Recent research has shown that Google searches for prayer have increased to the highest level ever on record during the current pandemic. Looking at data across 95 countries, searches for information on prayer rose dramatically regardless of income and other socioeconomic factors. It is clear that, at a minimum, the COVID-19 pandemic has piqued a curiosity in religion. That’s great news for opportunities to share the gospel all over the world!
But why would prayer become so popular during this crisis? Why is prayer what people are searching for information about? Why would an unbeliever research prayer? To understand the answer to these questions requires us to understand how people view prayer. There has to be something about prayer – what they have heard, experienced or observed – that draws someone to want to know more about it.
For the Christian, we should understand this. We know the power of prayer. Every Christian has experienced answered prayers. If you are a believer, your prayer to God for salvation was answered. God has redeemed you out of your sin and changed your nature. You now desire a personal relationship with God and to please Him. Tim Keller defines prayer as “a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God.” The believer knows God, desires more knowledge of Him and desires to communicate with Him through prayer.
Doubtless, many of those increases in google searches were from believers seeking instruction on how to pray more effectively. While these times of uncertainty have brought us to our knees, they have likely also highlighted a feeling of insufficiency and ineffectiveness in our prayers. Google may be able to find us articles, blogs or resources on prayer, but we have an even greater manual on praying effectively – the never changing source of all truth. Scripture is our ultimate guide to prayer. It is the inspired word of God. His very words are given to us. His Spirit opens our eyes and convinces our hearts of this truth. If we want more effective prayers, the place to begin is in the word.
Let’s look at what Jesus teaches us in John:
John 15:7 (ESV) 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Here, Jesus explains something to us about prayer. Abiding in Him requires that His word abides in us. We find His words in scripture so part of abiding in Him is being in the word. As we abide in the word – read it, understand it, meditate on it – we abide in Him. That abiding in Him aligns our desires to His desires. We strive for Christlikeness and our thoughts become those in agreement with the truth, promises and commands of scripture. Our will is molded and shaped to His will. We are then prepared to pray in a way that honors Him and that will be pleasing to Him. Thus, we are prepared to ask whatever we wish because our desires are now His desires and they will be done. John MacArthur explains it this way:
True believers obey the Lord’s commands, submitting to His word. Because of their commitment to God’s word, they are devoted to His will, thus their prayers are fruitful, which puts God’s glory on display as He answers.
The centrality of scripture in prayer is of utmost importance. If we are to pray effective prayers, they should be saturated with biblical truth – even to the point of praying God’s words back to Him in reverence. Scripture is both the vehicle that leads us in what to pray and the avenue in which we understand the answer to prayer. Andew Murray, in his great book on prayer With Christ in the School of Prayer, explains this well:
Before prayer, it is God’s word that prepares me for it by revealing what the Father has bid me ask. In prayer, it is God’s word strengthens me by giving my faith it’s warrant and its plea. And after prayer, it is God’s word that brings me the answer when I have prayed, for in it the Spirit gives me to hear the Father’s voice. Prayer is not monologue but dialogue; God’s voice in response to mine in its most essential part. Listening to God’s voice is the secret of the assurance that He will listen to mine. ‘Incline thine ear, and hear;’ ‘Give ear to me;’ Hearken to my voice;’ are words which God speaks to man as well as man to God. His hearkening will depend on ours; the entrance His words ﬁnd with me, will be the measure of the power of my words with Him. What God’s words are to me, is the test of what He Himself is to me, and so of the uprightness of my desire after Him in prayer.
God uses His Word to speak to us. We use His Word to speak to Him. What a privilege that we have scripture to allow us to know more about our almighty Father. As Keller says, our prayers should be the personal, communicative response to our knowledge of God.
If you are like most of us though, your prayers fall into ruts of repetition. We pray for the same things in the same ways, maybe substituting a new name or a new situation occasionally. While being steadfast in prayer is modeled in scripture, ritualistic, repetitive praying is not what we are taught. Don Whitney captures the essence of this point well:
One of the reasons Jesus prohibited the empty repetition of prayers is because that’s exactly the way we’re prone to pray. Although I don’t merely recite memorized prayers, my own tendency is to pray basically the same old things about the same old things. And it doesn’t take long before this fragments the attention span and freezes the heart of prayer. The problem is not our praying about the same old things, for Jesus taught us (in Luke 11:5–13; 18:1–8) to pray with persistence for good things. Our problem is in always praying about them with the same ritualistic, heartless expressions.
Similarly, John Piper expresses the same concept:
If I try to pray for people or events without having the Word in front of me guiding my prayers, then several negative things happen. One is that I tend to be very repetitive from day to day and hour to hour, and I just pray the same things all the time. . . . But the Bible . . . . gives me biblical things to pray for so that I’m not praying with empty and vague requests like “God bless them” and “God bless that.” Rather, I’m asking for specific things that the Bible commends.
If your prayers lack passion and conviction, get in the Word! Study the prayers of the psalms and hear their cries to the Lord. Read the prayers of Daniel and the Old Testament saints who longed for a Savior. Meditate on the prayers of Paul for the early church and his passion for the gospel. These prayers are rooted in the never changing, perfect Word of God. They are just as applicable in the time of this pandemic as they were in the trials of the biblical saints. Abide in the word and so abide in Christ. That will produce powerful, effective prayer.