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?

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