Q&A: What should we really pray for?

My dear friend Cam submitted a question to me through the site a while back and I’ve just now gotten around to answering it.  Along with being very gracious and patient in waiting for my response, Cam has also allowed me to post our exchange (below).

Question from: Cam Beck

Every day I pray for my will to be conformed to God’s. In the abstract, this is very easy to say. “What do you want?” – “I want for God’s will to be done.”

When I get to what is typically called “prayer requests,” or supplication, I struggle, because I want to have joy in whatever happens, as long as I have a deep and abiding relationship with our Lord. I find myself asking for something and then backing up, wondering if I should be asking for anything but God’s will, for I don’t know if what I’m asking for is, in fact, God’s will, whether my request be for myself or for others.

From my own perspective, of course I WANT this or that situation to go well for my friends… even my enemies… as long as THEIR relationship with God be established or strengthened rather than the opposite outcome. He always knows better than I do. And I don’t ever want to presume that He doesn’t.

So, applying the example of Jesus at the Mount of Olives to submit to God my heart’s desire while still truly wanting “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,” may appear as a contradiction of my heart’, as it did in Christ’s case (The cup was not removed as Jesus requested, but the perfect will of our Father was done).

This is not to say that God does not care for our needs. I am confident that He does, even if those needs are not as we define them in our prayer requests. If we love the Lord and lack any material comfort or blessing of this world, I’m equally confident that we didn’t really need it, and we can still rejoice in His goodness and presence.

How would you recommend I reconcile this dichotomy to lead to a more fruitful prayer life, in the sense that it ultimately would conform my heart to His will?



First off, thanks for the question!  It’s a good one, and I think a lot of other people struggle with this concept – especially those of Reformed conviction.

My response and comments above should in no way be misconstrued to say that we shouldn’t pray – Scripture is very clear to the contrary when Paul says pray without ceasing, James tells us to pray in all situations, and Christ himself prays constantly.  But we should offer our prayers up to the Lord and let him answer them as he sees fit.  This is, I think, the epitome of faith in prayer.  If we pray and become dissatisfied when God doesn’t answer our prayer the way we want or expect, then we’ve essentially told God that he doesn’t know what he’s doing and that we do.  And if we don’t pray because of a defeatist mindset (‘God will take care of it… I don’t have any bearing on the situation’) then we have gone against Scripture.  So then I think the Scriptural way to pray is to say “God, here is what I am feeling – I desire that this should happen and that you would get glory in this way, but I submit this supplication to you because you are the one who hears and you are the one who has dominion and sovereignty over this situation.  Shape my heart to come into alignment with what you are doing, and let me see the glory that you are getting in this situation, and to trust you when I cannot see.  I have these wants and desires, but it is not my will but yours that will be done.  I want to trust you more – let me trust you more in this prayer and whatever your answer may be I pray that I would worship you in it. If I am sinful in my wants, show me how so that I can know you and your will more deeply.

The long and short of it is that the more you grow in your knowledge of and dependence on God, the more robust and earnest your prayer life will be.  I know I’ve become much more conversational, confessional, and intimate in my prayer with God over the past few years and it has been a huge blessing for me.  I know my God who speaks to me in a myriad of ways, and he has built in me a trust that I can know his voice and follow where he leads, even if the road is uncertain and the path seems hard to follow.  And then there are times where I still disobey and reject him – and he disciplines me and rebukes me.  But as you grow you’ll find that God’s voice is familiar, comforting, and brings much wisdom and peace.  I have found that praying in this way has made me more patient, more relaxed, and more confident in my walk with Christ, and I am truly thankful for how he has grown me in my communication with him.

I think you said it best when you mentioned “I want to have joy in whatever happens, as long as I have a deep and abiding relationship with our Lord.” That is the excellent priority – this is where you should stay, and the joy will come out of that close relationship.

As far as your concern over whether what you’re praying is right or not, This is a good concern… but God doesn’t call us to be 100% accurate with our prayer requests; he does call us to be holy and to bring our concerns to him.  It’s his business how he answers them – we are only called to submit them and relate to him in his response.  And that goes along with your next thought, that God knows better than we do and we can’t presume otherwise. Exactly – you are right-on.  God’s wisdom is infinitely higher than ours, and we cannot know everything in our limited perspective.  But there’s nothing wrong with wanting or thinking… it just matters whether you exalt that and say ‘God should do this’ and then get frustrated or angry when he doesn’t.

My response to you wondering how to resolve the dichotomy of praying to know God more deeply rather than for specific things is that I think you’ve got a good understanding of prayer… but I would challenge you to think in the following way as well. C.S. Lewis’ example from ‘the efficacy of prayer’ is that of a man who kneels down to propose to a woman who accepts his proposal.  Is her acceptance of that proposal the result of him initiating the question, or is it more that all along she acted in such a way as to elicit that question being asked?  Basically, did the guy ask her because he felt the desire to, or was it because she didn’t turn him down for a ton of dates and conversations? In other words for the situation at hand, do we pray for an effect (does God respond to our prayer), or is our prayer an effect of God working in our lives to build dependence on him?  To put it yet another way, does God act so that we must pray to come into alignment with him, or are we praying to affect God’s actions?

