You’ve probably had the same frustrations in your prayer, life that I have. I know that prayer is a powerful tool, but I’ve never been able to master it. I’ve claimed Christ’s promises in Matthew 7:7-8 and Matthew 21:22, and still my prayers haven’t been answered. Years ago I began a prayer journal where I record the things I’ve prayed about, as well as how the prayers were answered. After years and years of prayer records, I believe that I’ve finally figured out the key to prayer.
You’re probably like me, in that most of the things that I have asked for in my prayers relate to my family, my friends, my job, my church, my daily walk with God, etc. Well, look at the number of times that I used the word “my” in the previous sentence. Most of my prayers have been about me. That’s the problem. The Christian life is about grace, humility, and love, and, love implies a willingness for self-sacrifice for others. My prayers should probably be more about others than myself (Philippians 2:3).
Furthermore, my prayer records bear this out. Here’s a profound reality: The further that I am removed from a situation, the more effective my prayers are. When my mother was deathly ill, I spent countless hours in praying for her healing, only to see her die after five years of suffering. On the other hand, I have had the experience of praying for the health of someone who I hardly knew, and my prayer was immediately answered with healing.
In other words, when I have had a personal stake in a prayer, and I was going to personally benefit from an answer to that prayer, then the prayer has generally not been too effective. However, when I take myself out of the equation, my prayers have been much more effective.
As another example, when I’ve prayed about financial situations for myself, my prayers haven’t been answered as well as when I’ve prayed about someone else’s financial needs.
Unfortunately, this also means that sometimes, when I am indeed very far removed from the situation, I may not even know how the prayer was answered. I’ve taken international trips where I’ve met people and prayed for them, then I’ve come home and never seen them again. I will never know how those prayers were answered. However, according to this principle of removing myself from my supplications, I have to believe in faith that God indeed answered those prayers.
So, I believe that the most effective prayer is selfless (intercessory) prayer. If I can stop being so selfish, I can have much more success in having my prayers answered.