The following 7 steps to help you pray more effectually are taken from various books on the subject. I will post them below for further reading.
1. Pray without ceasing
The most important thing to realize when seeking to increase the power of prayer in your life is the need to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). There are 4 Hebrew words and 6 Greek words for prayer in the Bible because there are many different types of prayer. There are many different types of prayer because there are many different situations in life. There are prayers of worship, request, supplication, public, private, spontaneous, seasonal, intercessory, imprecatory, thanksgiving, and groanings. This is what that means – no matter what situation we are in, prayer is appropriate. Further establishing this point is the life of Jesus. He is recorded praying 22 times in the Gospels. He would regularly rise early and stay up late to pray. He would be up long past the time everyone else fell asleep. He would regularly withdraw from the crowds in order to be alone with His Father. He was a man of prayer. If God made flesh, the eternal Son of God, needed to pray this much – indeed, by my count, more than anyone in the whole Bible – how much more do we?
If we seek to pray continually, we must remember that our prayers will differ drastically. If our focus changes depending on what we are doing (baking a complex recipe does not require the same focus as tying your shoes) and we are praying continually, our prayers will change in fervency, focus, and faith. At times, our prayers will be short and even faithless. In a moment of distracted doubt we might simply pray, “God, help me” without much expectation of deliverance. In other times, as we all move from the valley to the mountaintop of faith, our prayers might be lengthy and ecstatic. We might find ourselves praying for close to an hour in joy and hope. No prayer is better than the other. Prayer is a reflection of our situation as it relates to God. If Christ can cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lemma sebachthani?” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we can do the same.
Therefore, we must avoid the dual pitfalls set for us by the Devil, walking steadily between them. On the left, is the temptation to think that the “many words” that Christ condemned weren’t abased for their emptiness, but merely by virtue of their being plentiful (Matt. 6:7). This line of reasoning has us only pray short, pithy, dispassionate prayers continually, as if we only know one note on the piano and strike it incessantly. The many words that Christ condemned were not condemned for their plentitude, but because they were “empty phrases.” Christ prayed, as we’ve seen, with many, many words.
On the other hand, Satan tempts us to think – if we are not convinced that good prayer is only short and distracted – that good prayer is only resolutely focused and faith-filled. This line of thinking would have us only pray when we can shut out all distractions (good luck doing that while quarantined with family!) and pray with perfect faith (good luck doing that ever!). This is to fall into the ditch on the right. We must allow ourselves, like Christ did, to pray prayers of joy and in moments of extreme focus, but also pray while walking, even talking with others, and going about the activities of the day. God does not condemn your prayers. Satan does.
This can be illustrated in the life of a little Child. Everything the child does is inefficient. Watch a child learn to put on her shoes (as I am doing now) and you will soon see that patience is required if she is to complete the task. If you do not have patience (as I do not) you will simply finish the task for her (as I often do). But God is not like an earthly father; He is the patient Father. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:13–14). He not only waits as we stumble through half-hearted prayer, He delights in it. Not because we’re flailing, but because we’re struggling to follow Him. In my better moments, I take much delight in seeing my daughter struggle to put her shoes on. On rare occasions, I’ll even stand there and watch her for five minutes as she slowly wedges her foot into the wrong shoe, rejoicing in the fact that my once-small child is slowly growing independent. A bad father refuses to let his daughter learn to put on her own shoes. One day, she’ll need that skill for herself. Our stumbling and weak prayers, rather than bothering God, are as sweet-smelling incense to Him (Ps. 141:2; Lk. 1:10; Rev. 5:8; 8:3, 4). So, don’t buy Satan’s lies that would keep you from praying; pray always!
2. Understand Your Need and Release Your Burden
Though Christ is our example in prayer, He is not like us completely – He is without sin. Thus, if we are to pray effectively, we must recognize that our prayers are indeed weak, aside from the brief moments in which the Spirit grants a special gift of faith and we pray with great vigor. This realization, discussed above, leads us to recognize that our prayers are not efficacious on their own merit. There is no meritorious combinations of words that when strung together properly, release divine blessing. Though this sounds ridiculous, Satan often tempts us to subconsciously believe it.
