by Jeff Wolverton
Sentry Magazine, September 2002
Acceptable prayer must be preceded by faithful, righteous living. Many Christians live spiritually indolent, impure lives and expect the mouthing of a few words of prayer from time to time to make all things right between them and their Creator. Needless to say, they pray in vain. If we would pray to God for His manifold blessings and have our petitions granted, we must strive to follow the path of obedience, turning away from evil and doing good. See John 9:31; I Peter 3:10-12 (a quote from Psalms 34:12-16); l John 3:21-22; and James 5:16.
"He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination" (Proverbs 28:9).
It must be offered in faith. Genuine prayer is expressive of a belief that God answers prayer, for one cannot truly pray to God who does not believe that his prayer will be answered. God will not answer any prayer unless it is offered to Him in faith (Matthew 21:22, Mark 11:24).
After James exhorts those who lack wisdom to request it from God, he designates the absolute requirement of faith to make such a request answerable by God (James 1:6, 7). The Christian whose life is victorious through Christ is one whose life is supercharged with faith, for "this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith" (I John 5:4).
Let us be certain that our prayers are offered in faith, nothing doubting, for without faith they will fail to reach the throne of God's grace.
It must be offered in sincerity, humility, and fervency. "I will pray with the spirit ..." (I Corinthians 14;15). The word "spirit" refers here to the correct attitude: sincerity. humility, and fervency, important characteristics of every acceptable prayer. "Hear a just cause, O Lord, give heed to my cry; give ear to my prayer, which is not from deceitful lips" (Psalms 17:1).
Humility and sincerity in prayer involve a strong sense of our sins and unworthiness. This is taught in the Lord's parable of the publican and Pharisee, revealed in Luke 18:10-14.
The need of drawing near to God with a deep, sincere sense of our shortcomings is further stressed in James 4:8-10. When one prays to God in humility and sincerity. be will necessarily be single-minded, intense, and fervent-not halfhearted, listless, and lethargic. His whole being will be projected toward the mind of God. "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly ..."(James 5:17).
"Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers ..."(Colossians 4:12). Must be offered with understanding. "I will pray with the spin: and I will pray will the mind also" (I Corinthians 14:15). Even after we have earnestly applied ourselves to the search for divine truth, the fallacy of our beings keeps us from knowing perfectly what we should pray for, and we must rely upon the aid of the Holy Spirit. "And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27).
Must be offered in the name of Christ. Our Lord declared "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:6). Jesus here affirms that He is the sole access that men have to the presence and blessings of God This truth is also revealed in the relationship of the Lord to us as our high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Prayers to God which are not offered through Jesus Christ our high priest are uttered in vain (Colossians 3:17; John 14:13-14).