There’s no set pattern to follow or magic formula for prayer, but there are twelve steps you can take to help your prayers accomplish what you want them to:
1. Have a praiseful, thankful attitude
Praise pleases the Lord. It propels you into His presence. “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.”1 “With thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”2
Before you begin to list all the things you would like God to do, take a minute to praise and thank Him for all He has already done. If you don’t thank Him for the blessings He’s already given you, He’s not going to feel much like answering your prayers and giving you something else you want.
There will be times, of course, when you don’t particularly feel like praising or thanking God—when you’re feeling sick or in pain, or are down and discouraged, for example—but those are the times it’s most important to stay positive and praise Him anyhow. There are always some things you can thank God for. Thank Him for all the good He has sent your way. Thank Him for all the trials and troubles you don’t have. As you get your mind on those good things and put them into words, your praises will lift your spirit like nothing else can. With the Lord’s help, you’ll soon praise your way right out of your troubles and woes.
2. Start with a clean heart
Before you can have faith that the Lord will answer your prayers, you need to be sure that things are right between you and the Lord. “If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”3
If you feel unworthy of the Lord’s blessing—if your heart condemns you—it usually means one of two things: either you feel guilty about something you’ve done wrong; or you haven’t really done anything wrong, but the Devil is telling you that you have. The surest way to keep your prayers from being answered, of course, is to keep them from being prayed in the first place, so the Devil tries to convince you that you’re too bad to approach the Lord or expect His help. This is why you can’t base your prayers or your relationship with the Lord on how you feel. You have to sort the truth from the lie, and you do that by sincerely asking the Lord to help you to see things as He does.
If you have done wrong, all you need to do to set things straight is acknowledge your guilt, ask the Lord to forgive you, and pledge to try to rectify the matter or be reconciled with any others involved. Once you do that, the Lord is quick to forgive, and to hear and answer your other prayers.4
If feelings of guilt and unworthiness continue after the Lord has forgiven you, it’s clearly the Devil who is making you feel that way. Don’t listen to him, but rather “come boldly to the throne of grace, obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”5 As you ignore and resist the Devil and his lies, they will fade. Launch out in prayer, and the Lord will lift the weights from off your heart.
3. Pray for God’s will to be done
When you are doing your best to please the Lord, then it pleases Him to grant your heart’s desires. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”6 Like a loving father, He is happy to give you what you need, and even what you want, as long as it is good for you and doesn’t harm others.
Think first in terms of what will please the Lord and make Him happiest, and make that your prayer. When your will and His will are in agreement, then you can “ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”7
4. Put the needs of others ahead of your own
Prayer provides wonderful personal benefits to the Christian, but it’s also a big responsibility. God expects us to pray not only for ourselves, but for others.
Your prayers can make a difference in the lives of others, even when they are hundreds or thousands of miles away. Your prayers reach out and rescue, they can comfort, they can love, they can heal, they can mend, they can bring joy and happiness, they can break down barriers, they can overcome any obstacle, they can tap in to God’s infinite supply. Your prayers can move God’s hand to work in the lives and hearts of others.
The Lord loves to answer unselfish prayers!—And when He sees you putting the needs of others ahead of your own, He just might shower you with even more personal blessings than you could ask for.
5. Be specific
Jesus wants us to be definite in our requests. He asks us, “What would you have Me do for you?”8 Specific prayers get specific answers. Vague, aimless prayers usually indicate one of three things: Either you’re not very concerned, or you don’t really know what you want Him to do, or you don’t have faith that He can do it. So be as clear and definite as you would if you were writing a check drawn on the Bank of Heaven. Fill it out for the exact amount you want, make it payable to yourself or someone else who needs it, date it, endorse it—and it’s yours!
God says to you, “Command Me!”
You’re in God’s hands, but in a way He’s also in yours. “Concerning the work of My hands, you command Me.”9 You can command the Lord? Yes, if you’re living in obedience to the Lord and are in His will, desiring only those things which please and glorify Him, you can command whatever you want. If you’re doing the right thing, love Him, and have faith in His Word, He’s already promised to answer prayer.
So much of what God does depends on your will and your action and what you want and how you pray! He has confined Himself and His operations to your faith and your requests. “You do not have, because you do not ask.”10 He’s just waiting on you to command the situation.
Prayer moves the hand and heart of God. He enjoys using us, confining the majesty and the power of His omnipotence to the hands of frail men and women. So pray!—D.B.B.