But, when we reject this lie, we are released from the burden of performance prayer. We no longer feel the need to say things in a certain way with a certain feeling; we are free to converse with God as with a friend. All you need to do is put forward your heart and be willing to let God touch it. Satan wants to make simple things complex so that we will give up. Christ said, “Come to me … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28, 30). We need a light burden because we are weak people. God knows our weakness. We must know our weakness if we are to pray honestly and effectually.
3. Remember that The Father Desires to Bless You!
A profuse lie circulating in the hearts of many Christians is that we bother God, especially the Father, with our prayers. We don’t pray because we subconsciously believe the lie that God doesn’t want to hear from us, we are not worthy to pray, or that our prayers do not change things. Sometimes we even blush as we pray, thinking that we embarrass Him with our fumbling words. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we said above, our prayers are as incense to Him! The Son did not stand in-between and angry Father and us. The Son was sent by the Father on account of His love for us! Before you were created, Christian, the Father loved you and determined to save you from the evil you would one day learn to love. He decided that it was worth sending His son and allowing Him to experience the anguish of your sin so that you might be united to Him. Anyone with a child knows that giving that child up for someone else is unthinkable, but the Father did that for you. Therefore, our prayers should reflect this reality.
If you’re a parent, imagine a moment when you’re alone and in a wonderful mood. Everything is going well and you’re extremely happy. Then, your little child swings open the door and shouts “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” The feeling of joy when seeing that happy face is only a small glimmer of the Father’s joy when we approach Him in prayer. We should not pray doubtingly, assuming we are pestering God. Rather, we should pray knowing that He delights to hear from us. Indeed, He desires to bless you with the abundance of His riches, “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
4. Wrestle With God
As we present our hearts to God, we must be willing to allow them to be changed. We must avoid the aforementioned trap of only praying short prayers. Sometimes we must set aside a stretch of time (preferably daily and in the morning when the mind is fresh) and pray to God in silence (as best we can). That silence gives the soul’s ear time to listen to God. In so doing, at times we hear God change our prayers so that the thing we were once praying for, we are now praying against. We might sit down to pray for a job promotion, and in the course of prayer, God reveals an egregious patch of pride in our hearts. When this realization is made, we might conclude that a promotion would only increase this disgusting pride. In this way, the Spirit might change your prayer. Not only has your primary prayer shifted from work to pride, you might even pray against the promotion! We must allow God to speak to us in prayer. If He tells you something you don’t like, don’t dishonor Him by throwing it out. Remember that His burden is light. As C.S. Lewis said, “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
On the other hand, sometimes in prayer, we will begin to think that our prayer is worthless and that we should just give up. We will think our sin to be too great an obstacle for our words to climb over in order to reach God’s ears. In this situation, we reject what we hear and we preach the Gospel to ourselves. We have a High Priest who brings our prayers to the Father (Heb. 4:15; 5:1-10) and His Spirit even prays for us (Rom. 8:26). Our prayers do not reach the Father on account of our goodness or the words we say; they reach the Father on the back of the Son who carries them for us and the Father delights in this exceedingly. We must, therefore, wrestle with these thoughts, subdue them, and even be willing to be injured, like Jacob was (Gen. 32:25).
We also must wrestle against ourselves. Our thoughts will wander and we will become distracted. Many prayers will seem like heard of cats constantly straying. We must set our faces like flints and refuse to let this bring us to despair. Distracted and fumbling prayer from a humble heart is better than eloquent prayers said as if they were walking on velvet from a self-righteous heart. The Father is well pleased with our attempts and will use them to grow in us the ability to pray better. We must wrestle against the temptation to stop praying or to give up. In this wrestling, our ability to pray grows. Prayer is a muscle; use it!
