I think most people would pray more if it worked better for them. Shocking statement? Just ask your fellow Christians why they don’t pray more. Or maybe you can just get honest and ask yourself. Doesn’t it seem like prayer is hit or miss as far as getting what you pray for? If it isn’t working well for us, we have a tendency to move on to other things. We find ourselves feeling unspiritual by our lackluster prayer life and often chalk it up to “not having enough faith.”
It does appear that faith has a lot to do with effective prayer. Scripture is clear on that. God’s Word relates faith to answered prayer in both positive and negative ways. Speaking positively regarding faith and prayer, Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20, English Standard Version).” He drives the point home in Matthew 21:21, 22: “And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
James, the brother of Jesus, gave us the same teaching but from the negative aspect. “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6, NIV). There is no doubt that the Bible connects faith to effective prayer.
So, if we’re not seeing much happening when we pray, we assume it must be because we are lacking in faith. So we try to believe more. Have you tried that? Doesn’t seem to work well, does it? Perhaps it’s because we find ourselves trying to have faith in faith, rather than in God. Years ago I heard Tony Campolo tell about a church where he was preaching and was asked to stay after the service to pray for the healing of a lady who was very ill. Knowing of the need for faith, he recounted how he kept saying quietly to himself, “I believe, I believe, I believe.” But he shared that in his mind he kept hearing the thought, “You liar, you liar, you liar.” That’s what often happens when we try to work up faith so we can get God to answer our prayer. It’s fake faith.
So how do we learn to pray in faith? The essential part of this is understanding the nature of biblical faith. Faith is not believing whatever you want. It is always a God-focused belief that is rooted in the nature and purposes of God. The prayer of faith can be prayed with great effectiveness because it comes from an intimacy with God that is more concerned with what God desires than what we desire.
How can we discern the will of God so that we can pray in faith? It’s actually very simple when we consider how we have come to know the God who delights in self-revelation. The Word of God from Genesis to Revelation demonstrates both the nature of God and his ways in dealing with his people. Moses asked God, “Teach me your ways so I may know you” (Exodus 33:13). The greatest revelation of who God is came in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus told his disciples, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well” (John 14:7). God in the flesh. Walking among us, revealing to us in clearest form the nature and purpose of God.
The prayer of faith is a prayer based on the Word of God. No longer are we trying to talk God into giving us something we want from him. There is no faith in the prayer that somehow tries to get God on our side to do what we want him to do. There is something inside of us that rises up against that, even when we find ourselves praying like that. True prayer releases God’s power to accomplish God’s purpose.
I love 1 John 5:14, 15, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we have asked of him.” What an amazing promise that connects faith, prayer, and the Word of God! The promise of answered prayer is without limit: “anything.” But it comes with a condition: “according to his will.” Anything, according to his will. There is no better or more sure place to discern the will of God than the Word of God. The prayer of faith always takes the promises of the Father back to him, saying. “Father, you said . . . !”
Some of the greatest prayers of faith are found in Scripture. The fascinating thing is that these are often prayers based on other portions of Scripture. Consider Jehoshaphat’s powerful prayer seen in 2 Chronicles 20. In verses 8 and 9 he based his request for deliverance from the attack of three nations on the prayer of Solomon as recorded in 2 Chronicles 7. God heard his own words prayed back to him in faith and answered in miraculous ways.
We see this same emphasis in Acts 4:24-30 as the early church faced threats from Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus. Their powerful and effective prayer of faith didn’t emerge from their own desires or even their own need for protection. It was based on Psalm 2 and focused on two things: the inheritance of Christ (all nations) and the rule of Christ (to the ends of the earth). That’s an absolutely solid foundation upon which we can pray in faith, believing the Lord hears and answers.
All prayer is good. It’s never wrong to converse with the Father. But effective prayer that brings about results comes from the prayer of faith that is based on the purposes and ways of God. Praying Scripture as led by the Spirit of God will see the hand of God moving to answer our prayers in wonderful ways.
Dave Butts is President of Harvest Prayer Ministries and Chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee.