How Does Prayer Work?

A young man pointing up to the Creator, while outside in creation.

Prayer works because God, through His love for us, wills it to work. He makes Himself accessible and available for us when we want to commune with Him.

We all have that someone we want to tell our good news to, or someone we need to talk to when things aren’t going well. God can be all of that and more, through prayer.

The Bible tells us that God hears us whenever we pray (1 John 5:14; Jeremiah 29:12). And He responds to us through His Word and the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

But how does it all work? Why does prayer seem so mysterious sometimes?

Let’s look closer at what the Bible can tell us about how prayer works:

And finally, we’ll discuss how the heart of prayer is about trusting in our Creator and Redeemer God, who cares for us more than anyone else in the universe.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is prayer?

Prayer happens whenever we speak to God, through thought or voice. He is always listening, so whenever we initiate prayer, that’s all it takes to establish the connection.

When we pray we are inviting God to be a part of our lives by opening our hearts and thoughts to Him. Prayer is our direct line of communication to our Heavenly Father. And the more we communicate with Him, the more our relationship with Him can grow.

If prayer is new to you, it might feel strange or mysterious to be communicating with someone you can’t see or hear in typical ways. And sometimes it can be frustrating when we’re looking for specific answers or blessings, and then they don’t happen. But the good news is that Scripture has plenty of examples of effective prayer that will help us learn how to pray

One thing we’ll look at first is how prayer can put us in tune with God’s will.

1 John 5:14 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” 

Then that brings up the question, “What is God’s will for our prayer life?” 

According to Scripture God wants us to:

Understand and communicate our need for salvation.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

Communicate your need for strength; tap into His power.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;they shall mount up with wings like eagles;they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31 (ESV)

Build trust, reliance, and faith in Him.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15, 16 (ESV)

See also Psalm 9:10; 37:3-5; Proverbs 3:5, 6; John 14:1; and Hebrews 13:6.

Turn to God for strength against temptations.

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41 (ESV)

Remember that we are not in control.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17 (CSB)

Learn more about how the Holy Spirit helps us pray.

What makes prayer work?

It’s not what we do but what God does that makes prayer work.

He hears us because He never stops listening. Any sincere prayer directed to Him will reach Him.

Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” 

Woman calling upon God in prayer, giving thanks for blessings received.

Prayer is one way for us to “seek” a relationship with God.

We don’t have to have the perfect words to say. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us when we don’t know how to pray. 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27 (ESV)

As we seek that relationship “with all our heart,” prayer works through God’s power to hear, see and know all. 

The Bible says in 1 John 5:15, “And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” 

And we know our prayers will be answered because God is all-powerful and all-knowing. 

What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Ephesians 1:19-21 (ESV)

Not only do we have an all-powerful and wise God, but we also have a profoundly loving Heavenly Father. 

Jesus tells us, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13, ESV). 

So we know that God wants to bless us, His children. All we have to do is ask!

But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Psalm 66:19 (ESV)

Prayer works because God promises it does.

Jesus promises us in Luke 11:9-10, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” 

He makes this promise after He demonstrates how to pray (Luke 11:2-4 and Matthew 6:9-13).

In the Lord’s Prayer, we see Jesus demonstrate how prayer gives God the Father the glory and praise due to Him. Plus we see the request for daily needs to be met, as well as asking for the forgiveness of sins

Right after Jesus’ prayer, He tells a short parable that is often referred to as, “the persistent neighbor” (Luke 11:5-8). 

In this parable, the first neighbor needs bread for a traveler that arrived at their home in the middle of the night. He doesn’t have any, so he goes to the second neighbor’s door to see if he can borrow some bread. (And yes, it’s still the middle of the night.)

The second neighbor is taken aback by the audacity of this request. He makes excuses to avoid getting up to provide the bread. 

But then the second neighbor thinks twice and decides to get up and give the first neighbor the bread. Simply because he asked.

The point of this parable is not necessarily the persistence of the first neighbor. And it’s not saying that effective prayer is synonymous with pestering. 

The point is that if an inconvenienced neighbor will positively respond to an audacious request, then how much more will a loving God respond to our requests?

Following the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11, Jesus promises that we cannot inconvenience God! 

He is better than our best neighbor. He wants to hear from you.

We also see in verses 11-13 that God is better than the best parents. He wants to give us good things!

God’s Word promises:

  • We can approach God with confidence because He understands us (Hebrews 4:15-16).
  • He hears us (Psalms 66:19).
  • We can’t inconvenience God with our requests (Luke 11: 5-8).
  • He wants to bless us (Luke 11:11-13).
Sabbath School Lesson: The Bible and #Prophecy
Sabbath School Lesson: The Bible and #Prophecy

Prayer works more effectively as we build our relationship with Him.

We stay connected to God when we have a healthy prayer life. It makes sense, in the way our conversations grow with people as we become better friends with them.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” (ESV). 

This doesn’t mean that we should always be on our knees, or have our nose constantly stuck in a prayer journal. John 15 uses the word “abide” to describe the kind of relationship God wants with us. He wants us to “remain” or “stay” with Him. We make ourselves open for prayer at all times.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7 (ESV)

This continual communication, or communion, strengthens our relationship with God. As we grow in our relationship with God, our prayers will become fuller and deeper. As we understand His will better, we will better understand how to communicate with Him.  

We have a wonderful example of this kind of prayer in Psalms 63. When David wrote this psalm he was in the wilderness of Judah. He had no water, no food, and was in need of help because he was being followed by King’s Saul army.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you.

Psalms 63:1 (ESV)

Here we see that David desires a relationship with God over the blessings He provides. This prayer could have been a request for food, water, and victory over his enemies. Instead, it’s a prayer of praise and worship!

Prayer works by being more than just talking to God.

The Bible has a lot of examples of prayer being used to request things, confess things, and say things to God. But, there are elements of prayer that strengthen us just by opening ourselves to God and abiding in His presence. 

Prayer helps us contemplate who He is and what the Bible says about Him (Psalm 46:10; Psalm 63:6-8). 

When we consider that God is infinitely powerful (Ephesians 1:18-19), and He is love (1 John 4:8), and that love is directed toward us (1 Corinthians 2:9), how can that not affect us (2 Corinthians 3:18)? 

Our mindset or perspective changes. We can “rejoice in the Lord always” and “not be anxious about anything” because we know that God has it under control (Philippians 4:4-7, ESV).

Prayer works because our loving God wants it to work. He listens to us, no matter when we call on Him, and desires to bless us. 

Prayer works by strengthening our relationship with Him. And it works by changing our perspective and bringing us peace and joy that can only be found in Him. 

An African American man looking up smiling, as he trusts in God.

Want to keep learning about prayer, and how to make it part of your daily life?