STRAIGHT ANSWERS TO HONEST QUESTIONS
by Arden C. Autry, Ph.D.
Question: Could you address the subject of praying effectively?
Answer: Effective prayer is a book-length topic, but we can address some basic aspects. Perhaps the first question is this: What do you mean by “effectively”? How would we know our prayers have been effective?
Usually we describe something as effective when it achieves the intention of the person performing the action. In that case, “effective prayer” would mean prayers that get the results requested. But that definition deals with only one person’s will (the person praying). Of course in true prayer there is also the will of God to take into account.
It helps to think of praying as having a conversation with God.
It’s not like human-to-human conversation in every way, but it is in one important aspect: one person is speaking to another person. So the wills and intentions of both persons are involved.
When you pray, you are invited to “let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6, English Standard Version). But prayer is not an impersonal transaction, like putting coins into a vending machine and pressing the button for what I want. My request may be at the top of my prayer agenda (it may be the only thing on my agenda!), but when I address God I speak to One who has an agenda of his own.
In the model prayer that Jesus gave us (‘The Lord’s Prayer’), we are instructed to put God’s agenda first in our prayers: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
That means “let your agenda happen.” If we take Jesus as an example of how to pray “effectively,” we should follow his lead in putting the Father’s agenda ahead of our own.
As we continue in the Lord’s Prayer we find that our needs are by no means ignored. God wants us to bring our ‘agenda’ to him. Thus Jesus tells us to pray for God to supply our current physical and spiritual needs (bread and forgiveness) and for God to win the battles we cannot win on our own (temptation, evil). If we look at the whole of the Lord’s Prayer, it turns out that meeting our needs is on God’s agenda. Thus Jesus tells us to bring those requests. But it’s also God’s agenda for us to put our agenda underneath his, for us to put a priority on the eternal values which his kingdom alone can bring (as in Matt. 6:33—“seek first the kingdom”).
Again, if we regard Jesus as an example of “praying effectively,” we have to consider his request in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42, ESV).
Perhaps a truly effective prayer is one in which God’s will is accomplished.
You’re invited to submit your question to Dr. Arden Autry, Minister of Adult Learning, First United Methodist Church, Tulsa, firstname.lastname@example.org.