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Week 6: What Makes an Effective Prayer
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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 People.

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).

Suggested Guidelines

Be Humble.

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).

Enlist Support.

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 (Mt 26:36-46).

Write down other guidelines that have worked for you.Write down new ideas that could work for you.


1.      Why did the elder use Elijah as an example to show that a man can have an effective prayer?

2.      List at least three principles that make an effective prayer.

3.      Elijah gave God’s message to Ahab, word for word. What does this tell you about Elijah?

4.      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?”

5.      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?

6.      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?

7.      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?

8.      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?

9.      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?

10.  “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

Case Studies

1.      John 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?

2.      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?

3.      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 life?

What changes would you suggest?


1.      Start 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.


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Publisher: True Jesus Church