Jesus affirmed the importance of prayer, stressing the prayer life of the individual. He recognized charitable giving, material offerings, and voluntary fasting as forms of prayer, teaching that the most vital aspects of prayer are a clean heart and one’s private communication with God. (Matt. 6:1-18; Lk. 11:1-13).
He preached against hypocrisy and paying only “lip service” to God. He said, “Not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matt. 15:7-11; Mk. 7:6-23). Having a clean heart involves confession of sins and repentance. God forgives the repenting sinner, but his forgiveness is dependent on one’s forgiveness of others. Getting misunderstandings with others straightened out is more important than making an offering (Matt. 4:24; Matt. 6:14-15; Lk. 11:4).
Effective prayer is not a matter of repeating words without meaning; it is sincere, confident, and private conversation with God, for he knows one’s needs before he or she asks (Matt. 6:6-8; 22:22). Prayer need not be in any particular form. Jesus frequently used the word “ask” in referring to prayer. He said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you: For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). Whatever is asked in Jesus’ name shall be granted by the Father (John 15:16; 16:23-24) and by the Son (John 14:13-14).
Jesus provided a model prayer called the “Lord’s Prayer,” which indicates that prayer is to God as the eternal Father. Intercession by the Son may be invoked by asking in Jesus’ name (Matt. 6:9-13; Lk. 11:2-4; John 14:13-14). God hears prayer and wants to give good things to those who ask him (Matt. 7:11), even before they ask (Matt. 6:8). God receives prayer as ascending to him with incense (Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4). Jesus gave the example, for he was constantly in prayer himself (Lk. 3:21-22; 9:28; 21:37; Luke 22:39-41). At the Last Supper he prayed for the spiritual unity of believers with each other and the Father and the Son (called Jesus’ “high priestly” prayer; John 17). In the garden of Gethsemane, just before his being seized by authorities, he prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Then to his disciples he said, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:39-41; Mk. 14:36-38).
Being persistent in prayer is illustrated by two of Jesus’ parables: The Persistent Widow (Lk. 18:1-7) and The Friend at Midnight (Lk. 11:5-10). Prayer in the Spirit is shown in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:4, 33). The account of Cornelius’ conversion illustrates God’s consideration of the prayers of one seeking his truth. An angel told Cornelius, “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4). The Lord then arranged for Peter to visit Cornelius and explain the gospel of Christ (Acts 10:4-48).
Another example of effective prayer is seen in the prayers of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They “prayed and sang praises to God,” when suddenly an earthquake opened the prison doors and the prisoners’ bonds were loosed (Acts 16:25-26). In Romans, Paul explains the help which the Holy Spirit gives in prayer, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27). Paul also exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17).
Peter points out that failure to consider others properly, especially one’s spouse, may be a hindrance to effective prayer (I Peter 3:7). In this vein, James says that “ye have not because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4). James underscores the effectiveness of prayer and singing psalms, particularly in the healing of the sick and forgiveness of sins (Jas. 5:13-18). “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jas. 5:16). John gives this assurance: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions we desired of him” (I John 5:14-15; I John 3:22).