Your experience may be different but try as I might to keep prayer orderly and balanced, I tend to wander all over the place: praising Him, complaining, saying my perceived needs, praising Him, complaining, needs of other people – well, you know how it goes. If you don’t get it, that’s great!
I suspect you once learned that we need to focus on intercessory prayer, praying for others more than we need to pray for our own wants, needs and desires. At some point we feel guilty because we’re not praying enough for others: “Yes, Lord, I know I need to pray for Cranston’s heart valve replacement and I just spent most of my prayer asking how I am going to pay for my car repair. Please forgive me, but I’m in anguish and now I feel guilty.”
Surely God’s hand will be guiding the surgeon’s (and Cranston’s salvation is secure so if he doesn’t make it, it’s going to be okay), so you focus on your need. Is that wrong? It depends.
First, let’s look at the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 because it is the most referenced pattern for prayer. The left side is how many of us approach the prayer.
We start by focusing on God and His holiness (v9), the coming Kingdom (10) and then we start the “ask”. Or do we? The “ask” is really only verse 11 “give us this day our daily bread”.
Notice that in verse 14 we learn the purpose of verse 12 “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. It is not about us directly asking God to forgive us our debts. Rather, it is nearly a command that we need to forgive others so that we are forgiven for our trespasses in the same measure that we forgive others.
While we may think this is a prayer for God’s mercy upon us, it instructs us to forgive others first – before we are forgiven. We’re forced to look inward, to see ourselves in God’s holy light. Have we really forgiven others as we want God to forgive us, “Search my heart … See if there is any wicked way in me..” (Psalm 139:23-24)?
If you haven’t forgiven that “someone”, you’re harboring anger and haven’t repented. It’s a tough concept – measure for measure – one that was well understood among 1st Century Jewish people. So, yes, it is about “me” – maybe not in the way you hoped.
Verse 13 “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”. Surely, that sounds like it is about me/us. Actually, our focus is again on God. Think of how you can expand on this verse in your prayers by acknowledging everything you know about God! Oh, how God delivered patriarchs! Oh, how God delivered the children of Israel! Oh, how God delivered Paul! Only God is able to deliver us from evil – there is nothing we can do but fully trust in God’s power and might!
Wait a minute! Where do I fit in?
The Focus of Prayer is on God
The good news is that we reconcile intercessory prayer and our personal petitions by recognizing all prayer is focused on God.
Everything we pray for has to focus on God and His Kingdom, “seek ye first the kingdom of God”
- Surgery: That the patient can be healthy so he/she can glorify God.
- The surgeon: So he/she can glorify God and be a testimony to the surgeon’s reliance on God.
- A personal need: So that the person can glorify God and testify to others about God’s love and care.
You see, our prayers need to reflect how we live our lives. When we interpret everything in life (breathing, eating, walking, talking, relationships, interactions at the grocery and fast-food restaurants, mowing the lawn, calling a customer service office, voting, etc.) as being activities that exalt God, then we see that even our daily bread is God keeping us alive and taken care of so that we can glorify Him before people who do not glorify Him.
As our daily needs are met, we serve Him another day and God’s love, care and mercy are magnified. Our purpose in life is to reflect the light of Jesus everywhere.
James 4:3 speaks of praying amiss. When we pray for ourselves the question becomes “are we worthy?” – a question which lurks in our mind and we run into trouble trying to answer it ourselves! It is pretty bold to come to the conclusion that are worthy of something only Heaven can give!
On the other hand, if we pray for God’s sake (so we can witness, glorify and bring attention to Him) how can we pray amiss? When you pray for your child or grandchild to get into a particular college for a particular vocation – pray that the time in college and vocation to be spent in the service of God.
For the pay raise or new job: That it be spent in the service of God. Safety while on vacation: So you can tell others about Jesus wherever you travel. We ask, “Lord, if it is Your will, do it for the sake of Your Name, that Your Name will be blessed, praised, honored, glorified, exalted, extolled, adored and lauded forever; do it for the sake of Your holiness.”
God is who we cling to through every moment of every day. “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.” (Deut 10:20-21).
The balance in prayer is tipped entirely towards God! All of our wants, needs, desires for ourselves and desires for everyone else must exalt God, bring the Gospel to the lost and build up the faith of Believers.
(Next week we’ll take a look at the handling those we deem “unforgivable” in prayer. Hmmm. Are they really unforgivable?)