Travail Before You Prevail—7 Ways to Prevail in Prayer

The desperate email read, “My prayers are not being answered. I am so discouraged. Can you help?” Although we don’t fully understand God’s sovereignty and its relationship to prayer, we can gain much wisdom and many truths from Scripture. Here are 7 ways to prevail in prayer and make sure to listen to the sermon at the bottom:

1. Change your spiritual diet ASAP. Psalm 5 opens with these powerful words: “Give ear to my words, O Lord, Consider my meditation” (v. 1). Meditation means to reflect on, to study, and to practice. Prevailing prayer begins here. What you “reflect on” creates a hunger for more. Are you meditating on the things of the world—traumatized by the news and addicted to social media—or are you meditating throughout the day on God’s truth? Are you also “practicing” what God says, being a doer and not just a hearer of the Word (see James 1:22)? What you meditate on and how you live deeply affects your prayer life.

2. Often, you must travail before you prevail. Psalm 5:2 says, “Give heed to the voice of my cry, my King and my God, for to You I will pray.” In short, David is saying, “Oh God, please listen!” As in pregnancy, there is travail before the blessing. The same holds true in prayer: We must persevere, as some strongholds and many blessings are only wrought through gut-wrenching, soul-searching prayer. When we travail in prayer, God hears the cries of His children. Don’t you, as a parent, run outside when you hear your children crying for help? Travail tells God that this is important … that it matters to you … that you will do whatever it takes to see the prodigal come home, the marriage restored, or the healing take place. No, I don’t believe that God heals everyone, but I do believe that travailing prayer goes a lot further than lifeless prayer. “It is only when the whole heart is gripped with the passion of prayer that the life-giving fire descends, for none but the earnest man gets access to the ear of God” (E. M. Bounds). When prayer becomes the priority of the day, your whole life is energized. Again, you must travail before you prevail.  Watch the sermon “Travail Before You Prevail” here.

3. Prayer must be a priority. Verse 3 adds, “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones would often tell aspiring preachers, “Safeguard your mornings!” That truth not only pertains to the pulpit but also to the pew. Whatever hurts our praying must be removed. “The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking Him the rest of the day” (E. M. Bounds). Do you wake up and immediately look at your phone or social media? Are you scrambling to get out the door? My advice is to get to bed earlier and read things at night that build you up spiritually, not pull you down. To be hungry for more of God, you must feed on prayer, worship, and the Word, not on Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook. What you take in the night before will deeply affect your spiritual health the next day. As a practical example (don’t try this, take my word on it), watching Breaking Bad at night versus reading E. M. Bounds will severely hinder prayer in the morning. When prayer is the priority, we become very selective. In the same way that an athlete training for the Olympics chooses their physical diet carefully, a Christian should choose their spiritual diet even more carefully.

4. Remind yourself often who God is. Verses 4 and 5 appear to shift gears: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” Not only does reminding ourselves who God is help us focus on His sovereignty, it also allows us to realign our heart by repenting of besetting sin. Ongoing and unconfessed sin kills prayer in the same way that water quenches fire.  Before going forward in prayer, confess sin and allow God to cleanse and lift the burden of sin.

5. Remind yourself often how good God is. Verses 6 and 7 proclaim, “You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; in fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.” As the hymn “Amazing Grace” says, “It is grace that has brought me here thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Meditating on the goodness of God leads to a very thankful heart, and a thankful heart is a praying heart. No one can pray well when they are bitter and resentful. Our attitudes affect our prayers more than we realize.

6. Ask for direction, wisdom, and discernment. As Charles Spurgeon rightly said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather, it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” Verse 8 is clear on this issue: “Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies; make Your way straight before my face.” When we don’t ask, we don’t receive. God has given us the wonderful privilege of asking. During prayer, be specific, and journal your thoughts. Mull over them. Contemplate them in the penetrating light of Scripture. Ask God to show you what His will is. Ask him to reveal blind spots. He will lead those who are willing to follow.

7. Rejoice and be thankful. Verse 11 instructs us to “rejoice” and to “shout for joy.” Powerful prayer can only flow from a joy-filled heart. Spiritual life and health bubble over in the heart of a person who rejoices in who God is and what He has done for them. The Spirit-filled life is the joy-filled life. In fact, all these points are tied to being filled with the Spirit. Are you filled? Is joy bubbling over? Take time now and realign your heart with God’s.

Many years ago, a very old man who experienced a massive revival when he was younger was asked why the revival ended. His eyes were filled with fire when he cried out, “When you lay hold of God, never, never, never, never let go!” The same call goes out today. When God brings change, prayer has been the catalyst. The dry, dead, lethargic condition of the church simply reflects our lack of being filled with the Spirit. While five-minute devotionals and prayers can be good, they aren’t going to cut it in these dire times. We need powerful times of prayer, devotion, and worship. The depth of God’s blessings is in direct proportion to the depth of our prayer life. Prayer matters… it fuels the flames of revival.

Watch the clip, What You Must Know About America Going Into 2020, and the powerful sermon 8 Ways to Prevail in Prayer (sermon includes an extra point). While there, don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel.