last week i had a problem. it was a problem very different from the problem i had when i spoke on dating. that week, the week on dating, my problem was where to do in the bible to find anything remotely applicable to our dating culture. this week, as i contemplated prayer, the problem wasn't a lack of biblical texts, it was an overwhelming amount of them that was problematic. when the bible has so much to teach us about prayer, and you've only got 35-40 minutes to communicate something about prayer, you obviously can't say all the bible has to say, or all you want to say. hence, the problem - what pearls do you pick to share.
anyway, that's a long way of getting to what i wanted to say (a typical problem for me). one of the issues i mentioned but didn't talk enough about is our petitionary prayers - the times in prayer where we are asking God to answer specific requests. along these lines i would like to challenge you to think about the requests you are making.
first, are they God centered requests? are they requests that a God who is passionate for his glory will be quick to answer? notice in the psalms how many times David appeals to God's passion for his glory and asks him to do something. for example, psalm 25 david asks God to pardon his guilt for "his names sake". or consider psalms 79:8-10 "do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us,for we are brought very low. help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake! why should the nations say, "where is their God?" let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!" (esv). notice david is appealing to God's passion for his glory, and to God's desire for his fame and reputation to grow among the nations. (look also at psalm 109:21, 143:11, jeremiah 14:7-21).
now please, don't think i'm encouraging you to try and coerce or manipulate God into action. but i do think that when our passion is for God's glory, that is our main concern and that all our problems are seen in light of this. it is clear that Jesus, when he taught his disciples to pray in a God centered way. the first three requests he made were for God's name to to regarded as holy, for His kingdom to come, and for His will to be done (on earth as it is in heaven). God centered!
second, are your prayers big, God sized prayers? again, think about the kind of requests Jesus taught his disciples to make. these are huge, God sized requests: God's name being hallowed among people who spurn it, a kingdom coming, God's will to be done among rebels... huge! most of my requests are pathetically small (ie. help the missions team to work out the logistics of getting to boston), or big and vague (ie. be with the missionaries). what about huge specific requests? what about, "God, be so near and dear to the missionaries serving in dangerous places that they speak with a holy boldness. be so near the center of their affections that no sin can compete with the pleasure of knowing you and no suffering can shake them either. God, change the religious landscape of (fill in the blank) through the efforts of (again, fill in the blank)"
i have a friend who used to talk about bhag - big, hairy, audacious goals. i would like to recommend to you bhap - big, hairy, audacious prayers. not big vague prayers. but big specific prayers - prayers so big that God will get the glory cause everyone watching will see clearly that the fruit couldn't be the result of human effort - God did it. and one more thing, let's ask God to do big things, for his glory, not just in the missionaries, but also in our ministry to the iu campus.
finally, about the specific daily requests we make for our needs: Jesus did not shy away from instructing his disciples to pray for their needs. in fact, we are commanded to do so. but notice in the Lord's prayer what it is that Jesus tells us to pray for - daily bread, forgiveness, deliverance from evil. they aren't for steak and caviar, or new suvs or other luxuries, but for daily necessities. they display an absolute dependence upon God as the provider of these essential things.
again, think about your prayer requests. do they reflect a dependence upon God? do we ask him to meet our needs or do we suppose that we can do that on our own? i was talking with someone yesterday about the challenge in our modern non-agrarian society of seeing that our provisions come from God when we can go to the store and buy some chicken wrapped in plastic that says purdue. i think it is harder today to see that God is the ultimate provider, but it is still true. it's just that this truth has been obscured by supermarkets, mass production, etc. still though, it doesn't take much mental effort to see what would happen if God withheld the rain that he sends to the crops, or the sunshine that is essential for photosynthesis, or, or, or...
as you pray, consciously think through some of these things. remember how dependent you are upon God for life and breath and everything. remember that in him we live and move and have our being. and make requests in this attitude of dependence. then you'll experience the joy of thankfulness, the joy of seeing God provide. moreover, God will get the glory as the provider, the forgiver, the deliverer.