I read numerous books about the subject from well-known authors such as Spurgeon, Moody, and Bounds; I also read books by some not-so-well-known authors.
I watched multiple You Tube clips of preachers extolling the virtues of prayer and how prayer has been answered in their own churches.
I listened to various testimonies of incredible – even miraculous – answers to prayer.
And of course, I prayed myself.
After two decades of being a praying Christian, and as an announcement for 2016, I can finally declare what I know about prayer…
It is still a complete mystery to me!
I know…major disappointment. But continue to read to understand why I came to that conclusion.
As I said, I prayed for many years – sometimes consistently, and sometimes not. A few times I had amazing breakthroughs in a very short time; other times it has been long and arduous; in most cases the answer never came or appeared as a definite “no.”
This inconsistency has been frustrating. Why haven’t my prayers worked? What am I doing wrong? What sin in my life prevents God from answering? What must I do to make prayer work?
The problem with my complaint is the complaint itself. I forgot what is prayer. Prayer is not an object and it is not a method. Prayer is the personal interaction between a redeemed soul and a holy God. He is a being with his own mind, volition and will. He is not a vending machine. He is not my genie. When I pray to God, I am praying to someone who is completely independent from me. In Psalm 50, verse 12, God declares:
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Imagine if I treated my wife the way I treated God. I would communicate with my wife only a means of getting answers and having my needs fulfilled. Can you imagine what she would say to me?
One of my common complaints about prayer is why can’t God answer me the way he answer Elijah when he prayed for fire to fall down on the sacrifice (the account is mentioned in 1 Kings 18:36-40). He prayed and BOOM, it happened.
However, there was an interesting detail I had missed. Before this miraculous episode, Elijah had spent three years in communion with God as he waited for direction. Three years of daily reliance and fellowship with God.
Therefore, the first thing to remember about prayer is that we must spend a lot of time with God and to know him before the answer will come. It does take effort. Wesley Duewell says, “Prevailing prayer always involves a price, and Elijah paid that price for at least three years.”
The second thing to remember is although God may have quickly answered a prayer before it does not mean that he will do so again. After Elijah had an instant answer to his prayer, he immediately prayed afterwards for God to end the drought that Israel had suffered for three years. He had to pray seven times before his servant saw a small cloud on the horizon and then the rain came.
So in the end, press on. Take the time and effort to have fellowship with God until the answer comes.
Sometimes the request will change as you seek God.
Sometimes you will change and the answer will not be necessary any more.
Other times the answer will not come.
But always remember that the reality of prayer is that you – an animated house of dirt – through the blood of Christ shed on the cross, have the privilege to commune with the Creator of the universe, and call him Father. And that should be more valuable than the answer itself.
 Mighty Prevailing Prayer, EPub Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 16.