Understanding prayer

As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, join Rabbi Sacks in a series of ten short videos to learn what prayer really is and how it can change your life. To read the transcripts for these videos, please click here.

Below is an embedded playlist featuring all ten videos. You can select a different video from the series by clicking on the menu item in the top left-hand corner of the video. Each video includes subtitles in: French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Spanish (click on the Settings button in the bottom right-hand corner to select the required language).

(1) Spiritual Exercise – This video focuses on how prayer is to the human spirit what exercise is to the human body.

(2) Thanking & Thinking – This video focuses on the importance of recognising that despite the difficult moments, it is important to remember daily that life is a gift.

(3) Praise – This video focuses on how the concept of praise is central to Jewish prayer.

(4) The Deepest Call – This video focuses on the Shofar and how its sound is a prayer that goes deeper than words.

(5) Family – This video focuses on how we believe that to all humanity, God is a friend. But to us, he’s family.

(6) Mistakes – This video focuses on how Judaism doesn’t believe that anyone is infallible; we all make mistakes and it is how we learn from them that counts.

(7) Growth – This video focuses on the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset, and why Judaism, especially around the High Holy Days, is a sustained tutorial in a growth mindset.

(8) Holy Words – This video focuses on how listening and the idea of holy words, places, time and people are central to Judaism.

(9) Framing Beliefs – This video focuses on how Jewish faith isn’t irrational or naive or pre-scientific, but a framing belief.

(10) The Soul’s Language – This video focuses on Kol Nidre and the power of music to lift the Jewish soul.

We are grateful to our generous sponsors who helped enable us to produce this video series. If you are interested in sponsoring future series, then please feel free to be in touch with here.


understanding prayer

When your TV shows burning buildings and people running and screaming around NYC, it doesn’t matter if you are in the middle of eating a doughnut and playing your favorite computer game. You drop everything and give your undivided attention to the news.

That was me on, Sept. 11, 2001, and I remember they day like it was just yesterday. How could anyone forget such a tragedy?

I remember watching the plane fly into the second tower. I remember watching my mother cry and running into her arms out of sheer terror. I remember not understanding what was going on. I remember feeling an urgent need to get on my knees and pray.

But I wasn’t the only one praying. In the days and weeks following Sept. 11, many local schools, workplaces, neighborhoods and churches gathered for a time of dedicated prayer. Even the evening news aired reports of people all around America joining together in prayer. We prayed for peace, healing, unity and courage — for the victims and their families, for ourselves, and for this great nation. And while it was a sad time, it was also a beautiful time because those prayers brought us closer to each other and to God.

You may think it bold of me to say, but I believe those prayers are what allowed this nation to rise from the ashes of that tragic day.

Because prayer is powerful. And when we understand prayer — what it is and how it works — we can experience this power in our very own lives.

Understanding Prayer: What It Is

At its core, prayer is having a conversation with God. And the beauty of this kind of conversation is that we don’t have to do our hair and make up or formally write down our prayers prior to entering God’s presence. All He asks is that we show up. It doesn’t matter the time or place. God is always there, and He is delighted to respond to us when we come to Him in prayer (Psalm 34:4).

There is no cookie-cutter prayer formula, and prayer looks different depending on the day.

Sometimes prayer is sitting in silence and waiting for God to speak. Sometimes prayer is praising God for who He is and what He is doing. Sometimes prayer is falling on our knees and bearing our soul. Sometimes prayer is weeping. Sometimes prayer is simple raising our hands and saying, “Lord, I surrender. Have your way in me.”

While the world and Hollywood often portray prayer as a way to present requests to God, there’s so much more to it than that. Prayer isn’t just a chance to lay our burdens at the Father’s feet. It’s also a chance to worship and praise Him.

Psalm 100:4 tells us to enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. So when we come to the throne, our first response should always be to praise God. If you’re feeling downcast and don’t know what to say, you can simply thank Him for who He is! Thank Him for being a personal God who made it possible for us to come to Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thank Him for caring and loving this world. Thank Him for not giving up on us, no matter how many times we fail.

Prayer Nourishes the Soul

One of my favorite writers, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.” Prayer is more than a conversation — it is food for our souls! It brings healing. It brings safety and salvation. It is a refuge that can renew a weary soul. We were made to rely on the Lord in prayer.

Here are some of my favorite scripture references on prayer. I encourage you to look them up! They will be a great motivation for the seven weeks that lie ahead:

2 Samuel 22:3-4, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 102:17, Proverbs 15:8, Isaiah 40:29-31, Matthew 5:44, Matthew 6:5, Romans 8:26, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:7, James 5:16

understanding prayer

Prayer Helps Us Overcome Evil

Romans 8:37 and Luke 10:17 are powerful reminders that, when it comes to spiritual battles, physical strength is not what enables us to overcome. In prayer, even the physically weak can become strong and gain power over evil. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). When we call upon the name of Jesus and allow the Spirit to work through us, we aren’t just given the power to fight — we are given the power to defeat every evil and enemy that comes our way

Prayer Advances the Cause of Christ

God doesn’t need our help, but prayer allows us to enter into the ways in which He is at work in our lives and in the world around us. But prayer doesn’t just bring us closer to God. When we pray, especially in public, we help point others to Jesus too. And when God answers prayers, our testimony can serve as a witness for those who might be struggling with doubt.

