Though the exercise of prayer offers comfort for the moment, many prayer requests treat God like a genie in a bottle. Here are some prayer requests that reflect our human desires more than the desires of God. Do these sound familiar?
The Trivial Prayer
"I pray I can get over this cold," or "Give us a rain-free day for the church picnic."
Our comfort and our plans are important to us, but could God have something larger in mind? Might the farmers around us desperately need the rain? Our requests need to reflect things we truly expect God to do, not just our hopes and whims. We don't want our requests to trivialize the awesome gift of prayer.
The Self-Motivated Prayer
"My brother's unit just got called up to go to Iraq. Let's pray he won't have to go."
Though we can understand the emotion behind the request, it is still misplaced. If he's in the military, why shouldn't he go? God's purposes frequently include hardship and risk. Should we ask him to trump his purposes for our convenience?
The Controlling Prayer
We're spitting into the wind if we ask God to make other people act according to our will. He doesn't force people to adhere to his will. Why should he make them act according to ours?
The Manipulative Prayer
We're usually more diplomatic than four-year-old Charissa, who knew what she wanted: "Jesus, would you help Bob and Laurie learn how to spank their children, so their kids won't hit me when I visit them?" It worked for Charissa, but I don't think prayer is supposed to send subtle (or not so subtle) messages to the faithful.
The Blaming Prayer
One group was praying for an infertile woman. Some thought she wasn't getting pregnant because her husband wouldn't be a good father, so they asked God to change him. The wife tried to manipulate the husband to change, and before long, she was incredibly frustrated. The group had missed the point. None of us qualify for God's gifts. If God waited until everyone was ready to have a baby, no one would ever give birth.
The Mass-Produced Prayer
Why do we think prayers are more likely to get answered if more people are in on it? God's answers to prayer are not based on a tally sheet. Prayer was designed for two or three faithful believers, not large numbers of uninvolved people.
Wayne Jacobsen is director of Lifestream Ministries in Oxnard, California.
Copyright 2006 by Christianity Today. Originally appeared in The Church-Leader's Answer Book (Tyndale House Publishers, 2006).
Interested in learning more about prayer in a small-group setting? Check out these great training resources from Building Small Groups:
- Lead Your Small Group to Experience God Through Prayer: Prayer can be the glue that holds a small group together and the fuel that makes it soar. It is the means by which leaders and group members can engage in ministry to each other. Learn a variety of prayer methods, both as individuals and as a group, to connect people and their needs to God.
- Planning and Leading a Life-Changing Meeting: Small group experiences should be life changing. Discover the four basic ingredients of meetings that can be transformational for yourself and your group members.
- Go Deeper with God: Discover the art of contemplative prayer and how to listen for God's replies. Explore the concept of lectio divina and how it applies to a better understanding of, and closer relationship to, God.