Why You Can Believe in the Power of Prayer

I never ceased to be amazed at the power of prayer when the church began in Jerusalem. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples of Christ went to the upper room of the house where they were staying. And what did they do as they waited for what would take place next? “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer” (Acts 1:14).

Then it happened. The Holy Spirit came upon the believers. “Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached to the crowd. Thousands became followers of Christ: “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all” (Acts 2:41).

The church was launched after a small group of believers “were constantly united in prayer” (Acts 1:14). Don’t miss, however, what the new church did at its very beginning. “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, italics added). One of the first priorities of the early church was prayer. It inaugurated the church. And it sustained the church.

It is important, then, to understand why prayer is so vital to the church.

God is omniscient, which means he knows everything. Indeed, he knows all of our needs, hurts, desires, and hopes before we ever articulate them in prayer. Jesus instructed his followers how to pray in what we commonly call the Lord’s Prayer. The first Gospel records this prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. But Jesus prefaced his instructions with these words: “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:7-8).

Jesus’ words are powerfully instructive. First, we are reminded that the efficacy of prayer does not depend on our repetition or cadence as we speak to God. We are speaking as a child speaks to his or her father. The relationship is warm, familial, and informal.

Second, Jesus tells us that we can be confident that the Father knows our prayers even before we articulate them. We don’t pray because the Father needs information. We pray because God desires this relationship with us. Jesus reminds us to approach prayer as though we are talking to a loving father who wants the best for us: “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:11-13).

We pray because we want to acknowledge our dependence on a Father who loves us unconditionally. We pray because God not only listens but listens with concern and a willingness to respond to us. We pray because God delights in our relationship with him.

Further, we pray because we are on mission with God. We pray as Jesus modeled, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). It is amazing that we have the opportunity to pray for the advancement of God’s Kingdom and that we get to participate with the King in that mission.

Jesus reminds us that the effectiveness of prayer begins simply with our willingness and desire to pray. “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

Of course, we should always ask according to God’s will (Matthew 6:10), but that shouldn’t preclude us from asking with boldness. Indeed, the biggest obstacle we face is not asking at all: “You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it” (James 4:2).

The apostle John writes succinctly and clearly: “We are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him” (1 John 5:14). 

Hebrews 4:16 is a good reminder of how we should approach God in prayer: “Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

We are to approach God with confidence. He is our heavenly Father, and he wants what is best for us. This confidence is also reflected in 1 John 5:15: “Since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.”

We also must approach God in prayer with clean hearts. But we know that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. Such is the reason we confess our sins as a beginning to our prayers. The psalmist says, “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).

It has been popular for many years to use the acronym ACTS as a guide for our prayers. We first adore God and praise him. We enter into an act of worship as we begin to pray. Then we confess our sins so that we come to God with pure hearts. The next act of prayer is thanksgiving. We spend a healthy portion of our prayer time praising God for who he is and what he has done. We praise him for answered prayers as well. Finally, we enter into a time of supplication—asking God for specific needs for others and for ourselves.

I would not enter into a biblical debate with someone who uses the ACTS guide for their prayer life. I would simply be grateful they are so faithful in prayer. But my understanding of the doctrine of prayer is that the C should come first. We must confess ours sins so our hearts can be pure for adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication. We affirm the promise of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

Ultimately, we approach God with complete humility because he is God and we are not. He is the Creator; we are the creation. Indeed, we approach him with a posture of total humility and lack of pride because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Indeed, when we come to God with total humility, we are not only coming close to him, but that act of humility is also an act to resist the devil: “Humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

We must be men and women totally devoted to God in prayer. Only then will we fully understand this amazing relationship we can have with God, who loves us completely and unconditionally.

Adapted from I Believe: A Concise Guide to the Essentials of the Christian Faith by Thom S. Rainer. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.  All rights reserved.

Thom Rainer
Thom Rainerhttp://ThomRainer.com

Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of Church Answers and executive director of Revitalize Network. He served for 12 years as dean at Southern Seminary and for 13 years as the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Also a respected researcher and former pastor, he has written more than 25 books, including many best sellers, such as I Am a Church Member. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons, several grandchildren and live in Nashville, Tennessee.