How to Get Prayer Answered
An overcast sky made the country night intensely dark and a light drizzle made the highway dangerously slick. On my way home that night, as I passed a semi-trailer and pulled in front of it, my car struck a slippery patch of roadway and went slithering snake-like down the road out of control. Abruptly my car swung around and began careening down the road backwards with the semi-trailer barreling down on top of me!
In terror I prayed, "God, help!"
With only moments to spare, my car suddenly flipped sideways out of the path of the oncoming semi! But it kept skidding sideways off the highway and down an embankment. Certain my car would now overturn, in terror, I prayed again.
Amazingly, my car didn't overturn. Neither did it stop. It swung around and then went forward bouncing through a field. "Oh no," I thought. "now I'll end up smashing into a tree." I thought my number was up. I prayed again.
Eventually my car stopped in front of some bushes. Miraculously, I missed every post by the roadside and every tree. I backed up a few feet, turned around and drove away without a single bruise to myself or a scratch on my car.
Was my safety a coincidence or does God answer prayer and help us when we call of him?
In my experience, I have found that God answers some prayers very quickly; others quite slowly. And some don't seem to get answered at all.
Effective prayer is not a lucky charm to gain special favors. Neither is it a pain-killer like a giant aspirin: "Take God three times a day and you won't feel any pain!" as John Powell put it.
Prayer can be effective. The key is learning to pray the right prayer. As the Bible says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God. And when you do ask, you don't receive because you ask wrongly, with wrong motives, for selfish reasons.1
How, then, do we pray the right prayers?
First, pray responsibly. God won’t do for us what we need to do for ourselves. Many a time, for example, when I was a student, I'd pray furiously for God's help at examination time—especially when I wasn't adequately prepared. I managed to pass my exams, but not because of any pray-instead-of-study prayers.
Pray for truth. When we have a problem, a habit that has us beaten, a conflict, or even some sicknesses, we tend to focus our prayers on the symptom rather than on the cause. As counselor Dr. Cecil Osborne explains, when we unconsciously cover a deeper sin or fault, we often confess a lesser one all the more vigorously [or somebody else’s]. This is because we don’t see or are afraid to see the often deeper cause or causes of our problems.
Whenever I have a problem, I acknowledge the problem but also ask God to show me the root cause of the problem, as most of our problems are the fruit of a deeper root, the presenting problem being the symptom of a deeper problem.
This is why I ask God to face me with the truth of what I am or might be contributing to it and to give me the courage to see it and the help to do what I need to do to resolve it. Praying for the truth is one of the most effective ways of praying I know. Sometimes I don’t want to see the truth as it might be too frightening so I tell God that I am willing to be made willing to see it—whatever it might be.
Whenever I have prayed this way, I have always had this prayer answered. Sometimes the answer comes quickly, other times slowly. It usually depends on when I am ready to receive it.
Pray honestly. If I pray that God will bless my neighbor, but in my heart I hate that neighbor, which prayer will God hear? Obviously, what my heart is saying. The only way God will bless my neighbor in answer to my prayer is if I admit that I hate him and ask God to help me love him.
Meaningless repetition doesn't mean a thing to God.2 The prayer he hears and answers is the one that comes from the heart. As the Bible says, "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth."3
Pray believing. Faith, too, is essential for effective prayer. As Jesus said, "All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive,"4 and "according to your faith will it be done to you."5
Pray specifically. Recently I had a need for office equipment and asked God to show me how to get the needed funds this month! That night I was unable to sleep so I got up and worked on balancing my finances. To my amazement, I found a mistake in my favor and was able to order the equipment the next day!
Pray persistently. Not all prayers get answered so quickly. I have prayed for some things for years before getting an answer. If our prayer is legitimate, sometimes we need to be as persistent as Jacob, who once said to God, "I will not let you go until you have blessed me."6 Jesus Himself said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."7 The principle is to keep on asking and seeking until you receive.
Pray in harmony with God's will. The Bible says, "If we ask anything according to God's will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the request which we have asked from him."8
High on God's priorities for us is our growth and maturity. Prayers in harmony with this principle, and with all of God's will, will always be effective. Prayers outside his will are denied.
Pray sincerely. "Do you want to be made well?" was Jesus' question. In other words, if we want God to answer our prayers we have to want the answer enough to be willing to pay the price. For instance, if we want to grow in faith, love, patience, perseverance, and maturity, we need to realize that all of these are acquired through experience, often painful experience. As the Bible says, "Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character."9
Finally, come to God on his terms. Effective prayer is also dependent on our having a right relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only one through whom we can approach God. "Nobody can come to God except through me,"10 Jesus said. Because of our sin, our relationship with God has been broken. But because of Christ's death for us on the cross, our relationship with God can be restored by our responding to Jesus' invitation to receive him into our heart and life as personal Lord and Savior and then coming to God through him.
When we are living in a right relationship with God and learn to pray the right prayers, we can be certain that God will answer them. As Jesus put it, "If you stay in [right relationship with] me and obey my commands, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted!"11
1. James 4:2-3, paraphrase. 2. Matthew 6:7. 3. Psalm 145:18 (NIV). 4. Matthew 21:22 (NIV). 5. Matthew 9:29, (NIV). 6. Genesis 35:26 (TLB). 7. Matthew 7:7-8, (NIV). 8. 1 John 5:14-15, (NIV). 9. Romans 5:3-4, (RSV). 10. John 14:6. 11. John 15:7, (TLB).