Prayer is Powerful

In Hebrews 11, we see that faith pleases God. Because prayer is an act of faith, we please God when we run to him in prayer. Like an earthly father longs to hear his son or daughters voice, our Heavenly Father longs to hear ours as well.

So my question to you today is this? How’s your prayer life? Are you setting aside time to spend with God each day?

There is no better time than right now to devote our days to walking in communion with God the Father. And the best way to walk with Him is to be connected to Him through prayer.

Later in this series, we’ll talk about how to create a weekly prayer schedule, but for today, why not aim to spend just five minutes with God? Turn your eyes to Him and talk to Him. Thank Him for who He is and praise Him for what He has done in your life. Then cast whatever cares you may have on Him and see where He might lead.

God is always near, and He desperately wants to hear from you.

If you want to go deeper and discover more about the power of prayer in your own life, you’re invited to join us over the next seven weeks as we continue this journey. You can sign up for my free newsletter in the sidebar to the right of this post, or just come back to the blog next week for the next #PowerofPrayerBlogSeries post.

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Click on the book image to purchase the full version of “Watch and Pray: Understanding the Eight Prayer Watches” on Amazon.com.

In James 5:16 (NIV), we are told that the “prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” As we pray, we stand watch over our families, cities, and nations. Just as men stood on city walls in the Bible to watch for approaching danger, God calls us to be modern-day watchmen and warn those who are in danger (2 Kings 9:17-18).

We are to watch not only for the enemy’s activity but also for the manifestation of God’s plans. If we watch for the enemy and announce his activity, we can avert the devil’s plans to steal, kill and destroy what God has for us. Jesus said in Matthew 24:43, “But know this, if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.”

Today more than ever, it is important that we pray and seek the mind of the Lord: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Major decisions we are confronted with require us to know God’s individual will for our lives.

With the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can discover God’s will and expose the plans of the enemy through strategic prayer.

The Bible speaks of “watches,” which are specific times of the day or night. There are basically eight watches covering 24 hours. This is because everyone has a prayer watch, even though they may not know it. This is why you may find yourself repeatedly praying at specific times of the day or evening. If you have ever been awakened during the night or are wondering why you are being led to pray at specific times, it is probably because God wants you to pray or intercede for someone. Every prayer watch has a purpose.

First Watch (The Evening Watch from 6:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M.)

A Time of Quiet Reflection

Jesus used the Evening Watch to go aside and pray (Matthew 14:15-23). After the business of the day is a time to release anxieties to the Lord before going to sleep. This is a time to meditate on God’s Word. Meditation quiets our emotions, realigns our mind, and frees our will to do the will of God. What we could not hear clearly earlier in the day, we begin to hear during this time. During this watch, ask God to give you clear directions for the next day and about His call on your life.

Jesus also healed many sick people during this time (Mark 1:32; Luke 4:40). This watch is usually for those who have a strong apostolic calling and anointing to break strongholds and walls. This watch is for seasoned Christians who are determined to do mighty things with boldness in the Lord.

Period for covenant renewal with God

Through Jesus Christ, we have a Covenant with God. In this watch, we can ask God to manifest the blessings of His Covenant into our lives. This is also a time to release judgment on the wicked and decree into the new day God’s blessings upon our life, family, church, city and nation Whatever happens during the day is determined to a large extent by what is done during the night. The evening is the “foundation” of night and the beginning of the watches. People involved in the occult say that they begin their active witchcraft at midnight. If we begin to pray strategically during this watch with the Holy Spirit’s leading, we can prevent the kingdom of darkness from releasing curses on the new day.

Prayer decrees for this prayer watch: Father, in the name of Jesus,

  • I am Your child by faith in Christ Jesus, and I renew my covenant commitment to love You with all my heart, soul and strength. Through Jesus Christ, I am Abraham’s descendant and inheritor of the covenant blessings You promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:26, 27, 29).
  • You have put Your laws in my mind, and You have written them on my heart. You are my God and I belong to You. You will forgive my wickedness and You will never again remember my sins (Hebrews 8:10, 12).
  • Your Word is like a lamp that guides my steps and a light that shows the path I should take. (Psalm 119:105).
  • Your words are what sustain me; they are food to my hungry soul. Your Word bring joy to my heart because I have hidden it in my heart so that I might not sin against you (Jeremiah 15:16; Psalm 119:11).
  • You are my God and I trust You with all my heart and do not depend on my own understanding. I seek Your will in all I do, and You instruct me and guide me along the best pathway for my life. You advise me and watch my progress; Even at night, You give me wisdom and tell me what to do (Proverbs 3: 5-6; Psalm 32:8, 16:7).
  • I take delight in You and You give me my heart’s desires (Psalm 37:4). I trust You and I lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). You supply all my needs from Your riches in glory because of what Christ Jesus has done (Philippians 4:19), and I have plenty to give to every good work (2 Cor. 9:8). I have favor, good understanding and esteem in Your sight and in the sight of man (Prov. 3:4).

