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Effective Prayer

by Susan Budensiek  
1/04/2018 / Christian Living


Now that I have studied why prayers are so often unanswered, I have decided to study some of the people of the Bible and see what God wants us to learn from them. Their stories aren’t included for no reason – there is a reason for everything God does. I am sure every one of their stories will show me something about their prayers. 

 

One of the examples of King David left to us in the Bible is in 1 Chronicles 14, it is confirmed to David that God has set him up as king over Israel. Israel prospers, David has lots of children, and in general, things are going well.

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all of Israel, they determined to destroy him. I can just imagine the Philistines saying something like, “Aha! You killed our great soldier, Goliath, so now, David, we’ll fix your wagon!” 

Hearing of this, David went to God and asked Him, “Should I attack the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” God replied, “Attack, I will hand them over to you.” And because God said it, that is what happened. David’s army whipped the Philistines so badly that they even left their gods there when they ran away. Not wanting to pass up a rare opportunity, David ordered his men to burn the Philistine gods to ashes.

As could be expected, that didn’t set well with the Philistines and they came back and raided the valley. Again, David asked God if he should attack and this time God said, “No,” and told David to turn away from the Philistines and engage in battle with them in another particular location. God told David to listen for a sound in the tops of the trees that sounded like marching, and then move out and attack the Philistines. David did exactly what God had told him to do so of course, the result was complete success.

Reading this made me think about how important it is to inquire of God for every move we make, even if it is a repeat of a prior event. If David had assumed God would grant him victory over the Philistines the second time just because He did the first time, I dare say the outcome would have been different. Just because a circumstance is the same as before, that does not mean that the course of events will be the same again or even that the results would be the same.

Then after all this, chapter 16 is a lengthy psalm that David composed in praise to God, but look what happened in chapter 21. King David, the “man after God’s own heart”, is provoked by Satan, and gives in to the provocation without prayer!

 

I don’t feel quite as bad about my shortcomings now – at least David, a man after God’s own heart, messed up once in a while so I’m in good company. Ah, it sure would be easy to use that as an excuse to drop this study before I even get started, but quitting is no way for me to ever become an “apple of God’s eye.” Psalm 17:8 (NAS)Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Your wings” 

 

The first thing that popped into my mind when I thought about the topic of effective prayer was the scripture of James 5:16 (CJB)

 “Therefore, openly acknowledge your sins to one another, and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

 

Well, there I have it right in front of my face, in black and white; the prayer of a righteous person is effective. Now all I have to figure out is, how I become that righteous person whose prayer will be effective. No big deal…Ha!

 

So what makes a person righteous?

“Righteous” Strong’s  G#1342 “correct, righteous, by impl. innocent:”

Well, I don’t know how you feel but I know there is no way I am ‘innocent’ until I have confessed my known sins and asked for God’s forgiveness. And in order to confess my wrong attitudes and thoughts, whether I verbalized them or not, requires…oh no, here we go again…”humility”.  Maybe I can just skip that part. Nobody wants to do it or even read it anyway. Moving on…

 

Proverbs 15:29 (CJB)

“ADONAI is far from the wicked, but he listens to the prayer of the righteous.” 

He will listen to me because I’m not wicked... 

 

Proverbs 18:10 (CJB)

10 The name of ADONAI is a strong tower; a righteous person runs to it and is raised high [above danger]. 

 

I can handle that!

 

Ephesians 4:24 (CJB) 24 and clothe yourselves with the new nature created to be godly, which expresses itself in the righteousness and holiness that flow from the truth.

I like this one – I can make people believe I’m righteous, especially if I tell myself often enough that I come around to believe it myself. You know the saying “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,” was originally referring to politics and politicians, but if it works there, it will work for me.

 

I always say that if a person is going to use scripture to back up his or her actions, behavior, or beliefs, to be sure to take all of the relevant passages throughout the entire Bible and the context in which the chosen verse was written.  So, the paragraph containing Ephesians 4:24 starts with verse 17 so the paragraph reads:

 

17 Therefore I say this - indeed, in union with the Lord I insist on it: do not live any longer as the pagans live, with their sterile ways of thinking. 18 Their intelligence has been shrouded in darkness, and they are estranged from the life of God, because of the ignorance in them, which in turn comes from resisting God's will. 19 They have lost all feeling, so they have abandoned themselves to sensuality, practicing any kind of impurity and always greedy for more.

