact someone in light of what He is trying to accomplish in a person’s life. 3) Some are trying to gain insight into spiritual truths to somehow control God and their reality. Such fleshly attempts will fail, causing another fad to fall by the wayside, as others replace them. As a result, Christians are kept in a constant state of flux. Flux means that these fads and movements keep people from landing to discern what is really true.
The failure that plagues these fleshly attempts keeps people pursuing other avenues. The reasons for this pursuit are because what many know as religion is ineffective, unsatisfying and dead. These individuals know there is more, but they have no idea where to find the more. Therefore, each new fad or movement becomes a source of hope, as these avenues toss them from one wave of movement to the next fad that rolls by them(Ephesians 4:14). In the end, they never land to discover the real life they have in Christ.
Sadly, the how-to books on prayer have been replaced with sensational spiritual hype in the form of warring tongues. How can something as simple as prayer become lost in fleshly practices that have no real power? It is simple. People do not understand the purpose of real prayer. Formulas and fleshly hype have confused the intent and purpose of prayer. Sadly, this condition can mean the worst type of failure for the Church. Without prayer, nothing is really accomplished in God’s kingdom. Prayer enables believers to stand in the midst of adversity and withstand attacks. It allows each of us to learn how to personally worship God, and experience His life.
The Bible talks about “prayer that avails much” (James 5:15). Jesus tells us what such prayer is not in His Sermon on the Mount. It is not a prayer that is meant to impress men, for such prayers are prideful. Righteous prayers are not repetitious prayers that have no substance or destination behind them. Prayers that make us look noble or pious are not prayers of duty, but platforms on which man is exalted because of how he prays. Such prayers are man-centered. These people will ask amiss, as they are minus wisdom from heaven (Matthew 6:5-8; James 4:2-3). They have a wrong spirit and purpose behind them because they are about man realizing his life in light of fleshly desires, rather than realizing the life God wants to impart to him for His glory.
What is prayer? Prayer is first of all a privilege. We can abuse it, ignore it or benefit from it. This privilege turned into a right when Jesus secured the means for each person to come to the throne of grace to obtain mercy in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It is at the throne that one can discover what prayer is. Prayer is nothing more than simple communication with God. Such prayers come from the heart, and the main desire behind this right is not to come out realizing the self-life in light of getting one’s way with God about a situation, but knowing God by realizing His heart about a matter.
Prayers that avail much are those prayers that actually get a hold of God. These prayers are not pleading, pious or pitiful. They are simple because they have knowledge of the One they are directed towards. They are not flowery, for they are not trying to flatter God. They do not have a hint of nobility in them for they are coming from a state of humility. These prayers know how to hit the target because they are in line with God’s character, heart and will.
People pray amiss because they do not know God. Jesus instructed His disciples to pray in His name (John14:13-14). When you study the concept of name, you will realize that Jesus was telling His disciples to pray in line with His character. Therefore, prayer that is in line with who Jesus is, His teachings and His examples will be righteous and on target with God’s will about a matter.
What many people fail to realize is that God cannot step outside of His character to answer prayers. These individuals see Him as a puppet that is here to serve their purposes so that they will believe in Him. The truth is He can only answer prayers that acknowledge His ways, honor His heart, and exalt His will over personal desires and agendas (1 John 5:14).
It is vital that believers return to center concerning the purpose of prayer. Prayer marks the entrance into sweet communion with God. However, this sweet communion is not elaborate. One of the great men of prayer proved this. George Mueller accomplished more on His knees than all the church programs, fads, movements, and religious activities could throughout the centuries. There was a story how one man visited George Mueller at the orphanage that he founded through faith. His simple faith had been exercised and refined on his knees in humility. When Mr. Mueller invited this man to pray with him, the gentleman gladly jumped at the opportunity to know the secret of Mr. Mueller’s powerful prayer life. He was shocked when Mr. Mueller got on his knees and quietly began to talk to God as a friend. This man discovered Mr. Mueller’s secret was not a secret after all. George Mueller knew God in an intimate way. Prayer is a way of discovering God and knowing God in a personal way, in order to commune with Him in the secret places.
The Bible clearly tells us how to pray and what to pray for. It is no great mystery. However, the purpose of prayer eludes us when we do not consider prayer in light of God and His heart about a matter. Jesus brought this out in His Sermon on the Mount. He told His disciples to ask, seek and knock (Matthew 7:7-8). This approach in regards to prayer was consistent with the summary of His ministry in John 14:6 as the way, truth and life.
We must ask God to have His way in a matter. God’s ways are perfect. The problem is His ways are contrary to our ways. Therefore, to ask God to have His way requires us to have faith in His character. Since His ways are above our way of understanding, we must choose to trust Him with the details and the results, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the situation.