Second Watch (from 9:00 P.M. to 12:00 A.M.)

During this watch, intercessors are able to impact the spiritual realm before the enemy gets ready to wreck havoc. Psalm 119:62 says, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You because of Your righteous judgments.” It was at the midnight hour that God struck down the first-born of Egypt, which resulted in His people being released from captivity and set free to worship Him.  This watch is a time when God deals with the enemies that are trying to keep us from entering into His perfect plan for our lives.

In the natural, this time is characterized by deep darkness. In the spiritual realm, the Second Watch is when diabolical assignments and sabotage from the enemy are set in motion. This is why it is important for intercessors at this watch to pray for God’s protection over their families, cities, and nations:  Let God arise and His enemies be scattered” (Psalm 68:1).

This is also the time for divine judgments, deliverance, prayer for the economy, tearing down walls of darkness and all the wicked structures from our economic, educational, religious, and political systems.

Pray aloud Psalm 59 and Psalm 68:1-4. Pray that God will arise and scatter His enemies. Have a session of praise and worship exalting God and commanding all creation to praise Him. Read aloud Psalm 148. Prayer Decrees for This Prayer Watch:

  • Father, in the name of Jesus, You save me from my enemies. You protect me from those who come against me. You save me from those who do evil and from murderers. You are my God and my strength, I am looking to You, because You are my defender. You love me and You go in front of me. You will help me defeat my enemies. (Psalm 59: 1, 10)
  • I rebuke and loose myself and my family from all evil curses, spells, incantations, psychic powers or sorcery that have attach itself to me or my family line. I declare all these curses are null and void.
  • I break off every power of the kingdom of darkness and cancel every proud ideal in heaven that has established itself against Your plans in my life and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
  • I rejoice in Your love every morning. You have been my place of safety, the place I can run to when troubles come. I sing praises to You, my source of strength. You are the God who loves me. (Psalm 59: 16-17)

Third Watch (The Breaking of Day Watch from 12:00 A.M. to 3:00 A.M.)

This is a period of much spiritual activity. This watch hour will strengthen your faith. It is the same time that Peter denied Christ three times. (Matthew 26: 34, 74; Mark 144:30; Luke 22:34; John 13:38).

The Witching Hour

This watch is the darkest and most demonic part of the night, especially at midnight. Witches, warlocks, and satanists have fun and start their incantations during this part of the night. The devil operates at this time because this is the time that men are in a deep sleep and there are not as many people praying to oppose him (1 Kings 3:20). This watch calls for seasoned intercessors.

You must not be afraid of witchcraft during this watch. The Lord has given us dominion and authority over all things. This watch is geared for those who already know how to use their spiritual armor and war against the enemy. This is the time to pray against satanic attacks on your life, family members, marriages, churches and communities. We are most vulnerable to the devil’s attacks because at this time we are asleep.Declare Psalm 91:5-6 for Divine protection for yourself, family, church, city and nation.

Time to set your day before it begins

This is a powerful watch to be on when commanding the morning and setting things in place before the devil and his demons have a chance to ruin it. Plane crashes, car crashes, deaths, job loss, and many other acts of the devil can be stopped during this watch when intercessors obey the voice of the Lord and saturate this time with powerful, Spirit-led prayers.

Time for spiritual warfare

This is the time to awake out of sleep and confront every storm of destruction and distraction that is robbing you of God’s blessings and provisions on your life. Also, it is the time to speak peace and calm into every situation of turbulence and confusion.

Time to strengthen yourself spiritually and seek direction

Be vigilant during this time and watch for God’s revelation for breakthrough and for His plans and purposes for your life and territory.

Time to pray for release from every prison

The Apostle Paul and Silas were released from prison during this time (Acts 16:25). In addition, God released the people of Israel from Egypt at this time (Exodus 12:310). According to Judges 16:3-4, Samson escaped from Gaza at midnight by pulling up the gates of the city and carrying them out with him.

Time to make your case in prayer

This is the period to pray for God’s provision to be released (Luke 11:5-13; Acts 16:3). It is also time for miracles and for applying the Blood of Jesus.

Dreams flow during this hour

Often, we are awakened during this time with dreams God has given to us. God uses dreams and visions to bring instruction and counsel to us as we sleep. He also reveals areas where we need to concentrate our prayers and intercession. “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while slumbering on their beds, then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instructions.” (Job 33:15).

