Certainly we should pray for what we need, and we should pray for one another. But should this really occupy the central place we've learned to habitually assign it in our corporate prayer life? It's almost as if we have rewritten the Lord's prayer like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,This is precisely what the Lord specifically instructed us not to do immediately before giving us the above prayer as a model (minus the red text): And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread ... and healing from our hangnails and our Aunt Suzy's gout; and safe travel to Cleveland this weekend; and good grades at school; and a promotion at work; and money to complete our household repairs; and ... and ... and ...
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
The practice of "prayer requests" in corporate worship is a cultural device we've grown accustomed to, and which we probably assume was common among Christians ever since Jesus walked the earth, but they have become a huge distraction for us. Our corporate prayers no longer resemble the Lord's model, because our myriad requests have come to so dominate them. What's more, our individual prayers--learned in the corporate setting--follow a similar pattern. They demonstrate our preoccupation with worldly things ... our refusal to give central place to the King: infinite, eternal, almighty, holy, righteous, just, loving and gracious. We nod in His direction before we get down to the "real" business of filling out our wish-list.
Frankly, our prayers may be directed to God, but they're mostly about us.
In the Jailer household, we've begun to recondition ourselves. We now talk much more earnestly about God-centered prayers, beginning with an emphasis on praise. We've had to relearn prayer, because it's apparent that we just don't know how to do it. It's been remarkable and instructive to watch our kids struggle through what to say to God when requests are excluded. We've all been conditioned to ask for stuff ... stuff that Jesus said the Father knows we need before we ask it.
Our prayer-request culture has taught us that prayer is little more than a sanctified "Dear Santa" letter. Moving toward God-centered prayer begins with actively constraining our preoccupation with prayer requests.