Show me a Christian who does not pray and I will declare him to be no Christian at all. For we, as Christians, have been given the Spirit of adoption that cries: "Abba, Father!"; we have not been given a Spirit of silence. Yet even though we have this Spirit within us it is still possibly to be lax in the discipline of prayer and we can lose sight of the incredible power of prayer.
"The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."
James 5 v 16 - 18
Queen Victoria once said that she feared the prayers of John Knox more than all the armies of the world; she was, at least, wise for saying so. For as James writes: the prayer of a Christian is powerful and effective. Notice as well the example James uses to back it up, "Elijah was a human being, even as we are." If we needed encouragement to pray then here we have it! Elijah was just like you and me yet his prayers stopped and started the rain! Likewise, our prayers are powerful and effective.
How can this be?
I know my own prayers, they do not appear to be powerful and effective, quite the opposite, they seem so weak, childish, impoverished, lacking, poor things, too poor for God to listen to. What confidence can I have that they are powerful and effective?
If you find yourself thinking so then you have lost sight of the Lord Jesus Christ. For as the passage in Hebrews goes:
"Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."
Hebrews 10 v 19 - 22
Our confidence that our prayers are powerful and effective rests in the work of Jesus Christ as our High Priest and that through him our prayers pleasing to God.
What has prayer achieved?
To make an exhaustive list of the triumph of prayer would take too long instead let me highlight what I personally have seen prayer do. And by prayer I do of course mean God who answers prayer! Prayer first converted me when God answered my plea for forgiveness based on the work of Christ, when I have been proud my prayers have humbled me, when I have strayed they have brought me back to God, in sadness, confusion or worry I find peace in prayer, they equip me to fight sin and gain victory over the flesh, in distress, there is courage and strength to be found in prayer and they draw me close to God so that to joyous exclaim the glories of my Lord seems the most natural thing in the world.
Truly, prayer is the forerunner of God's mercy and when I was in Russia, baking hot and tired my prayers brought a sudden cloud burst that left me refreshed and grinning like a maniac; when David Cameron was in talks about the EU treaty I prayed that he would have courage and he went on to veto it, when I have been downhearted I've prayed for encouragement and got cake at work the next day, three times so far. They have kept me safe when cycling and unhurt in the two times I've fallen off my bike. When the CU needed money prayer lead to God providing a gift of over a thousand pounds, it has overcome many a difficulty and granted uncounted mercies. I have known prayers answered before I've prayed them and answered more abundantly than I could have imagined.
Through prayer I learn perseverance and patience, friendships have been gained and flourished, exams passed, self discipline achieved, wisdom gathered, love stirred up and victory over the Devil won! Prayer is the engine of our spiritual life, the first sign of decline in a Christian is a decline in prayer.
There is nothing in this life that cannot be improved through prayer for even if the situation changes not then God uses prayer to change us to accept the situation with greater trust and humility. Even unanswered prayer is used, by God's grace, to achieve many things in us.
Prayer has won souls to Christ, Martyn Llyod-Jones had a hundred people who he prayed for everyday and by the end of his life all but three were saved. A couple of years later all had come to know Christ. Prayer has brought down governments and raised up others, blessings have been spread, judgements brought down, the church built up, history changed.
Why has prayer achieved this?
Prayer is only powerful and effective because the God who hears our prayers delights to answer them. His Spirit even stirs us up to pray for blessings he is about to give. I am not powerful or effective but God has all power and authority. And in his mercy he listens to and delights in every prayer of his people. As it is written:
"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is his delight." Proverbs 15 v 8.
What do I need to bear in mind?
"You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." James 4v2-3
The biggest rebuke to our half hearted prayer lives is that: we do not have because we do not ask. There is much we do not ask for because we think we don't need to ask or because think that God will not give. Let us put to death both thoughts and ask. Secondly, we can ask but ask from wrong motives, seeking God out over things that would not be good for us. When we get annoyed with God for not answering our prayers then let us bear that more in mind and seek what pleases him.
Pray as though the great Creator heard your every word, pray as though his Spirit dwelt within enabling you to seek God out, pray as though the blood of Christ purified your words and pray with thanksgiving to God for all that he is and all that he has done for us. Pray because if you do not ask you will not have. Pray because if you do not pray you will soon find sin growing and holiness shrinking. Pray because Jesus had to pray and so how much more do we?
Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray and then pray some more. You cannot pray enough in your life. Think of all the mercies you see in your life, recall all that God has ever done for you, remember those sweet answers to prayer he granted, think upon Christ and his intercession for you, reflect upon the awesome power of our God, believe that our prayers are powerful and effective and then get on with it and pray!