The devil can also attack you in dreams (nightmares), so always pray before you go to sleep and ask God to keep you from the enemy’s devices.
Prayer Decrees for this prayer watch:

  • Father, I plead the blood of Jesus against all demons of the night, nightmares, torment and sleeplessness. Father, I ask that you protect my mind while I sleep. In peace, I will lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, will keep me safe. (Psalms 4:8)
  • Father, by the blood of Jesus and the power of His Name, I spoil every attack of the enemy. I cancel and forcefully oppose any satanic operations and strategies which are designed to hinder and prevent Your plans and purpose for my life from manifestting.
  • Father, You said in Your Word that whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven; whatever we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Therefore, through the name of Jesus and the power of His Blood, I bind and break all witchcraft, curses, spells, and powers of darkness working against me. I cancel every attack of oppression, depression, perversion, distraction, hindrance and deception. No evil shall befall me or plague come near my dwelling. No weapon formed against me will prosper, for You order Your angels to protect me wherever I go. They will hold me up in their hands so my foot will not hit against a stone. (Psalm 91: 11-12)
  • Father, You give me the desires and secret petitions of my heart because I delight myself in You (Psalm 37:4). I proclaim that You are my provision. I have no lack in my family, my body or my finances. You supply all my needs according to Your glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

Fourth Watch  (The Morning Watch from 3:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M.)

This fourth watch is always important because this is the last watch of the night. This watch is the time that satanic agents who went out to perform their activities are returning to their bases. This is the time of the morning when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12 and 14).  This is also the time Jesus walked on the water to help the disciples who were caught in the storm (Matthew 14:25-33). This is the time to establish the course of your day by speaking God’s Word and breaking everything that would attempt to hinder His will for your life to manifest on third day. (Psalm 19:2).

Command your morning

Matthew 24:43 says: “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.” This is a disciplined prayer watch for those who have the power and training to wake up early in the morning and set the atmosphere. This is the time for all of the enemy’s plans and strategies to fail. This watch is for gaining territory, establishing the spirit of prosperity and stopping the devil from hijacking blessings and favor. This prayer watch sets  our day before it begins. This is an opportunity to set things in place before the devil and his demons have a chance to ruin it. Accidents, deaths, thefts, job loss, and any other acts of the devil can be stopped during this watch when intercessors obey the voice of the Lord and fill the morning with powerful prayers.

Time for Declaring God’s Word

This is a time for angelic activity or intervention and a time for blessings from heaven. When we pray, the Lord hears our prayers and sends His angels to work on our behalf. Consecrate all the work for the day and pray for protection for God’s people throughout the day. “You will make your prayer to Him, He will hear you, and you will pay your vows. You will also declare a thing and it will be established for you; so light will shine on your ways” (Job 22:27-28).
Prayer Decrees for this prayer watch:

Father, in Jesus’ Name…

  • You have gone before me to prepare my way, to make the crooked way straight, and to make the rough way smooth. Father, I entrust my work to You and You cause my plans to succeed and everything I set my hands to do prospers (Proverbs 16:3). Father, today I have favor with all who look upon me and Your favor makes a circle around me, enclosing me and covering me like a shield. You will work out Your plans for my life because Your faithful love endures forever.
  • I enforce Your plans and purpose for my life over and against the plans and purpose of Satan. Satan, the blood of Jesus is against you. You have no authority over my life. No weapon that is used against me will succeed, and anyone who speaks against me will be proven wrong because my vindication comes from God (Isaiah 54:17).
  • You will defeat my enemies; they will come against me but scatter before me in seven directions! (Deuteronomy 28:7)

Fifth Watch (The Early Morning Watch from 6:00 A.M. – 9:00 A.M.)

Time that God strengthens Christians (Acts 2:15; Psalm 2:7-9)

The spiritual significant of sunrise is having Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, rise over us (Malachi 4:2). During this watch, pray for such issues as healing in your body, relationships, family, government, and the economy.

Time for the Holy Spirit to prepare us for service (2 Corinthians 9:30; Ephesians 4:12)

Acts 2:15 says it was the “third hour of the day” (or 9:00 A.M.) when the Holy Spirit descended in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost to equip the 120 disciples for service. Regular work schedules usually begin between the hours of 6:00 A.M. and 9:00 A.M. As you step out, ask the Holy Spirit to equip you for the day.
Prayer Decrees for this watch:

Father, in the name of Jesus…

  • This day I entrust my work to You and I know my plans will work out well because I can do everything You ask me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power. (Philippians 4:13; Proverbs 16:3)
  • Because I reverence Your Name, Your goodness shines on me like the sun with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2)
  • I praise You and never forget how kind You are to me! You forgive all my sins and heal all my sicknesses. You save me from the grave and surround me with loving-kindness and tender mercies. (Psalm 103:2- 4)
  • I plead the Blood of Jesus over myself. I cover my body, mind, emotions and spirit with the Blood of Jesus. I plead the Blood of Jesus against physical, mental and emotional abuse. I plead the Blood of Jesus against any diseases, viruses or illnesses that would try to overtake me.  I release the healing virtue of Jesus Christ into my body. I curse at the root every attack upon my health. Jehovah-Rophe healed me and keeps me in perfect health all the days of my life. I plead the Blood of Jesus against calamities, catastrophes and any hidden dangers that would try to come against me. Through the Blood of Jesus, I have been redeemed out of the hands of the devil.

Sixth Watch (9:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M.)

