How does prayer work?

When asked what to study that has not already been revealed, noted physicist Albert Einstein once said, "Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer." Even a man who apparently did not believe in the existence of a personal God sensed there was something about prayer that needed to be better understood. The real question, perhaps, is if we can understand how prayer works.

Christian writer and intercessor John Eldredge says in his book Moving Mountains about prayer, "There is a way things work." He proposes that God's universe is orderly, with rules and systems that can be clearly delineated (1 Corinthians 14:33). He believes that prayer is no exception.

The Bible gives us examples of prayer, instructions on prayer, and warnings about prayer. King David wrote many psalms that were honest prayers about his situation, his sin, and his enemies (e.g., Psalm 3; 7; 38). Moses had full conversations with God and asked a lot of questions (Exodus 3—4; 33:11). Esther had her servants and all of Israel fast, implying they would pray, too, when the entire Hebrew race was being threatened with extinction (Esther 4:15–17).

We see many answered prayers. God honored Moses' request to care for the Israelites after they worshipped a gold statue of a calf (Exodus 32). God did make a way to save the Israelites from extinction (multiple times). God brought rain when Elijah sincerely prayed for it after more than three years of drought (1 Kings 18:42–46; James 5:13–18). God gave believers boldness to proclaim the gospel (Acts 4:23–31) and He freed Peter from prison (Acts 12:5–17).

We also see God say "No." God did not save the life of the child David had with Bathsheba when they committed adultery despite David's prayer and fasting (2 Samuel 12:16–18). God also did not spare His own Son, Jesus, when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane to have the "cup" of judgment through death on the cross removed from Him (Matthew 26:36–46). Jesus submitted Himself to the Father, praying for God's will to be done, and the will of God was to provide salvation for humanity (John 10:11–18; Hebrews 12:1–2).

So, how does this help us answer the question of, "How does prayer work?" Prayer is the gift of communication with the God of the universe. Prayer always works in the sense that those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ can always talk to God and be heard by Him (Luke 11:5–13; Hebrews 4:14–16; 10:19–22). But if we are looking for a formula that guarantees that our prayers are answered in the way we want, then the Bible does not give us that recipe.

What it does give us are these parameters:

  • Pray about all things (Philippians 4:6)

  • Pray in the name of Jesus (John 14:13–14), meaning according to His will

  • Do not use endless words (Matthew 6:7–8)

  • Do not pray for show and recognition (Matthew 6:5–6; Luke 18:9–14)

  • Fasting and prayer are powerful together (Daniel 9:3; Luke 2:37)

  • Pray for others (1 Timothy 2:1–4; Ephesians 6:19; James 5:16)

  • Pray without ceasing (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17)

  • Pray boldly (Romans 8:26; Hebrews 4:14–16; 10:19&ndsh;22; 1 John 5:14–15)

  • We can be assured in our prayers because of who God is, not because we have prayed correctly. We are praying to One who is faithful, true, powerful, loving, generous, mighty, and so much more. The power of prayer is the God to whom we pray, not our words. God hears us loud and clear, and He will act in accordance with His timing, will, and salvation plan for humanity. And more than anything, He will act out of love for each one of us.

    Related Truth:

    What is the purpose of prayer?

    Why pray? What is the purpose of prayer?

    How are we supposed to pray?

    What is the power of prayer?

    What is the importance of daily prayer in the life of a Christian?

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