By Joseph Ametepe
A good teacher not only models what he is teaching, but also presents other true models for his students to learn from. So it is in the believer's "School of Effective Prayer." To aid us in our learning, the Holy Spirit carefully preserved examples of effective prayers of praying men and women in the Word of God, which we will call biblical prayers in this study. Every time we read their prayers, we are presented with an opportunity to learn from their examples. God has preserved their prayers for us to learn from because their prayer lives were effective and fruitful. As with all learning by example, we can acquire some bad habits as well as good ones. Bad habits include using meaningless repetition (Matthew 6:7), thinking that prayer is just simply phrases to learn and recite or saying the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as a magical chant (see story in Acts 19:11-18). How do we acquire good habits from the examples of the praying men and women of the Bible in order to become effective in our prayers? The answer is that we should seek to learn principles of prayer from their prayers, rather than pious phrases for recital in our prayers. Please listen, God did not preserve these examples in His Word to be used as a prayer mantra. He gave them to us so that we can learn from them prayer principles and patterns. There are many wonderful examples of prayers recorded in Scripture for us. The prayers of Moses (Exodus 33:12-19), Joshua (Joshua 7:6-13), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10-11; 2:1-10), David (2 Samuel 22:1-51; 1 Chronicles 29:10-19), Solomon (2 Chronicles 6:1-42), Asa (2 Chronicles 14:11), Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:3-12), Ezra (Ezra 9:1-15), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4-11; 9:1-37), Jonah (Jonah 2:1-10) and many others, stir the hearts of God's people. As we read and reflect on these prayers, our goal should be to ask God to teach us principles of prayer in them. As we learn these principles and faithfully apply them, our prayer lives will become more effective. We will then begin to experience the promise of God, written in James 5:16b; "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
A. Principles of Effective Prayer from Daniel 9:2-23
1. Effective prayer is built on the solid ground of the revealed word of God (v.2).· The word of God is the surest foundation to stand on in prayer. Because Daniel was a diligent student of the Word, he discovered the heart and purpose of God concerning His people (Daniel 9:2).· If we are to pray effectively, we must also diligently search the whole counsel of God to discover His heart and purpose concerning His church, our situations and the world. ·Since God's will, purpose and heart are revealed in Scripture, "the most promising method of prayer then is to allow oneself to be guided by the word of God. In this way we shall not become victims of our own emptiness." (D. Bonhoeffer, Life Together) · Prayer that is built and based on the solid ground of God's Word has these assurances: "And this is the confidence which we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And ....we know that we have obtained the request made of Him" (1 John 5:14-15); and "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7).·To build one's prayer life upon the Word of God is "standing on the promises of God that cannot fail."
2. Effective prayer requires that one earnestly and humbly seeks God (v. 3).· As soon as Daniel discovered the heart and purpose of God concerning His people and their situation, he seriously and earnestly engaged himself in the labor of prayer.· Fasting in sackcloth and ashes demonstrated before God a humble and honest heart that recognized its absolute dependence on God.
3. Effective prayer is characterized by identification of oneself with others in the confession of sins (vv. 4-6).· Daniel did not condemn his people by pointing accusing fingers at them, nor did he close his eyes to the wrongs his people had done as the chosen people of God, rather he confessed them.·True confession is made in the light of who God is.· It is only when our view of who God is is refined that we can make a true confession of the sins in our lives and the lives of others.· Confession must be specific.· Daniel's confession was specific rather than general and vague (vv. 5-6). He stated clearly the sins Israel had committed in rebellion against God.
4. The one who prays effectively affirms the righteousness of God (vv. 7-8).
Daniel approached God with a heart that fully and faithfully affirmed that God is righteous and just in all His ways.· Effective prayer will never blame God or charge Him with wrong.·Daniel did not justify himself and blame God for the captivity of His people.·Affirming the righteousness of God in the midst of trials is a sign of a maturing faith in God which brings pleasure to the heart of God.
5. The heart that prays effectively has a deep grasp and subsequent preoccupation with the character of God (vv. 9-14).
Daniel had a deep understanding of the character and purposes of God.·Most of his prayer was therefore focused on God Himself.· He spoke of Him being "the LORD our God" three times (vv. 10, 13, 14b) and once each as "the Lord our God" (v. 9) and "the LORD" (v. 14a).· He also spoke of Him as being "righteous" (v. 14b). He also confessed to God that they did not give attention to "Your truth" (v. 13b). Daniel knew God to be the God of truth.· Israel disobeyed God, but Daniel knew that God was compassionate, merciful and forgiving.· Focusing on the character of God, Daniel prayed, "To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him" (v. 9).· Effective prayer therefore acknowledges and appeals to God's forgiving and compassionate character.