Time to see God’s promises fulfilled

This is a time to watch for the Word of the Lord to be fulfilled in your life. This is also the time to receive the supply of all resources needed for every project God has assigned you to fulfill (Exodus 12:35-36). This was the time that the Israelites got everything that they had to use to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Pray for the provision to accomplish whatever God wants you to do.

Time to reflect on the power of the Cross (healing, prosperity, forgiveness, strength)

During  this time, Christ was sentenced and crucified at the third hour, or 9:00 A.M. (Mark 15:25, Matthew 27:45). After having been on the Cross for three hours, darkness came upon the face of the earth at 12:00 P.M. and continued until 3:00 P.M., when the period of darkness ended.  Because of Christ’s crucifixion, we must crucify the deeds of our flesh according to Romans 8:12-15. We must take up our cross and commit ourselves to Jesus Christ. Prayer Decrees for this prayer watch:

Father, in Jesus’ Name…

  • I entrust my work to You this day and I know my plans will work out well. I can do everything You ask me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power. (Philippians 4:13; Proverbs 16:3)

  • Because I reverence Your Name, Your goodness shines on me like the sun with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2)
  • I praise You and never forget how kind You are to me! You forgive all my sins and heal all my sicknesses. You save me from the grave, and You surround me with loving-kindness and tender mercies. (Psalm 103:2-4)
  • I give myself completely to You, as a living person who has been raised from the dead, and I offer myself as a tool in Your hands for Your good purposes.

The Seventh Watch (12:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M.)

Midday is an hour of rest and a time to seek the Lord. During this watch, Christ was on the Cross atoning for the sins of the world and restoration man’s relationship with God.  Additionally, Peter had a vision of the clean and the unclean animals which God used to let Peter know that God was including the Gentiles in His redemptive plan.  Also, it was during this watch that Daniel always went home to pray.

Unfortunately, this is also the time for destruction to run rampant in our nation.

Time of the Secret Place of the Most High (Psalm 91:1)

It is very important to pray in line with Acts 10:9 and Psalm 91:5,6, 14. This is the time to pray to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High, abiding under the shadow of the Almighty,” and making the Most High your habitation. Pray and cut off all satanic arrows that are released at this time so that they will not get you or your family.

Time of letting your light shine brighter (Provers 4:18)

The midday is the beginning of the sixth hour (12:00 P.M.) This is the time when the sun is at its fullest and brightest. Pray that your life would be bright. This is also the time to pray to not be led into any temptation, trap or snare of the enemy.
Prayer Decrees for this prayer watch:

  • Father, because Christ lives in me, His light shines through me, and I live so that people will see the good things I do and praise You in heaven. (Matthews 5:16)
  • Father, I live within Your shadow and You shelter me. You are the God who is above all gods. You alone are my refuge and place of safety. You are my God and I trust You. Father, You will rescue me from every trap and protect me from deadly disease. You cover me with Your feathers and shelter me with Your wings. Your faithful promises are my armor and protection. I will not be afraid of the terrors of the night nor the arrow that flies in the day. I will not dread the disease that stalks in darkness nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Father, You said, You will rescue those who love You and protect those who trust in Your name. When they call on You, You will answer. You will be with me in trouble and will rescue and honor me. You will reward me with a long life and give me Your salvation.

Eighth Watch (3:00 P.M. – 6:00 P.M.)

The Hour of Dying to Self and Rejoicing in the Power of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ died on the cross during this watch. (3:00 P.M.) He took on the sins of man so that we can be reconciled to God through the His Blood. Those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice can now live a triumphant life through Him and are allowed to come boldly before the throne of God the Father. As Jesus died and was resurrected, so the Bible calls us to die to self and live for Christ. The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:20 (NIV), “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  After His resurrection, Jesus Christ gave us power to live a life of victory and the authority to accomplish God’s will here on earth: “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV).
Prayer Decrees for this prayer watch:

  • Father, in the name of Jesus, I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
  • I give myself completely to You. I am a tool in Your hands, to be used for Your good purposes. Sin has no power over me because I am no longer tied to the law where sin enslaves me, but I am free under Your favor and mercy. (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6: 13-14)
  • You have made me what I am. You have created me in Christ Jesus to live a life filled with good works that You have prepared for me to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You have begun a good work within me and You will continue to help me grow in Your grace until Your task within me is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns. (Philippians 1:6) 

Article References:

Grace, C.B.  “Prayer Watches,” Ezekiel Regiment Prayer Ministry of San Marcos Texas, March 24, 2009. (Accessed September 3, 2012). Stewart, Malachi. “The Eight Prayer Watches,” Prophetic Streams Ministries, July 12, 2011. (Accessed September 3, 2012).

To enhance your understanding of prayer watches, UICM has written a book which expands on the prayer watches. The book is available at Amazon.com. Click on the book image to order. 

Watch and Prayer: Understanding the Eight Prayer Watches is now available at Barnes and Noble, the Apple bookstore, and in more electronic formats on Smashwords.com.

