Prayer often works like baking a loaf of bread: You’ve got to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, proof the dough, then bake the finished loaf.
Step one: mix the ingredients. When baking bread, you can’t just throw a bunch of random stuff in a bowl and expect to get a loaf of bread. If you expect to get something edible, you have to use specific ingredients.
God hears every type and style of prayer, and He loves to answer prayer even if we don’t really know how or what to pray for. But knowing what “ingredients” usually go into prayer gives you faith that you’ve done your part and the rest is up to God. Here are a few important ingredients:
1) Pray in Jesus’ name. In John 14:14 Jesus said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”1
2) Be definite and specific. Tell Jesus your needs and how you’d like Him to supply for you. Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”2 In order to “seek” in the right places and “knock” on the right doors, it helps to know what you’re after and what you’re looking for.
3) Claim God’s promises. When Jesus was talking to His Father, He said, “Your Word is true.”3 God’s Word and His promises are real and authentic.
4) Have faith for the answer. James 1:6–7 says, “When you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”4
5) Surround your prayer with praise and thanksgiving. Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”5
These are some basic ingredients of prayer, just as flour, salt, water, and yeast are the basic ingredients for bread.
Step two: knead your dough. Once your ingredients are mixed, it’s time to knead the dough. It can be hard work. When baking bread, you’ve got to roll your dough over and over, folding and compressing it for a good amount of time.
We don’t always look at prayer as real work—it’s often the last thing we turn to after we’ve worked at a problem on our own for a while—but sometimes God expects us to keep praying until we receive the answer. Luke 18:1 says, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”6
Step three: proof the bread. The final step in making a loaf of bread, right before it goes into the oven to be baked, is the proving or proofing period. It’s when you leave the bread to rise. There’s not much you can do to it at this point to make it rise any faster. You just have to walk away and trust that it’s going to work. Patience is like the “proofing” of your prayer.7
Sometimes the dough even has to be punched down after you’ve waited a while, and then you have to let it rise again. This too is often how prayer works. You’ve done your part in prayer, you’ve had faith, you’ve prayed regularly, you’ve been patient, yet along comes a blow that seems like a big “no” or a “wait.” Faith enables you to keep trusting even when it seems that all the air has been knocked out of your prayers. Faith is like the yeast that will make your dough rise even after it’s been punched down. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance”—the proof or guarantee—”of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Step four: bake the bread. Once you put the bread in the oven, you have to wait some more. This can sometimes be the hardest part of the prayer process—waiting for the answer. You can smell the bread baking—you feel that God is working—but it takes time, and the bigger your request, often the longer it takes for you to see the answer. Little bread rolls bake in minutes, whereas a full-size loaf can take nearly an hour. The delay doesn’t mean that no bread is coming; it just means you’ve got to be patient a little longer.
Once it’s in the oven, you have to trust that it’s going to bake. You can keep opening the oven and poking at it, but it’s not going to bake any faster. Hebrews 11:6 says that when you come to God with a request you have to believe “that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”8 You’ve just got to leave it there and wait till God’s timer “dings.”
Some bread takes longer to cook than others. Some bread just needs a few ingredients, while other types require a larger variety of elements. Some bread is quick to make, while others demand a longer proving process—even a day or two—before they’re ready to bake. So it is with our prayers. Put your prayer ingredients together, “prove” them with your faith, and trust God for the results.