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Pray more effectively — straight from the heart!

There are numerous keys to making prayer more effective,
but one of the most important is simply praying from the heart.
Why doesn't God do something?"

That question must have been asked by many in ancient Israel.

They saw things go from bad to worse in their personal lives and on the national level as well. The economy was sick. There was political corruption, crime, religious confusion, a constant threat from enemy nations — even the weather was not acting right.

Yet God didn't intervene to change things for the good.


"They have not cried unto me with their heart," God declared (Hos. 7:14). Isaiah described the general lack of heartfelt prayer this way: "There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee" (Isa. 64:7).

It's no different today. Except when a real crisis strikes, most people in the world around us, if they pray at all, are accustomed to offering dull, empty, meaningless prayers.

God answered Elijah's heartfelt prayer,
sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice on the altar (I Kings 18:17-40).

Since they do not get results, it is little wonder many doubt God's existence or at least admit they do not know who He is. Finally they give up entirely on prayer. "What is the Almighty," they ask, "that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?" (Job 21:15).

We in God's Church know there is much profit in praying to the true God. Prayer changes things. It can bring real peace of mind, divine guidance, deliverance from problems, healing, spiritual strength and countless other blessings.

But for our prayers to be really effective, we must learn to put our hearts into them.

How can we better do this?


Having perseverance

Just praying once about a matter and then "leaving it in God's hands" may not always be enough. God may want you to prove your sincerity and your earnestness by praying more than once for whatever you need.

Consider Elijah. He prayed that a severe 3½-year drought would be broken. Elijah went to the top of Mt. Carmel and "cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees" (I Kings 18:42).

This was not a "sleepy-time prayer." No "60 seconds of silent meditation" was this. Elijah was totally wrapped up in what he was doing — calling upon the almighty Creator of the heavens and earth, the One who controls the weather.

After praying, he sent his servant up to an elevated viewpoint to see whether any rain clouds were forming in the sky yet. "And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing" (verse 43). What if Elijah had said, at this juncture: "Well, I've prayed once about the matter. Now I'll just wait, knowing that whatever happens will be for the good"? Would any rain have fallen on the parched land? It's doubtful.

But that was not Elijah's reaction. He prayed again. Once more his servant went to look for storm clouds. Nothing. Again Elijah prayed. And again. And again.

Seven times he petitioned God to make it rain. Seven times his servant went to look. Then the answer came: A small cloud appeared and quickly grew until "the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain" (verse 45).

Are we to think such prayer was only for Elijah's day? No, for this very incident is mentioned by the apostle James as an example of how Christians ought to pray for one another (Jas. 5:16-18). James points out that Elijah was no superhuman. He "was a man subject to like passions as we are." But — and here is what made the difference — when he prayed, "he prayed earnestly" (verse 17).

Elijah's prayers got results. James assures Christians that theirs can, too — if they are fervent prayers, for the "effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (verse 16).


Jesus tells how to pray

Persevering is an important part of praying fervently, as Jesus Himself instructed. One day, when He had finished praying, His disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. Jesus first gave them His prayer outline (Luke 11:1-4). That told them what to pray about. But it didn't tell them how.

So Jesus immediately explained to them about the man who at midnight needed to borrow some food from his neighbor.

The man's first request got nothing. But he continued to seek, to ask and to knock. Finally the neighbor crawled out of bed and gave him the bread he wanted.

"I say unto you," Jesus commented to His disciples, "Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend [likewise, God does not always grant our requests merely because we are Christians — how we pray is a determining factor!], yet because of his importunity [persistence, urgency] he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask . . . seek . . . knock" (verses 8-9).

Again in Luke 18 Jesus stressed how we ought "always to pray and not lose heart" (verse 1, Revised Standard Version). In this case He told about the widow and the unjust judge who finally granted her request because of her "continual coming" (verse 5).

And if an unjust judge would listen to a persistent widow, Jesus remarked, how much more surely will our heavenly Father respond to our needs? "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily" (verses 7-8).

As we have seen, Elijah had to pray seven times for rain. The Bible shows that Jesus prayed fervently three times that His cup of suffering would pass from Him if it was God's will (Matt. 26:36-47). The apostle Paul beseeched God three times about his "thorn in the flesh" (II Cor. 12:79).

While we may have to pray about some matters repeatedly, we should not assume that we always have to make a request more than once. The Scriptures contain numerous examples of miraculous answers that came after only one prayer was made.

If after we pray once about a problem, however, the problem persists and we still need deliverance, we should feel free to pray again, if it takes one time, three times, seven times — whatever it takes until we are no longer bothered by the problem — unless, of course, God should make it apparent, as He did to Paul, that we are going to have to live with the problem for the time being.