6. The one who prays effectively affirms and firmly believes that God does the impossible (v.15).
Daniel recounted to God the history of His miraculous works in bringing Israel out of bondage from Egypt.· It would take another miracle to get Judah out of their present bondage.·God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and nothing is impossible for Him (Luke 1:37).· The same God will do the impossible in our circumstances as we firmly believe and affirm that He is a miracle worker.
7. The one who prays effectively appeals to the reputation of God rather than his own "righteous" reputation (vv. 16-19).
As Daniel concludes his prayer, he appealed solely to the reputation of God.· "For we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion... O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name" (vv. 18-19).· Daniel appealed to the great, compassionate heart of God and not to any merits of his own or of His people.·We need to resist the temptation to either justify ourselves or appeal to our own reputation in prayer. 8. Effective prayer is answered far beyond the petitioner's own expectations (vv. 20-23).·Daniel had not even finished his time of prayer before God's response came. "While I was speaking and praying... the man Gabriel came to me in a swift flight" (v.21).· Daniel was even given wisdom and understanding of God's purpose and plan for both the immediate and far future.
B. Principles of Effective Prayer from 2 Chronicles 20:1-25
1. When faced with the pressures of life, the believer who is learning to pray effectively is driven to seek God (vv. 1-4).
The believer in Jesus Christ most often experiences a spiritual attack after some mountain top experience and victory.· I vividly recall one of such experiences in my life. The Lord had sent me to Lebanon where He accomplished a glorious work through me in three churches. On my way back from Lebanon to the States, I was held hostage in London for two days after which I was deported to Ghana. The unexpected turn of events in my life resulted in one of the most intense times of seeking God.· Jehoshaphat's name means "Yahweh has judged." Living according to his name, Jehoshaphat removed the high places and the Asherim out of Judah (2 Chronicles 17:6).· Jehoshaphat appointed Levites and priests and heads of fathers for judgment in the land (2 Chronicles 19:5-7).· He worked hard to institute reforms in the land of Judah. No sooner had Jehoshaphat set his house in order than we read of the report of three nations, a great multitude, coming against Jehoshaphat.· Please notice they were not coming to congratulate him. Rather they were coming to wage war against Jehoshaphat.·
Great pressure suddenly burst into Jehoshaphat's life.· Probably, God permitted this great pressure into Jehoshaphat's life in order to further test his faith.·Remember that faith that is not tested is not faith.· The great question is how is Jehoshaphat and all Judah going to respond under the great pressure?· The wrong way to respond to such intense pressure is to be driven into a state of despair. In such a state, despondency sets in. And we begin to murmur and complain and blame someone else.·The right way is for the believing who wants to learn to pray effectively to be driven by the pressure into God's presence to Him. Hudson Taylor, a godly man from whom I have learned a lot said, "It does not matter where the pressure comes from, but what matters is that the pressure drives you to God, and does not stand between you and Him, driving you away from Him." The pressure drove Jehoshaphat into the presence of the Lord.· For we are told "Jehoshaphat...turned his attention (literally, set his face) to seek the LORD." Are you facing severe pressure in your life?· Whatever the pressure, let it not drive you away from God. Rather, let it drive you into God's presence to seek Him and draw closer to Him.
2. The one who prays effectively reminds and recounts to God His own promises and so holds God firmly to His word (vv. 5-11).
When we speak of reminding God of His promises, we do not mean to say that God is forgetful of His promises.· What is meant is that we are agreeing with God concerning what He has graciously revealed to us in His word.· Nothing delights the heart of God like hearing His believing children acknowledging His character, purposes and promises.· God has given us very great and precious promises. His desire is to perform these promises in the lives of those who seek to know Him.· Our view of God is so critical.· As Jehoshaphat sought God, His view of who God is was refined.· He saw God for who He really is.· He is the Lord, that is, Yahweh. He is God in the heavens.· He is also the Ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations, including the three nations that were marching against Judah.· He is a God of power and might. In fact, no one can stand against Him. He is unstoppable. No one can thwart Him.· Although this God is high and exalted, yet His works are visible among men. He is not at all removed from the affairs of men.·Jehoshaphat reminded God of the truth he knew about who He is and what He does.·Jehoshaphat saw his pressing problem in the light of who God is and does.·
What is your view of God? Do you see Him as high and lifted up in the heavens such that He is afar off, aloof and removed from you and your circumstances?· Jehoshaphat did not entertain such a view of God when he was reminded God of who He is and what He does. Neither should we.·Having been enlightened in the presence of God to see the problem in the light of who God really is, Jehoshaphat began to recount to God His mighty deeds on behalf of Israel, tying everything to Abraham.· God had made a covenant with Abraham. He promised to give Abraham the land, from the river of Egypt, as far as the great river, the Euphrates (Genesis 15:8).· By mentioning Abraham, Jehoshaphat was recounting to God His promise to Abraham, which was a promise to Jehoshaphat now. After reminding and recounting to God certain truths about Himself and His general promise to Abraham, Jehoshaphat now boldly holds God to certain specific promises of God.·Jehoshaphat remembered God's specific promises made to Israel through King Solomon's prayer, after the first temple was built (see 2 Chronicles 6:12-42).· Jehoshaphat, being a student of the word, simply took God at His word. "Should evil come upon us, the sword... we will stand before this house and before You and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us" (2 Chronicles 20:9).· Just as Jehoshaphat learned to hold God to a specific promise which applied to his circumstance so also should we learn to take God at His word and firmly hold to a specific promise of His, applying to our circumstances.· I am not saying we simply name it and claim it.·That is not what Jehoshaphat did. He was a student of the word. He was immersed in God's word with a willingness to obey.· Likewise, we must be diligent student of God's word such that His word is not only ready on our lips but also daily demonstrated in our lives.
Moreover, we must learn to discover the heart of God concerning our circumstances. In so doing, we will avoid the danger of taking God's promises out of their contexts and applying them to ourselves.· Jehoshaphat carefully discerned the heart of God concerning Judah's predicament. Then and only then, did he hold God to His word.· Several biblical characters employed this principle of prayer in their prayers and prevailed with God.·Moses, David, Daniel were among those who earnestly employed this principle.· Our God has not changed. He will respond to us, as we wisely apply this principle in our prayer lives.
3. The one who prays effectively, quickly and humbly confesses his helpless estate to God while expressing hope in God alone (v. 12a).
Just as boldness is essential to holding God to a specific promise, so also is humility in confessing our helpless estate to God.· We need to confess our helplessness and powerlessness against the difficulties in our lives.· We should learn to quickly tell God, "Father, I humbly confess to You that I am not able to handle this situation in my life. My best attempts will only make things worse for myself and those around me. Please, I invite You to handle the situation in my life and bring glory to Yourself."· No one who humbly declares his helpless condition to God has ever been left by God in that helpless situation forever.·God, in His great mercy and grace, reaches down and lifts him up.· This is because God has assumed full responsibility in defending the helpless who looks to Him and Him alone.· God is the defender of the helpless.· Jehoshaphat confessed his helplessness under intense pressure. But he did so with hope in God.· Not only that, Jehoshaphat was also eagerly anticipating divine help.· Let me say it again, the one who prays effectively will always be quick to confess his helplessness to God. Doing so with hope in God and eagerly expecting God's intervention. Jehoshaphat trusted in the Lord when all the odds were against him. Yet God came through for him.· Are you going to choose to let God in all His might and power help you, simply by confessing your helplessness to Him and anticipating His divine intervention?· Or are you going to take matters in your own hands to solve the problem in your life to the best of your human ability?Let me say this to you, "Your human best cannot even be compared to God's worst in solving your problem."· When we truly learn to apply this principle, the promise of God, "The Lord is my helper" will become a reality in our lives.
