If you surveyed books on prayer in a Christian bookstore, you'd find varied and often conflicting advice. Some authorities insist that successful prayer is scheduled; others favor impromptu prayer. One writer says fasting should accompany prayer, but another tells us to pray in any circumstance. Still another says that prayer is best done when alone, though someone else urges us to join with others. Some claim that prayer requires careful preparation and thought, while a conflicting authority says prayer should flow spontaneously from our hearts.
Wisdom is needed as much for prayer as for any other area of human living.
Prayer is a relationship. It is interacting between you and God. It’s a dynamic conversation between two individuals who love care for and enjoy one another.
6 Ways to Take Your Prayers to the Next Level
1. Get Rid of Barriers
What does it say about our relationship with God if we never pray? If we never communicate with Him.
Jesus says we can recognize true believers by their fruits
Matthew 7:16-20 NIV By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Doesn’t it make sense that one fruit of our salvation is a desire to communicate with our Savior?
2. Search the Scripture
One of the reasons some Christians don’t pray is because God is still like a new acquaintance.
That doesn’t mean we instantly become “prayer warriors.” When we first meet someone, there is still sometimes awkwardness until we get to know each other better. We need to take time to learn about each other.
3. Be Transparent
With a casual friendship, there may be some warm feelings, but we still keep our friend at arm’s-length. Maybe we’re even a “fair weather” friend. A casual relationship indicates part-time fellowship.
Worse, in a casual relationship, we might not be transparent or honest. We don’t want people to get too close because we're afraid they might see who we really are.
Sometimes we do this with the Lord.
Though He is present everywhere
Psalm 33:13-15 NIV From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth— he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
Psalm 139:7-12 NIV Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
He can see everything, and knows all things.
1 John 3:20 NIV If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
We somehow think we can camouflage our true hearts. Our hiding is laughable
Psalm 139:1-2 NIV You have searched me, Lord , and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
Then our prayers can become empty or even hypocritical.
Though we might have other ideas, God will never be satisfied with a standoffish relationship. He continually draws us with love and unfailing kindness
Jeremiah 31:3 CEV Some time ago, the Lord appeared to me and told me to say: Israel, I will always love you; that's why I've been so patient and kind.
He urges us to move beyond the level of casual prayer to something deeper. To ramp up your prayer level, get honest.
4. Draw Closer
As our relationship with God grows closer, we experience more familiarity, togetherness, and affection. We are moved more often to the prayer closet and begin to learn more of God’s ways. The Holy Spirit is our teacher
1 Corinthians 2:10 ESV these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
when our longing for God grows deeper, He even prays for us when we don’t know what to say
Romans 8:26 ESV Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Close friends discuss specific goals; when we draw closer to God in prayer, we’ll want to know His will.
5. Choose to Walk with God
When we develop a companion-level friendship, there is substantial affinity, rapport, attachment, and confidentiality involved in the relationship. To ramp up your prayer life, aim for constant companionship with the Lord.
Companionship demands intentionality—the everyday choice to walk alongside someone in agreement with them. The Lord called Abraham His “friend,” because Abraham obeyed God and kept His commandments
Isaiah 41:8 ESV But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
But the Lord also confided in the old Patriarch
Genesis 18:17-19 ESV The Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him."
There was a sense of mutual loyalty in their friendship. Abraham was faithful to God, and God was faithful to Abraham. Jesus similarly told His disciples He had a desire to open up and confide in them too—to reveal God’s will to them
John 15:14-15 ESV You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
6. Desire God First
When our deepest desire is intimacy with the Lord, our prayer life will reflect this passion and urgency. Yet our desire for God is nothing compared to His desire for us. Just as He delighted in Zion, He takes delight in all His children, rejoicing over them with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 ESV The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
Author and blogger John Piper says, “God wants intimacy with you. Christ has done all the hard work in the cross to make it possible.” In His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus showed His deep desire to befriend and save us. He is truly the biblical example of a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24 ESV A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
willing even to lay down His life for us
John 15:13 ESV Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
a. A wish made when throwing a coin in a fountain.
b. A shrewdly crafted proposition to your spouse when you're unsure if he or she'll agree.
c. A distant hope a child experiences when daydreaming of something he or she wants to have.
d. Some candid advice offered to a boss who needs to make certain changes for everyone's benefit.
e. A desperate plea made in the face of imminent disaster.