5. Be Persistent
It’s no accident that the parable of the persistent friend occurs directly after the Lord’s prayer – right after Jesus’ masterclass on prayer, He gives a story of a friend who would not stop asking his friend for help until he got what he was asking for (Lk. 11:5-13). A good rule of thumb is to be willing to ask God for something until He either gives it to you, or He unequivocally says no. When you identify something you want to pray for, write it down and determine to pray for it until this happens, thousands of times if necessary. One of the greatest Christians who ever lived, Saint Augustine, was prayed for by his mother incessantly. He was a debauched unbeliever, and he attributes his conversion to his mother’s persistent prayers over the course of years, even decades.
Satan often lies to us and tempts us to think that if we do not receive what we ask for after one or two tries, it must not be God’s will and we should stop praying. This lie is especially deceptive because it plays off of the Scriptural teaching that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Mt. 6:8). However, God’s omniscience is never grounds to live a life without persistence and perseverance (Dt. 5:32; Jos. 1:7, 23:8; Job 17:9; Acts 11:23; 13:43; 14:22; Gal. 6:9; Eph. 4:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pet. 2:20; Rev. 13:10). Yes, God knows what we will ask for before we ask; but, in His wisdom, He often leads us through months and years of prayer before he blesses us with what we ask for.
Why is this? At least two reasons can be given: 1) God allows us to continually request in order that we might be made ready to receive that which we ask for. Many times, we pray for things that we are simply not ready to receive (like the example of the job promotion given above). Or, for example, we might pray for sanctification regarding a certain sin. But, God allows us to pray for months or years for this – all the while we are still struggling with this sin – before we overcome it. Why? In struggling and praying over this sin for an extended period of time, we are brought to appreciate the cost that Christ paid to abolish it. Only through many nights of tears over our sins do we realize what the tears of Christ truly meant. Sometimes He must delay His yes so that we might understand it. 2) Delaying in this way also helps us to remember when God does answer our prayers in the affirmative. It is astonishing how easily we can forget what God does for us. This is why God constantly required Israel to make monuments when He delivered them from their enemies. Not only were they to build monuments, but they were to hold feasts and festivals almost monthly in order to remind themselves of His provision (Pentecost, for example, was originally a feast celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses). So, be persistent in your prayers. Don’t give up until God says “yes” or “no”!
6. Write Down Your Answers
This leads us to the next point – every time God does answer your prayer in the affirmative (and even when He says no), write down what happened. This will rebut the human tendency to forget His blessings. Also, it will provide you with an invaluable tool in diffusing the darts of doubt that Satan will shoot at you. When you go through a season of despair, or depression, or anxiety, or faithlessness, take out your list and read about the dozens of times God has been there for you. This will be a shield that Satan will need to penetrate in order to bring you to despair. It will also be a salve for your parched soul as you wander in the wilderness of weakness. It will encourage you to lift your drooping head and look to the horizon for the next blessing from God – the next thing to record on your list.
7. Pray In The Name
Finally, always conclude your prayer with something like, “In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.” This is not a mystical ritual Christians are forced to emulate. This is an acknowledgment that our prayers are only efficacious by the blood of Christ. Unfortunately, we often conclude our prayers with this phrase and do not consider what it means. It signifies our reliance upon Christ and our acknowledgment that we could never pray to God without Him. Our prayers go to the Father by virtue of Christ, and the Father’s loving response reaches us by means of the blood of the cross. Prayer is a Christological interaction.
Further, concluding our prayers in this way also indicates that we are praying, ultimately, not for our good or for the good of another person. We are ultimately praying for the blessedness and glorification of Christ. Even when we do pray for that job promotion, we should be fundamentally seeking it for the glory of Christ. We should want the job to make more money to fuel missions, or to have a greater gospel-impact on other people, or to be in a position to change the direction of the company toward the kingdom. It’s not that God doesn’t hear our prayers when we don’t conclude with something like “In Jesus’ name,” but we are reminded of why we’re praying. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36).
For further reading see:
Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves
The Christian’s Reasonable Service Volume 3 by Wilhelmus a Brakel (p. 443-588)
A Sweet Flame letters by Jonathan Edwards
A Puritan Theology edited by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones (p. 859-889)