Over the years, I've noticed that most of our prayers and prayer requests from others revolve around three things:
1. Healing of physical problems:
Ask people for prayer requests, and without a doubt you’ll get at least some requests for physical health. We want God to heal everything from colds and flu to broken bones and terminal cancer. I get it: we can't get away from bodily existence, and when our bodies don't work well or cause us hurt and suffering, we want it to stop. It is, without any doubt, the most common request we receive from others or ask God to answer.
2. Provision of perceived needs or wants:
We have a need and ask God to meet it; we want something we don't have and pray that God will provide it. A man is out of work and so asks God for a job. A person lacks money to pay a upcoming bill, and prays for provision. A woman want a husband with no promising candidates on the horizon, and asks God to meet someone. Someone is confused and want answers or guidance, so he asks God for direction.
3. Reversal of circumstances:
We don't like where we are or the situation we find ourselves in and we want it to reverse/change. We're having problem with our kids, and we want them to behave. We're struggling with weight and we want to lose it. We're frustrated with a person and we want him to change.
Praying and asking God for any of these is not wrong. You can find examples of people praying for each of these in the Bible. But it isn't necessarily what matters most.
So what should we pray for? When we want to encourage others and pray specifically, what requests should be on our lips? What did Paul pray and ask God for in the lives of young Christians? What should we be asking God for, so that we are praying for what matters most?
The answer is in Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:
"And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light" (vss. 9-12)
What does Paul pray for? He has two main requests:
1) That we'd have clarity about what God wants for our lives.
He prays that we'd be filled with the knowledge of His will––in other words, that we'd have the clarity and conviction of what God wants and desires for us in every area of our lives; in our thoughts, affections, purposes, priorities, activities and choices. Further, praying for wisdom for another is asking that he or she see life from God's point of view, that they'd have a decidedly God-centered perspective on life.
So Paul prays for them to know what God wants––and for that to be crystal clear in their minds, both in the big picture and in the daily details. Believe me, God wants you to have this. He doesn't want you to be in the dark or be confused, but to be crystal-clear about His will.
I often realize that I know better than I live. It's a gap I constantly am trying to close. But once we know what God wants, we need to do what God directs. So Paul asks God for a second request:
2) That we'd live a life worthy of Christ and pleasing to God.
As so often in the Bible, life is pictured as a walk along a path or road. We are traveling through this world, and as we do, we move in a direction, forging convictions, forming habits, learning skills, and making decisions. We could shape our lives around ourselves and our concerns, or we could remember all Christ has done for us, and desire to please Him in everything and in everyday, living worthily of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him!
Not content to pray in generalities, Paul specifically asks God to help believers bear fruit, or live compelling lives that make a difference to others; and increase in the knowledge of God, or grow to be closer to Him and know Him better; to be strengthened with all power...for all endurance with patience, or in other words, to have the ability to patiently and joyfully endure whatever comes, all the while giving thanks to God for all He has already done for us in Christ. This is what Paul has in mind when he prays for another person to live in a manner worthy of Christ and pleasing to God!
So go ahead and pray for anything that comes to mind––for healing, provisions, for circumstances to change. There is nothing wrong with any of those requests. But why not take a cue from Paul and intentionally pray for what matters most for yourself and others? That you'd have clarity about what God wants for your life, and that you'd live a life worthy of Christ and pleasing to God.
(If you take this challenge, let me know how it changes your prayers, and how God answers!)