written by Jimmy Newkirk, Associate Pastor (June 21, 2023)
What do you pray for? What gets the most attention in your prayers? To be more specific, do matters of greatest importance receive the greatest priority in your prayer life?
Alistair Begg, in his short but excellent book, Pray Big, makes the point "All that matters may be brought before God, but what we bring before God is not always what matters most". Dwell on that thought for a moment.
Surely, we can and should bring all of our concerns before the Lord. And yet, we often have our priorities set on matters of lesser importance.
Remember that, at it's very core, prayer is an expression of our complete dependency on God, our praise for who He is, and our thankfulness for all that He has done, especially on the cross and His transforming grace in our lives. We are to give priority to spiritual matters and then allow matters that may seem more practical to us to fall into their proper place in prayer.
Jesus makes this point in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body … But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:25, 33).
If we're honest, for many of us, our prayer list looks more like an infirmary list or news report than an expression of dependency before a sovereign God about matters of spiritual importance. To be clear, we can pray for anything. Paul tells us “… in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). Yet, when we read Paul’s prayers throughout the New Testament, we find a remarkable absence of his praying for material things. He models a prioritization that puts spiritual matters, eternal matters, as the central element of each prayer.
Consider Ephesians 1:17-19, written from prison, as just one example. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what is the wealth of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of His strength.”
Paul is consistent: throughout each of his letters to persecuted or troubled churches, he prays for transformation of the heart and mind of believers. He prays for the glory of the triune God. He prays that believers would be strengthened and comforted as they go through difficulties, but he does not pray that they be exempted from them.
Nehemiah provides us with a similar example. In Ch 1 of his book, Nehemiah has just learned of the “great troubles” that the surviving Jewish exiles are going through. He’s learned that the Jerusalem city walls have been destroyed and the gates burned. What did he do? He fasted and prayed, not for building materials and justice for their oppressors, but for the forgiveness of sin of his own people. He prayed God’s scripture of promised blessings back to Him. Nehemiah praised God for who He is and what He has done. Nehemiah prayed that God would bless him as he carried out God’s will For His people.
Take a moment to turn to and read the prophet Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9:1-19. Despite the extraordinary chaos of living in exile and dramatic visions of kingdom’s being overturned, Daniel fasts and prays. As he does so, he confesses the sins of God’s people. He speaks of the glory and majesty of God. He praises God for His sovereignty over all peoples. He professes Israel’s dependency on Him and His mercy. Then, only then as Daniel closes out his prayer, he asks God to look upon the desolation of the people, the temple, and the land. He doesn’t even ask God to do anything specific about the desolation … just look at it in mercy. He summarizes his prayer in verse 19 by asking the Lord to listen to the prayer and to act for His own glory.
Pray. Pray big. Lay all your cares before Him, but as you do, be sure to put first things - spiritual things - as your primary point. As we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, we can trust His promise that He will take care of the rest.