Imagine owning a world class car, a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or the like. Having never driven one myself, I can only wonder what it’s like to put your foot to the gas pedal and feel the power of that engine as it revs up to the speed limit (but no faster, of course) on the open highway in seconds flat. Now imagine having a car like that… and only using it to drive back and forth from your house to the Walmart and your bank a couple of miles away once or twice a week. As nice of a ride as I’m sure that would be, that would be an incredible waste of that car’s abilities to simply limit to 30 mile per hour, stop-and-go driving.
If you ask me, that’s exactly what we often do with our prayers.
We serve a God who spoke the universe into existence, flooded the entire earth, parted the Red Sea, brought people back from the dead, healed blindness, and the list goes on… and yet so many of our prayers are limited to “help the sick, keep us safe, fulfill our basic needs.” Do you think we set limits on God with our prayers? Do you think there’s a lot of room to think bigger with our prayers?
That’s not to say that it’s wrong to pray for those basic needs. In fact, it’s completely biblical. James 5:14 talks about prayers for the sick, and Jesus mentioned “Give us this day our daily bread” in what we call the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:11). But that’s the same issue as using the Ferrari to run errands. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s a legitimate usage of the car. But if that’s all you’re using it for, you’re letting so much of its potential go to waste. The same is true with our prayers. If all we use them for are the basic needs, we’re wasting the potential God has given us. As we rethink our prayers, consider some of the prayers we see in Scripture. Notice what kind of things Jesus, Paul, and James prayed for.
In preparing to leave His apostles, Jesus prayed for them in John 17. He prayed for their sanctification and that they would know God, but He especially prayed for their unity. Why? Because they would be going into a world which hated them. Their unity would help them remain strong, and it would be a witness to the world of the love that they had for each other. But if they had fallen apart and had started fighting each other rather than the sins of the world, their testimony would’ve been greatly damaged. Like Jesus, we should be praying that the church would be one in love, doctrine, and mission.
Freedom from sin
In that same prayer in John 17, Jesus said that He didn’t want His followers taken out of the world, just that the Father would “keep them from the evil one.” Do you know someone who is wavering in their faith or dealing with persistent temptations? Pray that God would shield them from the evil one. Pray that God would “deliver them not into temptation” as Jesus similarly prayed in Matthew 6:13. Though it’s not assigned a specific part of the armor, prayer is also listed in Ephesians 6:18 as part of our defense against Satan. Whether you’re fighting for your life against a particular sin or you’re in a season where Satan has fled from you, sin can attack at any moment. 1 Corinthians 10:12 reminds us that we should take heed when we think we’re standing, lest we fall. For that reason, we should be in constant prayer that God would keep sin far from us, and we should be praying the same for our Christian brethren.
One of the greatest promises in the Bible comes from the first chapter of James’ epistle. In talking about the “various trials” that we encounter in life, James assures the reader that if we simply ask God for wisdom in handling what life throws our way, He will grant that wisdom. In fact, if we ask in faith we’re told that God will grant that wisdom liberally, or generously. No, He’s not going to save us from all of life’s hardships and difficult situations, but He has made it clear that He will give us the wisdom we need in those situations, and that should be a great comfort to every Christian. Let’s make sure we’re praying for wisdom with the full assurance of faith that He will make good on His promise.
Knowledge of God
Paul shared two prayers in the book of Ephesians, both with the desire that the Ephesian Christians would truly know and understand who God is and what He has done. The first, starting in Ephesians 1:15, expresses the apostle’s desire that they would “know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.” The more we truly understand what God has promised those who believe, the easier it is to abandon worldliness and the distractions and desires that are all around us. Paul didn’t just want them to know about God or about some checklist that they needed to follow to get to heaven. He wanted them to truly know how great a Father He is to all those He claims as children.
The second prayer begins in Ephesians 3:15. There Paul prayed for their strengthening through Christ dwelling in their hearts through faith, and that they would be able to grasp the love of Christ which passes all knowledge. Again we see Paul’s desire for his readers to have a true understanding of who God is and that their faith would be bolstered by that understanding.
Read through Paul’s epistles and in each of his prayers you’ll notice that he was always praying for things like these, related to the spiritual growth of his readers but also specifically targeted at what each audience needed in their growth. We need to follow that example. As mentioned above, it’s a perfectly good thing do when we pray through our congregations’ sick lists, but don’t forget to pray for your congregation’s spiritual growth, too – both as a whole and as individuals. The content of our prayers reveal whether we’re thinking eternally, or just physically. Like getting that high-end vehicle out on the open road, to make true use of the power of prayer that God has given us we have to follow in Paul’s example here, digging deeper and deeper with our prayers to request that which is eternally important.
It’s always incredibly encouraging to me to hear someone pray a prayer like those we read in the Scriptures. It’s also a challenge for me to do better. I know I need to think bigger in my goals as a Christian, and part of that includes praying bigger prayers. Let’s not limit God just to the physical. Let’s open our hearts and minds through prayer and truly see what He can do to transform us, the church, and the world from the inside out.
By Jack Wilkie