We wrapped up our small group as we usually do, with a time for everyone to share their prayer requests. After we closed in prayer, Tom approached my husband and me. He was considering dropping out of our small group because he felt overwhelmed by the prayer requests. It seemed to him as though everyone's problems were insurmountable, and although we'd been praying for the same things for months, it didn't seem as though anyone's life was getting any better.
Tom's comment was a wake-up call about the way we handled the prayer time in our small group. My husband and I did some soul and Scripture searching to find out what we might be doing wrong. Nowhere in Scripture did we find prayers for Sally's arthritis, Mark's unruly children, or Bonnie's rotten work conditions. The prayers in the Bible were powerful and life-changing, full of God's power and glory.
Consider Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:16-23. In fact, read it aloud with feeling:
I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Wow! Such a prayer puts arthritis, unruly children, and rotten work conditions in perspective.
So should we ignore our problems and pretend they don't exist? Not at all. Instead, we should transform them by putting them into the bigger context of what God wants to do in our lives. We can still take the prayer requests, but consider praying for them in the following ways.
Make Them God-Centered
When you pray, remember who you are talking to. You have been given the privilege of coming before the creator of the universe. This is the God who made everything that lives or has its being, and he has given you the honor of bringing requests before him. That's why so many teachers tell us to start our prayers with adoration. When we tell God how great, powerful, and magnificent he is, it reminds us that he truly is those things. It gives us a sense of awe and expectancy that something great could come out of this conversation we are having with the one who can do anything.
Paul spent over half of his prayer in Ephesians 1 extolling God's virtues. Scholars agree that when Paul wrote this book, he was in prison. He could have listed a litany of prayer requests that would have made ours pale in comparison, but instead he focused on who God is. Surely the power of that prayer carried him farther than any listing of complaints. It also showed the Ephesians how to pray victoriously in the midst of whatever they were facing.
Make Them Praise-Filled
Paul started his prayer by saying, "I have not stopped giving thanks … " He'd learned that the key to praying is not to focus on a list of troubles, but to praise God for what he has done. How can we do that? How can we give thanks in everything, as Paul later admonished us to do in his letter to the Thessalonians?