Asking for prayer is not just a sanctified sympathy request (though I often unconsciously see it that way).
Verses such as 1 Peter 5:7, where Peter calls believers to “[cast] all your anxieties on [God], because he cares for you,” bring great comfort to Christians. We revel in the fact that God comforts the downcast, that he cares about us though we are as fleeting mists before him. As the psalmist testifies, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19). God, the creator and the sustainer of all, gives ear to his children. Though infinitely transcendent, God is also beautifully immanent.
In spite of this profound truth, I live like God is only transcendent, separate from my life and experiences. When I find myself struggling, in need of support, I often desire the sympathy of my friends rather than the strengthening of God. I ask those near me for prayer, but, recently, I’ve noticed that I share those requests in part to get attention, not simply to seek the Lord. (To clarify, I don’t mean to say that all of my prayer requests are solely for the sake of attention; I’m simply highlighting a problematic tendency I’ve noticed in my walk.) I’ve noticed the issue extend into my personal prayers as well. I pour out my heart to God, yet I do so in some ways more for catharsis than for the pursuit of God’s help. I pray, but I don’t consider the fact that God may answer, that God may speak.
As I considered this trend, I realized that such a practice is completely bogus. Biblically, God not only cares about our needs, but he responds to our prayers. James writes that God will give wisdom to those who ask him (James 1:5-8). Toward the end of his short book, he calls believers to pray for one another, citing the example of Elijah who “was a man with a nature like ours, [who] 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). The psalmists also speak of God’s faithfulness to answer prayers. One writes,
Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!
Throughout Scripture, we find testimonies of those who prayed and were answered, of those who turned to the Lord and were heard.
I can relate to the disciples who asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). I am no expert on prayer. In fact, I regularly feel inadequate when I pray. Slowly, graciously, God is teaching me to pray, to come before him in humility and in hope. God’s Word changes how I think about prayer and about prayer requests by changing how I think about myself and how I think about God. Meditating on Scripture, mining the depths of God’s self-revelation, turns my gaze away from myself and fixes it upon him. I worry less about feeling better and focus more on honoring him. Suffering becomes an avenue of sanctification (James 1:2-4), and joys become opportunities to praise (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This week, let us live, and pray, for his glory, trusting that our good is found in the pursuit of his kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).