Pray Something Bigger

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You’re in a friend’s living room, surrounded by your small group. The time comes to pray for each other. What are you going to ask for? People go around: traveling mercies, health for somebody’s aunt, help to find a new job, and more traveling mercies. But something is missing.

Although prayers for health and safety have their place (3 John 2; Romans 15:30–33), they’re generally the small fry of what we could be praying for. They are the mint, dill, and cumin of prayer requests. Jesus didn’t condemn tithing mint, dill, and cumin, but he said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23). There are weightier matters to attend to. If we pray only for health and safety, we’re missing out on something big.

So, what are the weightier prayers?

God’s Will for You

John said, “If we ask anything according to [Jesus’s] will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14–15). God answers our prayers for anything when we ask according to his will. What a promise! So, we must know this: What is his will?

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, Paul lays out God’s will for us. God wants us to be sanctified, free from sexual immorality, holy, honorable, and pure. Throughout the rest of Scripture as well, God tells us over and over that his will for us is to become more holy and obedient to him (Deuteronomy 10:12–13; Romans 6:22; 1 Peter 1:15–16).

“If we pray only for health and safety, we’re missing out on something big.”

God promises that he will answer prayers offered according to his will. We know that God’s will for us is holiness. Therefore, we can confidently expect God to answer us when we pray that he will make us more holy. And God not only tells us to pray for holiness; he also gives us models. Consider one prayer from the Bible to see how it sounds.

One of Paul’s Big Prayers

When Paul prayed in his letters, he didn’t mess around with small requests. He drove right to the heart of what people really needed. At the beginning of Philippians, for example, he writes,

It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11)

Paul prayed, first and foremost, that God would cause the Philippians’ love to “abound more and more.” Didn’t Jesus sum up God’s will for us as loving God first, and then loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:36–40)? Our distinguishing mark as Christians is our love, and we can always use more.

But Paul didn’t stop there. He asked God to increase the Philippians’ love “with knowledge and all discernment.” The Philippian believers needed zeal coupled with wisdom so that their efforts to love God and one another would not be in vain. When God supplies such knowing love, we are able, as Paul says, to “approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

Paul yearned to hear the words “good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23) proclaimed not just over himself, but also over others, when their Master returns. To that end, he prayed that God would prepare them beforehand in discerning love. With him, we can pray for our brothers and sisters, that they would not just have but be “filled with the fruit of righteousness” for the return of the King, “to the glory and praise of God.”

All of our prayers should, in various ways, aim for the glory of our Father. The beating heart of our supplications ought to be “God, please use them for your glory. Please produce such righteousness in them as would honor your name.”

Paul’s prayers, and the prayers all throughout Scripture, are weighty prayers. One of the best ways to pray prayers like them, then, is to pray with our Bibles open. Learn to plunder Scripture as you pray, interceding for people along with Paul or the Psalms.

Pray Expectantly

Beginning to pray weightier prayers, however, may require more than an open Bible. Perhaps a reason why we ask for tiny things is that we don’t really believe that God answers prayers. We want to play it on the safe side. Or maybe we don’t feel our real need. We’re blind to our true, desperate state.

If we don’t dare to pray for the big things, then we’ve failed to see the size of the opportunity in front of us. Do we understand the power that we’re dealing with? Do we truly believe that God answers prayer?

“We can confidently expect God to answer us when we pray that he will make us more holy.”

My pastor put it this way: If you order a salad at a restaurant, you aren’t shocked when the waiter brings you the salad. You don’t say, “Where did this salad come from?” You remember that you ordered it. In the same way, we shouldn’t be surprised when God answers our prayers. Of course, God is not our waiter. But that’s not the point of the analogy. The point is to pray for good things — in line with God’s will — in the same way we ask for food in a restaurant: expectantly.

In prayer, we stand before the God who founded the earth, stretched out the sky, and formed our spirits within us. We draw near to the one who split the sea and caused the waters to pile up in heaps. We tremble before the Almighty who shook the mountain to its very roots when he descended on Sinai. We come to plead his mercy together — mercy he loves to show to his children.

God is not stingy; he’s a loving Father. He will give us loaves of bread, not stones (Matthew 7:7–11). He wants us to ask for them.

Elijah Style

The apostle James writes,

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:16–18)

Why does James point out that Elijah had “a nature like ours”? To stress that even Elijah was only human. God can answer our big, rain-stopping, holiness-pleading prayers just like his. If a righteous person prays for you according to God’s will, expect God to answer the prayer. He will grant what you ask.

We shouldn’t break into a sweat when somebody offers to pray for us. We have a chance to ask for the big things — that God would turn our hearts to hate sin and love doing good. We should be eager for others to ask God to make us more like Christ. We also can be excited to pray the same for them. These are the weightier matters. These are the prayers we need even more.

studies at Bethlehem Seminary. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Katrina, and daughter, Jemimah.