“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15: 7-8
Three weekends ago Pastor Bob Alums taught a Praying Life Seminar near where I live. 99% of what I have written here is the result of his teaching, and I would highly recommend reading some the resources produced by Praying Life Ministries.
In John 15 and in many other passages in the Bible, God commands his people to pray, to ask of God, to come before him as children—being honest about their desires and shortcomings. Pastor Alums observed that there are two typical pitfalls surrounding prayer. Sometimes God’s children ask for things they shouldn’t ask for (clearly wrong—James 4.3), but more often, the problem is not asking at all. Pastor Alums observed that in both our experience and in the relative frequency of admonitions in the Bible, the problem with most Christians’ prayer lives isn’t asking wrongly but simply not asking at all (Luke 18.1, 1 Thess. 5.17, Phil. 4.6, Eph. 6.18-19, and many other passages).
Because, of course, we shouldn’t bother God with our longings—that’s selfish. So when we pray we ask God for the things we’re supposed to ask him about—which may be good as far as it goes, except that a sort of “holy dishonesty” can creep into our prayers.
Asking God for what we really want makes us feel guilty. We say “I’m really worried that I might not be able to go to the college I want to attend, but I should learn to be content no matter what happens instead of bothering God with this” when a truly honest prayer would be “Father, would you please allow me to go to the university I want to attend?” Whether or not God chooses to answer this prayer the way we expect isn’t the point—the point is that God wants us to be honest with him.
Our prayers for both ourselves and others should be driven by this honesty. As trite as it sounds, God wants us to come to him as little children to a loving father (an analogy that, even though it is becoming increasingly lost in our culture, is still appropriate). He “meets us where we are” in our walk with him. As we mature in Christ that will change—we are going to grow as Christians and our prayer life will reflect that. But right now we need to be honest with God—not dressing up prayers and thoughts to be “holy enough,” but praying honest, heartfelt prayers.
“but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'” – Matthew 19.14