Why do we pray? To complete a checklist item? To just talk to God? To ask for the desires of our hearts? The answer may be more complex than you might think. Check out this excerpt from Pastor Craig’s book, Dangerous Prayers, where he challenges us to rethink why we pray.
As the son of a very patriotic dad, I learned how to salute our American flag at a young age. Not long after I began taking off my ball cap for the national anthem and placing my right hand over my heart, my father also told me a story about one of his favorite presidents. The streets of our capital were covered with eight inches of snow on that freezing cold day in January 1961. John F. Kennedy, the youngest man ever elected to our highest office, walked to the podium for his inauguration without wearing a coat or hat. Then, in a speech comprising less than fifteen hundred words and lasting less than fifteen minutes, President Kennedy delivered a famous challenge to future generations that still echoes today: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Even as a boy, every time I heard Dad describe that scene and say those words, I felt inspired. There was something so moving to me about JFK’s challenge, an invitation to be part of something bigger than myself, a plea to do more than to consume, but to contribute. Years later those few words still inspire me to serve my country, but they mean even more to me as I consider my prayer life before God.
Rather than asking God to serve us, what if we told God we are available to serve Him?
As a pastor for several decades, I’ve seen firsthand the most intimate prayer requests of thousands of people. Each week, hundreds of needs flood our church, from prayer cards in our services to phone calls during the week or online requests through social media or our church app. So you won’t be surprised to know the most common phrase I hear each week is one I’m delighted to fulfill: “Pastor, will you please pray for … ?”
I consider it a privilege, an honor, and a joyful responsibility to pause and lift up a need before the throne of God, asking him to have mercy, to move, to guide, to provide, to act, to do a miracle for people that I know and love. Each week someone asks that God would heal their loved one from cancer, help a neighbor find a job, or restore a hurting marriage. Students request prayer to get into the college of their choice, to help pay for that college, or to deal with the pain of their parents’ divorce. Some people pray for a spouse. Others ask for help to forgive a person who hurt them. Some cry out for peace during a severe trial in life. Parents pray for teenagers succumbing to drugs. Men, and sometimes women, ask for help fighting addiction to porn. Both pray for healing from shame.
Even though the requests vary, people are asking God to do something for them or someone they love. God, help me. God, help someone I love. Lord, I need. Father, would you please.
God, do something for me.
Please hear me, we should definitely pray this way. We should always invite God’s presence, God’s power, God’s peace to intervene in our lives. We should ask God to do miracles on our behalf. We should lift up our loved ones and remind ourselves of how God can move in their lives. We should seek the Lord for all of our needs.
But we shouldn’t stop there.
In the spirit of JFK’s inaugural address, what if we refused to just pray for ourselves? Forgive my paraphrase, but what if we prayed, “Ask not what God can do for you, but ask God what you can do for him?”
What if instead of always asking God to do something on our behalf, we dared to ask God to use us on his behalf? What if we had the courageous faith to surrender our whole future—beginning right now—to God? Telling God we are all his. Available. On call.
On standby to bless someone, serve someone, give all we can give to someone.
What if we prayed perhaps the most dangerous prayer of all?
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