The Locks and Keys of Prayer
Over the years, we've categorized twenty of these biblical principles into what we call the "Locks and Keys" of prayer. Ten of them are principles that bog down our praying and restrict its freedom and effectiveness. The other ten, however, give prayer a burst of second wind and third wind, pushing it beyond all limits. We'll look at the ten locks of prayer first.
10 Locks of Prayer
- Praying without knowing God through Jesus, Prayer is obviously a fairly universal response when a person is under heavy attack. How many interior hallway closets have turned into prayer closets when a tornado is bearing down!' God, of course, can answer any request He chooses from any person who asks. But when it comes to knowing God as Father and walking with Him in answered prayer, Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6). Just as people who don't share much common ground in their relationship have a hard time keeping conversation going, those who haven't believed in God for the forgiveness of their sins cannot expect God to feel obligated to respond.
- Praying from an unrepentant heart. The Bible says God "knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14 HCSB). He's not surprised by our struggle to remain steadfast. But He also looks at our hearts, and He knows when we are "broken" by our sin (Ps. 51:17). The trouble comes, however, when our hearts aren't broken at all—when we're cold and indifferent toward His Word and our transgressions of it. As the writer of Psalm 66 said, "If 1 had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (v. 18 NV). When we cling to our sin and stiff-arm God, then He Will stiff-arm our prayers until we are willing to repent. If we're determined to be the one who calls the shots in our lives, we shoot ourselves in the foot as far as our prayer is concerned.
- Praying for show. People who pray merely to impress others had better enjoy those people's "amens" and compliments while they last. Because according to Jesus, that's the full extent of the reward. "When you pray," He said, "you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full" (Matt. 6:5). Public prayers that have not been seasoned by private prayers are hardly worth the hot air required to speak them. Always remember, even when you're leading others in prayer, you're still addressing an audience of One.
- Praying repetitive, empty words. Prayer can take a lot of forms. It can be spoken off the cuff. It can be written out and read word for word. It can be so deep and heartfelt that it only comes out as single syllables. One thing that makes our praying land with a thud of wasted words is when we're talking and talking but aren't even listening to what we're saying. Jesus said, "When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they sup-pose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt. 6:7-8). Sure, there's discipline and duty behind prayer. We don't always feel like praying, even when we do it. But we all know when we've let prayer devolve into nothing but canned, thoughtless, mindless words. And no one— not even God—likes to be on the receiving end of that kind of thoughtless conversation.
- Prayers not prayed. Surely the most ineffective prayers of all are those we never even take the time to pray. As James said, "You do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2). How many times do we just motor past Him, never braking for directions or advice, too busy and in too much of a hurry to stop and seek His counsel? We meant to pray. We thought about it. But we were never able to work it into our schedule. Therefore, we should not expect an unprayed prayer to receive anything other than unsatisfying silence.
- Praying with a lustful heart. Some of us never outgrow our tendency to ask God for things we want only because we think they'll be our source of happiness rather than Him. "You ask and do not receive," James said, "because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3). If lust, greed, bitterness, or pride are motivations for requesting something, then God will not be pleased to respond. Like a wise parent with a pushy child, God knows what to give us for our good . . . and what not to give us for our good as well. But if we love Him most, then He takes delight in giving us good things we desire. Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart."
- Praying while mistreating your spouse. When we're not treating with love and respect the one person in our life whom we've vowed to treat with love and respect, God makes special mention of it as an inhibitor to prayer. His warning is primarily to men: "Husbands . . . live with your wives in an understanding way . . . and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered" (1 Pet. 3:7). But the same principle obviously cuts both ways. How can we expect to be at peace with God in prayer when we are sowing disunity in our own homes? Being ugly to our wives (or husbands) is a backbreaker in prayer.
- Praying while ignoring the poor. Scripture is replete with the compassion of God for the poor, the needy, the helpless victim, the voiceless, and those who suffer persecution and injustice. When you show compassion to those in need, God shows favor on your requests. But the opposite is true as well. "He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered" (Prov. 21:13). If you snub the poor and destitute as if they're less than human, an eyesore—or just completely invisible—expect to feel blockage in your experience of prayer. Needy sinners like ourselves shouldn't feel more deserving of the Father's care and notice than the needy around us.
- Praying with bitterness in your heart toward someone. It is sinful to receive God's forgiveness, totally undeserved, and then consider ourselves exempt from the command and responsibility of forgiving others who've offended us. "Whenever you stand praying," Jesus said, "forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions" (Mark 11:25-26). Bitterness is a toxin that not only poisons us spiritually, mentally, even physically, but also poisons the effectiveness of prayer and the full experience of our relationship with God.
- Praying with a faithless heart. One final barrier to prayer is the basic prerequisite of belief. Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." Whenever we don't trust someone and are convinced they don't have the capability or willingness to do what they say, a breach clouds that relationship. The same thing happens when we don't believe God can help us with what we need. We should "ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6-8). Lukewarm belief is the weakest form of praying. Doubt locks us out of our own prayer closets.