I hope this makes sense – Enjoy.

– nj

To my current reader(s), what do you think about this?

Did I miss anything?  Any other thoughts?

Share Button

Sin and Reform

The following was written on November 12, 2008…

As I’ve progressed in my walk with Christ, I’ve found more and more that Scripture reads me.  When I see people in the Bible, I often see aspects of myself.  While the stories of David and Solomon and Elisha aren’t my stories, they do resonate with me, and tell me more of the God who is intimately working in my life.

Most recently I’ve been reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, and it’s been an interesting experience.  I’ve loved seeing God working on the macro level – with Israel and Judah’s many kings of varying holiness.  He truly is sovereign over all aspects of government, and works in mighty ways to accomplish both His will and His purposes for nations.  I’ve also been fascinated at how God works on the micro level.  The text will quickly rip through a hundred years’ worth of leadership and kings in Israel in just a paragraph or two, and then will slow way down to speak of a miracle or an evil deed, taking several chapters to do so.  These things that I’ve been learning, however, aren’t the issue that have been on my mind the most lately…

God showed me last night that the big story with Israel throughout the monarchy (both in the united and the divided) is that Israel struggles intensely with her idolatry, and cannot seem to put the foreign gods away for any lasting length of time.  Every once in a while there is reform, or a holy king who takes care of a few things, but there’s always an evil king who leads the people back into sin again… and again… and again.  They never beat their sin, and in the end have to be completely abandoned by God and delivered over to a pagan nation to experience His judgment by living as conquered slaves in a foreign land.

In a way, this story is my story.  I’ve struggled so much with my sin – be it pride, lust, idolatry, selfishness, greed, gluttony, or anything else under the sun – and every once in a while I’ll see some reform, a return to following Jesus closely.  But there’s always something that leads me back into my old lifestyle, something that tugs at my heart strings and leads me down that dark pathway, and I find myself standing and knocking at temptation’s door, head hung low, shoulders slumped in surrender.

So how long must I continue in this way?  How long will my God’s mercies continue to renew, and how long will it be before I truly understand how much damage I’ve dealt myself and those I love?  I pray that He ruins me… I pray that He enraptures my soul with a lasting satisfaction and joy, so that I consider Him the most desirable thing to be had in all the universe for all eternity.

Oh merciful Almighty God, deliver me from my sin.  Send me not into Exile from You.  Oh please don’t forsake me to the wilderness and my own destruction.  Give me grace, lead me into Your pleasant presence and put away my transgression.  Let Your mercies be new tomorrow, and give me strength to serve You and only You this coming day.  Thwart evil, give grace, and let me bear fruit in keeping with true repentance.

Share Button


In a lot of ways 2009 was a tough year for me. Struggling with loneliness, bitterness, and burnout along with all kinds of other sins too numerous to mention here, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a deeper need for God and had it answered with a more fleeting joy. Looking back over my journal entries, written prayers, and various writings I’ve also seen a theme of bone-weariness that taken a heavy toll on me spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. So in the post-sunset twilight hours of 2009 I am compelled to reflect on what a year it was, and speculate on the first glow of 2010’s sunrise as it peaks over the horizon.

Even though it has been one of the toughest years in the hardest season of my life yet (my post-graduate mid-20’s), I am hopeful in God’s purposes for me. He has never and will never forsake me. And his goodness doesn’t depend on my happiness – he is good whether I die tonight on my way home or whether I live to see my great-grandchildren. And even though I am very tired and weary right now and it feels like winter in my soul, I am looking forward to the day when I look back on this time and see the hidden smile of God all the while. And I am looking forward to a time when life begins to make sense again. But most of all I am looking forward with eager expectation to the eternal rest that awaits me in heaven.

So right now I am breathing a sigh of relief – relief that a tough year is past and I am another year closer to heaven; relief that God has yet again proven himself faithful in answering my needs, and relief that God is much bigger than my struggles.

God, even though life doesn’t make sense to me right now my faith in you remains steadfast because you are more than struggles, more than certainty, more than confidence, and more than I could ever have hoped for. Even though I see in part and know in part, I praise you that you know more fully than I ever will, and I ask that you sustain me in my nearsightedness. I pray that you remind me of your goodness and your sovereignty in times like these, and I pray that I don’t miss what you’re teaching me through them. God you are so gracious to me in giving me the righteousness of Christ – I pray that I don’t take it for granted and that I am a good steward of the gifts that you’ve given me. Let me live for you; let me glorify you with my thoughts, actions, words, and motivations. Give me the grace to yearn for you and seek you in all that I do. And I pray that I follow you faithfully this year, no matter where you lead me or what you lead me through.

