In Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Morte D'Authur," he pens the famous line:
Most professing religions believe in prayer. The difficulty lies in knowing how to pray and to whom. The Christian world certainly believes that the LORD God answers prayers, though some may seek him through emissaries, "special saints," or the Virgin Mary. Yet, even in Christian prayers, many have difficulty finding solid ground for what may be appropriate to request. Nevertheless, many still pray.
Examples of prayer in both the Old and New Testaments give clear guidance to those who study them. The prime requirements are faith in the Father, unselfishness on the part of the one who prays, and a love for God and his will.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).
Radio, online, and TV evangelists have sometimes promised great wealth and financial success to those who have the faith to pray while also requesting a little contribution for the evangelist. They have led their followers to pray for things that directly conflict with God's Word. However, these kinds of promises have prompted many guarantees from interpreters that are unhelpful. However, some of these guarantees are couched in unscriptural terms and targets. Jesus' half-brother, James, warned:
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?
Selfish, greedy, and wrongly-motivated prayer is not answered!
This principle about wrongly-motivated prayer does not mean that we should quit praying for God to heal a sick loved one or friend. Though such prayer might appear to be selfishly motivated, God sees these prayers as loving intercession. He wants us to pray for others to be healed, forgiven, and blessed (James 5:14-15).
Unselfish prayer does not exclude one's praying about ourselves (Matthew 6:9-13; James 5:13). Jesus himself prayed in the Garden shortly before his death:
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible, the hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:35-36).
Jesus did pray for personal relief from the ordeal he was about to face. However, notice his attitude — that characteristic by which God judges all of a person's life. Jesus' motive in praying was made clear by the phrase which Jesus attaches to his plea: "Yet not what I will, but what you will." While Jesus sought relief, he sought it within the will of God to fulfill the will of God because of his love for God. That is still the fundamental block on which to build one's prayer life, as Paul's famous promise of God's work for good in our lives indicates:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 — Underline added for connection and emphasis.)
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:6-8).
Prayer that the Father hears is directed to him in faith with an unselfish attitude, seeking to bless and honor God's will because of our love for the Father. It sounds simple, and it should be. Jesus made that clear in his model prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). However, for those of us who feel our faith is small, we need to remember another promise of Jesus about prayer:
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"
He replied, "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:19-20).