There is something deep inside us that knows this simple truth: prayer should be easy, and talking to our Heavenly Father should be as natural as breathing. If it’s true that “we have not, because we ask not” (James 4:2), then I believe that asking for and receiving our needs in life should generally be as certain, predictable, and routine as picking up the phone and ordering pizza on a Friday night!
However, many times people want and need to pray but don’t, simply because they don’t know how to pray effectively. Even the disciples, who ministered with Jesus daily for more than three years, said "Lord, teach us to pray!" They watched Him work miracles and heard His wisdom. They were not simply asking Jesus to teach them the mechanics of prayer; they were asking for something much deeper.
Surely these men had prayed in the Temple as children, and even as adults. They could rattle off memorized prayers learned in Hebrew school, for holidays and special offerings, praying as fast as they could to fulfill religious duties. No, what the disciples desired to learn from Jesus was much more than how to look more religious. I believe they were really saying Jesus, teach us to pray like You pray! Because every time You pray, your prayers get results, and we want results like that too! We want to know why You get results in prayer and we don’t!
This same basic need exists in the Church today: we want, we NEED to know how to pray effectively in our personal lives, for our Church and for our nation. Thankfully, we have been given specific instructions in the Word of God on how to pray like Jesus and see powerful results. These include praying based on God’s promises, praying with persistence, and yes, praying like you’re waiting for pizza!
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Principle One: Pray Based on God’s Promises
We can easily see these three principles of prayer at work in the life of one of the heroes of the Bible, the prophet Elijah, and his two famous prayers: that the rain would stop falling over backslidden Israel, and then, three and a half years later, that the rain would begin again, and end the drought.
The story of Elijah and his big, bold prayers, can be found in 1 Kings 17-18. The nation of Israel had been led away into sin by its wicked leaders, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, and had been worshipping a false god called Baal. In order to get Israel’s attention, God spoke to Elijah’s heart and said, “At your word the rain will stop, and at your word the rain will start again.” The drought that ensued left no doubt about the power of Israel’s true God, Jehovah. And Elijah’s final “showdown” against the prophets of Baal, in an impressive display of supernatural firepower, caused Israel to hastily throw off their sin and return to God.
However, James 5:27 describes Elijah as a mere man, a human being like you and me. God is often described as being no respecter of persons; that is, He doesn’t answer prayers because of the merits of the individual. He answers prayers because the individual is obediently praying according to the principles contained in His Word. This truth is the foundation of Elijah's prayers, and is absolutely necessary to seeing our prayers answered, too!
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Principle Two: Pray Like You're Waiting for Pizza
Do you recall how back in the 1980s, one clever pizza company made a mint off a simple marketing hook: they would deliver your pizza within thirty minutes of ordering or it was free. We would call, order a pizza, and the pizza man would say, “It’s now 5:37 P.M. Your pizza will be there in 30 minutes or less!”
And then what would we do? First, we’d give the kids the thirty-minute warning: Dinner in thirty minutes!
Then we’d set the table with paper plates, plastic forks, napkins, drink cups, and soda. We’d dig through the cabinets for garlic powder and red pepper flakes. And then, time after time, we’d go look out the window for the pizza delivery boy.
Once while I was waiting expectantly, it hit me: in complete faith, we took this stranger, the delivery boy, at his word! Our actions showed that we fully expected to be eating our pizza by 6:07 P.M. Indeed, we took all the pizza company employees at their word, without any personal relationship, never having met the CEO or the franchise owner, and having no knowledge about the reliability of the delivery boy trying to earn a few bucks. Even so, our actions demonstrated that we fully expected to be eating our pizza in thirty minutes or less.
It got me thinking. Isn’t God more reliable than a pizza cook or a franchise owner? Isn’t God more trustworthy than a high school senior trying to make a few bucks? Of course He is! In fact, just look at what Jesus said in Mark 11:24: “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
Not... after you see, believe that you receive.
Not... after your prayer is answered, believe that you receive.
But Jesus said, when you pray, believe that you receive. If we are going to pray like Jesus and see our prayers answered like He did, our actions must demonstrate that we trust God that our answered prayer is on the way, even when we don’t yet see it. We must demonstrate that we believe our God is more trustworthy than the pizza boy!
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Principle Three: Pray with Persistence
“And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’ So he went up and looked, and said, ‘There is nothing.’ And seven times he said, ‘Go again’” (1 Kings 18:42-43).
Elijah has a promise from God: it’s going to rain. He has pizza-ready faith and is expecting it to rain at any moment. He says to his servant, “Go and look for rain clouds forming over the sea.”
I can just imagine his servant would be a little hyped, and he’s greatly influenced by Elijah’s expectation. After all, this is Elijah, the one who gets his prayers answered; the one who called down fire from heaven. If Elijah said God would do it, then He will!
The servant goes and looks eagerly, but he comes back and says, “Sorry Boss... nothing.” However Elijah’s faith is strong and he replies, “Go, look again.”
Sorry Boss, nothing.
Go, look again!
Sorry Boss, nothing!!
Six times the servant goes and looks. Six times Elijah has a pizza-ready faith. Six times he takes his stand on the promise of Almighty God, and six times he hears the words, “There is nothing.”
These are the three little words that seem to be sent our way to signify the end of faith, and to cause us to quit on God and quit trusting in His promises. They really say, you can quit praying now, quit believing now, quit hoping, quit dreaming, quit praising, and quit trusting God now.
This is perhaps the most difficult part of any prayer battle we’ll encounter. It’s what the Bible calls a “fight of faith,” and it requires our persistence to battle through the obstacles while keeping our eyes on God. But I’ve learned that there are just no victories without persistence! Hebrews 6:12 says that the promises of God are inherited through faith and patience, or perhaps you could say, endurance. The race, my friends, is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but rather to the persistent!
In any case, persistence has nothing to do with manipulating God to move on our behalf, but has everything to do with making Satan lose his grip! Remember, Jesus taught that we should always pray and not lose heart when He taught on the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-5. This is not a parable about how you and I are supposed to relate to God. After all it would be a really bad example for Jesus to posture the Father as an unjust judge! Rather, this is a parable to teach us how we are supposed to defeat the unjust spiritual forces of darkness that stand in the way of what God has promised. And the way to defeat them is to be persistent: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking, keep praying, and keep looking for your answer.
Eventually you will wear the enemy out, weaken his stronghold over your situation, and you'll see the manifestation of the promise of Almighty God!
Be persistent! As Elijah said “Go, look again...” again... again... again... again... again! If we pray according to His will, He hears us, and if we know He hears us, we know we have the petitions that we’ve asked of Him. Like a battering ram against the forces of darkness, our persistence pries the enemy's fingers off of God’s promises for us. So go, look again!
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God’s “No” is Actually a “Better Yes”
Elijah’s story has taught us some important lessons about what makes prayer powerful. When you pray based on God’s promises with a "pizza ready" expectation (faith that God will in fact do what He’s promised), and you can't be shaken from your expectation of receiving what He's promised, then God WILL send the rain, and the pizza WILL be delivered on time! These principles apply equally to everything we need in life.
But what happens when you just can’t find a promise from God’s Word perfect for your situation? What if you have no idea at all how you should pray? Still yet, what do you do when things don’t turn out in prayer as you thought they would?
To this I will just say: pray the desire of your heart, then release it to God, knowing His will for you is perfect. I have personally experienced the agony of trying to force God’s hand to give me an answer that was not His will or destiny for me. And years later I can say, in the words of Garth Brooks, “Thank God for unanswered prayer!” Moreover, God is so good that He often answers with a “better yes”!
As a teenager, I had my whole life planned out. I dated a young lady who I just knew was “the one.” I had my plan to study accounting, become financially secure, and enter the ministry later in life. Then my girlfriend broke up with me! I prayed earnestly, persistently and in great faith for the restoration of that relationship. But she did not return. After a bit, God led beautiful Lisa DuBois and her family to visit my church. We began dating in college and the rest, as they say, is history!
It’s clear now that God’s destiny for my life was linked to this better relationship. Shortly after we got engaged, Lisa’s family relocated to Connecticut and started attending a church there, which I would also attend when I visited. Providentially, that church offered me a job as an assistant pastor (which launched my ministry career decades ahead of my schedule!) I am now, and have been for the last 25 years, the lead pastor of that church.
God’s “better yes” answer to my prayers caused me to be in the right place at the right time, so I could experience all the wonderful things God had planned for me and this ministry. Even today, as I pray and stand in faith, I remember that God is good and He will answer my “pizza-faith” prayer... but sometimes He answers with a “better yes” than I asked for!
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Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.