by Shawn McDonald

Sometimes I feel like winter, cold I feel
Icicles are forming
It’s hard to tell what is real
Cold winter, cold winter day

Frost is on the windshield and it’s hard to see
Air is like slivers
It’s hard to breathe
It’s a cold winter, cold winter day

Warm me up inside
And let your face from me not hide
‘Cause You are what I long for
To melt this cold heart of mine
‘Cause when You are around I am found

Sometimes I feel like the prodigal, a wandering weary son
Gone in search of something beautiful
Something to make me one
It’s a cold winter, cold winter day

The world is full of lies that will only rob you blind
Hit ya’ when you are not looking
And steal away your time
It’s a cold winter, cold winter day

And warm me up inside
Let Your face from me not hide
‘Cause You are what I long to find
To melt this cold heart of mine
And when You are around I am found

Warm me up inside
And let your face from me not hide
‘Cause You are what I long to find
To melt this cold heart of mine
‘Cause when You are around

‘Cause when You are around
And when You are around I am found

Share Button

Praying Through the Beatitudes

The following is a series of prayers in preparation for my trip to Niger in September ’08, along with a few pics from the trip…

(Matthew 5:3-12)

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
Jesus, help me to know this Scripture intimately while I am in Niger. Let this verse be on my mind and my heart as I observe, interact, and pray for those who don’t know the pride that excess and luxury bring.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…
God let me be a comforting hand and voice to those who are hurting and emotionally downtrodden. Let me mourn with them, and let my joy, jokes, happiness, and sarcasm not be an offense to them. I pray that I see that they are truly blessed, and that I have plenty to mourn over in my own life.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…
Oh sweet King, may I be meek! I pray you kill my pride and quiet my to ngue from wicked speech and my mind from wicked egotistical, ethnocentric thoughts. Let me be meek, let me be humble as you were. Let me not bring shame upon your name through overbearing, controlling, self-concern. And let those who are kind, humble, and meek be exalted in your Kingdom. Soften hearts, prepare the soil of mind and soul as we prepare for this trip. I pray you raise up a quiver of sons and daughters from this trip with which to share your glorious graceful bounty of inheritance.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…
Jesus, I have known what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness… I do now, and I know I will in the future, according to your sovereign will. We all groan with longings for your grace and mercy to fall on us… but would you satisfy? Will you show us and those that we will meet that there is satisfaction in you and you alone? I know you are drawing people to you, and that they long to be redeemed, sanctified, and sons in your kingdom. Will you answer that longing? Will you satisfy?

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy…
God, let our hosts be merciful to us and give us grace as we adjust to their culture, habits, and lifestyle. Let us be merciful as we go about your work in Niger. And God have mercy on us… let that be the fuel that drives our interactions with these people that we’ll be visiting. Let your grace and mercy pour outward from us as we work, tell stories, have meetings, and everything else that we’ll do. And let us not forget the mercy that has been extended us from the cross.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…
Jesus may I be pure in heart! And let those who travel with me have purity in motives, vision, and purpose as we try to lay a foundation for ministry and evangelism in Niger. Let us see those whom you have purified, and let us encourage and challenge them to know you more deeply. And Christ let us see you at work here in us, there in the culture, and let us see you in Heaven. I pray we hear a ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ and enter into your rest. Let us be pure in heart and let us see you.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…
Will you raise up men of peace in the villages we plan to visit? Let there be peacemakers that extend a hospitable hand and an open heart to us as we travel. I ask that you bring them to yourself and well up your Spirit in them and let them be drawn into your fold. Let them be called sons of God. And I pray that I bring peace rather than enmity, love rather than hatred. I pray I understand what you have given on my behalf that I can be known as a son of yours. Thank you for who you are and what you’ve given. I pray I keep that at the front of my mind as I travel.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness; sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…
These are tough words and tough prayers, but Jesus if we are persecuted, let us be persecuted for your sake. I pray this trip goes smoothly and that there are no complications, but if it is your will that we be beaten, imprisoned, killed, or otherwise persecuted, that it is on account of our faith in you, not skin color, nationality, actions, etc. And Jesus, please encourage and sustain those who are being persecuted for their faith in you. Let them not turn aside and denounce you, but rather withstand any opposition that you see fit to put in their path. And have mercy on those who persecute them… whether they know not what they do or whether they do it in full understanding… have mercy and give grace. Let them know who you are and bring them to yourself.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for you reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let me be gracious and humble if I must face this temptation to slander and be bitter in return. Let my passion for truth not supercede my passion for you, and let me know your peace and life-giving grace even when I’m ridiculed and insulted. My spiritual heritage isn’t the most comfortable, and it’s not the well-trodden path of the world… rather it’s the narrow, steep-sided path that winds its way to the gates of heaven. Let me guard my steps carefully, and let me withstand whatever reviling that may be in store for us. I love you Jesus. Give your servant grace that is undeserved and that washes clean my sins.

Share Button