As believers, we must seek to know God’s truth in prayer. We cannot worship God unless it is in spirit and truth. The Spirit leads us to a place of liberty where we can discover the truth about God’s mind in a matter (John 4:24; 8:32; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Once we embrace the truth, it will change our perspective about the situation. In fact, we will possess an eternal perspective. Effective prayer will always change a person’s perception.
A.W. Tozer challenges people’s perception by stating that people make God small. Sadly, people’s approach to God is based on how big they think God is. It is only as we gain His perspective that we can allow God to be God in matters. However, few are ever made free in their self-serving perception to display the necessary faith to allow God the space to intervene on their behalf.
Knowing the truth establishes the boundaries in which we worship, but it also allows one to know the will of God. Since God will not step outside of who He is, He represents the truth about what will be considered His good, acceptable and perfect will. Truth allows one the ability to know what God will accept, and what He will not accept. Such knowledge gives a person an edge in prayer. The Apostle John gives this criteria to ensure your prayers are answered: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).
If a person does not know God, he or she will have prayers that will never hit the mark. Such people will not ask according to God’s will, but their will. As a result, they will never get a hold of God about a matter to discover His heart. Their prayers may be hit and miss as far as answers, but they will never hit the target of discovering the real power of prayer. Prayer is not a means to arm-wrestle God over a situation, but to discover Him and His will in it.
We must knock on the doors of prayer to discover our life in Christ Jesus. Since we are limited in what we understand, we must knock on the doors that are set before us to discover what God has in mind for our life. People have a tendency to think that all they need to do is ask. Others realize that asking sometimes requires one to seek the answer in the Word or in wise counseling. However, few recognize that they must knock at the doors they encounter to have their life opened to them.
Knocking on doors can require perseverance. We must be willing to knock until our life is opened to us (Luke 18:1-6). Perseverance serves as a fiery test of our faith. Will we continue to knock, no matter what we see before us? Will we steadfastly trust God in matters that are confusing and appear unfair? Will we cling to His character when the silence mocks His very commitment and intention towards us? In such times, we must keep in mind that our life is on the other side of one of those doors. We must persevere until we discover the right door. Our search may require us to wait in silence as we knock on each door until the right one is opened by the hand of God.
The Word of God also tells us what to pray for. In order to keep prayer in the right perspective, we must think of it as a place of our altar. In the case of prayer, our hearts serve as the altar from which the incense of our prayers continually ascend heavenward. At this altar, sacrifices are offered up, memorials established, and the will of God realized. The Word of God tells us that we must offer the sacrifice of praise, and that the memorial that is established comes by way of thanksgiving. The sacrifice of praise sets our affections on things above, and thanksgiving creates a right attitude of worship.
From this altar, we can make our petitions known. In fact, we can take all of our cares to God about matters that concern us. We do not have to carry any tormenting cares with us, because we have a God who is able to handle them. After all, cares are created by our fear that reality will not turn out the way we desire. We want God to see it our way, so He will do it our way. The secret to stripping such cares of their torment is to truly trust God with them. Peace can only be discovered when one hides in the character of God about the issues of life.
We must pray about all personal matters with the intent to leave them at the altar. It is vital that we relieve ourselves of personal matters, so we can take on the burden of supplication for others (Ephesians 6:18). People often become so weighed down or caught up with their self-centered lives that they are not open to receive burdens for others. Granted, some people have burdens they pray about on a daily basis, but how many are open to the burdens that God wants to put on the altar of their hearts.
As priests of the New Testament we are to intercede for others. We are to pray for other believers, for our leaders, and for those who are not saved. However, we must make sure that it is a point of burden that only God has given us. Some burdens are already established in Scripture such as praying for our brethren and our leaders. But in such prayers, we must be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit to ensure such prayers do not become a matter of duty or become repetitious. We must make sure they are coming from an altar that is alive with the sweetness of faith and the fervor of sincerity.
There are also burdens that God wants to entrust us with at a particular moment or time. Are we open for such burdens? Will we pray through until the burden is lifted? Today, there is a lot of activity called prayer and intercession, but is it truly intercession that comes from the heart of God, or is it religious fervor that finds its origin in selfishness, spiritual superiority and speculation?
How is your prayer life? When was the last time that prayer started from the altar of your heart? Is the incense coming from your altar sweet and sincere communion, offering up acceptable sacrifices of praise, or is it an indifferent, flowery, con game that is all outward appearance, with no substance? It is vital that in these days, God’s people know how to get a hold of Him. When God’s people do get a hold of Him, they will find themselves standing on the Rock, clinging to immovable promises, abiding in the Vine, and hiding in a great Fortress that stands above all enemies. They will partake of the green pastures of His will, drink freely of His Spirit, and enjoy His presence and fellowship. Ultimately, they will actually experience a bit of heaven on this earth.