Archive for August, 2011

If you’ve worked with kids long enough in Sunday School, you’ve probably learned that when you ask them for prayer requests, it will probably go something like this:

You: “Alright kids, does anybody have any prayer requests?”
Billy: “My great-grandmother is 97 and she has cancer.”
You: “Ok, we’ll pray for your great-grandmother. Anyone else?”
Sally: “My dog has lots of ticks and my mom says if we can’t get rid of them we’re going to have to take him out and give him the Old Yeller treatment. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds bad.”
You: “Ok, we’ll pray for your dog…”

And the conversation continues on like this as kids share about their friend’s dad’s uncle who shot himself in the foot hunting and other odd scenarios that you’re forced to keep your composure through.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that the prayer requests of adults are less bizarre, yet they’re still usually related to sickness and health. “Please pray for my dad, he’s getting knee surgery tomorrow so just pray that everything would go smoothly.” “Please pray for my sister, she’s got a cold and is feeling nauseous.”

Are these wrong to pray for? Not at all! God cares for the little concerns of life, too. He wants to heal us of our infirmities, big and small. But if our requests are almost exclusively requests for physical healing or for safety or smooth sailing, we miss the most important things.

God wants to change our hearts. Even more than perfect health, God wants to draw people closer to himself. Bill’s uncle’s knee surgery could go smooth as a whistle, and he could be back on his feet in weeks without realizing it’s God’s grace that got him through. Remember when Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Mark 2? While the man’s biggest problem appears to be the fact that he’s paralyzed, Jesus makes the point clear that this man’s greatest problem is not his physical informity, but his standing before God. “Go, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus healed the man because he loved him and was merciful, but he showed everyone present that his greater concern was for this guy’s heart to be healed from sin.

And after Jesus heals the paralyzed man in John 5, he told him to go and sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to him. Again, Jesus took pity on the man and healed him as he desires to do, but time and again I see in the gospels that Jesus’ healings were almost always accompanied by teaching the person to repent and follow him.

So, should we pray for healing? Absolutely. But I think we should pray even more for God to work in people’s hearts through the sickness and through the healing, that they may bring glory to God and praise him.

All of this to say, I think our prayers ought to be less about God changing our circumstances and more about God changing our hearts. Should we pray for our friend to land the job he wants? Sure! But maybe it would be better to pray that your friend would trust God and his providence regardless of whether he gets his dream job, so that his family and those around him may be encouraged by his faith. This is just one example among many, but I think that our prayer requests and prayers reveal our maturity and our perspective of what matters most.

Ephesians 6:18-20 says:
“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly as I ought to speak”

Notice Paul’s biggest concern here? Not for safety. He’s in chains and has been experiencing all kinds of agonizing persecution. His prayer request is that he would be a bold witness no matter how painful the consequences are. He wants boldness to speak as he knows he ought to speak.

So let’s think about our prayer requests. If your request is purely asking God to change a situation in your life or someone else’s to make it easier, think through that request and what it reveals about what you’re wanting most.

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