By David Faust
Over the years I have heard (and spoken) a lot of prayers: public prayers, private prayers, long prayers, short prayers, earnest prayers, desperate prayers, pompous prayers that sounded like they were intended to impress the crowd, and humble prayers that came from the depths of a contrite heart.
Roy Mays battled cancer prior to his death in 2005. Roy used to pray, “Lord, your grace is like the rails on a railroad track. One rail represents healing, and one rail symbolizes dealing. I need to keep both rails parallel or I will wreck. Sometimes you heal my ills, while other times you simply give me strength to deal with them. Your part is to establish your purpose and supply your power. My part is to pray and persevere.” That’s a profound prayer.
I also have heard funny prayers, like the one that says, “Lord, if you won’t make me thin, at least make my friends look fat,” and the child’s version of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
In a prayer group my friend had a slip of the tongue. Unintentionally he said, “O Lord, not your will, but ours be done.” He quickly caught himself and corrected his mistake, but the rest of us in the group had to admit that sometimes we struggle to submit to God’s will.
There are certain prayers that I rarely hear anyone lift up to God, even though they are plainly commanded or exemplified in the Bible. Here are some examples:
“Lord, please bless my enemies and those who persecute me.” Jesus said to pray such prayers in Matthew 5:44. How often do we ask the Lord for opportunities to show kindness toward those who are hard to love?
“Lord of the harvest, send out workers into your harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). Jesus himself spent a whole night in prayer before selecting and sending out the 12 apostles (Luke 6:12-16). Are we so passionate about recruiting, training, and sending servant-leaders to labor in the kingdom of God that we place this noble cause near the top of our prayer list?
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (the tax collector in Luke 18:13). Do we approach the Lord with utter humility, realizing we don’t deserve his mercy and grace?
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). The apostle Paul had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart as he prayed for his Jewish friends to hear the gospel (9:2). Do we pray with such fervor for specific unreached people groups?
“I urge . . . that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). Do we pray for our government leaders—even those with whom we disagree?
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). We like to quote the last part of that verse, but notice the first part. When is the last time you met with a brother or sister to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other”?
“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2). Would you really want a friend to ask God to make your physical health match the health of your soul?
“Lord, increase my level of generosity.”
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” (Francis of Assisi).
“Lord, give me opportunities to share my faith. Make me like Philip in Acts 8. Bring me into contact with individuals like the Ethiopian who are seeking you and open to your Word.”
“Lord, thank you for our church’s leaders. Show me how to make their work a joy” (Hebrews 13:17).
“Lord, I give thanks to you even in the midst of difficult circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
I need to offer prayers like these more often in my own conversations with God. What about you?