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley



It is clear from Scripture that God is sovereign: that he is the Lord of all who works all things according to his eternal purpose.

Psalm 115:3

Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.

Psalm 135:6

The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

Isaiah 14:24,26.27

Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand. … This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

Isaiah 23:9

The Lord Almighty planned it, to bring low the pride of all glory and to humble all who are renowned on the earth.

Isaiah 40:13,14,22

Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counsellor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, … who was it taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? … He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.

Isaiah 44:24ff

I am the Lord, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants and fulfils the predictions of his messengers … he says of Cyrus … he will accomplish all that I please ..

Isaiah 45:5ff

I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.

Isaiah 46:9ff

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end form the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please … what I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.

Isaiah 55:8ff

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts … my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Jeremiah 4:28

… because I have spoken and will not relent, I have decided and will not turn back.

Ephesians 1:9

He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment.

Ephesians 1:11

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will …

Ephesians 3:11

… according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2Timothy 1:9

… who has saved us … because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time …

In the above references the sovereign purpose/will of God is mentioned in relation to his dealings with the nations, his eternal plan of salvation, and his incorporation of individuals into that salvation.

In other references God’s sovereign control is seen in his ability to take hold of people and actions that are in direct opposition to his will and purpose and use those people and actions in his will and purpose:

Genesis 45:5ff

… do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. … But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

Genesis 50:19

Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Matthew 26:53

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?

John 19:11

You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.

Acts 2:23

This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

Romans 8:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Philippians 1:12

I want you to know … that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel … . (Read to 1:18).

To some people the concept of God’s sovereignty makes prayer redundant: if God is sovereign, if he has everything already planned, and will bring his plan to pass, no matter what, then, why pray?

In answer to this very real problem it is necessary to state:

A.1 Unless God is sovereign ALL prayer is meaningless and worthless.

There is absolutely no point in praying to a god who is not in charge of the universe, because such a god would have neither the authority nor the ability to do anything to bring about the things we pray for. This one fact ought to be sufficient to silence the problems that God’s sovereignty raises. Better to have a God who has the authority and ability to answer prayer, and leave us puzzled, than have no mysteries and no realistic expectation of answers.

A.2 There are some things that are fixed that no amount of praying can alter.

We cannot, for instance, pray that God will reduce the sinfulness of sin, or do away with hell; nor can we pray that he will act contrary to his character and contrary to his moral law. We cannot pray that he will change the rules. We cannot pray that he will provide a way of salvation other than the way he has provided, that he will, perhaps, open a back door to heaven through which some might enter. He has his plan for eternal salvation through Christ and the establishment of his eternal kingdom: towards this plan and purpose the whole of history moves. That cannot be changed.

A.3 There are other things that are God’s stated intention, but can be changed by prayer.

Evidence of this:

  1. God intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin. At Abraham’s pleading, God agreed that if as few as ten righteous men were found there, he would not destroy the cities (Genesis 18:16-33).
  2. God’s stated his intention to destroy the idol-worshipping Israelites and make a nation from Moses’ descendants. Moses intervened and ‘the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened’ (Exodus 32:7-14).
  3. When the people refused to enter the promised land because they were afraid of the giants, the Lord similarly said he would destroy them and make a great nation out of Moses. Then Moses again interceded on their behalf, and the Lord forgave them as Moses asked (Numbers 14:11-20).
  4. The Israelites, contrary to God’s stated ideal that he should be their King, persisted in their request for a human king so they could be like the surrounding nations. God finally instructed Samuel to give them a king, even though having a king would not be the best thing for them (1 Samuel 8:4-22; 10:17-25). (This should warn us against persisting in prayer for something that is our will, not God’s.)
  5. God announced judgement on Ahab for his wickedness. On hearing of it Ahab repented in deep humility. The judgement was delayed so that it did not fall during Ahab’s lifetime (1 Kings 21:20-29).
  6. The prophet Isaiah was told by the Lord to tell Hezekiah to put his house in order because he was going to die. Hezekiah prayed to the Lord about it, and the Lord promised to add a further fifteen years to his life (2 Kings 20:1-11).
  7. God purposed to overturn Nineveh because of the wickedness of its inhabitants, but, when they repented, the announced destruction did not fall (Jonah 3:1-4:2).
  8. Some of the miracles performed by Jesus Christ superseded the fixed, natural, physical laws that God has embedded into creation, and by which creation normally functions.

A.4 We must be careful not to confuse sovereignty with fatalism or determinism.

Determinism understands that all events, including all human actions, are the results of (that is, determined by) antecedent causes.

Fatalism understands that fate pre-determines and controls everything that happens, that everything that happens is inevitable. We cannot do anything to change our destinies. Human choice is meaningless.

When Christians confuse the Biblical teaching that God is sovereign with these two isms, they have a perverted understanding that puts ‘God’ in the place of ‘antecedent causes’ and ‘fate’ in the above definitions, and have joined ranks with astrology, Islam and Hinduism.

