If you have been following Out of the Fire for a while, you know I like to provide practical steps to effective prayer, hearing God, and the gifts of the Spirit. That’s because it’s how I personally like to learn. “Show me how! Give me the down-to-earth scoop on this!” My goal is to share principles from the Bible which make whatever aspect of the Christian life we’re talking about as easy to grasp as possible.
However, I don’t want these how-to steps to become some kind of methodology. They are guidelines, not rules. God is not about formulas. He wants us to develop ever-deepening relationship with Him — a growing hunger for the “more” He invites us into and an increasing awe of His infinitely beautiful nature.
In my last post, I talked about the self-help mentality which has invaded the Church. Since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, we’ve had a tendency to insist on doing things for ourselves, rather than depending on the Lord. The realm of prayer is not exempt from this error. We want a method which will give us answered prayer every time, where, if we input the right stuff, God will automatically spit out the desired response. We like having everything neatly boxed and wrapped, don’t we?
As a result, teachings keep arising which promise us that magic prayer bullet. We saw it with the extremes some Word of Faith people got into: “Say it, and it’s yours.” “If you speak the right Bible verses over your situation enough times and with unwavering faith, you’ll have what you need.” Many people slipped from having faith in Christ and His Word into trying to have faith in their own faith. When things didn’t happen as they had hoped, they either condemned themselves, became disillusioned with God, or walked away from believing He does miracles today. (This does not mean everything brought by the Word of Faith movement should be rejected. I am only speaking of extremes that some got off into.)
A rapidly spreading fad in charismatic circles is the “courts of heaven” teaching. It depends on formula, personal experiences, and shaky application of Scripture coming from an Old Covenant law mindset. The basic premise is that you must know how to present your case in a heavenly court room. The reason you haven’t been getting answers to prayer is because you weren’t aware of the legal court system in heaven, so you didn’t present your case correctly there. Therefore, the devil has a “legal right” to hinder your petitions. Buy the books, attend the conferences, and you will learn how to “navigate the courts” to receive answers. Voila! You have your magic prayer bullet.
Various teachings on how to get breakthroughs are nothing new. Trying to find the cure to unanswered prayer has probably been a concern since the Church’s inception. Over the decades, I’ve heard lots of teaching involving lists of multiple conditions we must fulfill and step-by-step formulas for how to attract God’s favor. At its core, it’s really all about works, isn’t it? We hasten to say we are saved by grace, not by works, but then we attempt to live out the Christian life (including prayer) in a totally works-based fashion.
Here’s a simple hint: When your prayers become about you doing/saying everything exactly right, rather than about Jesus’ unlimited ability and eagerness to help, something is radically wrong. When you become fearful that you might not get your answer because you didn’t fulfill a list of qualifications, this is bondage.
So, how should we pray to get answers?
1. We listen for the Holy Spirit’s leading. That starts with a lifestyle of filling ourselves with His written Word. It is His primary way of speaking with us. Even when we listen for His voice in our hearts (the other thing we want to cultivate), much of what we hear will be drawn from the Bible. The Holy Spirit loves to bring Scripture and Scripture principles to our remembrance.
Maybe you’re thinking, “But I don’t know my Bible very well yet.” Just start reading it now. Trust the Lord to still help you, even if you are weak in this area. He will be your teacher, and He’ll make up for your inadequacies.
2. Lay aside your concerns that you might fail at praying rightly. You will make mistakes and have some false starts here and there. That’s just life on earth. Prayer is something we continually grow better at, especially as we come to know the Lord more intimately. But we will never do it all perfectly. We will always need to depend upon Him.
Your heavenly Father is compassionate toward your limited understanding, your emotions, and your fears about the outcome. Pour it out to Him. You might start out with prayers which are less than faith-filled, but as you continue to come to Him, He will get you there. Remember, this is not all about you. It’s about how big and completely able the Lord is.
3. Expect God’s course correction and move with Him. He will show you new angles on how to pray in any given situation as you persist in coming to Him. He will correct any wrong direction you start out in and get you headed on the right course, as long as you stay open to His leading and don’t stubbornly resist Him.
4. Ask Him for His input. “How do You see this? How should I pray? Please guide me.” What a wonderful opener! We don’t tell Him how it’s got to be; we ask Him how it’s supposed to be. This is part of staying yielded to Him.
5. Pray in your prayer language. The Holy Spirit knows exactly how to intercede according to the Father’s heart, so even if your inclination on how to pray isn’t exactly right-on, you will still end up praying correctly as you pray in tongues. It is direct communication between your spirit and the Holy Spirit, without the human mind getting in the way. It opens you to a greater understanding of the need and God’s desired conclusion to it, so that you become better equipped to pray correctly in your native language, too. Praying in tongues also builds faith, according to Jude 20: “But you, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.”
While we tend to complicate prayer, God does not. It is simply coming to Him, in all our inability, and asking Him to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We bring Him our lack, our hope, and our trust. And we keep doing it. Psalm 62: 5, 8 says it best: “My soul, wait only upon God, for my expectation is from Him. … Trust in Him at all times, you people. Pour out your heart before Him. God is a refuge for us.”
If you would like to learn more about how to pray effectively, please take a look at the Article Series tab at the top of this site. You will find a wealth of info there. You might also find my books for intercessors (listed below) helpful.
The Intercessor Manual,
by Lee Ann Rubsam
The Intercessor’s Companion,
by Lee Ann Rubsam
Your Intercession Questions Answered,
by Lee Ann Rubsam