 

Now we’re getting somewhere. I’m okay with that – I’m not a pagan.

 

20 But this is not the lesson you learned from the Messiah! 

 

…Oh dear, this isn’t good….

 

21 If you really listened to him and were instructed about him, then you learned that since what is in Yeshua is truth, 22 then, so far as your former way of life is concerned, you must strip off your old nature, because your old nature is thoroughly rotted by its deceptive desires23 and you must let your spirits and minds keep being renewed24 and clothe yourselves with the new nature created to be godly, which expresses itself in the righteousness and holiness that flow from the truth

 

There, in verse 24…looking a little closer, those last few words…”that flow from the truth”…so much for convincing myself and others of my righteousness. If it has to be real, that would mean I would have to find humility hidden somewhere deep inside myself and meet our omniscient heavenly Father on my knees...and…that’s just too much to ask. Let’s try another scripture

 

1 Peter 5:6 “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the right time he may lift you up.”  I like that last part! But I can’t have it without the first part...humility and being humble is no fun! In fact, my ego is being crushed by the mere thought of it!

 

Every direction I turn I see the need for humility stuck in my face. I’m going back to James 5 and see what follows verse 16. It says, “17 Eliyahu [Elijah] was only a human being like us; yet he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and no rain fell on the Land for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the Land produced its crops.”

 

Wow! Elijah – only a human being like us…and he made the rain stop for over three years? I always assumed he was “special” somehow. 

 

This has gotten a lot longer than I planned and it has been a tiring couple of days looking in that spiritual mirror again.

 

I have been trying to avoid bringing up this part of the teaching I have been given as I studied, but it won’t go away so I’m going to get it over with so I can move on to more interesting, pleasant things – like Elijah!

 

While I prayed, God brought it to my attention that I can ask all day long, but if I have not asked forgiveness for my sins, my prayers are as good as bouncing off the ceiling. I argued with Him (never a good idea, by the way) and said, “I did ask you to forgive any sins I might have committed and help me not to do the things that displease you any more.” God is even more loving and gentle than my earthly father was, but He told me what my dad would have said about such a situation – just more gently. Dad would have said, “Quit pussy-footin’ around!” My heavenly Father said, Which sins? Examine yourself and find the sins so you recognize them and do not continue repeat them constantly, then vainly ask me to keep forgiving when you are blinding your eyes to your own sins.”

 

I have listened multitudes of times as people have prayed and noticed that I am not the only one who says this to God. IF (biggest word in the English language!) the person praying even asks for forgiveness of sins at all it is a quick, cursory mention and then on to more beautiful sounding prayer requests.

 

Elijah – a name that means “My God is Yah” according to the Holman Bible Dictionary – that already sounds “special” to me. And not that I doubt what the Bible says, but I’m having a hard time really comprehending the fact that he was just an ordinary person like me. James 5:17 “Eliyahu [Elijah] was only a human being like us;…” and then his first miracle recorded in the Bible makes up the rest of that verse, “…yet he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and no rain fell on the Land for three years and six months.”

The next thing this ‘ordinary’ guy does is goes to the wilderness as he hears God tell him to do. He is told to drink from the stream there and that ravens would bring him food - and they did! That is, until the stream dried up from the lack of rain which Elijah had caused to afflict that land. So, off he goes to Zarephath, again at God’s direction. God says He has ordered a widow there to provide for Elijah, but the poor woman is getting ready to cook up the last of her food for her and her son and then they can die, she says. It doesn’t seem like she had any knowledge of this command by God to feed the prophet but she did as Elijah said. 1 Kings 17:10-16 (CJB) On reaching the gate of the city, he saw a widow there gathering sticks. He called out to her, "Please bring a little water in a container for me to drink." 11 As she was going to get it, he called after her, "Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand." 12 She answered, "As ADONAI your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a pot and a little oil in the jug. Here I am, gathering a couple sticks of wood, so that I can go and cook it for myself and my son. After we have eaten that, we will die." 13 Eliyahu said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go; and do what you said; but first, use a little of it to make me a small loaf of bread; and bring it out to me. After that, make food for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what ADONAI the God of Isra'el, says: 'The pot of meal will not get used up, nor will there fail to be oil in the jug, until the day ADONAI sends rain down on the land.'" 15 She went and acted according to what Eliyahu had said; and she, he and her household had food to eat for a long time. 16 The pot of meal did not get used up, nor did there fail to be oil in the jug, in fulfillment of the word of ADONAI spoken through Eliyahu.”

