Don’t worry about anything; on the contrary, make your requests known to God by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. Then God’s shalom, passing all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with the Messiah Yeshua. (Philippians 4:6-7; Complete Jewish Bible)
Have you ever wondered what to pray for? It can be overwhelming to think of all the important things we could be praying about. We may, at times, be tempted to simply offer up broad generalities. For certainly God doesn’t expect us to petition him about every person and every problem on the planet. Still, simply saying, “God bless everybody,” doesn’t seem to cut it.
Studying the prayers in the Bible is helpful. Doing so provides insightful perspective on both subject matter and the posture of the petitioner, but that doesn’t necessarily give us detailed instructions as to what particulars you and I should cover from day to day. Still, there may be some implications we can derive that are very practical.
The Bible demonstrates that our prayers should be directed to God the Father in the name of Yeshua. We should seek God’s will, not praying out of selfishness. Not that it’s wrong to pray for ourselves. We should pray for ourselves, but not from greed or envy. Our prayers should be expressed in confident trust (faith) in God, though he can handle our struggles with uncertainty (see Mark 9:23-24).
There is one essential ingredient that I have haven’t considered until recently. I don’t remember ever reading about it or hearing it preached. Yet it seems to me that this is what will not only guide us on what to pray, but may actually be the key to a truly effective prayer life. Yeshua quotes Isaiah on one of the occasions where he criticizes the religious leaders of his day for making humanly derived tradition a higher priority over matters of the heart (see Matthew 15:8; Isaiah 29:13). The issue here isn’t prayer, but the principle is easily implied. Simply mouthing the right words is not highly esteemed by God. To insincerely petition the Almighty is nothing more than a religious show and a waste of time. On the other hand, God has regard for the genuine earnestness of his children. This is why the Messiah encourages us to pray and not give up (see Luke 18:1-8). In this story the persistent widow persists because she cares deeply about her concern. And that’s the key. We need to pray about what we care for.
I don’t know why it sometimes takes me so long to bring to God the things that burden my heart. I know I don’t need to impress him with overly religious sounding platitudes. I also know there is nothing too small or too big for him. Yet, I regularly find myself struggling over all sorts of things that I neglect to take to him.
We might think that our concerns are too petty to offer to the Master of the Universe. But if what we consider to be trivial is causing us considerable concern, why not take it to our Heavenly Father, and let him decide what to do with them? Perhaps we don’t think our concerns are spiritual enough. Again, why not let God make that determination? Misguided notions that separate the visible material world (that God created) and the invisible spiritual world (which God also created) prevent us from seeing God’s presence in every aspect of life. God wants to be involved in the world in which we live, and it’s our prayers that often open the doors to his presence.
Whatever the psychology or theology that gets in the way of expressing our cares to God, is there anything not included in Paul’s “Don’t worry about anything; on the contrary, make your requests known to God by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.” (Philippians 4:6)? Note he doesn’t say that the antidote to worry is to simply stop worrying, but rather to take our worries to God in prayer. If something is worthy of our concern, it’s worth praying about.
As we pray about what we really care about, we might be surprised to discover that God cares about these exact same things. We might even be more surprised to find out that the burdens we bear came from him in the first place.