Do you find it easier to pray when you’re struggling with sin, facing difficulties, or feeling completely helpless? But when things are going okay and you have everything you need, you’re not quite sure what to pray about, and you find yourself running through the same prayer (or variations of it) night after night?
Philippians 4:6 tells us that we can bring anything and everything to Him in prayer—but what do we pray when we don’t know what we need? English pastor and author Alistair Begg challenged us to consider the substance of our prayer in his book Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle. He wrote, “All that matters may be brought before God, but what we bring before God is not always what matters most.”
But how do we know what matters most to God? And where do we even begin?
Let’s start by turning to the Bible, especially Paul’s letters to the churches, which provides plenty of useful handles when it comes to prayer. Here are five things we can pray for—that we may not realise we actually need:
1. To Know God Better
The Ephesian church was known for their faith in Jesus and love for the saints (Eph 1:15), but instead of shifting his focus to other communities that needed help, the apostle Paul was constantly praying for them—first and foremost for God to give them spiritual wisdom and insight so that they could grow in their knowledge of Him (v 16).
We’ve probably articulated that prayer when we first became Christians but stopped doing so once we settled into a regular pattern of Bible study and church attendance. But unless God Himself gives us the understanding, all our efforts in knowing Him may be futile. Let’s ask God regularly for His spirit of understanding so that we may keep growing in greater appreciation of who He really is.
2. To See Christ Clearly
We’re faced with so many distractions around us that it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters. Maybe that’s why Paul took time to pray that the eyes of the Ephesians’ hearts would be enlightened so that they might see the blessings they have in Christ, namely, hope, riches, and power (Eph 1:18-19).
But first, we need to “see” clearly the one who was “made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9, ESV). If not for the life and death of Christ, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the blessings in the first place.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to look full into Jesus’ wonderful face? Let’s ask God to help us keep His sacrifice constantly before us, so that the things of this world will lose their lustre.
3. To Taste His Goodness
Life is generally smooth sailing and we can’t say we’re lacking in any way, but a nagging voice in our minds tells us differently: if only God could just give me that little extra pay increment or job promotion, life would be perfect!
Our thinking reveals our ignorance of how rich—in fact, insanely rich—we are! Take it from Paul, who tells us in Ephesians 1:3, that we as believers have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. That’s right, we have it all: election as saints (Eph 1:40), adoption as God’s children (Eph 1:5), acceptance through Christ (Eph 1:6), redemption through His blood (Eph 1:7), forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), knowledge of His will (Eph 1:8-10), inheritance through Christ (Eph 1:11), sealing of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13).
So why do we clamour after things that only satiate us temporarily? Let’s ask God to give us the taste buds to savour the worth and value of what we have in Christ so that we will be truly satiated and not want anything else.
4. To Hear His Prompting
No one—not even Jesus Himself—is spared from temptations in this life. And while Jesus Himself never gave in to temptations, we’ve seen many giants of the faith fall prey to temptations when they least expect it. So it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus regularly instructed His disciples to pray against temptation (Luke 22:40, 46; Luke 11:4).
We must heed Jesus’ call to pray not only against our sin, but against the temptation to sin. In doing so, American pastor and editor, David Mathis, says that “we acknowledge our weakness and the power of sin. And we remember our Father’s heart for holiness and for our good.”
Unless we recognise how vulnerable we are, and pray for God’s protection and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we will likely be lured and enticed by our own desires (James 1:14) when we least expect it.
So let’s pray that we will be attuned to God’s voice and sensitive to His promptings that we may guard ourselves against temptations.
5. To Feel His Love
How often have we felt unloved and alone? How many times in our lives have we pined after the love of someone else—whether it’s a spouse, partner, family member, or friend—without realising how much Christ loves us?
In our heads, we know that God loves us and that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. But do we really know the breadth, length, height, and depth of His love that surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:17-18)? Have we felt the love of Christ when we sing and affirm one another, hear it in His word, and see it displayed?
Let’s pray for the power to comprehend God’s love—and to live it out within our communities and to those around us.
It’s okay to not know what you need, that is the best time to ask God for help.
Whether your life is going swimmingly or you’re struggling to see God at work in your life, let’s pray that God will attune our senses towards Him and enable us to live lives that truly please Him, so that we’ll be the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15) to a world that’s watching.