Prayer is one of the most important spiritual disciplines for a believer. But many skeptics have asked, “Does prayer work?” In fact, some skeptics will point to particular studies that demonstrate the so-called ineffectiveness of prayer. Because of such studies, skeptics will proclaim that God is non-existent. However, for one to understand prayer, one needs to understand certain things about prayer. This article will seek to demonstrate that proper prayer is effective. However, prayer is not necessarily effective for all people, for God is not a plaything that can be directed by a person’s whims and fancies. The Bible demonstrates that prayer must have certain qualities. In addition, this article will provide just a few examples of the power of effective prayer. Thus, if one were to look for a thesis, it would be that effective prayer (or prayer properly conducted) is effective.
What Constitutes Effective Prayer?
God is not an inanimate object who can be tested like a chemical compound or a piece of matter. God is an animate being. Due to this, the prayer can be deemed effective when the following three attributes are included:
Effective Prayer Requires Knowing
For prayer to be effective, it requires that one possess and intimate and personal relationship with God though Jesus Christ. When Jesus was asked by his disciples how they should pray, Jesus began the model prayer by saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name” (Matthew 6:9). Thus, prayer must be relational in nature. It requires one knowing the person who is being petitioned. Jesus also noted that prayer should not be performed in order to put on a show. Rather one should “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
Effective Prayer Requires Believing
Jesus said, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24). Thus, prayer requires faith by the person praying that God can do what is being requested. A note of caution must be added here. In the model prayer, Jesus describes that one must pray according to the will of the Father. That is to say, it may not be the will of God for you to own a multi-million dollar home even as much as you may desire one. Therefore, a balance between the faithful prayer of a person contrasted with the will of God must be kept.
Effective Prayer Requires Obeying
Jesus said that “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). James states that one should “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Peter indicates that prayers can be hindered. Peter states that “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as a weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). What does all this indicate? It means that if one is not living an obedient life unto the Lord, then their prayers may not be answered. One cannot expect God to work a miracle in their lives if they are living in a rebellious fashion. God is not mocked. James did not say that the prayers of a rebellious person have great power. Rather, the prayers of a righteous person do.
Is there Evidence that Effective Prayer Works?
Does prayer work? It sure does. I have provided three examples of how prayer is powerful.
Vision Restored for Woman in Hendersonville
When I was attending Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Hendersonville, North Carolina, the wife of a fellow student injured her eye while playing baseball with her kids in their backyard. One of the kids had hit the ball into a field. As she bent over to pick the ball up, she fell and stuck her eye against a stick. The stick penetrated the side of her ocular cavity and severed her optic nerve. The husband asked for the school to pray for his wife. Some of us went to the hospital to see the family. After our visitation, we had a powerful group prayer for the woman. The next Tuesday, the husband was in chapel. With tears rolling down his eyes, he said, “Brothers, this weekend, my wife began seeing objects in black and white. Yesterday, she began seeing objects in color. I want to tell you that she sees better out of that eye now than she did before the accident!!!”
Personally Saved from Blast of Bolt
For those of you who know my testimony, I had rebelled against participating in the ministry for seven years. However, God sent a shot across the bow. I was in an outdoor building and was caught in the midst of a severe thunderstorm. Lightning was popping around the building. I was caught in a building with poplar trees on one side and with metal objects strewn throughout the building. Lightning was striking so close that the hairs on my body were standing on edge—a clear sign that a strike is imminent. I began to pray that God would deliver me from this storm—even if it meant that I reenter the ministry. 30 minutes later, I was able to walk out of the building without a scratch. However, a hole was left in the ground behind the building where the lightning had struck so hard.
The Miraculous Healing of Gracia
Craig Keener has written a two-volume work on miracles entitled, appropriately, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. In his book, Keener describes some of the testimonies of his father-in-law, an evangelist named “Papa” Jacques Moussounga who is originally from the Congo. According to Jacques and reported by Keener…
“when his youngest daughter, Gracia, was seven months old, she was sick with cerebral meningitis, and they took her to A. Sisse Hospital. But the next day, Barhelemy Boubanga, a hospital administrator, sent word that Gracia had only twenty-four hours left to live. That night Papa Jacques and Antoinette Malombe (or Mme Jacques)…remained all night in the hospital, praying; Mme Jacques felt that the child would really die, she went into the bathroom and cried and asked God to give the child back; nevertheless, she felt despair. When the French doctor and the nurse (a nun) entered the room in the morning, the doctor asked tentatively whether the child was still alive, they were surprised to see that she was. The doctor asked to what God they prayed, and when he learned that they prayed to Jesus, he commented, “You pray to a true God.” Gracia recovered only gradually, remaining in the hospital for more than a month, though soon afterward she recovered fully. At the time of my writing this account, Gracia is thirty-five years old and healthy. She was present when I interviewed her mother about this recovery, to confirm and supplement her parents’ account based on what she had been told as a child” (Keener 2011, 336).
Keener provides several other examples of amazing miracles being performed by effective prayer. Keener also records the amazing testimony of Evangelist Daniel Kolenda who…
“reported that after a meeting on December 12, 2009, a weeping mother asked him for prayer. She was holding the limb body of her three-year-old boy, whom both she and the ushers at this meeting in Nigeria believed to be dead; the ushers had tried to send her to the medical tent earlier, but she insisted on waiting until the service was over for prayer. He prayed for about thirty seconds and handed the child back. The next night the mother was back. ‘She had brought her son, and he was perfectly well. They told us that the child had come back to life almost immediately after the prayer’” (Keener 2011, 555).
So you don’t believe prayer can be effective? Tell that to the child who was healed and to the other child who was resuscitated.
Effective prayer is powerful. I would argue that there is a great deal of evidence for the power of such prayers. However, I remain skeptical pertaining to so-called studies performed in demonstrating the effectiveness of prayer. Why? It is because that prayer is relational. God is not a plaything. God is a person. Thus, if one desires evidence pertaining to the power of prayer, go speak to one who has firsthand witnessed the power of God working through effective prayer.
Keener, Craig S. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Volume One. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
© June 22, 2015. Brian Chilton.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).