What should I pray for?

Prayer is voicing our hearts to God. Prayer is mentioned nearly one thousand times throughout the Bible, with nine major categories: corporate prayer (Acts 2:42), prayers of request (Philippians 4:6), prayers of thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2–3; Philippians 4:6), prayers of worship (Acts 13:2–3), prayers of dedication (Matthew 26:39), interceding prayers (1 Timothy 2:1), prayers for justice (Psalm 69), prayers in faith (James 5:15), and praying in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:14–15).

God commands us to pray (Psalm 50:15; Jeremiah 33:3; Hebrews 4:16; 1 Timothy 2:1) and promises to hear and answer (John 16:23–24; 1 Peter 3:12; James 1:5–6; 5:16; Psalm 34:15). We are to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus is recorded as praying at least twenty-five times in the New Testament (e.g., John 17; Luke 5:16). Sometimes our hearts are so heavy we don't even know what to pray, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26). Some people struggle with prayer and what they should pray for. Jesus' disciples had the same struggle, so Jesus gave them a model we call The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4). In it, Jesus covered six general areas that help us know what to pray for:

1. "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name" (Matthew 6:9).

One of the most important, but often overlooked, aspects of prayer is the acknowledgement of who God is. We tend to leap right to our wish-list without taking time to remind our hearts just whom we are talking to. God designed human beings to be capable of fellowship with Him. Jesus showed us that, when we begin our prayer time with adoration and praise, we better understand the heart of God and are more likely to pray for things He can bless (Hebrews 4:14–16; John 14:13).

One way we spend time worshiping is to pray Scripture back to God. For example, we may be reading Psalm 25:10: "All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies." We pause to meditate on how loving and faithful God has been to us, and we pray it back to Him like this: "Father, you have been so kind to me when I don't deserve it. You've never failed me. I thank you that all your ways are loving and faithful to me." The more we learn about the many attributes of God, the more we want to recount them when we pray.

2. "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus spoke often of His Father's kingdom and urged His followers to live in constant readiness for His return (Matthew 4:23; John 14:2–3; 18:36; Revelation 22:12). The New Testament believers prayed earnestly that Jesus would come again in their lifetime (1 Corinthians 16:22; Philippians 4:5; Revelation 22:20). We are still highly anticipating that day.

In one sense, God's kingdom began on earth when Jesus came the first time (Luke 17:21). But the fulfillment of the kingdom has not yet come and won't until Jesus returns to judge the world and establish righteousness (see Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 19:11—20:6). We are to pray for that day because doing so keeps our priorities straight. Praying for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven reminds us that this current world situation is soon passing away. Followers of Jesus yearn for the day when righteousness will be the law of the land and God Himself is the Light (Revelation 22:5).

By praying this regularly, we also remind ourselves that we want His kingdom to come and His will to be done in our own lives as well as in the rest of the world. We pray not only for the future but for God's will and purposes to be manifest in our own lives and contexts. In praying for God's will to be done, we submit our hearts to obeying Him and purpose to live out His kingdom ideals in our daily lives, recognizing that we are ultimately citizens of His kingdom (Philippians 3:20) and ambassadors for Him (2 Corinthians 5:20).

3. "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11).

In this part of Jesus' model prayer, we ask for what we need. Throughout Scripture, God implores us to bring Him our troubles and our needs (Psalm 91:15; 50:15; Isaiah 58:9; Philippians 4:6–7; Hebrews 4:14–16; 1 Peter 5:7). Jesus assured His followers that God already knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:25–34; Luke 12:22–34). Yet He wants us to ask anyway and to keep asking when we have not yet received an answer. Jesus' parable in Luke 18:1–8 encourages us to persevere in praying for what we need.

We can even ask God for what we want. God delights in blessing His children for His good purposes (Isaiah 38:1–6; Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 16:7; Zechariah 10:1). Because the Lord was so pleased with King Solomon, He told Solomon to ask for anything he wanted (1 Kings 3:3–14) and God granted it. Asking for what we want is the way children relate to good fathers. God wants us to think of Him as our Father and come boldly to Him with our requests (Hebrews 4:15–16).

4. "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12).

This is the kind of praying where we get down to business with God. Because we are all sinners, we all need forgiveness (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8–10). Jesus already paid the debt for all those who have responded to Him in faith (2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:14). But when Christians sin, they need to agree with God about it so they can be restored to fellowship with Him (1 John 1:9). Repenting of our sin clears our conscience, so it's important to acknowledge the ways we have failed and receive the full pardon God offers.

Often, the more difficult aspect of forgiveness is when we must forgive others like God has forgiven us. Jesus' parable in Matthew 18:21–35 illustrates the connection between receiving forgiveness and extending it to others (see also Matthew 6:14–15). In prayer, we can admit to God the difficulty in forgiving those who wronged us and ask His help in forgiving them like He forgave us. When we remember the magnitude of His forgiveness for us, it becomes easier for us to forgive others.

5. "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13).

This phrase can be confusing since we know God does not tempt us to do evil (James 1:13). But temptation stalks us night and day. Without God's guidance and intervention, we would be hopelessly entangled in Satan's deceptions. We ask God to make the way out obvious (1 Corinthians 10:13), to help us take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), and to help us throw sin aside (Hebrews 12:1–2). We ask Him to give us right perspective about trials and to equip us to endure them in righteousness without succumbing to sin (James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–9). We ask God to surround us with His angel armies (2 Kings 6:16–17). We intercede for others who are struggling, that they will remain strong and that God's purposes will be accomplished through their struggle (Galatians 6:1–2; Romans 12:15). We can pray that we remain alert, aware of our own weaknesses so that we recognize evil when it comes (Romans 13:14; 1 Corinthians 10:12).

6. "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."

Although this familiar phrase is not found in the earliest biblical manuscripts, it is still an excellent conclusion to any prayer. When we end our prayers with another reminder of who God is, it keeps our own desires in check. We are saying, "Lord, I've expressed my heart and my requests, but ultimately you are God. I am not. I want your purpose to prevail, not mine (Luke 22:42). Align my heart, my will, and my desires with yours because your purposes are eternal."

Just as we rarely have trouble knowing what to say to someone we are in close relationship with, we don't often struggle with what to pray when we live in close communion with God. Our lives can be ongoing prayers as we whisper to God about everything throughout our day. When wondering what we should pray for, simply look around. There is a lost and broken world in desperate need of our prayers. Read the Bible; it tells us who God is and of His heart for the world. When we begin talking to God about the things that burden Him, prayer comes naturally.

Related Truth:

What can be learned from the prayers Jesus prayed?

How do I know if I'm praying in line with the will of God?

What is the Lord's Prayer? How is the Lord's Prayer a model for our prayers?

What types of prayer are mentioned in the Bible?

What is the importance of daily prayer in the life of a Christian?

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Truth about Prayer

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