How to Have an Effective Prayer Life

Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you" (John 16:23). But I wonder how many Christians read that verse with skepticism, thinking, well, that's certainly not how it works for me. I ask God for things all the time, and nothing happens. 

I'm guessing many of us are skeptical, and I get it. I, too, have dealt with disappointment when God doesn't provide the answer I desire. So how can Jesus promise things like, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:14)? The answer? Jesus can promise it because it's true. 

To ask for things in Jesus' name doesn't mean we can slap "in Jesus name" on the end of any prayer and expect God to deliver it in the next twenty-four hours. Christ is not a vending machine or a convenience store. He is the holy and majestic sovereign King of kings who deserves constant glory and honor and praise. 

How often do we truly consider the holiness of God? Imagine—if we were to step into the radiance of God's glory right now, we would instantly melt into oblivion. And yet, by the purifying blood of Jesus, God invites us through prayer to enter His throne room. 

While it’s true we can ask for anything, closing our prayer with the words "in Jesus' name" doesn't trick God into granting our request. To pray in Jesus' name recognizes that we present ourselves to the Father through Him. It's also an appeal for our prayer to align with God's character, His glory, and the expansion of His kingdom—all the things Jesus delights in and desires. If it does, Jesus assures us the Father will say yes

Effective Prayer Begins in the Word 

So how do we know what Jesus desires? We read the Bible. God does not make us guess what delights Him. God revealed His heart in sixty-six Holy Spirit-inspired books, breathed into existence by Christ himself.

The Bible is not out of date, because God is not out of date. The Bible is God's voice written down for us to devour, cling to, enjoy, and embrace until the day we are present with God in heaven. The Bible proclaims who God is, what He has done, and what's still to come. His Word proclaims God's will for humanity and His hope for believers. 

And that’s not all! The Bible reveals God's grace and justice and mercy and holiness, along with His redemptive plan and purpose. It explains the problem (sin) and the solution (salvation) and offers us truckloads of encouragement. 

We can use the Bible as a template to talk to God. We can pray the Scriptures back to Him, ensuring we're praying His will. We can ask Him to fulfill His promises. We can rejoice in knowing God is faithful in everything He says. 

The bottom line is this: the better we understand God's Word, the more effective our prayers will be. And the more we know God, the more likely we are to ask for the things He wants. 

Effective Prayer Centers on Christ 

If we say we want to know God but aren't willing to spend time in His Word, the truth is, we don't really want to know God. It would be silly to receive a letter from a pen pal and immediately write back, without ever reading his or her letter. And yet, that's what we do when we seek to have a relationship with God apart from Scripture:

Hi! It's me again. I didn't make time to read what you said, so I'm just going to guess. By the way, I could use some extra money—I'd like to go on vacation. Which means I need more vacation time, so would you mind using your connections to get me a new job? Also, would you help me lose ten pounds? Okay, well, until next time. In Jesus' name, bye. 

I think we'd all agree that letter (or prayer) sounds selfish. James 4:3 says this about our selfish prayer requests: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." The key to an effective prayer life is to set our eyes on the Lord instead of ourselves. 

Lord, what do You want for me? How are You working in my life? How can I further Your kingdom today? 

Pray for the Spiritual, Not Just the Temporal 

Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." This verse has become a lifeline for me. Whenever I'm walking through something difficult, I remind myself of this verse. But it's also how I try to approach prayer. Behind every earthly problem is a spiritual battle. Yet we tend to ask for temporal fixes instead of heavenly-minded answers. 

I'm sure many problems were cycling through the Ephesian church when the apostle Paul wrote to them. And yet, Paul's prayer focused on their spiritual well-being. Paul set his mind on the things of Christ instead of the things of earth.

In Ephesians 1:17–19, He asks God to give them "a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him." Then he asks God to enlighten their hearts so they would know the hope God had called them to and "the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe." It's a powerful prayer—a prayer I have no doubt God couldn't wait to answer. 

I'm not saying we shouldn't ask God for temporal things. (Trust me, I present all kinds of requests to God.) But when we ask God to enhance our spiritual well-being, we can be sure we're praying in alignment with all that Christ desires for us. 

Jesus taught the disciples that when they pray, they should ask for God's kingdom to come and for God's will to be done (Matt. 6:10). In other words, Jesus taught them to have a spiritual mindset because no matter what's going on in our world (or in the world of our family and friends), the battle is spiritual. 

There's no need for us to be skeptical toward prayer. When we ask for what Jesus desires and delights in, God's answer is a resounding yes. James 5:16 says, "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." Prayer works. But it is only effective when we ask for things in alignment with God's will, with our eyes on Him instead of ourselves. 

If you're feeling discouraged about your prayer life, I encourage you to spend some time meditating on God's Word. Based on Scripture, what does God desire? Then, ask Him for it. Approach prayer with a spiritual mindset, not just an earthly one. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and pray for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done. 

About the Author

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery is a farmer’s wife and mother of four—or as she likes to say, “President of Home Operations.” Stacey loves teaching women the Bible and along with her family makes her home in the cornfields of Indiana. For more, … read more …

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