“Four score and seven years ago…” In just 272 words and under three minutes, President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address first inspired 20,000 people in attendance. Its effect quickly spread to the entire United States and helped redefine a divided nation on the cusp of greatness.
A century and a half later, the president’s words still stir Americans: children recite it in grade school, college students dissect its nuances, and politicians view it as a gold standard for speeches.
Lincoln chose his words carefully, each one honed for maximum impact.
Powerful public addresses have inspired and motivated peoples and nations for millennia. They have been used to mark significant events or stir people to action. Many have influenced history in some way and produced lasting results.
This is the case with Sir Winston Churchill’s famous “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” address delivered to the British Parliament on May 13, 1940. As the Nazis raged across Europe, Churchill made one of the most moving calls to arms in recent history. These words motivated the British people to steel their resolve. The nation weathered the terrible onslaught of the Germans and never gave up.
On September 12, 1962, U.S. President John F. Kennedy inspired his nation to dream and think big. He challenged his fellow Americans to become the first people to send a man to the moon.
His appeal worked. Just seven years later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface. The nation rejoiced in achieving this monumental milestone.
These speeches, both long and short, are remembered because of the results that followed. Words can be incredibly powerful. When thoughtfully constructed and passionately conveyed in speeches, they can have a significant effect on others—negatively or positively. Whether to a crowd of 100,000 onlookers or a couple of individuals, what we say and how we say it can be extremely important.
This principle should not be lost on Christians. We have the opportunity to speak daily to God in prayer. While delivering a speech and prayer can seem like two completely different activities, they have much in common. Examining the similarities will change forever how we approach our Creator.
As an individual, you can learn to deliver incredibly persuasive and dynamic prayers that yield lasting results.
All effective speeches have one thing in common: the deliverer believes what he is saying. He has conviction, emotion and passion.
Communication coach Ty Boyd stated on the Advanced Public Speaking Institute’s website, “The greatest asset any public speaking expert can have is ENERGY.” At any public-speaking engagement, the deliverer must bring an adequate level of identifiable energy to engage the audience.
An effective prayer is no different. The apostle James understood this when he recorded, “…The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jms. 5:16).
The phrase “effectual fervent” derives from the Greek word energeo. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (this resource is used for definitions throughout unless otherwise noted) records its definition as, “to be active, efficient.” Other ways this is translated in the King James Version are “do,” “be mighty in,” and “work effectually in.” The word energy comes from this word.
This is an extremely powerful term that implies real action. It is derived from the word ergon, which means to “toil, an act, deed, doing, labor or work.”
Laboring implies exerting energy—usually a lot! This means when we talk to God, we should not be groggy, let our minds wander, or sound disinterested—rather we should work to bring care to what is being said.
Just as there are different styles of public speaking—inspirational, instructive, persuasive, etc.—the God of variety has designed many forms of prayer. The apostle Paul broke these out in I Timothy 2: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (vs. 1).
Each of these are a different type of prayer:
- “Supplications” is the same Greek word James used for effectual fervent prayer. It means “to petition, request or supplication.”
- “Prayers” means “prayer (worship); by implication an oratory, pray earnestly.”
- “Intercessions” means “an interview, supplication or an intercession.” Our Father in heaven wants to hear what we have to say. Sometimes God simply wants us to open up and talk to Him.
- “Giving thanks” means “expressing gratitude; grateful language (to God, as an act of worship) and thankfulness.”
These four distinct types of prayer should be used to add depth, meaning and variety to your time before God. (To understand more about these categories, listen to the sermon “Understanding Prayer as NEVER Before”.)
Regardless of what type of prayer we offer to God, we should do so from the heart. We should give it the necessary time, attention and focus.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 certainly applies here: “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.”
As we practice these principles daily, our prayers will continually become more productive and powerful. As James put it, they will “avail much.”
Other public-speaking principles apply perfectly to prayer. One is to “know your audience.” That is, you should know to whom you are speaking and tailor your speech to them. The average age of those you are talking to, size of the crowd, and venue should all be taken into account. Giving a toast at a casual meal with close friends is much different from having an audience with the Queen of England.
When speaking to God the Father (Matt. 6:9; John 15:16; Eph. 5:20), we should come to Him as would a son or daughter to their human father.
But He is not the only one present. Ephesians 1:20 shows that Christ is at His right hand.
The audience does not stop there. Hebrews 12:22-23 states that when we pray, we “come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
There are millions upon millions of angels present when we pray. This is easily the biggest audience anyone has ever had while speaking!