 

Then the lady’s son gets sick and dies, and she is upset with Elijah, who in turn cries out to God for an answer. 1 Kings 17:17-24 (CJB) 17 A while later, the son of the woman whose house it was fell ill; his illness grew increasingly serious until his breathing stopped. 18 She said to Eliyahu, "What do you have against me, you man of God? Did you come to me just to remind me how sinful I am by killing my son?" 19 "Give me your son," he said to her. Taking him from her lap, he carried him into the room upstairs where he was staying and laid him on his own bed. 20 Then he cried out to ADONAI: "ADONAI my God! Have you brought also this misery on the widow I'm staying with by killing her son?" 21 He stretched himself out on the child three times and cried out to ADONAI: "ADONAI my God, please! Let this child's soul come back into him!" 22 ADONAI heard Eliyahu's cry, the child's soul came back into him, and he revived. 23 Eliyahu took the child, brought him down from the upstairs room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Eliyahu said, "See? Your son is alive." 24 The woman replied to Eliyahu, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of ADONAI that you speak is the truth."

 

The next chapter starts with Elijah getting ready to pray for relief from the drought he caused to occur three years before, and a meeting with Obadiah – not the prophet Obadiah – in preparation for the well-known story of God burning up a water soaked altar. Then in chapter 19, Jezebel sends a message to Elijah, “May the gods do terrible things to me and worse ones besides if by this time tomorrow I haven't taken your life, just as you took theirs!" (verse 2)

 

It surprised me a little that a man with as much power with God as Elijah had, would actually turn tail and run away to hide, but he did. He felt very poorly about himself and prayed to God for his own death. He didn’t get death, rather, he got fed by an angel. After sleeping, the angel feeds him again and tells him that he better eat hearty because that meal would have to keep him going for forty days. At the end of the forty days Elijah finds a cave in Mt Horeb where God asks him, “What are you doing here?”  This great prophet admits to God that he’s scared, by saying, “I have been very zealous for ADONAI the God of armies, because the people of Isra'el have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars and killed your prophets with the sword. Now I'm the only one left, and they're coming after me to kill me too." 1 Kings 19:10 (CJB)

 

Then one of my favorite scriptures about God’s might is given to us. 1 Kings 19:11-12 (CJB)  11 He said, "Go outside, and stand on the mountain before ADONAI"; and right then and there, ADONAI went past. A mighty blast of wind tore the mountains apart and broke the rocks in pieces before ADONAI, but ADONAI was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, but ADONAI was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, fire broke out; but ADONAI was not in the fire. And after the fire came a quiet, subdued voice. 

It wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire…it was a still, small voice when God spoke to him.

 

There is a lot more we can read about Elijah, a man who was not flawless, but was instantly obedient in whatever God told him to do. Study this prophet's life and see what difficult things God asked of him. God sent him to the wilderness of Kerith/Cherith to be ministered to by ravens and to Zarephath to be cared for by a lowly widow, a person at the very bottom of the social ladder in those days. Then Almighty God tells Elijah to go show himself to the king who has been hunting all over the area to find him so he could kill him. He hasn't asked anything so frightful of me but He knows I'm still working on that “instant obedience” thing. Elijah feared God – but not a fear as in being afraid of God. It’s like raising children – only when they are very young is fear of discipline a useful, beneficial tool. When they get a little older we, as parents, want them to be obedient out of respect for us and trust in our guidance, which builds a relationship rather than simple fear of punishment being the outcome. Fear of God is to be in awe of Him in addition to having that same kind of trust and respect we want from our children.

