Week 6: What Makes an Effective Prayer
In the New Testament, an elder of
the EarlyChurch wrote to encourage the believers
who had gone to live in different parts of the world. He wrote about how they
should live as believers, and one of the important points he raised was that of
an effective prayer. He reminded them, “Elijah was a man with a nature like
ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on
the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave
rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (Jas , 18).
Now, Elijah was a prophet of the
Old Testament. He was sent to minister to the kingdom of Israel
at a time when its heart, though not completely divorced from God, was actively
engaged in the worship of false gods. Although its king came from a people whom
God had chosen to call his own, King Ahab did not care to obey God’s Word. It
meant nothing to him that God had a special relationship with him and his
people. In fact, Ahab scoffed at God’s Word by marrying a Phoenician princess
who worshiped other gods. He even went so far as to set up an altar to her god,
Baal. The Bible tells us that “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel
who were before him” (1Kgs 16:33).
Together, the king and his new
wife promoted the worship of this other god in the kingdom of Israel.
The queen also did not tolerate opposition and massacred anybody whom she
caught (1Kgs 18:4). So God sent Elijah to speak to the king.
One day, Elijah appeared before
King Ahab and told him that it would not rain in the land. About three years
later, in the midst of a severe famine, Elijah came to tell the king that it
would rain again.
But even before rain drops
starting falling, the Bible records that Elijah already said to King Ahab, “Go
up, eat and drink: for there is the sound of abundance of rain” (1Kgs 18:41).
Where did such confidence come from? Why did Elijah think his prayer would be
effective? In this lesson, we shall study what makes an effective prayer.
Some Basic Principles
Believe in God’s Word.
Imagine walking up to a king and
telling him there would be no rain in the land, or walking up to him a few years later and telling him there would be rain
again. Elijah did just that. Note that Elijah spoke these specific words to the
king: “except at my word” (1Kgs 17:1) and “I will send rain on the earth” (1Kgs
18:1). Elijah gave King Ahab God’s message, word for word. Elijah did not doubt
that God could withhold rain or give it, as he pleased.
For the Love of God and His
But in a society that was, at
first, flourishing economically in spite of having turned its back on God,
Elijah was opening himself to ridicule, contempt, and the possible loss of his
life. Yet, he stood firm because he knew how his nation had come to being and
understood more than anyone else that they were “a special treasure above all
the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut 14:1-2). He also believed
that his people would either flourish or perish in the land God had given them,
depending on whether or not they only loved the one true God and fully obeyed
his commandments (Deut 30: 15-20).
Rebuild A Broken Relationship with God.
Baal, the false god, stole the
heart of the Israelites because they bought the myth that he was responsible
for the rain that brought prosperity to their agriculture-based economy. Then came the drought. For 3 years, God withheld rain, and there
was a severe famine. The Bible tells us that just before God ended the drought,
Elijah arranged for a confrontation to settle, once and for all, who alone was
the one true God. One day, Elijah asked Baal’s prophets to pray for fire to
burn their sacrifice. All of Israel
watched and waited from morning until evening. Nothing happened. When the time
came for Elijah to pray, he first repaired the altar of the Lord that was
broken down. This action reminded the people that they had forsaken their
commitment to God. Before God would answer them, they must turn their hearts
back to the Lord. When Elijah prayed, God answered with a fire so fierce that
it burnt the drenched altar together with all the stones that made up the
altar. Therefore, the people confessed and gave their hearts back to God (1Kgs -39).
But Elijah still had work to do.
He went to the top of Mount Carmel to pray for
the promised rain. Except for the company of his servant, Elijah prayed in
solitude. We do not know how long he remained up there but the Bible tells us
that in between prayers, Elijah told his servant to look toward the sea for
signs of rain. “There is nothing,” the servant told him the first time. After
some time, Elijah said, “Go again.” This happened a third time, a fourth, a
fifth, and even a sixth. Each time, Elijah went right back to praying. Finally,
after the seventh time, Elijah’s servant reported that there, above the
horizon, was a small cloud, the size of a man’s hand (1Kgs -44).
Although God had chosen Elijah,
above every one else in that nation, to deliver a stern message, Elijah did not
forget he was only a man. It is written that “God resists the proud, but gives
grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:5). Equipped with such an understanding, Elijah
was able to empathize with the recipients of the message, and he translated his
empathy into earnest prayers. Though it hurt him to watch his people suffer
from the thirst and hunger that resulted from the famine, it grieved him even
more that they had been losing the essence of their being to the worship of a
false god. With this understanding, Elijah continued in prayer, from one year
to the next, until the Lord God had accomplished his good will.
Pick a Quiet Place.
After the nation of Israel
saw God prove Himself, Elijah retreated to the mountain top. There, far from
the crowd, Elijah could pour out his grief and plead the Israelites’ cause.
Picking a quiet place to pray is something every believer must do. Jesus left
us an example. The Bible tells us that he often picked a quiet place to pray.
In fact, he encouraged it. One day, Jesus said to his disciples, “When you
pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father
who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you
openly” (Mt 6:6).
Ask in Faith.
James, the elder in the
introduction of this lesson wrote that when believers pray, they must “ask in
faith, with no doubting” (Jas 1:6). You can tell that Elijah was a firm
believer. With all of Israel
watching him, Elijah prayed for God to send a fire to burn up his sacrifice. He
was confident that God would say yes. Elijah had this kind of faith because he
had, over time, developed a close relationship with God and understood his will
Pray with the Right Motive.
In his epistle, James also
rebuked those who prayed to God for the wrong reasons: “You ask and do not
receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Jas
4:3). When we ask the Lord for something in prayer, our ultimate goal is for
God’s will to be accomplished and his name glorified. God does not listen to
prayers with self-seeking intentions because such pursuits for fleshly desires
can only pull us away from God.
Fast and Pray.
Can you imagine Elijah trying to
sandwich a meal or two in between his prayers while on that mountain top?
Following the greatest miracle in all of Israel at that crucial time, Elijah
would certainly have been encouraged by the people’s confession. Now, armed
with the knowledge that God’s special treasure, though until recently
tarnished, was being restored, Elijah would be motivated to fast and pray with
even more conviction. Jesus often fasted and prayed. He also encouraged it. One
day, the father of a boy told him that the disciples’ prayer could not heal his
son. Jesus said to his disciples, “…this kind does not go out except by prayer
and fasting” (Mt. -21).
Elijah’s servant was within earshot
to lend him support. That’s why when Elijah asked him to look for signs of rain
in the horizon, he could do so right away. The Bible also tells us that when
Jesus went to pray in the Garden
of Gethsemane, prior to
his impending death, he took his closest disciples with him for support.
Although they fell asleep and weren’t of much help to the Lord, this account
shows us that believers need to support one another in times of earnest prayer
Write down other guidelines that
have worked for you.Write down new ideas that could
work for you.
Why did the elder use Elijah as an example to
show that a man can have an effective prayer?
List at least three principles that make an
Elijah gave God’s message to Ahab, word for
word. What does this tell you about Elijah?
Do you think it’s possible that the people of
this generation could have a “Mt.Carmel” experience? If
you think this could happen, how would you prepare yourself to become like
Elijah and Jesus prayed in lonely places. On a
day that’s convenient, pick a lonely place. Next, briefly describe your
experience. How is it different from praying with a large group of people? Or
does it not make any difference?
Nearly all of Israel was watching Elijah when he
asked God to send a fire to burn the sacrifice. Why do you suppose he was
certain that God would not let him down?
The rain did not fall immediately following the
Israelites’ confession. Nevertheless, Elijah told the king that rain was
coming. What do you think was going through the minds of the entire nation as
they watched and waited? What do you think was going through Elijah’s mind in that
time? If at some point in your walk of faith, you find yourself waiting and
praying, what do you hope you can recall from this lesson?
The Bible tells us that Elijah did not stop
praying until the rain came. What does this teach us about perseverance in the
family of God?
Recall a time when you fasted and prayed. What
was the occasion? Did you feel it was a voluntary effort or did you feel it was
compulsory? Would you fast and pray again, or are you already fasting and
praying on a regular basis?
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours,”
wrote James to the believers. Although he was just an ordinary man, he was
able, through his effective prayers, to do the Lord’s will and help turn the
heart of a nation back to God. Elijah’s testimony serves as an encouragement to
us today. Although we do not know how or when God will call us to do his good
will, we need to learn from Elijah and his effective prayers. T/F
advises that you should try to pray every day. He says, “Prayer is essential for
any Christian. When you wake up in the morning, make sure that you have a quick
prayer before you leave the house. Before bedtime, you should kneel down and
pray for at least one minute. I try to squeeze in at least one minute of prayer
when I wake up and about five minutes before I go to bed. Sometimes I’m really
tired and don’t know what I’m praying about, but I feel prayer is part of my
Christian duty. Anyway, I think having a consistent prayer life makes God
happy. So regardless of how busy you are, you should always remember to pray.”
Analyze what John is telling you. Is it all good advice?
What do you think his prayer life is like?
What changes do you think he needs to make?
Ellen and her husband are new believers and love
to pray. Usually, she gets to church an hour before service to have a long
prayer with God. Unfortunately, a few months later her husband dies from a
serious car accident. Ellen is devastated. She no longer comes to church to
pray and hurries back home after service, though she has no one to go back to.
You can tell that Ellen is depressed and lonely. Recently, she confides in you
saying, “Ever since my husband died, I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t
feel like praying. I don’t feel like reading the Bible. Sometimes, I don’t even
want to come to church. I often think to myself, ‘I just wish it would all
end.’ I just don’t have reason to live anymore.”
How would you comfort and counsel her?
What problems do you see hindering this sister’s prayer life?
Scott graduated from a prestigious university
and is currently pursing advanced studies in theology. He reads the Bible in
Hebrew and Greek and often tells his religious education students that they
should do the same in order to understand the Bible more fully. One Sabbath after
church service, Scott and Jane are assigned to clean the bathrooms, but Jane
leaves without doing her duties. Scott thinks to himself, “Jane doesn’t love
God at all. But that’s not a surprise, because she can’t even read the gospels
in Greek.” After his cleaning, Scott goes to the prayer room, asking God to
discipline Jane for her lack of love. He also prays that he will get the top
grade in his advanced Hebrew class.
What problems do you see with Scott’s attitude toward others and his prayer
What changes would you suggest?
keeping a simple prayer log which includes the date and brief description of
what you’ve prayed about. You may want to write down any reflections you have
on the prayer items, also. As God answers your prayers, write them down in your
logbook. Soon this prayer log will become the footprints of your walk with God.