Over the last few years, I have learnt the importance of making sure that when I pray for someone, I actually focus on the cause of the problem and not allow myself to be sidetracked by praying instead, against one of it's effects.
I have come to realise that focusing on the effect, rather than the cause of the person's problem, is a major reason for prayers not being answered.
When prayers are not answered, the person who is praying can become discouraged and confused, while the person being prayed for can easily assume that there is nothing real or helpful about the whole process of prayer. It can ve viewed as being just another religious ritual that doesn't actually achieve anything.
Im my experience, there is only one way to be absolutely certain that we are praying for the cause of a person's problem and not simply one of it's effects.
That way is to follow Jesus' example and to spend time in God's presence, allowing Him to reveal to us specific details of what the person's exact problem is and how we need to confront that problem.
Throughout His three years of ministry, Jesus regularly spent time alone with His Father, in secluded locations. During these times, He received specific instructions regarding what He was to say and do in upcoming situations.
During a significant discussion with a group of Pharisees, as recorded in the eighth chapter of John's gospel, Jesus made it clear to them that He only spoke the things He had seen and learnt from His Father. (eg. verses 26, 28 and 38)
In the sixth chapter of Mathhew's gospel, Jesus gives His followers clear instrucitons about how they should pray. In verse 6, He said, "....when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place ". (emphasis mine)
Many years ago, I didn't do this. I understood that it was important to "wait on God", but the way I used to attempt to do this was like waiting at a bus-stop, knowing that sooner or later, a bus would turn up. I used to spend time by myself, waiting for God to turn up.
When I discovered what Jesus was saying about prayer, I realised that God was actually in my "secret place", waiting for me to turn up..
Now, I set aside time to take my Bible, notebook and pen into my room, understanding that God is already there, waiting to impart His directions to me. These include putting clear ideas in my mind and showing me things from particular verses of scripture that He wants me to use when I speak to specific people or pray for them.
It is a wonderful thing to know that we can be 100% confident that what we say to people is what God wants them to hear and or do, rather than hoping that we might be of some help to them.
When it comes to praying for people, expecially those who have requested prayer, it is a huge benefit for them, when the one praying knows exactly what to pray for, as a result of having received specific directions in his or her "secret place".
In second book, "Let This Mind Be In You", in chapter eleven, I share the story of a lady at our church, who requested prayer, at one of the Sunday morning services.
The day before, in my "secret place", I had been encouraged to read and write down a portion of scripture, which said, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. Do not say to your neighbour, "Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it," when you have it with you". (Proverbs 3; 27,28)
When I asked the lady who was requesting prayer, if she had a specfiic request, she told me she wanted prayer for severe migraine headaches that had troubled her for some time.
As it had become my custom,. I stood there, quietly praying, asking God if there was something specific I neded to say. Immediately, the verses of scripture I had read and written down the morning before, came quickly to my mind.
I shared these details with her, explaining that I felt certain the cause of her migraine headaches was that she had withheld something from a person who had asked her for something that she possessed and was in a position to give to this person.
She could not think of anyone to whom this could apply, so I encouraged her to study the scriptures involved when she got home. We prayed together that God would show her what she needed to do.
When I next saw her, she excitedly explained to me what happened.
It turned out that one of her neighbours had asked if he could borrow the spare washing machine she had in her garage. She had declined to give it to him....until he presented the same request a few days after I had spoken with her at church.
When I asked her about her migraine headaches, she told me they were no longer bothering her.
I suspect that if I had simply prayed for her to be healed from her headaches that Sunday morning, nothing would have happened. God knew what the real cause of her problem was and made sure I knew what to say that Sunday morning, by revealing the true facts along with His cure for her, the day before, in my "secret place".
This is the method I use when people who log on to my we site, email me with their prayer requests.
Feel welcome to do so yourself, especially if you want answers you will be able to clearly recognize, to the real cause of the situation for which you desire prayer.