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What types of things do you pray about? Sometimes it seems that we tend to focus all our prayers on physical needs and desires - especially those related to personal prosperity and well-being: health, wealth and the "American dream."
But isn't this a little bit self-centered? Is this what Jesus called us to live for? Is this what he died for?
Sure, Jesus included "give us this day our daily bread," in his model prayer (Matthew 6:11). But that was only one small line in his entire prayer - and definitely not his primary focus. This prayer request for God to take care of our daily needs is not a guarantee that he will gratify our daily wants. Nor does it mean that we will live like kings, or that we will have "our daily steak." Just a few verses later, Jesus reminds us that it is not our business to worry about such things anyway... God has already promised to take care of them for us (Matthew 9:25-31). It's the pagans who worry about such things; we are called to focus on God and his kingdom, instead!
The apostle John prayed that his friend, Gaius, would enjoy good health and pleasant circumstances (3 John 2). Yet he didn't stop there, but continued by saying, "just as things are going well with your soul." To John, his friend's soul was more important than his friend's health and circumstances. His friend's spiritual condition was good, and John was praying that his friend's physical well-being would match his spiritual well-being. (If you prayed that your physical well-being would match your spiritual well-being, would you be well-off, or would you be destitute, sickly and starving to death?)
Many of the apostle Paul's prayers are recorded in Scripture, and they are very instructive about the type of focus we ought to have. Search the Scriptures: You will search in vain for even one instance in which he prays the way most people normally pray. It just didn't happen.
Below are some outlines that show the types of things that Paul prayed for, and that he encouraged others to pray for. Of course, he didn't necessarily pray for all of these things every time he prayed. And he probably prayed about other things, which are not mentioned. But the prayers that are recorded in Scripture are sufficient to show us a pattern, and to instruct us in the way we ought to pray.
In this study, we are focusing on prayer requests. But making requests is only one part of prayer: Praise and thanks to God, as well as confession of sin, are also a part of prayer. Though not a direct part of our focus, these other aspects have not been totally ignored. Our attitude toward prayer requests will have an impact on our attitude toward these other aspects of prayer. This is because our requests are a reflection of our values. As we allow the Bible's values to impact our lives (and our prayer requests), we will discover that our hearts and minds are increasingly ready for these other aspects of prayer.
We also need to remember that, even though everything written in these prayers was initially written to Paul's acquaintances, they also apply to us. It would be Paul's (and God's) desire that these things be a part of all of our lives. So, as you look at these prayers, let them guide your own prayer life!
Dennis Hinks © 1999, 2001
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