What Does it Take to Succeed in Prayer?

Have you ever watched a chickadee learn to land on a feeder?

One morning when I looked out our window to check the status of our bird feeder, I had the opportunity to see baby chickadees attempting to master this exact skill.

They would sit on the tree branch nearby and ruffle their feathers several times before making each attempt to land on the feeder.

Mostly that day they kept missing the mark, skidding, and fluttering down to the ground.

But then, after a moment to compose themselves, they would swoop back up to the tree branch and try again.

Yes, at times they would miss the tree branch too!

I marveled at their tenacity and resilience to keep trying.

Even more amazing, by the next morning these tiny creatures had mastered this new skill.

It was astonishing to see them zipping from branch to feeder to branch to ground and back again looking like total experts at what just the day before was filled with so much failure.

What can we learn from the example of the chickadees above and Matthew 21:22 to succeed in prayer?

The past several weeks we have been studying the topic of prayer.

Teach us to… looked at Luke 11:1 when Jesus’ followers asked Him to teach them to pray.

Motive, Practicing Secrecy, The Danger of Many Words, and Before You Ask  reviewed Jesus’ instructions on how not to pray in Matthew 6:5-8.

We then walked through the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 a verse at a time with these posts: The Issuer’s ID, Kingdom, Supplies for Breadmaking, Something Owed, and Navigating Life.

Matthew 6:14-15 provided us some additional commentary for Matthew 6:12 in The Importance of Reciprocity and The Challenge of Reciprocity.

With these grounding us on how not and how to pray, we are fast tracking to consider the following verse:

ESV  Matthew 21:22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

First we need to understand Matthew 21:22’s immediate context within the gospel writing.

The scene in Matthew just prior to Matthew 21:22 involves an early morning and hungry Jesus. He approaches a fig tree in hopes of finding some fruit to eat. (See Matthew  21:18).

ESV  Matthew 21:19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

His disciples were amazed at how quickly the fig tree withered. (See Matthew 21:20).

ESV  Matthew 21:21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Remember Jesus has already instructed his disciples how not and how to pray earlier in the gospel of Matthew.

And between that time of instruction and the statement in Matthew 21:22 Jesus told them the following about the importance of faith and our success in interceding for others and their healing:

ESV  Matthew 17:20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Even closer to the initial prayer instructions Jesus makes the following statement to His disciples:

ESV  Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Reflection Questions on how to succeed in prayer:

  • Why is it important to note that Jesus instructed His disciples on the how not and how to pray in Matthew 6:5-15 before He made these subsequent statements about the power of our faith when praying?
  • How does this then shape your own practice of prayer?
  • Have you ever considered using the Lord’s Prayer as a model for praying through any need you personally face or on behalf of someone else’s need(s)?
  • What examples of answered prayer can you share that reflect this teaching of Jesus?
  • What examples of unanswered prayer can you share that reflect this teaching of Jesus?
  • What else do you see in these verses that hasn’t been mentioned yet?

A prayer for us:

Heavenly Father, help us desire Your glorious rule and will above all else on earth. Provide us each day with exactly what we need to fulfill the calling You have given us as Your servants. May we never forget the grace you have extended to us so that we will extend it to those around us when they harm us. Reveal to us the temptations that come at us by the evil one so that we may seek Your deliverance from them. Praise be to our Lord whose love endures forever.


Barbara Lynn

PS Remember the chickadees mentioned above?

Prior to witnessing them learning to fly from a branch and land on a bird feeder I had never really thought about the fact that birds need to practice how to do this.

Flying is not something instinctual but is a skill they must learn.

Studying these verses on how not and how to pray have helped me understand that just like the chickadees had to practice flying and landing, we too must practice how to pray effectively.

The disciples did not immediately succeed in prayer even though they had already been given the example of the Lord’s prayer. It takes time to sincerely model the character and discipline that Jesus modeled for us.

I find both the chickadees and the scriptures in Matthew to be a reminder to have grit and tenacity as I practice serving our Heavenly Father.

I hope you do as well.

Share with others

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *