Sermon Podcast Audio
Today we’re going to continue our series on prayer as a dialogue. I hope with this message to encourage your prayer life – and to challenge you to pray like you never have before!
Last week, Pastor Brent kicked off our new series by answering the question: “Does prayer change things?” Because if prayer doesn’t really make any difference in our lives, then it’s really silly to spend 6 more weeks talking about it. Fortunately, the answer was clearly – YES!
So, now that we have that out of the way, the next question becomes, “But what should I pray for?” It seems like it should be simple for us to pray – as children, we are told we can ask God for anything. But then life throws us a few curveballs and we realize things aren’t so cut and dried.
For instance, maybe you’ve been in a situation where you found out your sibling or your good friend was getting divorced. You knew their marriage was rocky, but you hate that it’s headed to divorce. At that moment, what do you pray? Do you ask God to restore the marriage, or do you ask God to help this person through this difficult time? Maybe since we don’t know what to ask, we simply say – “God, whatever your will, may it be done in this situation.”
Or maybe you have asked God for something trivial before, and then wondered if that was something you really should be asking God for. Like, “Help my favorite team to win.” Or “Help me find my keys.” Or maybe “Help tomorrow’s weather be sunny for the big party we have planned.”
What I find fascinating is how simple prayer was for me as a kid. And how, as I have read the Bible more, grown in my faith, and spent time with people from various denominational backgrounds, the more confused I seem to have become about prayer. I imagine I’m not alone. So today, I’m excited to work through this topic for myself, and hopefully you gain something from it as well as we answer the question: Can I Ask God For That?
We Have Complicated Prayer
I think we have complicated this issue for a few different reasons:
- We know from experience that we don’t always get what we ask for
- We see the health and wealth preachers and don’t want to be mistaken for being selfish
- We have learned about God’s sovereignty, and that his will cannot be thwarted, so we don’t want to pray something that he might not have planned.
And honestly, I’m right there with you myself. You see, I was raised in a charismatic church where we believed in miracles, believed in healing, and believed that God could do anything you asked of him. It was simple – pray for the big things, pray for the little things, anything you wanted, just ask God and MAYBE he would answer.
Then for a time in my life, my parents went to a health and wealth church where guys like Joel Osteen tell you that God’s #1 priority is for you to be blessed. I learned how they read all the scriptures about prayer – how they point to our need for more faith so God WOULD HAVE TO open up the flood gates in answering our prayers. Just name it and claim it. You want that red BMW – just believe and receive. But not everything I prayed, or the pastor prayed, came to pass.
So then I had to wrestle with why prayers weren’t answered if I was doing everything right. Maybe it was me – and my lack of faith. Or maybe it just wasn’t God’s will.
A few years after college, I connected with a reformed church. Reformed theology places a really high value on the sovereignty of God, and their teaching honestly makes it much easier to pray – start every prayer with, “God, I pray for your will to be done in this situation.” And I never had a prayer go unanswered – mostly because I never asked for anything specific. No matter what happened in the situation, it must have been God’s will, and that was my prayer, so God was answering 100% of my vague prayers.
But eventually, I came to a point where I realized that perspective left me feeling like my prayers didn’t even matter. God’s going to do what God’s going to do, so why bother praying.
And that is why I was excited to dig into this message today – for my own sake. Last week Brent talked about the two extremes of prayer (God is at our whim, God will do whatever He wants) – and I have lived life in both extremes for a time. But what I want to know is where is the balance? What should I be asking God for? What should I be praying about?
What Can We Pray For
The Bible has countless stories of people praying and even has numerous passages teaching us how and what to pray. Looking at any single passage in isolation can lead us to any of these extreme views on prayer, and that is why today we are going to look at a few different passages on prayer.
Let’s begin in James 5. Here we read what James, the half-brother of Jesus, had to say about what we should be asking God for in prayer.
Reading from James 5:13-16
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. There fore 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.
So, what Can We Pray For?
1) For help when you or someone you know is in trouble or needs help
So, you can pray for your friend going through a divorce. You can pray that God helps you find money to pay the rent. You can even pray when you’ve lost your keys and you know they’re going to cost $250 to replace that new-fangled remote start – believe me, I prayed. And honestly, this is one of the times that most of us do pray, at least after we’ve already exhausted all of our ability to fix it ourselves. We don’t always start with prayer, but when we get desperate, we always end up there.
2) For healing for someone who is sick
This is probably the #1 time we at Ashworth turn to prayer immediately. I can make that statement because our church prayer list is almost entirely filled with people needing healing. And I, for one, am glad that I worship a God who cares when people are sick and can actually do something about it. We should never feel bad about praying for somebody to find healing.
Is that all? No – let’s look at another passage:
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. –John 14:13-14
So when I look at the Bible, it really says we can pray for anything. We can pray for the big things like our sick family member to be healed – no matter how sick they are. Or for help with our finances that are a mess. And we can also pray for the little things – like finding a parking spot near the door when it’s raining.
According to the Bible, we can ask God for any of these things – as long as we meet a few prerequisites.
1) John 14:13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the father may be glorified in the son.
Our request must glorify God – The reason God answers prayer is to lavish his love on us and to work through us to lavish his love on the world. It’s when the world experiences God’s love, He receives the glory. He is seen as the Almighty, all loving, relational father that He is.
2) John 5:14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
Our request lines up with God’s will – This is the verse where we base this practice of ending our prayers with “God, if it be your will.” The thing is, we use this phrase as though we don’t know what God’s will is and we hope that our prayer happens to fall somewhere within the will of God. But the cool thing is, the Bible instructs us on a lot more about God’s will than some of you may think –
- We know if we are praying for a marriage to be restored, it is God’s will.
- We know, if we are praying for friends and family to come to faith in Jesus, it is God’s will.
- Conversely, if we are praying to not get caught in that terrible sin, it’s NOT God’s will and it’s not something we can pray for.
3) James 5:14-15 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray…and the prayer OFFERED IN FAITH will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.
Our faith matters. Clearly, from this verse we are taught that in our prayers, we need to actually believe that God is willing and able to answer. This doesn’t mean that we have to be people of super faith, but we do have to believe God Almighty has the power to change things. Now this is not to say that if your prayer is not answered, that you didn’t have enough faith, the topic of unanswered prayer is entirely too big for me to cover today, but fortunately, Brent will be discussing this in several weeks.
4) John 3:21-22 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.
James 5:16 The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
And just like our faith matters, our obedience to God matters. How we live can actually hinder our prayers. Additionally, if we are disobedient and praying for God to bless our sin, we know that He isn’t going to answer that prayer. Instead, we see this beautiful verse that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. We should all see this verse as an encouragement that our prayers have the potential to change the world around us.
Really, all these prerequisites point to our own heart and our view of God. Are we praying prayers that are for God’s glory or our own? Are we praying to accomplish God’s desire for heaven to come to this earth or for ourselves to experience heavenly comforts on this earth? When our prayers join with God’s desire for this earth – to see his kingdom come on earth, for mercy and justice – we are much more likely to see our prayers answered.
And those are big asks – bigger than we think we could ever accomplish on our own.
But the Bible is full of examples of people praying to God with incredibly bold requests to see God’s kingdom advance.
Continuing reading our James passage, we read James 5:17-18:
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
I love how James first reminds his readers that Elijah was a human being, just like them. He wanted to make sure they didn’t think God only does the amazing for great prophets. In fact, the first time the Bible ever speaks about Elijah, is where he asks God not to send rain for 3 years so that, at the end of the draught, King Ahab and the prophets of Baal would see the power of God. At that point, Elijah’s not yet even recognized as a prophet – he truly was just a man who wanted to see Israel turn back to God.
Or what about that outrageous prayer of Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, as they were entering into the Promised Land? We read in Joshua 10 that he prayed for the sun to stand still in the sky so they could continue their battle. AND IT DID! And as a result, the Israelites were able to continue marching forward, as God’s kingdom literally advanced.
Think about these two prayers. These are huge – they are beyond what we ever think of asking God for, and yet these two men, just like us, asked. And God answered.
So you may be asking yourselves, Ryan, what are you telling me I should change about my prayers?
1) Just ask – Stop being so concerned about if you can or can’t ask God for something. God is your father who wants to give you good things. And the Holy Spirit is the messenger who delivers your prayer and edits it for you anyway. He fixes the typos, edits out the selfishness, and brings your requests to God. We need to stop making it so complicated and simplify it back to how it was when we were kids and the bottom line is, we need to pray more.
2) Ask specifically – We need to stop praying vague prayers for God’s will to be done. Ask God specifically for what you want, and then if you want to add at the end a recognition of wanting the prayer to line up with God’s will, that’s perfect. But don’t fall into the trap of beginning your prayers with “Your will be done” because then you are tempted to edit your prayers and never pray your heart because you figure God’s just going to do what He’s going to do anyway. God does hear our prayers and answers them!
3) Ask big – Elijah prayed for no rain for 3 years so that King Ahab and the Israelites would turn back to God. Joshua prayed for the sun to stand still so that the Israelites would win the battle on their way to the Promised Land.
What ENORMOUS things has God put on your heart to accomplish for his glory? Don’t dismiss those dreams because they seem unattainable; pray for God to do the heavy lifting so he can be glorified and his kingdom can advance.
One caveat for my message today, I don’t want you to hear this message and think I’m giving you license to just pray for sunny Saturdays, help to find your keys, and all green lights on the way to work. While yes, you can pray these things and God may answer them, the bigger challenge for you today is to pray for so much more. To pray for lost people to be found, for mercy and justice, and for his kingdom to advance here on earth.
Our prayer life is a reflection of our view of God.
- If we pray only tiny prayers, we make God small.
- If we pray enormous prayers that will change the world, we see God as a God who is willing and able to change the world!
- If we ask God for personal requests, we reveal that we actually have relationship with him and trust him with the intimate details of our lives.
- Yet, if we only ask God to do things to make our lives better, easier, and happier, we turn God into our own magic genie in a bottle
- God wants to be so much more than that. He wants to answer our prayers, how he sees fit, so that we become more like Jesus and so that he is glorified in all the world.
So, will you join with us in enlarging our prayers. Let’s pray not only for lost keys, but for lost people to be found. Let’s pray not only for our own healing, but for healing in our community through justice and restoration. Yes, God wants us to be willing to bring any request to him, but he also wants us to start thinking like him about the big picture of his kingdom advancing and his name being exalted through our requests for him to move on this earth.
We may not ask for the sun to stand still in the sky, but if that’s what it took to bring a piece of heaven to earth, are you willing to ask him?