Let's play a game. No, not Chutes and Ladders—sorry. The long slide that thwarts my march to victory right before I defeat my three-year-old son is just too frustrating. Instead, take out a piece of paper and write down your last five prayers. Even though this is called the prayer game there are no points, so feel free to be honest. Now read back through them and answer a few questions. Who do these prayers impact? How do they line up with God's desires for people and this world? Why did you pray for these things? The point of this game isn't to be the first to the finish, but to discover what our prayers say about our faith.
I love myself!
Our daughter is fond of telling people she loves them. But her greatest joy is expressing her love for herself. She'll look at me with a little smile and say, "Daddy, I love you. And I love Mommy." Then the little smile turns into a broad grin and she exclaims, "And I love myself!" Sometimes our prayer life is the adult equivalent of that proclamation. We don't express our self-love quite so bluntly, but it comes through just as clearly.
How many of those five things you wrote down were things you prayed for yourself? If all or even most of them are, you might be showing yourself a little too much love. There is nothing wrong with bringing your personal concerns before our Father; he invites it. First Peter 5:7, echoing Psalm 55:22, says you should "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." Bringing your struggles and joys before God is an indicator of a strong relationship with him. It is just important that this is balanced with prayer focused on others and on God's kingdom. Matthew 6:33 says, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." That pursuit should be evident in what we pray. And a life following Christ is one that is lived for him in service to others. Jesus said that he came not to be served, but to serve. If we are following his example, our prayers will reflect it.
Think about the last time you were in a group setting and someone asked if there were prayer requests. Too many times I've been in that situation and had to explore the dusty corners of my mind for one thing to share. A couple of times my inability to come up with anything led to the infamous "unspoken request." If you haven't been introduced to this little secret of group prayer time, you're in for a treat! The unspoken request is supposed to be something a person feels they can't reveal, but that warrants a need for prayer. Something so weighty, they are unable to share the details. I know I might have my Christian card revoked for this, but a couple of times I used the "unspoken request" to make it seem like I had something to pray about when the reality was I couldn't think of a solitary thing. Having nothing to pray for made a bold statement about the extent to which I was living in step with God.
I've also had times when the invitation to share prayer requests was met with an instantaneous flood of situations that necessitated prayer. On those occasions people probably wished some of my requests were unspoken. But my relationships with those who had not put their faith in Jesus, friends who were facing great hardship, and awareness of the suffering of millions around the world compelled me to ask for prayer. Being engaged in God's work leads to a deep awareness that we need to see his power.
Do you pray for the needs of the poor regularly? That's probably a reflection of your involvement in meeting their needs. Do you pray for the salvation of friends who haven't been reconciled to God? It's hard to do that if all your good friends are Christians. Have you had the opportunity to lift to God the pain of a brother or sister in Christ? This only happens when you have deep, honest relationships with others. The great, or horrible, thing about reflecting on what we pray is it can tell us whether we're living our life for God's purposes or our own.