Frequently prayer is our last resort: all else has failed and we feel that ‘it can’t hurt to throw up a petition to heaven.’ There’s no real conviction behind our words. So how can we expect our prayers to be answered?
It says in the Gospel of Matthew (17:20 New Living Translation) "You don't have enough faith," Jesus told them. "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible."
Here are 10 ways to nurture that tiny seed of faith inside you and unleash the power of your prayers.
1. Desire the Right Things
If we want God to listen to our prayers, our requests mustn’t be un-Christian and selfish. As Albert Benjamin Simpson said: “We cannot ask in behalf of Christ what Christ would not ask Himself if He were praying.”
We must genuinely desire our own good and the good of others. To do this we have to give up our own will - the hardest Christian virtue of all. Here’s a great quote from Alan Redpath: “Before we can pray, "Lord, Thy Kingdom come," we must be willing to pray, "My Kingdom go."
God knows what we need, and desires to give it to us, if we’re willing to leave our egos behind when we pray.
2. Believe and You Will Receive
Evan Roberts sums up exactly how I feel before God on so many occasions when I am tempted to doubt that he will answer my prayers:
‘Over and over again I am ashamed of myself for ever doubting that God is listening to my prayers. I have so many instances of seemingly hopeless situations where He showed me, yet again, that He is walking with me and ‘all things are possible with Him.’
I have three recent examples of seemingly hopeless situations when God answered my prayers. Twice I prayed for another’s good and once for mine, believing that God would grant my requests. He didn’t let me down.
"God does nothing except in response to believing prayer." John Wesley
3. Be Persistent: Pray Daily
Don’t be one of those people who only pray when things go wrong or when they want something.
“Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude.” Walter A. Mueller
Make prayer a daily habit. First, praise God and thank Him for the good things in your life. Ask how you can glorify Him through your actions during this day, and only add your petitions at the end of your prayer sessions.
As long as your request fits the criterion of being right, pray for it with perseverance and patience.
St. Paul also exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” (Thessalonians 5:17 New Living Translation)
Don’t expect an immediate response: God’s timing is not our timing.
4. Defy the Devil
Daily prayer will strengthen you as a Christian. You will badly need to be strong, because the devil will go after you big time when he sees what you’re up to.
“No one is a firmer believer in the power of prayer than the devil; not that he practices it, but he suffers from it.” Guy H. King, Baptist Minister
He’ll tell you God isn’t listening, that God won’t mind if you skip your prayers tonight – anything to make you cease talking to Him. When you feel Satan coming at you, take heart: your prayers are working, otherwise he wouldn’t feel the need to dissuade you from talking to God.
Don’t let the devil prevent you from persistent prayer.
5. Pray Even When You Don’t Feel Like It.
Sometimes you don’t feel all fired up about chatting to God, or you don’t know what to say.
Yet make yourself pray every day, whether or not you’re in the mood: God will appreciate your efforts.
This article “But I Don’t Feel Like Praying” may help you.
Or watch this short video of St. Josemaria Escriva explaining the benefits of praying when you don’t feel like it. He tells us that in praying when we find it difficult, we are offering a sacrifice to God which 'bears much fruit.'
6. Don’t Test God
Don’t demand that your prayers be answered, or else you’ll refuse to believe in God.
“Some people think that prayer just means asking for things, and if they fail to receive exactly what they asked for, they think the whole thing is a fraud.” Gerald Vann
Remember Christ’s words to Thomas: "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me." John 20:29
We cannot pray in the spirit of testing God. He won’t be impressed.
7. Be in Good Standing with Your Neighbor
If you bear anyone ill-will and have not forgiven those who’ve trespassed against you, don’t expect God to listen to your prayers.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”(Matthew 5:23-24 New Living Translation)
Before you put your personal petitions before God, pray for your enemies and wish well on them. Forgive them in your heart, and wish good things to befall them.
Pray somewhere quiet, where you can avoid the distractions of daily life. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 10a) and listen to the whisper of His voice.
Give Him your full attention while you converse with Him. Ignore those annoying, clamoring voices in your head and allow Christ’s peace to flow into you.
Here’s a very short video which makes this point (the ads are fun but you can skip them!).
This is not easy. For example, I pray a lot while I’m driving. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
9. Structure Your Prayer Time
We are creatures of habit who thrive on routine, and it's beneficial to apply this principle to our prayer life.
Set aside the same time every day for prayer, when you can. But don’t launch immediately into your list of woes when you talk to Him.
1. Begin by glorifying God and naming the graces He’s bestowed on you.
2. Then give Him thanks for everything He has done for you.
3. When you’ve done this, you’ll feel a lot less whiny and now is a good time to put your petitions to Him.
An additional benefit of this method is that it provides a useful 'template' when praying is difficult. It also ensures that you don’t forget to give Him His due every day, in addition to your supplications.
10. Pray the Rosary
It is impossible to underestimate the power of praying the Rosary.
As Catholics we believe that the Mother of Jesus is our mother, too. She brings our petitions to her Son, Who cannot refuse her. She has frequently asked us to pray the Rosary during her numerous appearances.
The devil hates the Rosary, it is one of our most powerful weapons against him. Our Lady crushes the serpent Satan beneath her feet with the aid of our prayers.
As Our Lady said to the children of Medjugorje on February 25, 1988:
“Therefore, little children, do not be afraid. If you pray, Satan cannot injure you even a little, because you are God’s children and He is watching over you. Pray, and let the Rosary always be in your hands as a sign to Satan that you belong to me…”
Christ was frustrated with His disciples for their lack of faith, and told them that they had only to ask and they would receive. He wants to give us so much, if only we would ask properly!
Incorporate the above 10 principles into your prayers, and you will greatly improve the quality of your conversations with God.