I used to not believe in prayer1. In my youth I didn’t see any evidence that it worked. As my proof text, I could point to Matthew 21:21-222, “If ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” If that were true, then why doesn’t the world regularly see disappearing mountains, caused by people exercising their newfound power in prayer? Why don’t we sometimes see mountains flying through the air on their way to the sea? As a young believer, I didn’t see how prayer could work, especially for me.
But I kept praying – as instructed by my church and the Bible – and kept growing spiritually. I see now my earlier unbelief as a child was like believing I could not ride a bicycle although my parents assured me I could. On my first try, I could not; I was right. But with continued efforts, I did become a proficient bicycle rider. Now I understand prayer better, and from personal experience and exercise, I even know how and why it works. That’s what I’m about to share with you in this thesis.
First, I’ll go over several Biblical injunctions to pray, and then I’ll explain how, why and when it works.
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
And so we have the Christian habit of ending our prayers with “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil... Amen.
This has become one of the most ritualized prayers on record, along with “Hail Mary,” although immediately preceding that prayer, Jesus said,
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.
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray.. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up;
If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
1 John 5:14-15
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
Other scriptures also tell us to pray and give examples, but those given above are the prescriptive scriptures giving us the information we need to receive positive answers.
I don’t know all the answers to questions about prayer and why it works; I just know some answers. I hope the information given here will help you, inform you, inspire you and encourage you to pray. I once knew of a Christian girl that had cancer. Her father was a senior pastor and professor at a school of theology. He had great faith and called the elders of the church to pray over his daughter. He and the elders anointed her with oil and prayed over her, with laying on of hands, as prescribed in James 5:13-15, yet she died of cancer anyway. I don’t know why.
The one reason I can think of as to why she died is in Isaiah.
The righteous perish, and no man lays it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.
Perhaps she died to spare her and her parents of a greater evil to come, yet we won’t know what that would have been until we speak to her again in heaven.3
There are two powers that bring about answered prayer. I shall explain both of them here. One is from God and One is from Us.
The First Power is from Us
God created us as spiritual beings.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Because we are created by God in his image, we are spiritual, and therefore have certain spiritual powers given to us upon creation by God.
Jesus always gave glory to the Father when it was appropriate. But he did not lie when he said,
Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.
Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened.
Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
In those instances of healing, Jesus said it was the power of their faith that healed them; he did not say it was the power of God.
Watchman Nee (1903-1972), a Chinese Christian, discovered this soul power and wrote about it in his books, but his conclusion was that we Christians should not use that power because we are fallen, sinful creatures. We should only depend on the spiritual power of God. I do not agree with his conclusion.
We Christians are challenged by the question "Why are prayers of non-Christians also answered, if successful prayers are to be made in the name of Jesus?" A Christian missionary I once knew said she believed that Satan answered prayers because she knew God does not answer prayers of unsaved (pagan, heathen) people; all prayers have to be in the name of Jesus to be answered. However, she did not know about the soul power that all of us have simply by being human.
Witches and warlocks wield great power because they have learned that secret. People who believe in magic think witches and warlocks have magic. But the fact is, they simply use the spiritual power created in them by God.
Dr. Rebecca Brown, MD, the famous “witch hunter” (He Came to Set the Captives Free, Anchor Distributors, 1993) is a follower of Watchman Nee. She does battle with satanic power not using the inherit spiritual power she already has, but only the power of God. She says that if she uses her own power, it will prove to the Satanists that what they have is legitimate, and that to overcome her, all they have to do is become spiritually stronger than she.
Positive Thinking Gurus have tapped into the power of the soul. Some people call them the “Name it and Claim it” crowd. Positive Thinking people have discovered that naming it and claiming it is effective. They do realize there is a powerful spiritual component to their teaching, although maybe some of them don’t understand why it works.
Examples of Answered Prayer
I have three personal examples of answered prayer. I did pray to God in Jesus’ name – according to the Christian formula – and the prayers were answered, although I don’t know whether they were answered by God or by my own spiritual power. Either way, I thank God for it, because the soul power we have comes from God.