6. Be wholehearted
Sometimes you may wonder why you even need to pray, if God—who is all-knowing—already knows what you need. Why spend all this time asking, if He knows in advance what you’re going to ask Him for? It’s true that God knows what you need before you even ask Him,11 but He still expects you to pray. It shows that you are depending on Him, that you need Him. It’s a positive declaration of your faith that He can answer your prayers, and that pleases Him.
If you have a lazy attitude and think that the Lord will answer your prayers no matter how much or how little you put into them, or that He’ll just do everything for you without you ever having to bother to ask, you will probably be disappointed with His answers—or with the way He doesn’t answer. Isaiah, one of the prophets of the Old Testament, once rightly concluded that bad things were happening to Israel because the people weren’t praying for God to intercede on their behalf: “There is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You.”12
God wants you to show concern and pray about things.—And in serious matters, He expects you to be serious about asking for His help. If you stir yourself, God will stir Himself. “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”13
7. Exercise your faith
What is faith? It’s taking God at His Word. It’s believing that what He has promised, He will do. With faith, it doesn’t matter whether reason or logic point in that direction; you just know it will be because God promised it so, whether your human mind can figure it all out or not.
The greater your faith in the Lord’s ability to answer, the greater answers to prayer you will receive. These two contrasting examples demonstrate the point especially well: When two blind men besought Jesus to restore their sight, He asked them if they believed He was able to do so. When they answered yes, He told them that it would be done to them “according to their faith”—and He proceeded to heal them.14 But another time we read that He didn’t do many miracles in one town because of the people’s unbelief.15 So it’s pretty clear that your measure of faith determines the measure of God’s response.
How do you build your faith muscle? You nourish it with God’s Word,16 and exercise it daily through prayer. Forget to feed it, and it will wither away; don’t exercise it, and it will become flabby.
8. Pray in the name of Jesus
Jesus tells us, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do.”17 He also tells us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”18 That second verse is talking primarily of salvation, but it’s also true of prayer. When Jesus came to earth to die for our sins, He became our Mediator to God, the Father. The Bible tells us that “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”19 Direct your requests to Jesus, and you’ll get wonderful answers to your prayers.
9. Claim God’s Word
God has a storehouse of matchless treasures and infinite wealth, all that you could ever ask or need or imagine—and it’s all been promised to you in His Word. As the Scriptures explain, there “have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature.”20 All you have to do is lay claim to them.
God’s Word is like a contract that He has bound Himself to. The first step is to familiarize yourself with the terms of the contract. You do that by reading His Word. Then when you pray, He wants you to hold Him to those terms. When you remind Him of His promises, it shows you have faith in what He has said, and that you believe He is able and will do what you are asking.
Of course, the contract also has terms that you must fulfill. Many of God’s promises come with conditions. “Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”21 In order to claim His promised “whatever you ask,” you must do your best to keep His commandments and please Him. When you keep your part of the bargain, you can boldly claim all that is rightfully yours according to His Word.
A baby illustrates faith
How do we receive the spiritual nourishment we need from the Lord? It’s so simple: we just have to have the faith of a little baby!
When a baby is crying to be fed, he knows his mother wouldn’t think of refusing him! God put it in that baby to know that if he calls, she will answer. He expects the answer and he gets it!—And if we, as children of our heavenly Father, ask for milk, He’s surely not going to give us a serpent or something else!22
And what is it that brings the milk out of the mother’s breast? When the baby sucks, he creates a vacuum inside his mouth, which pulls the milk out. Prayer is creating a vacuum like that inside our hearts: “Lord, here is this empty space!—You fill it!”
When the baby is very tiny, his mother has to bring the nourishment to him and show him where it is. But as he gets older, he automatically knows where to find the milk and he can reach out for it himself.—And likewise, the more we practice receiving nourishment from God, the better we know where to find it. And as long as we keep sucking, we’ll get more, because God has unlimited capacity to give.—D.B.B.
For three or four weeks, our daughter Angela had complained that her eyes hurt. She was also having trouble focussing on the words when she read. We took her to two eye doctors, but both said her eyes were fine.
Over the next several weeks, however, the pain continued and it became increasingly hard for her to focus. We consulted a third doctor, and he suggested that we take her to a hospital for more extensive tests.
At the hospital, the diagnosis was not good. “Angela’s problem could be a lesion on one of her eyes or brain,” the ophthalmologist said. If that were the problem, she went on, it was probably too late for any treatment. While she gave Angela an optic nerve test to find out more, we prayed for the best.