When we come before the Father on our knees, we come before His throne. The environment should set the tone as to how we address Him. Revelation 4 describes this throne room. Read slowly and paint a picture in your mind of what this must look like: “And He that sat [the Father] was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders [more audience members!] sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices…And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal…” (vs. 3-6).
Each time we kneel to pray, we must remember where we are. We are not merely on a carpeted floor bent over a bedspread or in a modest prayer closet—we are bowed down on the “sea of glass like unto crystal” before the majestic and colorful throne of the Father.
Skilled public speakers are also ready for interruptions by hecklers. Often, they will construct their talks so that their words do not give any “ammunition” to those who disagree or want to use their words against them.
Christians have the most malicious heckler of all time: Satan, the adversary, who accuses us day and night before God’s throne (Rev. 12:10). Given this, we must make certain we come before the Father with a clear conscience. If there are any sins that need to be forgiven and repented of, they must be dealt with first. Otherwise, Satan could get the better of us.
Put this entire picture together. The crowd surrounding God’s throne is massive. The environment is regal and awe-inspiring. The arch-heckler is lying in wait. If you were to speak before millions upon millions of human beings, you would make certain to prepare. How much more should we do this when coming before the Father and a multitude of spirit beings?
Foundation for Success
The best public speakers do not memorize their entire talks so that they sound “canned” nor do they dryly read them word for word. Instead, they use what is called extemporaneous delivery. All they bring with them are sparse notes to make sure they stay on track and cover everything they want. Having a simple outline allows room for impromptu remarks. To do this effectively, a presenter thoroughly prepares before stepping behind a lectern to make sure he knows what he is going to discuss.
Prayers are similar to extemporaneous speaking. In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus Christ gave the example of a bare-bones outline that should be used to construct our prayers. Many call this the “Lord’s Prayer” and repeat it word for word. Yet this is not what Jesus had in mind. It is actually meant to be a framework upon which we should add specific details. Instead of a recitation, Jesus told His disciples to pray “after this manner.” In essence, He was saying, “Don’t repeat this verbatim. Flesh it out and make it your own.”
The outline starts, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (vs. 9). This describes exactly to whom and to where we are making our address—exactly who is in charge and how we should approach the conversation. This part of the prayer can and should be different every time. You can mention that He is a Creator and the Living God. Also, you can bring in the many words used to describe Him throughout the Bible: mighty, loving, merciful, great, wonderful, patient…dig through His Word for more!
This section of our prayers should also include acknowledging all that God has given us and thanking Him for it. We should give thanks for everything He supplies to us (I Thes. 5:18).
Matthew 6:10 could be described as the specific purpose statement or SPS of our prayers. In a speech, this is a simple phrase that sums up everything that will be said during it. Everything in our lives should revolve around and relate to, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done…”
God’s people are commanded to “seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (vs. 33). Fleshing out the statement in verse 10 sets the tone for our prayers and focuses our thoughts on seeking what God wants.
The next area of the outline is, “Give us this day our daily bread” (vs. 11). This involves asking God (in a thankful attitude) to continue supplying our needs.
Then comes, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from [the] evil [one]” (vs. 12-13). This part of the model prayer reminds us of the need for the gift of repentance. It helps us remember God’s incredible mercy toward us. It also shows how we should be willing to extend forgiveness to others when the opportunity arises. Satan the devil is real and desperately wants to sabotage our lives. With God’s help, we can overcome and prevent this.
Finally, Christ concludes the prayer with, “For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (vs. 13). This summarizes and reminds us of the purpose and ultimate goal of our calling while praising and honoring God.
This all-important framework is expounded on in the article “The Keys to Dynamic Prayer”.
All of the model prayer should be personalized and each point expanded upon with specific details. No one’s memory is perfect. Before praying, it can be helpful to jot down a few notes as a reminder of what we want to say.
Just like speaking, our prayers must never be memorized. Doing so would be insincere, vain repetition—exactly what Christ warned His disciples to avoid (Matt. 6:7). Entirely pre-written prayers squeeze out space for God’s Spirit to move and direct us, thereby rendering them less powerful.
Instead, we should follow Joshua 24:14, which states, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in truth…”
Similarly, John 4:24 commands, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
This type of powerful prayer was seen on Pentecost of AD 31: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
This prayer was not boring or droning—it was filled with passion, power and sincerity!
Until now, we have focused on the longer, main prayers of the day. Yet we are to pray throughout the day.
