In my Bible reading today I was struck by this verse:
Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (Ps. 119:133, ESV)
As I reflected on this, I asked myself how often I pray about something like this. It’s easy to pray primarily about our own material needs, or the needs of people close to us. It is a good thing to bring our needs before God, but is that the only thing or the primary thing we should ask from him? What should we ask from God in prayer?
The Lord’s Prayer
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he gave them a model prayer which we call “The Lord’s Prayer” (Mat. 6:9-13). He did not intend this merely as a prayer that we memorize and repeat again and again (see Mat. 6:7), but rather as a model for how to pray.
I won’t go into the details of this prayer here. Instead, I want to focus on the question of what sort of things we should ask from God. This model prayer includes six requests. The first three requests are regarding things that are important to God: his name, his kingdom, and his will. The second three requests are regarding our own needs. Of those, two are about our spiritual needs (forgiveness and protection from temptation), and one is about our material needs (daily bread). In the first half of the prayer, the word “your” is repeated. In the second half, the focus is on “us.”
My observation is that in the model prayer that Jesus taught us only one out of six requests is about our material needs, yet for many of us this is the focus of the vast majority of our prayers. In most prayer meetings, the requests are almost always about needs related to health, jobs or school, and upcoming plans. When was the last time you heard anyone ask for prayer that God’s name would be glorified or for help in resisting temptation to sin?
A Model Prayer
It is natural for us to pray concerning the needs of daily life. But based on the model that Jesus taught us those issues should not be our primary focus. If we take his model seriously, then about 50% of our prayer should be focused on God and his kingdom, and of the remaining 50%, two thirds should be focused on our own spiritual needs. I am not suggesting a legalistic approach to the way we structure our prayers. But if the proportion of our requests in each category is way off from the example taught by Jesus then our prayer lives are out of balance.
If you want to bring your prayer life into better balance, it might be helpful to use the Lord’s prayer as a model. Take the first half of your prayer time and pray for God’s interests. At first this will be challenging, because most of us have no idea how to pray for God’s name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come, or his will to be done. It will take practice to shift our prayer time to being less self-centered. In the second half of your prayer time, try to spend the largest part of your time praying about your own spiritual needs and those of others. Then spend a smaller proportion of time praying for the material and daily life needs of yourself and others.
If you would like to hear a sermon that I preached on this topic you can find it on our church website.