Some people think “praying in Jesus’ name” means they insert the words “in Jesus' name” somewhere in their prayer. The very fact that a person is a Christian automatically makes his or her prayer “in Jesus’ name,” whether he mentions the formula or not. The only right we have to approach God is through Jesus because Jesus opened the way between us and God.
Example 1: The Lawnmower
In 1969 my family had just moved into our new home on Claremont Street in San Antonio, Texas. After a few weeks I became embarrassed that our lawn was untended. One day after church, I was sitting in my rocking chair looking out the window at the lawn. I prayed, “Lord, I’m embarrassed that this lawn makes the neighborhood look bad. I think it’s a bad witness of you. I need a lawnmower. Please help me get a lawnmower.”
Within two hours the phone rang and my mother said, “Jerry, we have two lawnmowers. Would you like to have one?” Of course I accepted it. That would be nothing more than a coincidence if I had told anyone that I needed or wanted a lawnmower. But I had never mentioned it to anyone; it was simply a personal thought of my own.
Notice how this prayer was effected. Natural forces, not supernatural, presented the answer. Perhaps a supernatural force put the thought into mom’s mind, but it did not make a lawnmower magically appear on my front lawn.
Example 2: The Insurance Check
This has happened to many people; perhaps it happened to you. It happened to me twice so far. I needed a certain amount of money. I forget the reason; perhaps it was to pay for the rent. Whatever the reason it was urgent and I needed the money – $326 – before tomorrow. I prayed for that sum. In the mail that same day, an unexpected check from an insurance company issued me a refund for $326.99.
The check did not appear out of thin air. Obviously it was mailed several days earler, although I knew nothing about it. Coincidence? Maybe one time, but not twice, and not as a reported occurrence by many people.
Example 3: My Life Partner
At a time of turmoil and distress in my life, I prayed for a human friend and partner. I was alone, “in my closet” so to speak, and prayed fervently for the one I needed and sought. I was specific in what I was asking.
Approximately two years later, after a series of strange and unexpected events, I was united with the person of my prayers, and we have been together for almost forty years at the time of this writing. The events leading up to that meeting of our souls and the perfect match to my specific requests were so exact that I cannot but know this is the answer to my prayer. If I had not prayed that prayer, it would not have happened.
From those examples, we can see that some prayers are answered immediately (Example 1), some are answered before we ask (Example 2), and some are answered years after we ask (Example 3).
In the last example, we see some preparation is needed before the prayer could be answered. I needed to be prepared first in my heart and life, and my partner-to-be needed to be prepared first in his heart and life.
The Second Power is from God
The second Power that answers prayer comes from God. This is the one where the Biblical formula comes into play.
- Ask in Jesus’ name
- Ask not amiss, to consume it on your own lusts
- Ask according to the will of God
1. Ask in Jesus Name
In the Christian doctrine, we are separated from God by sin. Because we have willfully rejected God and refused to follow him, we have separated ourselves from God. This separation results in our exclusion from God both on earth and after death. Jesus, however, restored our connection to God through his personal sacrifice on the cross. Now we are able to approach God as children of God and citizens of heaven because of what Jesus did. This is what we mean by praying “in Jesus’ name.”
To those people who would respond to my statement “we have willfully rejected God” by saying, “I’ve never rejected God. Not one time in my life have I ever rejected God. I was never given that choice.” OK. I’ll give you the choice now. Will you from this moment on wholeheartedly follow God and do his will and seek his way? If you don’t, then you have rejected God, and you can never again say “I’ve never rejected God. No one gave me that choice.”
2. Ask not amiss, to consume it on your own lusts.
Some Christians think that means not asking for anything for yourself. That’s not true. It means not asking for yourself something that would hurt others or inflame your own pride.
For example, a person could say, “Lord I need a car to get to work, in order to support my family and myself.” He could also say, “Lord, I need a car to do my work for God.” God may answer either of those in the affirmative. But if a person says, “Lord, give me a red Porsche because I want it so badly and it will make the girls love me and it will create great envy in both my friends and enemies,” then that prayer will not be answered – not by God, anyway.
