Have you ever wondered how to pray for people? Are you tired of the standard prayers typically prayed by Christians? Perhaps you can relate to what I am talking about: “Dear God, please bless so-and-so with (health, a job, salvation, a renewed spiritual interest, an easier life, etc).” Not that there is anything wrong with these things. They may be legitimate matters for prayer, but it seems to me that we Christians often settle for so little when we make requests of God. What follows is what I hope is a remedy for these routine kinds of prayer
Do we know what God wants?
Maybe the problem is that we don’t really understand what to ask God for. Maybe we just get caught up in responding to the urgent felt-needs of those around us. Maybe we have become creatures of habit, falling into the set patterns of our particular circle of friends and church associates. Whatever the reason, I sometimes find typical prayer sessions to be bland and all-too predictable: the same categories of prayer; the same focus on immediate physical and material needs; the same salvation requests.
The problem of group dynamics
Prayer sessions can easily be dominated by two or three people who either don’t mind sharing most of the prayer requests or who enjoy being the perpetually needy ones. Maybe you can relate to feeling like this at a prayer gathering, “Here we go again. Brother Sam has been feeling upset again this week. He is requesting that we ask to God to remove the source of his frustration. Beside him, brother Ned needs a job for the third time in the past year. Sister Sue is asking for her son’s salvation just as she has since we have first known her years ago. Another Christian lady has urgent health issues and can hardly function in her daily routines. (But, if so, how is she well enough to come to this prayer-gathering?) Across the circle, sister Mary is sharing another compelling story she came across on the Internet this week. She wants prayer for an individual a continent away who has been “on her heart” for days but whom none of us has ever met. So we bow our heads and ask God to intervene.
Let me be clear: I am not condemning such prayers or the people who pray them. In my experience, the motives of those who make these kinds of requests are usually good. They care about people and they want God’s blessings on those people and circumstances they care about. Yet I have become increasingly discontent with prayer requests which go no further than these kinds of things. It is entirely possible that, as a pastor, I have simply been jaded by attending many dozens of these prayer sessions. Part of the solution is to set ground rules for prayer times that limit one or two people from dominating the agenda.
Getting beyond the routine
Maybe I am also frustrated by the lack of discernible growth in these dear folks whose prayers seem to be on the same level year after year. It could be argued that these types of prayers simply reflect poor biblical teaching on the part of their leaders, including me. What I do know is that we ought to be asking God for much more. So, I have put together a collection of prayer requests that I believe are more in line with those modeled in scripture. I am urging that, along with praying for jobs, and protection, and the solving of various problems—-all of which may be valid—that my fellow believers should consider praying “outside the box”. But what does a biblical, yet edgy prayer request look like? Let me give some examples. Try praying for these things:
- That people develop a deep love for God
- That people have thoughts, words and actions controlled by the Holy Spirit
- That our friends become willing to accept a life-changing direction from God
- That we experience a sacrificial attitude in marriages, families and other relationships
- That those we are concerned about come to genuine repentance
- That together we are a voice for Christ’s Kingdom when one is needed
- That people develop the mental commitment and toughness to resist temptation
- That Christians demonstrate our oneness in Christ
- That we all become competent in applying the truths of scripture to our own lives
- That we strive for personal excellence as a visible result of honoring God in all we do
- That Christians are seen as models of tolerance in situations in which tolerance pleases God
- That Christians model godly family living
- That Christians face their own blind spots
- That we decide to be content with what cannot be changed
- That we develop consistency and skill in their work
- That believers respond to conflict with truth, righteousness and mercy
- That our friends acquire the ability to persevere through hardship and failure
- That we all learn true forgiveness
- That our churches grow in their ability to speak about their faith in ways which ring true with the unchurched and unbelieving people around them
- That we discover joy in giving to others
- That Christians commit themselves to basic spiritual disciplines
- That we develop healthy eating and exercise routines
- That we stop judging others’ motives
- That folks learn the difference between explicit biblical teachings and their own inferences based on certain verses of scripture
- That we all become amazed at God’s care and provision in their lives
- That troubled people find God to be the acceptance and beauty that they have been looking for
- That stubborn folks find God to be tougher and smarter than themselves
- That all of us desire to become more than they have dreamed possible for God’s glory
- That we find deep enjoyment in the life God has blessed them with
- At all times that God’s people show themselves as models of God’s grace
I could add many more requests that are biblically-based and relevant to the society we are currently living in. It could be that if we consistently prayed for ourselves and others like this, we might actually turn the world upside down!