Prayer is a relationship. It is interacting between you and God. It’s a dynamic conversation between two individuals who love care for and enjoy one another.
Proverbs 15:8 (NLT)8 The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but he delights in the prayers of the upright.
Proverbs 15:29 (NLT)29 The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayers of the righteous.
What is the focus of these two verses?
The focus is righteousness. The both say that the Lord hears and delights in the prayers of the righteous and upright.
In both proverbs, it is the upright whose prayers delight God so that he hears them; conversely, it is the wicked whose prayer is so detestable that God distances himself.
Remember what Jesus said in our Sermon on the Mount study?
Matthew 6:5-8 (NLT)5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!
Then He gave them a model for the way we should pray.
Why is this factor sufficient by itself to account for whether God hears our prayers or not?
What determines whether God hears our prayers or not is how much we are like Him and His character or our righteousness.
God's concern for our children's character is greater than his interest in granting our requests. Like any boss, he primarily desires faithfulness in an employee's work before granting private requests. Like any kind of leader, he willingly hears requests made by genuine followers whose loyalty is constant and sure.
1 John 3:22 (NLT)22 And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.
How do we become righteous?
Clearly, upright cannot mean sinless.
Proverbs 28:13 (NLT)13 People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.
The essential difference between the upright and the wicked lies in what they do with the sin in their lives. The wicked conceal it, evidently so that they may persist in it. The upright, on the other hand, acknowledge their sin and renounce it.
An example of the two attitudes between wicked and the upright is here;
Luke 18:9-14 (NLT)9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else:10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector.11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The New Testament reveals by faith in Jesus Christ, we are accounted to be fully righteous.
Romans 4:1-8 (NLT)1 Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God?2 If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way.3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”4 When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.5 But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.6 David also spoke of this when he described the happiness of those who are declared righteous without working for it:7 “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.8 Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin.”
Romans 3:21-26 (NLT)21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past,26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
Proverbs 16:3 (NLT)3 Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.
What does it mean to commit something to the Lord? What part do you think prayer plays in committing whatever you do to the Lord?
Prayer is the chief way we commit what we do to the Lord. We ask for understanding as we consult God's Word concerning his purposes, plans and values. To know these is paramount if our plans are to succeed. We ask him to lead us to information or to wise men and women who can advise us. Finally, we ask him to do those things we cannot do so our plans will succeed.
Committing our actions to the Lord is not a blank check if we are not in God’s will for us. For example I can pray and say if you answer I commit that I will do so and so for your kingdom. If our plans conflict with something he's determined to do, they will fail. That would be like trying to do my will under God's power: God won't be manipulated this way, even though many try–including a high percentage of Christians!
Proverbs 20:25 (NLT)25 Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.
That’s like praying “ "If you do thus and so, God, I'll do this and that."
When we do that we end up being frustrated, and anxious.
In what situations might we be tempted to make a vow rashly?
When we are in a financial tight, or sick.
Why do rash vows become a trap?
Such vows are a trap in the same way that any hastily conceived plan is a trap—knowledge and wisdom which we do not have and circumstances which we cannot control can easily render us incapable of doing our part.
Luke 14:25-30 (NLT)25 A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them,26 “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.28 “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?29 Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.30 They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’
In giving this parable Jesus is cautioning against making rash decisions or promises. He suggests to careful, detailed, rational thinking in which you consider all aspects of what you’re getting into before you make the commitment. Such careful thinking is opposed to an impulsive decision made in a moment of intense emotion, without much thought about the consequences.
Proverbs 28:9 (NLT)9 God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.
If we want God to hear us, we must hear him. The law in Proverbs 28:9 means teaching, guidance, instruction, and includes not only Mosaic books but all other prophetic and wisdom teaching in the Scriptures. before bringing our requests to God on a matter, we should first know what God has already declared on the subject, and so avoid asking things contrary to his will.
Next week we are really going to get into the fact that we have a friend to friend relationship with God so we are going to define the relationship.