5 Keys to Pray Effectively

A Call to Pray

Last week I posted this question on Facebook: “Learning to pray more and preaching on prayer this month. What have been the biggest influences on how you pray?” I received a number of comments, including some great book suggestions and even a movie suggestion! Here’s my favorite comment: “You can read books and see formulas but there is no substitute for just doing it!

Yesterday I preached the second sermon in our series Pray: Growing a Heart for the Things God Cares Most About. This message was simply, “A Call to Pray.” HERE‘s the audio. Below are 5 the five keys to effective prayer via Nehemiah 1.


Nehemiah 1, A Call to Pray

Prayer is THE SECRET to Neh’s success! The prayer in chapter one is the first of 12 different prayers recorded in the book. Chapter one begins with prayer in Persia and chapter thirteen closes with prayer in Jerusalem. There are prayers of anguish, joy, protection, dependence and commitment.


When we pray our horizons will widen, our vision will sharpen, and our anxieties will be dwarfed!

The Five Keys to Pray Effectively

1. CONCERN About the Problem.

Even though Nehemiah had never been to Jerusalem, he had heard stories about it, and knew that his ancestors had been led away in chains when Babylon destroyed it. He was doing what Jeremiah 51:50 instructed the exiles to do: “…Remember the Lord in a distant land, and think on Jerusalem.”

As Nehemiah thought on Jerusalem, he listened to the report in Nehemiah 1:3 that the survivors were in great trouble and disgrace, that the wall of Jerusalem was in shambles and that its gates had been burned with fire. As he tried to imagine the shame in the city of David, he could barely stand it. Nehemiah had deep concern for the problem.

The call to pray begins with CONCERN, but turns quickly to…

2. CONVICTION about God’s Character.

After Neh becomes concerned, he expresses his conviction of God’s character in Neh 1:5

O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands.

Nehemiah’s boss, the king, was the greatest and mightiest on earth. But compared to God, Artaxerxes was nothing. Nehemiah’s concern was in far off Jerusalem. He was in the grand city of Susa. However, both cities – one rich, the other poor, one strong the other weak, one proud, the other broken – were like tiny specks of dust under the vast canopy of God’s heaven.

Nehemiah knew that God was not only able, but also willing to respond to his prayer. But he also knew that he did not deserve to have God treat him favorably. That’s why the next phase of his prayer is a confession of sin.

3. CONFESSION of sin.

Neh 1:6-7: “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees, and laws you gave your servant Moses.”

It’s one thing to be concerned and to even have a firm conviction of who God is. It’s another thing to actually confess sin. Notice a few things about Neh’s confession…

  • He was overwhelmed with the problem: Neh gave himself to pray for a long time, day and night.
  • There were no excuses: Neh owned his guilt. “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself…we have acted very wickedly…we have not obeyed…” It would have been easy for Neh to look back and blame his ancestors but instead he looked within and blamed himself. It’s so easy for us to blame others, isn’t it? We need to learn from Nehemiah, no excuses, “Lord, I am wrong. I’m part of the problem.”

Thankfully Nehemiah moves from the low of confession, to the high of…

4. CONFIDENCE in God’s Promises.

While Neh spent time in broken confession, he didn’t wallow in his failures or those of his fellow Israelites. He owned his sin then quickly expresses confidence in God’s promises…

Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my name.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and mighty hand.

Nehemiah 1:8-10

Someone has calculated that there are over 7,000 promises in the Bible. The better we know the Word of God, the better we’ll be able to pray with confidence in God’s promises. One of my college profs famously says, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!”

Growing a heart for things God cares most about takes time getting to know God’s promises and praying through them. But it takes more. Therefore, the call to pray is also a…

5. COMMITMENT to get involved.

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor (MERCY) in the presence of this man. I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah 1:11

It has been said that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven but getting God’s will done on earth. But God’s will is done on earth primarily through people who make themselves available for Him to use.

Nehemiah didn’t pray for God to send someone else – he simply said, “Here am I, send me!” He knew that he would have to approach the king and request a 3-year leave of absence and so asked God for “success.” 

The true measure of our concern is whether or not we are willing to make a commitment to get involved.


There’s no better way to start 2017 than with a call to pray. Here’s a simple prayer outline I’ve been following for years. I hope it help!

  1. Praise (conviction about God’s character)
  2. Repent (confession of sin)
  3. Ask (based on the concern about the problems)
  4. Yield (confidence in God’s promise and commitment to get involved)

Begin where you are and take next steps to grow in prayer. 

  1. Set aside a time to pray every day (have you tied the Abide app?)
  2. Set aside a couple times to pray (morning, noon, night)
  3. Pray and meditate on God’s word/promises 
  4. Take extended time during a certain day(s) in the week