3. Ask according to the will of God.
This is probably where we will have the greatest success in prayer, and where we might experience the most delay in seeing our prayer answered.
God told us to pray about several things.
- Pray that we don’t fall into temptation. Luke 22:40 and Matthew 6;13.
- Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: (Pray that they shall prosper who love Jerusalem. Peace be within its walls, and prosperity within its palaces.) Psalm 122:6.
- Pray for rulers 1 Timothy 2:1-4. Pray not that evil rulers will succeed in their evil deeds, but that evil will be thwarted and that good will succeed, to bring peace upon those being governed.
- Pray for our daily needs. Matthew 6:11
- Pray that the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven Matthew 6:10
- Pray for Jesus to return (“Thy kingdom come”) Matthew 6:10
God told us how to pray.
- Pray continually 1 Thessalonians 5:17
- Always be thankful 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Guaranteed Failures in Prayer
There are several things you can do that will guarantee your prayers will not be answered.
Never practice praying. If you never tried to ride a bicycle after your first encounter, you will never ride a bicycle. Riding a bicycle is a skill that requires practice. So is prayer.
Do just the opposite of what is needed for answered prayer.
Don’t pray to be made the head on the Accounting Department if you never learned anything about accounting. Go to school, learn accounting principles, practice and become efficient at accounting. At the same time, learn how to manage and deal with people. Then you may justly pray to be made the head of the Accounting Department. Why should God punish or inflict you on everyone in the Accounting Department if you have not fulfilled the basic requirements of being its head?
Or, to put that another way…Don’t ask to know how to read if you refuse to learn how to read.
Don’t ask to be a great speaker who can influence and move crowds if you deliberately refuse to learn basic speaking principles. If you don’t know when to say “I” or “me” or the difference between “your” and “you’re” or “there” and “their,” then you don’t deserve to be a great speaker. Go to school and learn how to speak. Learn basic grammar.
Don’t ask for a life partner if you have a poisonous or immature personality. Why should God inflict anyone with the likes of you? Instead, take steps to make yourself worthy of a good partner. Grow up. Become mature. Put away complaining and whining. Stop all sarcasm. Never criticize. Be helpful, supportive and understanding. Pray for others. Love others. Be considerate of others. Get some social skills. Get a high-school education Then pray for your partner – both for his welfare and that you'll be brought together.
Don’t ask for great success in a profession that never brings great success. You cannot become a millionaire by scrubbing floors. If you are not a great singer, you won’t become famous for your singing. You cannot get a good job if you don’t have the skills required for a good job. Don’t follow after proven failure.
One of the most helpful scriptures to us living in modern times, I think, is the one written by Paul.
Be [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Anything that bothers you, don't be upset about it; instead, pray about it, remembering to give thanks with your requests. On doing that, you will have the peace of Jesus in you.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.
1 John 5:15
And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
Do you need a job? Don't be upset about it; pray about it and give thanks.
Do you need to pay a bill? Don't be upset about it; pray about it and give thanks.
Are you about to see the doctor? Don't be upset about it; pray about it and give thanks.
Do you need a place to live? Don't be upset about it; pray about it and give thanks.
One thing I will say about paying bills, and that is God counsels us not to get into debt.
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant (slave) to the lender.
If you do just the opposite of what God told you not to do, then you're going to have trouble paying your bills. Therefore, determine in your heart to follow God's guidelines for good, safe living. Don't expect God's unmerited blessing when you spurn him to his face. God will help you with your debt, but you must also determine to follow God's instructions for handling your money and staying out of debt.
A good way to get out of debt is in my thesis Debt.
The Most Important Thing
I think maybe the most important thing I’ve said in this thesis is that successful prayer requires practice. The scriptures say,
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
1 Yes, I know that’s a split infinitive. I did it on purpose.
2 I used the King James Version (Cambridge) of the Bible in this thesis because the first scripture I quoted was from the KJV which said it in the way I wanted it presented. Therefore, to be consistent, I continued to use the KJV throughout the thesis. I did take the liberty to substitute “-s” on verbs ending with “-eth”.
3 By “heaven” I mean in the resurrected life to come.