Did you know that the Apostles made prayer requests? At the tail end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he included a prayer request for himself. Now this may surprise us because so often we think of prayer requests as something we do. We see prayer requests arise whenever there is a natural disaster, like a hurricane. Prayer requests come up even in sports, like when we see a player get seriously injured. It’s interesting that our common world, may often deny the reign of Christ, and the providential care of God, but one thing they never lack is a call for prayer requests.
This dynamic is wonderful for Christians because it gives us an opportunity to point people to Christ. Christians can utilize these moments to pivot from generic requests to God’s ability to answer all sorts of prayer. This, however, may be a weakness for us, because more often than not our prayer requests seem to be limited to a list of things that are wrong with grandma.
I’m only half-joking when I say this, but more often than not, we see prayer requests like a clipboard at a hospital. “Pray for so & so their knee is busted,” or “Pray for so & so because they have a nasty cold,” or “Pray for so & so they have an upcoming surgery.”
Should we bring our medical issues before JEHOVAH God in prayer? Absolutely. But we need to bring more to God than these. What does that look like? Pray for my knee if I’m injured, but pray for even more than that. Pray for my heart, because God seemed to be far from me while I’ve been suffering, and I’m tempted to doubt His presence in my lonelier of moments. Pray that I would know God’s presence, even in my pain.
You see, our prayers must go beyond the physical, and must be a means to the spiritual. We are more than meat and bones. We have an everlasting soul that will never die. When the Apostle Paul was writing his letter to the Ephesians, he was chained to a soldier in a Roman prison. If you take some time to read his personal prayer request in Ephesians 6:19-20 you’ll notice that he doesn’t ask to be delivered from his hardships. If you read that text, you’ll note that Paul does not pray that people might bestow on him the dignity, or respect, that he deserved. Rather than praying for his chain to be removed from him, or that public respect might be restored to him, the most important thing to the Apostle Paul was that God might enable him to boldly preach so that men and women might be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
When was the last time you prayed that God might enable you to boldly share Christ with someone in your world? We pray for sickness to be healed. We pray for protection on long trips or at bedtime. We even pray for the miraculous when we ask God to bless our fast food meals. But do we pray for our spiritual growth? Do we pray for the spiritual growth of those in our household? Do we pray to be effective in sharing and showcasing Christ with others in our world?
My favorite puritan theologian is John Owen. He has an excellent work on the Holy Spirit’s work in prayer. There Owen wrote, “If we would talk less and pray more about them, things would be better than they are in the world…” (Works, 4:319) One of the dangers in the church is the masquerading of gossip under the garb of prayer requests. We can turn prayer requests into gossip. We can even ask for gossip by pretending to be interested in prayer requests. All that is needed for gossip to die, is for it to fall upon the ear of a mature Christian who is unwilling to pass it along. If we would talk less and pray more oh how or lives would be different.
What would it look like if we turned our complaints into petitions of prayer? What would it look like if we turned our gripes into confessions of sin? What would happen if we learned to see our obstacles as opportunities for God to show us His hand? Paul was in need. But instead of asking for deliverance by his request, he asked that the church would pray for him to be even bolder than what caused him to be imprisoned in the first place.
May the Lord help us to discern what we ought to be praying for today. May we lift up our health concerns, but may we not fail to lift up our spiritual concerns so that Christ may be most glorified by our living or our dying. Why? Because the most important need today is not for our bodies to recover, for we are all doomed to die. What is most important is that we might draw closer to Christ, for not all are bound to perish under the second death. May Christ be glorified.