3-2 Prayer: A List Of Requests?
Stranded for a while with only my Bible, I read through the Psalms and other well known prayers, underlining those verses which make specific request, and trying to divide the requests into groups. The Psalms, of course, are the greatest collection of prayers which we have. Some sections of the Psalter are evidently more devoted to praise than prayer. However, Book 2 of Psalms (42-72) is entitled " the prayers of David" (Ps. 72:20). And there are some Psalms which are specifically entitled 'prayers' (38, 86, 90/91, 102, 142/3); and it has been demonstrated by several writers that the titles of the Psalms are inspired and should be read as such.
The results were as follows:
" The prayers of David" (Ps. 42 - 72): 1 request every 7 verses.
The specific 'prayers' recorded in Psalms: 1 request every 5 verses.
Christ's prayer in Jn. 17: 1 request every 4 verses.
It was quite amazing how very few personal requests were made in any of these prayers, although evidently one senses that often David had in mind a particular crisis. The categories of request which became evident after repeated reading were:
1) " Save me" - usually with the suggestion of 'save me eternally, in the Kingdom', or with the implication that God knows exactly what David wants saving from, and therefore he doesn't mention it explicitly. 2) For others spiritually, especially Israel. 3) For forgiveness. 4) For the Kingdom to come. 5) For the wicked to be punished (with evident reference to the Kingdom, rather than this life).
These last two categories account for over half of the requests made in the prayers. This should be compared with how 'The Lord's prayer' begins with the request for the Kingdom to come, and ends with a similar statement. That model prayer contains 11 statements, only 4 of which are requests (for the Kingdom, forgiveness, spiritual protection, daily food). Even the request for the coming of the Kingdom is not to be made simply because we desire personal relief from our problems. This would relegate the Hope of the Kingdom to just any other religion: a dim understanding of some fantastical future that enables the adherent to stumble along through life with some vague hope of a better tomorrow. " Hallowed be Thy Name" is what precedes the request for the Kingdom to come. This is why we should request the Kingdom: for the glory of God to be brought about, for His Name to be manifested both in us and the world at large.
Paul perhaps realized the tendency to make prayer just a list of requests when he commanded his Philippians: " In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6). This is what prayer is all about; an opening up of life before God, not specific requests; a casting of our care upon Him (1 Pet. 5 :7). The believers of the parable told their Lord of the ungrateful behaviour of their brother (Mt. 18:31)- they brought the situation before Him, without asking specifically for something to be done.
But is this the pattern of our prayers? By contrast, don't they tend to be one long list of often very human requests, about which we have no idea whether or not they are God's will? The emphasis in Biblical prayers is noton requesting things. It is on praise and opening of our soul to God, knowing that He knows our needs already. And the Biblical pattern is that the most urgent need, that of the Kingdom and salvation, must take up by far the majority of our requests. Do we reflect this emphasis in our prayers?