4. The one who prays effectively eagerly and expectantly awaits the intervention of the Spirit of God (vv. 12b-14).·
Jehoshaphat had poured out his heart to God.· After his earnest prayer, we are told, "All Judah was standing before the LORD, with their infants, their wives, and their children", (v. 13).· They knew God would answer the prayer of the king. They were therefore eagerly anticipating the intervention of the Spirit of God.·While their enemies were marching confidently to wield their swords and spears, to kill and conquer, Jehoshaphat and all Judah, chose to wait on God.· He knows how to handle the situation they were facing. He has the best plan of action. While they were eagerly expecting the intervention of the Spirit, He came upon Jahaziel to give Jehoshaphat direction and guidance for the battle ahead of them.· Many of us pray, but we pray without the attitude of anticipation in our prayers. We are eager to rise up from prayer as soon as we say Amen. We have not cultivated the discipline of "standing before the Lord. "
Apostle Paul actually lived this principle of prayer (see Philippians 1:19-21). Why do we have to eagerly wait for the Spirit's intervention?· The answer is, the plan of action that will lead to victory in the battles we face wholly belongs to Him. ·Do you know that God is interested in your situation?· Do you know that He already has the exact solution for your situation?· Do you earnestly ask God to reveal His plan of action for your situation?· Do you expect that plan of action after asking for it?· Do the pressure force you to design your own plan of action that only worsens the situation?· Let us learn what it means to "stand before the Lord," and eagerly expect the intervention of His Spirit after we pour out our hearts to Him in prayer. He will bring direction, guidance, help, deliverance and victory into our lives.
5. The one who prays effectively should always know that the battle belongs to the Lord (v. 15-17).·
In the previous principle, we noted that the plan of of action that will lead us to victory in our battles wholly belongs to the Lord. Now God is further teaching and establishing the fact that the battle itself belongs to Him.· He is not simply satisfied to give us the best plan of action.· But He also wants to be involved in the battle itself.· He is simply saying to us, "I assume full responsibility for your defense in the battles you face in life. I want to fight your battles and defend you from the relentless attacks of the enemy. When I fight your battles, you can be sure of one thing - VICTORY."·This principle was first given in a promise to the children of Israel at the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:13-14).· It was later reiterated just before the children of Israel entered the promise land (see Deuteronomy 20:1-4).· Just before Joshua died, he also reminded the children of Israel about this promise (see Joshua 23:3,10).·God had made a promise to fight for His people.· It seemed as though the whole of Israel had forgotten about this principle and promise, that the battles in their lives belong to the Lord, until David came onto the scene.· When David took on Goliath, it was mainly based on the application of this principle (see 1 Samuel 17:45-47).· God has not changed. Just as the battles that came into the lives of His children of old belonged to Him and He fought for them, so also the battles in our lives today belong to Him.·He alone can fight them to give us victory over the enemy.· Do you believe that the battle in your life belongs to the Lord?· Do you believe that the Lord your God will indeed fight for you and give you the victory?·Do you believe that He has made a promise to fight your battles and that He will do exactly as He has promised?
6. Praise and worship characterize effective prayer (vv. 18-23). The one who prays effectively knows the importance of praise and worship.· He not only petitions God but also pours out his heart in praise to Him.· Jehoshaphat and all Judah clearly recognized that the battle belonged to the Lord.· The recognition that the battle is the Lord's and not ours should immediately lead us to respond in worship and praise of the true and living God.· It is difficult to worship and praise God in prayer if one feels that he has contributed significantly to the victory in one's life.· If our hearts are ruled by the feeling that "after all, I have achieved the victory," we will love to receive the praise and honor, instead of joyfully and humbly giving it to the Lord.· If there is anything hindering the people of God from true biblical worship and praise of God, it is because of the feeling that they have achieved the successes in their lives.· This was not the case in the life of Jehoshaphat. He and Judah knew that they were helpless in the first place. If they achieved victory it was only because of God's help.· And so when they recognized that the battle they were facing was the Lord's, their first response was to fall down on their faces to worship and praise the Lord. · What is your first response upon recognizing that the battle in your life belongs to the Lord?· Are you immediately led to respond in praise and worship of God?·
True worship always results in prompt obedience. Authentic worship always leads to obedience.· Jehoshaphat and Judah were given a direct command from God to go down on the next day to face their enemies (see verses 16-17).· After worshiping and praising, we are told "they rose early in the morning and went out to the wilderness of Tekoa" (v. 20).· We should never underestimate the power of true praise and worship of God.· Their worship and praise led to the demonstration of the power of God on their behalf (vv. 22-23).· God went to work on behalf of Jehoshaphat and all Judah, when they began singing and praising Him.· God loves to act on behalf of believing and worshiping children.· In this battle, the army of Judah didn't even throw a spear.· In addition to freeing God to display His power on our behalf, worship and praise keep our focus on God and strengthen our faith in Him.· There are some who teach that in all our difficulties, what we need to do is just praise God.·While this may sound so spiritual, it doesn't fit the testimony of all of Scripture.· Taking the whole context of the passage we are studying, we find that there was petition, praise, and demonstration of God's power.
