Prayer Tips: For What Should We Pray?

Two of some of the biggest questions that many Christians ask relate to prayer. On one hand, Christians want to know how they should pray. On the other hand, they want to know what they should be praying for. According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (WLC 178). So, the how of prayer, then, is to confess desires (and needs) to God the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Simple enough, right? We even recognize that prayer will include confession of sins and thankfulness for God’s many benefits that He graciously bestows upon us. The question remains, however: What should the Christian be praying for? When the world falls into deeper sin, or that loved one still has not repented and trusted in Jesus Christ, or that child is sick, or that family has lost nearly everything, and words seem to fail, and thoughts do not come, what are we to pray for? Though the Holy Spirit does indeed offer groanings and utterings in these moments (Rom. 8:26), we still want something solid to express and pray.

The answer may come as a surprise due to its simplicity, but Jesus answered this question in the opening of the Lord’s Prayer, directing us to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”[1]

First, our words should be directed toward the Father, and we should pray for His name to be hallowed (consecrated, blessed, honored). Above all else, we should desire for the Lord to direct our prayers in such a way to glorify Himself (1 Cor. 10:31).

Secondly, we are to pray for His Kingdom to come. This is fulfilled through the proclamation of the gospel,[2] which leads sinners to faith and repentance (Rom. 10:17), wherein sinners are brought into subjection under the rule and authority of Christ’s Lordship. Effectively, we are praying for the Gospel to be proclaimed and God’s Kingdom to expand on earth.

Thirdly, then, we pray for the Lord’s will to be accomplished. Of course, He is working all things according to the counsel of His own will already (Eph. 1:11), so it would be a mistake to think that our prayers are giving God permission to do what He has already planned to do. It would similarly be a mistake to believe that we will change God’s mind, for He has already allotted all a man’s days (Ps. 139:16), appointed times and seasons for mankind (Acts 17:26), chosen the elect (Eph. 1:4, Jn. 6:37, 44), and declared the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10).

Our prayer for God’s will to be done is a reminder that prayer is designed by God to conform our will and desires to God’s will and desires and to increase our joy in His perfect plan. Charles Spurgeon once said,

My brethren, there is no need for prayer at all as far as God is concerned, but what a need there is for it on our own account! If we were not constrained to pray, I question whether we could even live as Christians. If God’s mercies came to us unasked, they would not be half so useful as they now are, when they have to be sought for; for now we get a double blessing, a blessing in the obtaining, and a blessing in the seeking.[3]

In our will being conformed to God’s through prayer, we also learn simple trust and delight in His will. In Samuel Rodigast’s hymn Whate’er my God ordains is right, the title phrase is repeated at the beginning of every verse. All the verses are packed full of delightful, unwavering trust in the promises of God, but the fourth verse says:

Whate'er my God ordains is right:

here shall my stand be taken;

though sorrow, need, or death be mine,

yet am I not forsaken.

My Father's care is round me there;

he holds me that I shall not fall:

and so to him I leave it all.[4]

This is the heart of the Christian who, in trusting the sovereignty of God and His perfect promises in His Son, Jesus, has found peace and delight in the care of God. Indeed, whatever God ordains is right because, not only will He not leave or forsake His people (Deut. 31:6, Heb. 13:5), He will also continually care for us as a Shepherd tends His flock (Ps. 23), and He will work all things for His greatest glory and our greatest good (Rom. 8:28). Therefore, we pray for the will of God to be accomplished, even as we bring our cares, needs, and concerns before Him.

Jacob Tanner is pastor of Mt. Bethel Church of McClure in Central Pennsylvania. He has spent time as a reporter, journalist, and editor, and has written for various Christian websites. He and his wife, Kayla, have one son, Josiah. He is currently completing his M.Div. through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.



[1] Matt. 6:9-10.

[2] See Calvin’s Commentary on Acts 1:8 where he writes, “Let us learn to apply our minds to hear the gospel preached… which prepareth a place in our hearts for the kingdom of Christ.”

[3] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Order and Argument in Prayer, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Volume 12, https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/order-and-argument-in-...

[4] Samuel Rodigast, Whate’er my God ordains is right, trans. Catherine Winkworth, https://hymnary.org/text/whateer_my_god_ordains_is_right_holy_his.

 

Jacob Tanner

MORE FROM THE ALLIANCE

On YouTube

The Story of Scripture

Reformed Resources

New audio from James Boice

Find Out More

Register for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology