How to Pray Effectively

A

n 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 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?

In my experience, I have found that God definitely answers prayers. Some quickly; others slowly; and some with a "no"—or at least not the way I think they should be answered. Many have prayed identical prayers to mine, only to be severely injured or even killed in terrible auto crashes.

Prayer isn't a painkiller like a giant
aspirin: 'Take God three times a day
and you won't feel any pain!'

So how should we pray? We live in a fallen, sinful world and we know that God does not promise to give us everything we want or to keep us from all suffering. In fact, the Bible tells us, "In this world you will have tribulation."1

So effective prayer is not a lucky charm to gain special favors. Neither is it a painkiller like a giant aspirin: "Take God three times a day and you won't feel any pain!" as John Powell put it. But even though we can't always get the answer we want at the moment we want it, God wants His children to communicate our desires to Him. "Prayer is communicating our heart to God."

Here are ten practical principles I believe should guide our praying.

Pray for truth. When we have a problem or need, whether it is a habit that has us beaten, a conflict, or physical illness, we tend to focus our prayers on the symptom rather than on the cause. We tend to look on the surface instead of the deeper cause or problem. We may deceive ourselves, for example, into thinking that our spouse needs to change instead of looking at our contribution to the problem. Or we may pray for a better job instead of getting training to prepare us for one when the opportunity arises. Or we ask God to change our children without looking at the way we parent them.

Whenever I have a problem, I try to acknowledge the problem but also ask God to show me the root cause and then help me do what I need to do to resolve it. Since most of our problems are the fruit of a deeper root, the presenting problem can often be a misleading symptom that avoids our real problem.

Praying for the truth is one of the most effective ways of praying I know. Sometimes I don't want to see the truth since it might be frightening or embarrassing 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.

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