Prayer is the expression of man’s dependence upon God for all things. It is itself and alone a means of grace that has large value. It affords the privilege of close communion with God — especially when one is alone with him in its supplications. While on the one hand, there arises a deep sense of need, helplessness and unworthiness, there comes also an assurance of the divine fullness and love, which enlarges our petitions and brings confidence of answers to our prayers.
Prayer is properly addressed to God the Father (Mathew 6:6: John 16:2: Ephesians 1:17, 3:14), and the Son (Acts 7:59, 2 Corinthians 12:8), but in no instance in the New Testament is prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit distinctively, for whereas the Father is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9), and the Son is at His right hand (Romans 8:34), the Holy Spirit is in and with the believer (John 14:16, 17).
Prayer is to be offered in the name of the Lord Jesus (John 14:13), that is, the prayer must accord with His character and must be presented in the same spirit of dependence and submission that marked Him. (Matthew 11:26, Luke 22:42).
In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For everyone that asketh recieveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Many have asked God for something and did not receive it. Many pray and do not receive an answer to their prayers. Someone suggested that God answers all prayers: to some prayers He answers, “Yes;” to others he answers, “No.” Dr. John R. Rice disagrees. He says, “Prayer is asking and the answer to prayer is receiving. God does not answer ‘Yes’ to some prayers and ‘No’ to others. When He says ‘No,’ the prayer is simply not answered. ‘No’ is not an answer to prayer. The answer to prayer is receiving.”
If one does not receive an answer to prayer, consider the requisites for prayer — the conditions to answered prayer. There are numerous unsaved, lost souls who will remind you that they pray often. The Bible has a word for them. “Now we know that God heareth not sinners, but if any man be a worshipper of God and doeth his will, him he heareth.”
For the believer whose prayers go unanswered, God’s Word tells us why. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity (sin) in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” If I tolerate known sin in my life, I cannot expect to get my prayer answered. Isaiah 59:1-2 says, “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you that He will not hear.”
The Bible makes it very clear that God can hear prayer, but if we tolerate known sin in our life, God will not hear us. If one is to receive an answer to prayer, one must confess every known sin in one’s life and claim the forgiveness and cleansing that God promises. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10.) Once one receives forgiveness and cleansing for every known sin and can sing and mean it, “Nothing Between My Soul and the Savior,” then you are ready to move on to the next step.
A second requisite is a “Righteous Life.” “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (Jas. 5:16.) Notice that prayer must be made by a “righteous man.” “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers.” (1 Pet. 3:12). That is very important. The Lord’s ears are not open to any and everybody’s prayers. They are open to the prayers of the righteous. One must live a righteous life if they want their prayers answered. Just be right, live according to the Bible the very best you know how, and his ears will be opened to your prayers.
A third requisite is an “Obedient Christian.” “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (John 3:22). The Bible says, “whatsoever we ask,” anything one asks, one will receive, because one keeps his commandments and does those things that are pleasing in his sight. Obedience is a prerequisite to answered prayer. We not only obey him, we also strive to please him. If there is no clear command concerning something we propose to do, we should ask, “Will it please the Lord?”
The fourth requisite is to “Abide with Christ.” “If ye abide with me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). What a promise! To abide in Christ simply means that we yield, we surrender, we allow Christ to express himself through us — to live out his life through us. The Christian life is not so much an imitation of Christ’s life as it is Christ himself living his life through us. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ, liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galations 2:20). It is Christ indwelling me in the person of the Holy Spirit. If we expect an answer to prayer, we must abide in Christ.
The fifth requisite is to “Have Faith.” “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord” (James 1:5-7). Let him ask in faith is the requisite here.
To have faith in God, one must believe that God exists. One cannot expect an answer to prayer without believing that he is. “For he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them who diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). One must believe that God exists and desires daily fellowship with his children, and he rewards those who seek him.
“Faith is more than praying in humble, solemn tone; it is more than trusting when weary and alone. Faith is more than believing in a well ordered life; it is more than victory over sin and strife. Faith is more than planting seed beneath the sod. Faith is daily walking hand and hand with God.”
The sixth requisite is “Right Motives.” “Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss (or wrongly) that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3). Do you want something for a selfish purpose or the wrong reason? If one had a selfish, fleshly desire for something not needed but desired, then God would not answer prayer for that thing. God’s promise is to supply our needs, not our wants. “But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:19). When you pray, you must have the right motives, and you must want things for the right reason, to honor and glorify Christ. You can get — and have a right to expect — an answer to your prayer if your motives are right. Sometimes, if an answer doesn’t come, just believe it wasn’t God’s will and that God knew best.
The seventh requisite is “According To The Will of God.” “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15). One way to be sure that one is praying the will of God is to be led by the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought” (Romans 8:26). He helps us to pray. We don’t always know what to pray for, but he leads us in prayer. He is the sole interpreter of the needs of the human heart and makes his intercessions therein. He gives us a deeper sense of our spiritual need, a clearer view of the fullness and freeness of the divine grace and kindles the fervor of our supplication. He joins us in our prayers, pours his supplications into our own and is the source of the glowing fervor and effectual power of prayer. In prayer, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with Christ, and Christ intercedes with the Father. The Father hears no prayers unless the Holy Spirit is present and interceding in the one praying.
Dr. Curtis Hutson also suggests: “Idols Cannot Be in the Heart.” “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face. Should I be inquired of at all by them?” (Ezekiel 14:3). These people set up idols in their hearts and God asked, “Should they even pray to me at all?” If one has idols in his or her heart, that is, something that puts you out of fellowship with God, there can be no communication with God until that something is removed and then fellowship is restored. God must always be our ultimate concern; if someone or something becomes our ultimate concern, the fellowship is broken.
God wants us to get answers to our prayers. He does not want Christian prayers to go unanswered. His words tell us how to avoid the problems that hinder prayer. With a clear understanding and a persistent practice of these requisites, asking and receiving will become a joyful, fulfilling and rewarding experience and practice for every day of the believer’s prayer life.
Dr. Waiters can be reached at 704-636-3369.