Prayer: can we really ask for anything?

Prayer: can we really ask for anything?

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This does lead to a follow-up question which I have been asked a couple of times. Is it really OK to just ask for anything at all? To casually ask God for parking spots and to pass the upcoming test? Surely God will be more pleased with certain things that we ask than others?

Again, I think it is helpful to return to the parent and child analogy. An older child might ask for different things to a younger child. They have some idea of what their father would want for them and what he has said no to in the past, so they would be a little more thoughtful in their requests. That should be the same for Christians. As we become more mature, as we know our Father better through the Bible and understand his priorities for the world more deeply, the things we pray for should change as well. There will be some things we no longer ask for much, and many things we will start to pray for that previously did not occur to us.

The problem with just blurting out anything that occurs to us in prayer without being thoughtful is that we will end up, most likely, with a selfish shopping list kind of prayer. We will pray for issues we personally face. We will fall into only asking God to fulfil our passions, which James calls asking wrongly (James 4:3). If you read all of the apostle Paul’s prayers, you will notice a distinct lack of prayers for changed circumstances and comfort. Biblical models of prayer include prayers for God’s kingdom and glory (Matt 6), our deeper understanding of God (Eph 3:14-19), and the spread of the gospel (2 Thess 3:1). These are things that probably won’t occur to us without some Bible reading and thought and maturity.

God won’t be offended by poor prayer requests. We all make them all the time. But I am sure that God would be pleased to see our prayers reflecting a growing understanding of who God is and that his work in the world is far bigger than our circumstances right now. As we mature in our understanding and faith, we will mature in what we ask for.

So, is there anything wrong with asking for a parking space when we need one? No, of course not. God could surely do it if he wanted to. But if all our prayers are spontaneous and there are none that are thoughtful and about the priorities of God, we are not mimicking Biblical prayer. We don’t want to start to think that God is simply there to help us with our problems; we need to pray for God’s work in the world and not just for ourselves.