How does it work? Does it work? There is uncertainty, confusion, and comfort that surround any teaching on prayer.
If we major on the sovereignty of God, we may alleviate any need of prayer. If we major too much on human free will, we may believe everything depends on our prayers.
Some believe prayer is only lining ourselves up with what God has already determined to do. Others maintain it is asking God to do what he would not otherwise do.
Most probably fall somewhere in the middle of the two above extremes. God is in charge, but in some way, our prayers make a difference. Scripture seems to support this view. It tells about God is in control, but also tells us to ask. All of this can make the elements of prayer confusing.
A story is told about John Wesley and George Whitefield. Whitefield was a Calvinist who believed in predestination, and Wesley was an Armenian who believed in free will. They were preaching together during the day and rooming together at night.
After a strenuous evening, they returned exhausted to the boarding home. Before going to bed, they both knelt to pray. Whitefield prayed, “Lord, we thank Thee for all those with whom we spoke today, and we rejoice that their lives and destinies are entirely in Thy hand. Honor our efforts according to Thy perfect will. Amen.” And then, he went to bed.
Wesley was barely past the invocation of his prayer, when Whitefield finished. He said, “Mr. Whitefield, is this where your Calvinism leads you?” Wesley kept praying. Whitefield woke up two hours later, and Wesley appeared to be still praying, but was actually asleep. Whitefield woke him and asked, “Mr. Wesley, is this where your Arminianism leads you?”
Among the many things we might not understand about prayer, some things we can know.
Our Prayers Should Be Directed to God
Some have construed these verses to teach that we should not have public prayer, prayer meetings, or prayer with others.
Saying we should pray to God seems pretty basic, but not all prayers are directed to God. Some pray to themselves as the proud Pharisee did. And we can pray to other things or beings besides God.
Judaism had a high priority for prayer. God had favored Israel, and the teachings of God came to them. But their praying had been corrupted by rabbinical teachings.
The faults of Judaism’s prayer system included ritualization. Prayers were simply read or repeated from memory. The Shema was said at morning and night. The Shemoneh essay was another formalized prayer that contained 18 prayers for various occasions. Faithful Jews prayed all 18 in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
Some prayed out of indifference and pride. Prescribed prayers for every object and occasion existed. Others limited their prayers to certain times with no relation to genuine need or desire. They thought long prayers were sanctified and effective. Some merely wanted to be seen and heard by others.
Our prayers must be addressed to God who stands ready to answer—they bring us into his very presence. Some claim prayer is nothing more than wish fulfillment—and for some this is true. True prayer, however, is more.
Dr. R. A. Torrey, Bible teacher and evangelist, said, “We should never utter one syllable of prayer, either in public or in private, until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to him.”
Our Prayers Are Made to God through Jesus
Gaining access to God isn’t as easy as some might imagine. He is holy and righteous and we are sinful. The only way we can come to him is through the atoning death of Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus … let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (10:19)
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
All other ways of approaching God are futile, and God turns away from such prayers. God only looks on what is holy, and we are made that way through Jesus. Faith in Jesus purifies us.
Our Prayers are Made to God through Jesus and in the Spirit
Paul writes, “For through him (Christ) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).
The Spirit leads us into the presence of God. He points out God to us and makes him real. He gives us access to God and makes the introduction. He prays for us when we don’t know how or what to pray for. He assures us we belong to God.
Our Prayers Should Be Made with Confidence
Christians can pray with confidence for God hears and will answer. God’s knowledge and will have been shown in his Word as he faithfully answers our prayers.
John wrote, “And whatever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22).