When the test results were in, the doctor explained that Angela’s problem was unusually acute. Angela’s eyes could barely detect the brightest lights. The doctor suspected a brain tumor. This was an emergency!
That night, we prayed desperately for Angela’s healing, and I read to her from God’s Word about faith and healing. As she was unable to see any of the words in the Bible she loved, we felt Psalm 119:18 would be an appropriate verse to claim: “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.” Then we took a stand of faith that the Lord had heard our prayers and would heal her.
Almost immediately she began to see the words, one by one. Soon she was reading the whole page. Her healing was miraculous and immediate!—M.T., Taiwan
The story is told of an old woman who had lived alone near a remote village in the Highlands of Scotland, and who was so poor that her church had to pay her rent for her.
One day when her pastor brought the monthly rent, he said, “Mrs. McKintrick, why is it that your grown son does not support you? I understand he has a very good job in Australia, and that he is a good boy who loves you dearly. Is this not the case?”
“Oh yes,” said the mother. “And he never forgets me. Every week he writes me the most loving letter.”
Curious to know more about a son who could so love his mother and yet leave her without support, the pastor asked to see some of the letters.
Soon the woman returned with two packages. “These are his letters,” she said, handing the pastor the first package, “and these are the pretty pictures he sends me with every letter. They fit nicely in the letter, and it shows he thinks about me.”
“A picture in every letter?” The pastor was more curious than ever. “May I see them also?”
“Oh, surely,” she answered. “Some are of a man’s head, some of a man sitting on a horse, and some have the king’s picture on them. See, this one here has the king of England.—Long live the king!”
“Long live your son!” said the astonished pastor. “Why, my dear friend, do you know that you are a rich woman? This is money! You have wealth here! And to think of how you have suffered and done without, when right here in the house all the time you had riches that you thought were just pretty pictures.”
The promises of God in His Word are not just pretty pictures, not just beautiful language. God’s Word says, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises”23 —and there are hundreds of them. Abundant supply! Limitless resources!—Virginia Brandt Berg
10. Refuse to doubt
It’s the Devil’s business to try to get you to doubt God’s Word. If he is able to convince us that God’s promises are empty and can’t be relied on, then he has taken the power out of our prayers.
The Word tells us to “ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”24 Refuse to entertain any thoughts that contradict the Word.—They’re the Devil’s seeds of doubt.
11. Count it done
Every prayer that is in line with God’s will and according to what God wants and knows is best for everyone involved, is answered—as far as God is concerned—before the prayer itself is even finished.25 God’s Word cannot fail, so whenever we meet His simple conditions outlined in His Word, such as those explained in this booklet, the answers to our prayers are automatically granted. He may not answer the way we expect Him to, or we may not see the answer right away, but God has set things in motion to be fulfilled in His time, providing it’s His will. So once you have presented your request to the Lord, it’s time to take what is known as the stand of faith. You must trust that the answer is on its way, and believe that if you’ve fulfilled your part of the bargain, He will come through for you, even if it sometimes takes a while. Count it done!
12. Thank God for answering
If you really believe that God has heard and answered your prayer, you won’t wait till you see the answer to thank Him for it; you’ll thank Him by faith. It’s just as important to end your prayers with praise and thanksgiving as it is to start them that way.
Are you on the spot?—Turn around and put God on the spot!
The Lord loves to precipitate a crisis! He sometimes lets things happen to make us pray and believe Him for the answer. He wants us to be specific and take a definite step of faith by making specific requests and expecting specific answers. Specific prayer puts both God and ourselves on the spot, but it is also a sign of our faith, which pleases God.
Some people are afraid to ask the Lord for definite answers to prayer, for fear they won’t get them—and that might be a reflection on their spirituality, or even hurt God’s reputation! “What if He doesn’t answer prayer? What will people think of our faith and our God?” So they just generalize in order not to be pinned down, in case they don’t get an answer.
But God loves to be put on the spot because He knows He’ll never fail. He’ll never fail as long as we meet the conditions, exercise our faith in prayer, and obey His Word. And when He answers, it will be a testimony to His Word and His faithfulness, as well as to our faith in expecting a specific answer. So tell Him exactly what you need or want done, and He won’t fail! —D.B.B.
Dr. Alexander Whyte of Edinburgh was famous for his pulpit prayers. He always found something to thank God for, even in bad times. One stormy morning a member of his congregation thought to himself, The preacher will have nothing to thank God for on a wretched morning like this. But Whyte began his prayer “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.”