For example, unforeseen emergencies may arise that demand we be “instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). In such circumstances, where facing physical accident and injury—or where you are unable to get on your knees because of being in public—a heartfelt spontaneous prayer can be powerful. But these must be backed up by regular longer prayers.
God wants us to understand the impact that our prayers can have. Through the ages, true servants have employed the principle of active, efficient prayer. Many instances have been recorded for our example.
The prophet Elijah, for instance, should inspire every one of God’s people. In fact, James used him as an example of “effectual fervent prayer” in his epistle.
Elijah was an ordinary, imperfect human being. It states in James 5:17, “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are…”
This servant of God was no different than we are today. There were times he battled wrong attitudes and sin (I Kings 19:4). Once he repented and overcame, God used him powerfully.
During Elijah’s time, Israel’s King Ahab was more wicked than all those who ruled prior to him (16:30). God sent His servant to pronounce a curse of a terrible drought. Elijah “prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months” (Jms. 5:17).
Although the Bible does not record the specifics of this prayer, the fervency of his petitions and pleas did have a powerful effect. Rain was withheld, which led to a widespread famine lasting three years and six months (Luke 4:25).
We must realize that our prayers can be just as powerful!
Further, when it was time, Elijah “prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit” (Jms. 5:18).
Put yourself into Elijah’s position. Contemplate what and how you would have prayed in such a situation. How detailed would you have been? The entire country was in horrific drought, a great famine was occurring, many wives lost their husbands, and millions of fellow countrymen—including children—were suffering because an evil king was on the throne.
These are only a few key details. Think about the time Elijah needed to deeply consider all that needed to be said. Ask yourself: “Do my prayers measure up? Do I ‘make it rain’ when I go before God’s awesome throne? Could my prayers actually yield these kinds of results?”
Prayer can even have the persuasive effect of raising the dead.
On another occasion, Elijah “cried out” to God and a sick boy who had died was restored back to life. Recorded in I Kings 17:21, the Bible states that Elijah “cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child’s soul come into him again.” This particular “speech” was definitely effective!
We must come to see ourselves praying and producing similar results. If this seems impossible, why? Some may think, I am not a prophet or I have never audibly heard God’s voice—yet James recorded Elijah’s example in a general epistle written for all Christians. Average people’s prayers can have powerful results too!
Think of Nehemiah. He was the “king’s cupbearer” in Babylon (1:11)—a lowly servant! But his heartfelt prayer empowered him to speak words that moved the king to allow the Jews to return to Israel (1:9-2:8).
We have been given special access to speak with God (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 4:16). He actually listens to what we say and wants to give “good things to us” (Jms. 1:5, 17) according to His will. Sometimes He answers instantly. At other times, we must wait and learn valuable lessons before a prayer is answered.
This reveals yet another important aspect of prayer: God wants us to be persistent. He wants to see whether we will go the distance and sustain our intensity. Often, for an answer, we must take our requests to Him on multiple occasions, sometimes even requiring numerous people in “one heart and of one soul” to make their “requests…known unto God” (Jms. 5:17; Acts 4:31-32; Phil. 4:6).
Take time to review the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:2-8). A poor widow (a type of God’s people) begged for vengeance from her adversaries. The judge responded because she “troubled” him with her “continual coming.” Christ went on to explain in verses 7 and 8: “And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily…”
The persistence of the widow’s prayers yielded powerful and mighty results.
God wants us to develop a certain level of tenacity and never give in. He bears long with us to see how much we really desire what we are asking!
In Luke 21:36 Jesus Christ stated, “Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” All Christians must follow Christ’s instruction to speak daily in the form of a prayer. In fact, we must be ready to speak at any instant (Rom. 12:12) and without ceasing (I Thes. 5:17).
We should take every advantage and opportunity to pray throughout the day, with our longest, most detailed prayer being done in a private place, on our knees, to give reverence to the great God of the universe. In the final age before the Return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of God’s kingdom, never underestimate the importance of every word spoken in prayer.
Collectively, we have power, through God’s Spirit, to move the Earth! Doors are being opened (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3) for the gospel of the kingdom to once again be preached “in all the world as a witness.” Collectively and individually, we have a big part to play in how this happens.
For the rest of the age, show care toward God’s Work and His people by setting aside adequate time to thoughtfully prepare and deliver our daily “speeches.” Never cease to bring energy and sincerity while making your requests known.
Always remember that this final Work relies on our every word because “the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man avails much.”