 

I guess it is pretty obvious that Elijah is one of my favorite Bible characters. And I know I get long-winded so before this gets any longer, I’ll just say that even reading only this much about Elijah has made one thing very clear to me - response is required from us! We have to hear God’s direction and act on it every step of the way … instantly.

 

There in 1 Kings 19 I was reading all this good stuff about Elijah when in verse 16, God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha to be his successor. One interesting thing I discovered as I was reading about Elisha, although not particularly dealing with prayer, was this: “At the time in which Elijah and Elisha exercised their functions religion and morals had gone down to the lowest possible point in Israel. The very schools of the prophets had themselves felt the corrupting influence of the times. Ahab was able to gather four hundred false prophets at a time, the remarkable circumstance being that they were not prophets of Baal, but false prophets of the Lord himself.” (Bible Characters, Moody, Dwight Lyman; Talmage, T. De Witt; Parker, Joseph; Gillette, C. B.) 

 

Imagine that! Four hundred false prophets at a time and they were false prophets of the Lord, not Baal. This reminds me of the 21st century, and all of the false doctrine flourishing today. Elisha was very young when Elijah cast his mantle upon him out in the field where he was plowing alongside eleven servants/slaves, and he wasn’t too proud to work alongside the guys doing the nitty gritty dirty work. He asked Elijah if he could go kiss his parents after the older prophet, without a word, spread his sheepskin mantle over Elisha. There is nothing that shows up as frivolous or self-important, or even self-sufficient in this young man. Such characteristics would have destroyed his ability to be a prophet before he even got started. Elisha learns for several years from Elijah before the old man is taken away.

 

Elisha’s humility very plainly stands out and as I studied I found two “takes” on what is probably the most momentous of his deeds. One school of thought dwells on Elisha’s boldness toward God and the other, his humility regarding this same incident:

 

2 Kings 2:6 Eliyahu said to him, "Please wait here, because ADONAI has sent me to the Yarden." He replied, "As ADONAI lives, and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty of the guild prophets went and stood watching them from a distance, while they stood by the Yarden. 8 Then Eliyahu took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it; and the water divided itself to the left and to the right; so that they crossed on dry ground. 9 After they had crossed, Eliyahu said to Elisha, "Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away from you." Elisha said, "Please! Let a double share of your spirit be on me!" 10 He replied, "You have requested a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, you will get what you asked for; but if not, you won't." 11 Suddenly, as they were walking on and talking, there appeared a fiery chariot with horses of fire; and as it separated the two of them from each other, Eliyahu went up into heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Isra'el!" Then he lost sight of him. Seizing his clothes, he tore them in half. 13 Then he picked up Eliyahu's cloak, which had fallen off him. Standing on the bank of the Yarden, 14 he took the cloak that had fallen off Eliyahu, struck the water and said, "Where is ADONAI, the God of Eliyahu?" But when he actually did strike the water, it divided itself to the left and to the right; then Elisha crossed over. 15 When the guild prophets of Yericho saw him in the distance, they said, "The spirit of Eliyahu does rest on Elisha." Advancing to meet him, they prostrated themselves on the ground before him 

 

I hesitate to dwell too much on the “boldness” thought because I see it so …misused and overdone! When people pray in church, or any other ‘religious’ gathering for that matter, I hear no confession of sins – not even generic (not all sin needs to be confessed in front of a whole congregation of people) – and literally demanding God do something or other for them. The scripture that I have heard used to support this demanding attitude toward Almighty God is “Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne from which God gives grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.“  Hebrews 4:16 (CJB)

 

Time passes and we see that He didn’t do whatever it was, and the excuse is that God said, “no,” or “wait.” It is never an acknowledgment that the person or group who prayed may have not been pure in heart. This “boldness” is simply referring to the privilege we have of approaching God in prayer without the need to slaughter a goat and have a high priest offer it in our behalf, a necessity now fulfilled by Jesus Christ/Yeshua.  “So, brothers, we have confidence to use the way into the Holiest Place opened by the blood of Yeshua.” Hebrews 10:19 (CJB)

