My friend Camden McAfee is Communication Coordinator at PULSE, an evangelistic ministry that exists to awaken culture to the reality of Jesus. He writes about knowing God at Countercultural. Here he talks about the superficiality of our prayer times, and what to do about it.
My prayer life was transformed at an event in Washington D.C. in 2015. The hot June sun beat down on us as we began an evangelistic event near the Washington Monument. Then the dark grey clouds rolled in.
I remember the scene distinctly. Worship leader Kari Jobe was on stage when we got the notice we might have to shut down the event. A scattered storm was approaching, and at the first sound of thunder we would have to stop the event.
I walked over to the prayer tent away from most of the crowd. Stepping behind the tent, I knelt in the grass and began to pray.
Lord, please turn back the rain
Two Depths in Prayer
We generally pray surface or “fix it” prayers. We ask God to address an immediate or felt need in the world around us at a visible level.
“God, please bless this food.”
“Jesus, I pray you would heal so-and-so.”
“Please keep us safe on our trip today.”
Nothing is wrong with these prayers. But if we stay at this depth, I’m afraid we’ll only scratch the surface of what God intended for our prayer lives.
Consider Paul. I love Paul’s prayers in the New Testament, although we have to admit they seem a little long and academic sometimes. Let’s look at an example of Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1.
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
Wow! If you’re like the rest of us, you read that prayer and think, “I could never pray like that!” But the secret to Paul’s prayer gets down to answering one very simple question.
Look at the beginning of Paul’s prayer again.
“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”
Stop! That’s Paul’s “fix it” prayer. If we stopped there, we would hit the depth most of us reach in our prayers. “I pray God would make His will clear to you,” Paul says. Simple enough.
But the key to Paul’s powerful, kingdom-minded prayer comes from him answering the question, “Why?” .… Why should Paul want God to make His will clear to them?
This question is unlocked by the words “so that” in Colossians 1, which appear twice in Paul’s prayer.
“I’m praying God would make His will for you clear so that you can live a life worthy of God and please Him.”
For the rest of Paul’s prayer, he goes on and elaborates what this means—but it’s all tied back to the original, simple prayer, unlocked by the question, “Why?”
Transforming Your Prayer Life with Kingdom Prayers
When I knelt on the grass in D.C. during that storm, God challenged my motivations.
“Lord, turn back the rain.”
Kingdom prayers force us to deal with our motivations. So why did I want God to turn back the rain? Was it because I wanted our event to be successful? Was it because I wanted to see God show off?
“God, I want you to turn back the rain so that people who don’t know You can hear the Gospel and respond to Jesus.”
By asking why, my simple “fix-it” prayer became a powerful Kingdom prayer.
I’ll tell the rest of the story next week, but for now I want to challenge you to consciously think about how you pray. Even if it seems strange and mechanical at first, I challenge you next time you pray to ask “why?”
We can keep praying “fix it” prayers, but God wants so much more for us. He wants us to know Him and unlock the power of prayer, which in my experience is contained most simply in answering the question “why?”
Read Camden’s follow article What Intercession Really Means.