Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Eddie Smith's new book, How to be Heard in Heaven: Moving from Need-Driven to God-Centered Prayer, (Bethany House, 2007). Our reader commented: "Wow – what an amazing book this is! Before reading it, I had thought I was pretty good at praying, but this book helped me see some important ways I can grow in prayer, and I hope this article will do the same for readers."
Do you devote lots of time and energy to prayer, yet sometimes feel frustrated because it seems like you’re not getting answers?
Despite how much effort you put into praying, God may not answer your prayers at all if you approach Him in the wrong way. But if you come to God in the right way, your prayers will be heard in heaven.
Here’s how you can be heard in heaven:
Become the kind of person to whom God listens. Realize that God doesn’t answer prayers; He answers people who pray. Understand the three types of people mentioned in the Bible to whom God refuses to listen: those who refuse to repent of their sin, those who try to manipulate Him in prayer, and those who are double-minded. Make sure you’ve confessed and repented of the sins of which you’re aware, that your motives for praying are pure, and that you’re living with integrity and passion for God as your top priority.
Move to a higher level of prayer. Although the most common type of prayer is one that simply presents requests to God, understand that praying to receive something is the lowest level of prayer and that God expects believers to grow beyond that into prayer that pleases Him more. The second level of prayer is praying to relate – enriching your relationship with God through praise, worship, and adoration. Know that this kind of prayer brings God great pleasure, but there’s a still higher level of prayer. The top level of prayer is praying to produce – prayer that seeks to fulfill God’s purposes on Earth to expand His kingdom in this fallen world and bring Him glory. As you grow in spiritual maturity, graduate from problem-centered praying to purpose driven prayer.
Elevate God’s agenda above your own. Recognize that prayer isn’t primarily about you; it’s about God. Ask God to help you focus more on fulfilling His purposes than you do on getting your own needs and desires met. Know that if you make fulfilling God’s purposes your highest priority in prayer, He will give you everything you need. Pray according to God’s will, seeking to expand His kingdom first, and everything else will fall into place.
Instead of asking God to change your circumstances, ask Him to use them. Don’t be surprised by the struggles you encounter in this fallen world, and don’t waste most of your energy in prayer seeking escape from challenging circumstances. Instead, pray that God will use your circumstances to help you grow as a person, glorify Christ, and extend His kingdom.
Pray for blessing, not cursing. Never use prayer to ask God to harm someone who has offended you. Remember that we’re now under the new covenant of grace, in which Christ calls believers to love and pray for their enemies.
Pray with God, not just to Him. Know that God responds to prayers that align with His will. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you to pray about the right things with the right attitude, so that your prayers will become more effective.
Expect extraordinary results. Pray with a sense of eager anticipation, expecting that God may very well do something extraordinary even in ordinary situations. Remember that prayer works; it can and does bring about powerful change. Know that God sometimes even chooses to perform miracles in response to prayer. Don’t doubt that God will respond to your prayer; believe that He will always act to do what’s best.
Approach God with spiritual hunger and thirst. Acknowledge when you’ve come to the end of your power, and recognize that you urgently and desperately need God to help you. Let God know that you long for Him to intervene. Express your passion for Him. Thank Him for the myriad ways He has come through for you in the past. Trust Him to do what’s best for you now.
Ask God to help you care about what He cares about. Remember that God’s thoughts aren’t your thoughts. Understand that God is concerned about much more than simply meeting your needs; He’s in charge of a vast kingdom that needs His attention. While God is interested in meeting your needs, He’s also interested in having you pray for concerns that go beyond your own needs. Pray for God to help you see situations the way He does and to pray about them in ways that reflect His will.
Stop giving God instructions. Rather than praying for God to handle a particular situation in a certain way (as if you know what’s best more than He does), pray to discover God’s purpose in each situation so you can direct your prayers toward the fulfillment of that purpose. Recognize that God often answers prayers in creative, unexpected ways. Invite Him to answer your prayers however He wishes instead of dictating how you’d like Him to answer them. Ask God to show you the big picture when you pray, and keep in mind that His plans for you are far bigger than you can even ask or imagine.
Join God where He’s working. Discover what God is doing around you and pray for God to receive glory and expand His kingdom through those situations. Instead of focusing on what you wish God was doing, focus on what He is actually doing. Once you identify evidence of God’s work, thank Him and praise for it. Proclaim His work to others and celebrate it. Form your prayer requests around what God is doing, so your prayers will line up with His purposes.
Get rid of worry. Realize that anxiety voids your prayers because it demonstrates a serious lack of faith. Know that if you question God’s intentions or doubt His ability, He won’t answer you. Understand that, plain and simple, worry is sin. Pray for the wisdom to discern between things that you can and can’t change, the serenity to accept those things we can’t change and the courage and personal discipline to change the things we can change. Whenever a concern enters your mind, pray about it rather than worrying about it. Express your gratitude to God for what you believe He is going to do in response to your prayers – before He does it – to live by faith instead of just sight. Remember that you can always trust God to do what’s best. Praise Him for how much He cares for you and how wonderfully He makes everything work together to accomplish good purposes. Choose to offer God praise even when you don’t feel like it, and expect that as you start to do so, you will start to feel like continuing. Expect that when you turn your worries into prayers, Jesus will give you the true peace you need.
Make sure your inner thoughts, conversations with others, and behavior line up with your prayers. God knows the thoughts in your mind, He hears how you talk to others about the issues you bring before Him in prayer, and He notices your behavior. When you pray about a certain situation, don’t doubt in your mind that God will answer the prayer. Don’t declare in prayer that you’re trusting God to answer, only to express worry about the situation to others. Once God does answer you, give Him the credit when talking with others, rather than saying something like, “It was a coincidence,” or “I can’t believe what happened.” Be sure to behave in a way that is consistent with what you’re praying for. For example, if you’re praying for a family member to be saved, start treating that person as if he or she has already come to faith, expecting that God will eventually answer your prayers for that person.
Use the Lord’s Prayer as a model of how to pray. Look to Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6: 9-13 for inspiration when you pray. Approach God with the warmth of a child reaching out to a loving daddy. Pray that His name would be glorified in whatever situation you’re praying about. Submit to God’s leadership. Trust Him for what you need on a day-to-day basis. Be reconciled to others – by forgiving those who have hurt you and asking those you have hurt to forgive you – before approaching God. Ask God to proactively deliver you from temptation and protect you from evil. Assure God that everything you pray about is for ultimate purpose of expanding His kingdom.
Praise God when He answers your prayers. Remember that God never responds to ingratitude. No matter how challenging your current circumstances are, you can still find things for which to be grateful. Consider recording evidence of answered prayer in a journal to develop a habit of noticing how God is responding to your prayers. Regularly thank Him for what He’s doing. Frequently celebrate even the smallest answers to prayer.
Adapted from How to be Heard in Heaven: Moving from Need-Driven to God-Centered Prayer, copyright 2007 by Eddie Smith. Published by Bethany House Publishers, Bloomington, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com.
Eddie Smith, co-founder and president of the U.S. Prayer Center, equips intercessors worldwide through articles, books, and his international teaching ministry. Before founding the U.S. Prayer Center in 1990, Eddie and his wife, Alice, served 16 years as evangelists and 14 years in local churches. Eddie and Alice make their home in Houston, Texas.