- Praying persistently by asking, seeking, and knocking. We're accustomed to busy people who don't have time to be interrupted. Unless, that is, the important person we're wanting to see is someone who truly loves and cares for us, which is exactly what happens in prayer. Based on this relationship—Father to child—that's why we're told to "keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8 hcsb). One of the most astonishing keys of effective prayer is to not hold back in our asking—and to keep asking, persistently, day after day. He will answer when the time is right. But we will know it's Him who's giving if we haven't given up in asking.
- Praying in faith. People who don't think they'll get what they pray for will likely not get what they pray for. But it's not supposed to be this way . . . God is pleased with faith. Jesus praised those who asked in faith. To fully trust Him and His Word appeals to the heart of God. Jesus said, "I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you" (Mark 11:24). Certainly we know prayer is not a magic genie lamp. But because it's based on loving relationship—the more God's Spirit communicates His will to us—we can more clearly come to know what He's wanting to give us. To know where He's wanting to take us. So we can pray with full belief that He can and will bring it to pass. That's praying in faith. And that's praying with effectiveness.
- Praying in secret. Jesus said in Matthew 6:6, "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." One of the bedrock principles of Christian living is that "whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Gal. 6:7-8). To pray for show is sowing to the flesh, but to pray in secret is to approach God with greater focus and humility. For He is in the secret place with us.
- Praying according to God's will. Our natural tendency is to think of God's will as hidden and mysterious. However, that's not what the Bible says. By presenting ourselves to God and not being "conformed to this age," by being "transformed" with a renewed mind, we can "discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2 HCSB). So prayer waits on God to show us where He's ready for us to go (or not go). And once we sense it, "this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him" (1 John 5:14-15). When we genuinely desire the knowledge of His will—and are committed to following it once we know it—He will inspire us with a new level of assurance in prayer.
- Praying in Jesus' name. Those words—"in Jesus' name"—are not just the "Sincerely Yours" at the close of our prayer. Not just the "send" button. They are reflective of an unselfish, God-honoring heartbeat within ourselves. They are a statement of both worship and admitted need. They honor His power and authority while celebrating Hi* willingness to apply them to our lives. "Whatever you ask in My name," He tells us, "that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14). Praying in His name means to pray as He would. To pray from within our relationship with Him. We don't approach God based on our authority, our righteousness, or what we've done, but based upon Christ's and what He's done.
- Praying in agreement with other believers. To really zoom your prayer experiences off the charts, develop the regular habit of praying with other believers. Jesus told His disciples, "If two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst" (Matt. 18:19-20). To agree means to make a harmonious symphony. Praying in unity with one another, asking for the same thing with one heart and mind, pleases God. He loves and honors the synergy that occurs when we gather with others to pray. We should pray with a ready "Yes" and "Amen" in our hearts as others pray. Approaching our Father together. Both formally and informally. Scheduled and impromptu. The power and beauty of united prayer is a gift we too often leave untouched and unopened. Who can you begin praying with? Start with the people in your family. Consider praying together often for every need.
- Praying while fasting. Another overlooked key is the dedicated discipline of fasting—going without food (or some other sort of daily need) in order to focus more fully on the Lord for a concentrated period. Jesus fasted and prayed. Esther fasted and prayed. Nehemiah fasted and prayed. Acts 14:23 describes how Paul and Barnabas, in their ministry travels, would appoint elders in the various churches they were planting. Choosing the right leadership was vital. So they didn't just hold a meeting to work on their plans. They "prayed with fasting." Fasting opens up your spirit to God when you would otherwise be feeding your flesh. It clears the air of distraction. It puts seeking Hirn above all your appetites.
- Praying from an obedient life. "If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:21-22). An obedient child gains great favor and freedom with his or her parent. The intimacy you desire with God travels through the connective bond of your obedience to Him. When praying from an obedient heart, we can freely make requests without shame. Working with Him instead of working against Him.
- Praying while abiding in Christ and His Word. Jesus said, "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). Abiding means staying in close fellowship with someone. It involves spending time in God's Word, allowing it to fill our hearts and guide our thinking, walking in obedience to what He tells us to do (John 15:10), receiving God's love, then pouring it back out on Him and the people around US. (John 15:9, 12). Lastly, abiding means staying clean before God (John 15:3; 1 John 1:9) by not allowing "ungodliness" or sin to build up or go unconfessed. It is within this context that our prayer lives are opened up into a fresh vibrancy, fruitfulness, and effectiveness before God (John 15:5). John 15:7 implies that abiding in this way opens up our prayers to also ask for good things that our hearts desire.
- Praying while delighting in the Lord. When God becomes your greatest delight and first love above all else, then you are in a position for Him to bless you with your heart's desires. Only in receiving His salvation—replacing our hostility for righteousness with the purity of His own righteousness—do we become able to truly love Him. And in loving Him, we desire to obey Him (John 14:15), until we actually begin delighting in Him. "Delight yourself in the Lord," the Bible says, "and He will give you the desires of your heart" (Ps. 37:4). The Hebrew word for "desires" is the word for petitions. When your delight is in Him and in honoring His desires, then He takes delight in you and in honoring yours.
Kendrick, Stephen, and Alex Kendrick. The Battle Plan for Prayer. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2015.