Such a perverted understanding of divine sovereignty results in the following misconceptions which are far from Biblical truth:

  1. that it is useless to pray.
  2. that God has predetermined everything.
  3. that God is to blame for all the bad things that happen.
  4. that God is arbitrary, uncaring and impersonal.

If we push this confused perception further we end up with no human responsibility for sin and evil, which is obviously very far from Biblical truth.

In contrast to both fatalism and determinism Jesus Christ actively worked against sin, suffering and evil; he saw no difficulty in interfering with and changing the state of affairs, expressing compassion, distress and anger when confronted with anything that is on this earth because of sin and/or Satan, and he stated clearly that the things he did – those miracles that changed the status quo – were the work of God. Thus the words and the works of Jesus forbid us to understand God’s sovereignty as meaning that everything that is is ‘God’s will’ and is locked in with no possibility of change.

Matthew 9:36

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them …

Matthew 14:14

… he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Matthew 15:32

I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat …

Matthew 20:34

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes.

Mark 1:40f

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”

Mark 3:1-5

… He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”

Luke 7:13

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin …

Luke 13:16

… should not this woman … whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?

John 11:35

Jesus wept. …

Thus the words and actions of Jesus the Son, which precisely express the mind of God the Father, give us the freedom to pray. Not only this, but they also give us the hope that it is reasonable to expect that God, in his Fatherly goodness, can and will intervene and change the status quo – in one way or another, within the boundaries of his vast eternal purpose.

A.5 Because divine sovereignty does not mean fatalism or determinism, we can be sure that not everything is locked in.

We need to view ‘God’s will’ not as something static and fixed like a steel girder or a concrete roadway, but as a great flowing river moving steadily and inexorably in and towards his purpose, constantly embracing this and that and the other thing and sweeping them along in itself, so that all these things also become incorporated into that purpose, whether they like it or not.

Representing it another way, we have:

understanding prayer

It is obvious from this diagram that most human choices are made outside of God’s purpose for human life – which is that we are created to reflect his glory, to image his nature – and are therefore contrary to his ‘will’. Only one man, Jesus Christ fully lived according to this purpose, within this circle, in his own personal choices.

It is also evident that the choices made outside this circle impact those who live, or strive to live, with choices within this circle. In this way the choices of the Jews, of Judas, of Pontius Pilate, impacted the life of Jesus Christ. These choices, contrary to God’s will for human life, are nevertheless within the boundary of his control, and are swept up and woven into his eternal purpose and used to bring that purpose to pass. God can do this because all things are with the boundary of his control. These choices also are within God’s knowledge for he sees and knows all things even before they happen.

How does this relate to prayer?

  • We cannot pray for something that does not exist – something that is not actually possible – we cannot ask God to make a square circle, or to make 2+2 = 5. All things are possible to God, as the Scripture says, but a square circle is not anything, nor is 2+2=5 anything.
  • ‘However, God can take our squares and make them into his circles.’ (Vishal Manglawadi ‘Letters to a Post-modern Hindu’ p.24f). He can take our 2+2 and add his 1 to it to make 5 for us.
  • Because the suffering caused by human sin is not his perfect creative will for human life, we can pray for his intervention without any thought that to pray such a prayer is to act contrary to his will. Evil and suffering are contrary to God’s will, they are here only by default – the words, attitudes and actions of Jesus Christ demonstrate this beyond question, as do the promises concerning the removal of all suffering in the eternal kingdom. Thus, it is reasonable and right to pray for God’s help in the presence of suffering, with the expectation that he both can and will do something to relieve our suffering in some way or other, and also bring good out of it.
  • At the same time we realize that in this life we will never be free from the impact of wrong choices – both ours and others’. Even Jesus, who lived his life ‘at the centre of God’s will’, was not immune from suffering caused by others’ sinful choices. To expect, as some do, that God will make our lives free from all kinds of suffering, to expect perfect relationships, trouble-free parenting, perfect health and limitless wealth, in our current earthly existence, is to ask God to make earth heaven. That he will not do. But we can expect him to use suffering for our good and for his glory, for that he has promised; we can expect him to limit our suffering to what we can bear, and to rescue us from the suffering before it becomes too much for us to bear, for that he has also promised; we can pray that he will change our circumstances, according to his will, for that he has given us the liberty to do.
  • We can, in fact, pray to him concerning anything in the space between the two circles, and concerning any impact that the small dots in that space have upon us, our loved ones, our churches and our nation, as he has told us to do.
  • And we can certainly ask him to enable us to do anything within the inner circle, for everything there is exactly what he created human life to be.


Most questions concerning unanswered prayer can be resolved by checking out the boundaries for prayer in the previous study:

  • Are we praying to the one true God?
  • Do we believe in this one true God?
  • Is our praying God-oriented or self-oriented?
  • Did we leave the answer in his hands (his will)?
  • Did we approach him ‘in Jesus’ name’ – not trusting in our own righteousness?
  • Was our prayer and our praying expressive of the mind/heart of God?
  • Did we trust in his fatherly goodness towards us?
For some Biblical examples of unanswered prayer read the following, and note why they were unanswered:

Exodus 32:30ff


1Sam 28:6,16,17

(See 15:28)

Proverbs 1:28-31


Isaiah 1:11-17


Isaiah 29:13ff


Jeremiah 11:11-ff


Jeremiah 15:1f


Lamentations 3:8


Ezekiel 8:18


Ezekiel 14:13-20


Hosea 11:7


Micah 3:1-4


2 Cor 12:7-10



There seems to be a general uncertainty surrounding prayer and unbelievers, with four questions predominating:

C.1 Does God hear the prayers of unbelievers?