Other passages of Scripture show men and women of God not only praising God, but also earnestly petitioning Him in their difficult and distressing times.· Therefore, we must not limit our prayers to only praise. Rather, we must work at maintaining the proper balance between petition and praise.· Let us remember that we are dependent people. The way dependent people live is to ask and to express our gratitude and praise to God both for meeting our needs and for who He is.· In both our asking and praising, God is glorified.· Both petition and praise are privileges we have from God. Petition must lead to the praise of God which in turn leads to the demonstration of the power of God on our behalf.
Is your prayer life characterized by praise and worship?· Is your worship of God authentic?Are you presently cultivating the attitude of praise and worship in your prayer?· Tough times will come in your life too. If you are not doing so now, you will find it very difficult to lift up praise from your bleeding and broken heart to God as others like Job and Jehoshaphat did.
7. The one who prays effectively not only looks for the intervention of the Spirit but also lives by what the Spirit says (v. 20). Jehoshaphat and all Judah stood before the Lord expecting His intervention in their desperate situation.·This is because God's Spirit is able to guide and direct us to a specific plan of action, tailor-measured to bring the needed resolution and victory in our situations.· However, it is not enough to expect the intervention of the Spirit. We must also resolutely believe the leading of the Spirit is giving us and step out in faith and in obedience.· Until we come to this point of stepping out in faith and in obedience to the leading of the Spirit, disappointment, depression and defeat will characterize our prayer life and walk with God.·Jehoshaphat encouraged Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to put their trust in the Lord their God, and they would be established, or succeed (v.20).· He is simply encouraging them to live by what the Holy Spirit has made known to them.· They must step out in faith to meet their enemies, not with swords and spears, but with praise.·This was not the normal way to fight an enemy. They were being asked to step out of their comfort zone.· As soon as they took this step of faith out of their comfort zone, God did great and marvelous things on their behalf.· How is the Spirit leading you in the battles that have come into your lives?· Are you willing to take the step of faith God is directing you to take?· If you take that step of faith, you will succeed in God's plan for your life. He is able to turn the evil that is meant against you into good.
8. The greater the hardships faced by the one who prays effectively the greater the blessings of God he is favored to receive (vv. 24-25).·
Life in God is not always characterized by hardships and difficulties.· Just as there is a time to mourn and a time to dance, so also there is a time to face hardships, and a time to enjoy the favor, release and blessings of God.· Jehoshaphat and all Judah and Jerusalem faced a great hardship and pressure when a great multitude came up against them.·This pressure drove them to seek the Lord.· When the noise of battle was over, we are told they found in great numbers precious and valuable things more than they could carry.· This abundant provision was a sign of God's blessing on Judah.· God knows how to bless His own when they walk in obedience to Him. He is a gracious God. And He gives generously.· God's purpose in the trial of Jehoshaphat was accomplished.· He wanted to deepen their faith in Him.· He wanted them to learn to praise Him even when all the odds are against them.·The people responded to the delight of God.· This led to the pouring out of His favor upon them by blessing them with so much precious and valuable things which they collected for three days.·
What should be our response in times of difficulties?· We should seek the Lord and his help.· We should declare our dependence on Him.· We should remind God of His promises to us and hold Him to His Word.· We should honestly confess to God that we are helpless, while expressing hope in Him.· We should eagerly expect God's intervention.· We should recognize that the battle belongs to the Lord.· Despite the noise and heat of the battles in our lives, we should take time to worship and praise God.·We should respond to the leading of the Spirit and be willing to step out of our comfort zone.· Our response should be in reliance on the Spirit, otherwise we will fail.· The greater the difficulty we face, the greater the blessings of God we find, if we respond properly.· Let this principle encourage your heart.· God has not forgotten you in your hardship.·He knows the end of it all.· He knows what work He is accomplishing in your life.· He knows how long to keep you in the situation in your life.· He knows exactly when to release you with His blessings beyond belief.·Therefore, let us entrust ourselves to our Creator and faithful God.
As part of your training in the School of Prayer, I will like to encourage you to do a little exercise. The exercise is simple. But after you have gone through it, you will discover that it is also significant.· Please take one of the prayers listed in the introduction.· Ask God to help you discover and develop the principles of prayer in it.· After completing this, begin to apply the principles of prayer you have learned in your prayers.· I can assure you that you are going to experience a transformation in your life.