 

Just one more thing I found as I was working on the “boldness” topic that strongly supports what we know is right and that is to STUDY the scriptures, as the Bereans did in Acts 17:11. I read a book about being bold with our prayers and the author used Isaiah 45:11 as a basis for claiming that God tells us to command Him to do for us. Apparently he used the KJV which says: “Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” But, I looked in the Complete Jewish Bible, which is translated directly from the original Hebrew, which everyone agrees was the language the Old Testament was first written in, and it says: Thus says ADONAI, the Holy One of Isra'el, his Maker: "You ask for signs concerning my children? You give orders concerning the work of my hands?” The changing of questions in the original to statements in the KJV totally changes the meaning of the passage. It is actually saying, ‘who are you to demand anything of me?’….not, ‘go ahead tell me to do anything you want to.’ So much for boldly going where no man should go.

 

There is MUCH more in the Bible about our need to be humble before God and other people – way too much to go into each passage of scripture. Humility is obviously a major problem for us because there are so many passages of scripture exhorting us to be humble and explaining the results of either being humble or not.

 

Toward God: 1 Chronicles 7:14 “then, if my people, who bear my name, will humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.”

1 Peter 5:6 Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,…”

 

Other people: 1 Peter 5:5 “… Further, all of you should clothe yourselves in humility toward one another, because God opposes the arrogant, but to the humble he gives grace.

 

We are also cautioned against false humility in Colossians 2:18, which would be logical since truth is the standard of real Christianity, and false humility would be…untruthful.

 

We, as Christians, are aware that whatever knowledge we have, or wisdom, or anything else comes from God. It is a gift to us, whom He loves so dearly. We realize this and we know all the right words to say giving God the glory for His gifts. The problem is our demeanor. It often tells a different story than our words.

 

And here we go again with “self-examination”…human nature being what it is, we see ourselves differently than others do and much differently than God sees us. We resist seeing the negative in ourselves so passionately that we refuse to admit what is really there. We will deny it. So honest evaluation of ourselves is usually not very objective, therefore not really honest if left up to our human nature. And to try to pull the wool over God’s eyes as far as our humility – well, that’s downright laughable.

 

Modern civilization is heavily influenced by the ancient Greek culture, which abhorred the quality of humility in distinct contrast to Biblical teaching in both Old and New Testaments. Thus, the flesh wars against the spirit.

 

Another quote from the book mentioned before concerning Elisha and his cry of "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" says this: “It is when we stand back in humility and in almost despair, and cry out in our desolateness "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" that we begin our work in the right spirit, and only then.

In this whole ministry of righteousness and redemption there is no place for self-sufficiency. Apostle Paul said: "Our sufficiency is of God." The great inquiry "Who is sufficient for these things?" keeps down human ambition and vanity, and prepares the heart for the utterance of prevailing prayer. The question which was thus propounded by Elisha is full of suggestion to ourselves. When we come to read the Bible we should not inquire so much where inspiration is, but where is wisdom which can be applied to our own circumstances and be made unto us as the very staff of life.”  (Bible Characters, Moody, Dwight Lyman; Talmage, T. De Witt; Parker, Joseph; Gillette, C. B.) 

 

After digging into the question of why so often the prayers of professing Christians seem to go unanswered and then looking at these two great prophets for lessons on effective prayer as James steered me to, I have come to a conclusion. The message that stands out much more plainly to me from Elijah immediate is obedience, and from Elisha I have learned to temper boldness with humility.

 

James 4:6 But the grace he gives is greater, which is why it says, "God opposes the arrogant, but to the humble he gives grace."

James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 

Matthew 18:4 So the greatest in the Kingdom is who ever makes himself as humble as this child. 

Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the High, Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy: "I live in the high and holy place but also with the broken and humble, in order to revive the spirit of the humble and revive the hearts of the broken ones. 

I was raised in church but always felt like I was missing something. Now the Word of God excites me! My curiosity enhances pursuance of discernment. I have often felt discouraged, but not totally defeated knowing that in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

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