See Additional Studies in Prayer: Study 5: especially A, B and E.

C.2 Should we pray for God to intervene or interfere in the lives of unbelievers?

Yes. We should. The compassion and kindly intervention of Jesus Christ extended to ‘the multitudes’, not just to those who had expressed genuine faith in him. He also affirmed that God sends his rain and his sunshine on both the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:43-45). In addition, the following Scriptures require us to pray prayers which necessitate divine ‘interference’ in the lives of those who do not acknowledge him. Study these references:

Gen 32:9ff

‘Save me … from the hand of my brother’

‘I am afraid … but you have said … ‘

2Chron 32:20

Impossible situation

For deliverance/rescue.

Neh 1:11; 2:4

Favour with ‘this man’

For success of God’s cause.

Matthew 5:44

Pray for those who persecute you …

To demonstrate that God is our Father

Luke 6:28

Pray for those who mistreat you

Expression of loving our enemies.

Rom 10:1

The Israelites

That they may be saved.

Rom 15:31

Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea

So that Paul can go to Rome

2Thess 3:2

Pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men …

Because not everyone has faith; also so the message can be spread.

1Tim 2:1ff

I urge … that … prayers … be made for everyone, for kings and all those in authority

That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

C.3 Should we pray for the salvation of unbelievers?

This question is partly answered by two further questions:

Q1: Does God want unbelievers to be saved? Yes, he does.

2 Samuel 14:14

God … arranges ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.

Ezekiel 18:23

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? Declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

Ezekiel 33:11

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn form their ways and live. Turn! Turn form your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?

Luke 13:34

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Luke 19:10

The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

John 3:16,17

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Acts 17:30

God … commands all people everywhere to repent.

1Tim 2:4

God … wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

2 Peter 3:9

… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Q2: Is the salvation of unbelievers something that is in God’s hands? Yes, it is.

Matthew 11:27

… No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

John 1:13

… children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 6:37

All that the Father gives me will come to me …

John 6:44

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him …

John 10:29

My Father … has given them to me

John 17:6 (9,24)

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.

2 Corinthians 4:6

God … made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Ephesians 2:5

God … made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.

Colossians 1:12,13

The Father … has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light … he rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves …

There are actually no commands to pray for the salvation of unbelievers (there are a few examples of prayer for the salvation of others (Isaiah 63:14-64:12; Jeremiah 14:7-9,19-22 , Acts 26:29; Romans 10:1)). However, the two facts above would indicate that such prayer is in keeping with what God has revealed of his will and purpose, and that the salvation of a person is something only God can bring about. And, as we saw in the Studies on the Lord’s Prayer, the first three petitions are for God’s name to be honoured, God’s kingdom to come, and God’s will to be done. These prayers can only be answered in individual lives when they are saved, that is, when they repent and believe. Also in keeping with God’s purpose of saving the lost are the following texts where prayer is made, commanded or requested concerning the proclamation of the message of the Gospel:

Matthew 9:32

Ask the Lord of the harvest … to send out workers into his harvest field. (Also Luke 10:2)

Acts 4:29

Lord … enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.

Rom 15:30

… join me in my struggle by praying to God for me …

Ephesians 6:19,20

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel … Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Colossians 4:3-4

Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ … pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

2Thess 3:1

… pray for us, that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.

Philemon 6

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith

As we read through the New Testament we find, instead of a focus on praying for the salvation of unbelievers,

  1. a focus, in both prayer and purpose/commitment, on the proclamation of the Gospel. Without the proclamation of the Word there can be no true knowledge of God and therefore no salvation (John 8:32; Romans 10:9ff; Acts 26:17-18). This, therefore, is where the focus of prayer is.
  2. much thanksgiving and prayer for people once they have believed.

If we are to pray parallel with the emphasis in Scripture, our prayers will be focused more on asking God to give boldness and clarity of expression to those who proclaim his Word, than on prayer for the salvation of individuals, but not excluding the salvation of individuals.

Q4: Is it ever wrong to pray for the salvation of unbelievers?

In the Old Testament we find the following texts which indicate that there are times when prayers for the salvation of unbelievers will not be ‘heard’ – because of their persistent refusal to respond to and obey the word of God. It is obvious that there came a time when God’s judgement had to fall.

Jeremiah 7:16

Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. Do you not see what they are doing … ?

Jeremiah 11:13,14

You have as many gods as you have towns … Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me .

Jeremiah 14:11,12

Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.

Jeremiah 15:1

Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence.

Ezekiel 14:13-20

… even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness …


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