I’ve never heard a Christian say that they pray enough. Even among the godliest people I know, the topic of prayer always seems to elicit a response along the lines of: “I want to pray more, but I don’t.” While there are many reasons we might struggle with prayer, often the truth is that we simply don’t know what to pray for.
To be sure, there are times when knowing what to pray for seems obvious. In hard times, we ask for God to provide for us and help us through our trials. And in really great times, spending time giving thanks to God in prayer seems like a natural response. But so much of life is lived in the middle: we get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, eat dinner, spend time with the family, put the kids to sleep, and go to bed. And it’s here in the middle, where life might feel “okay,” that we can get stumped with prayer. We sit down to pray and come up short. When someone asks how they can be praying for us, we’re at a loss. “What do I need prayer for?” we wonder.
When I started dating my now-wife, I wanted to be intentional in how I pursued her, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do that. What were the things I needed to know about her to know whether or not I wanted to marry her? I asked a pastor this question, and he responded with another question: “What stops you from proposing tomorrow?” Since this was early on in our relationship, I could’ve given a lot of reasons for not proposing immediately! “I don’t know about ____,” “What are her thoughts on _____,” etc. My pastor’s point was that those are the things to be intentional about finding out.
When I have found myself unsure of what to pray for, I’ve taken a cue from my pastor and started to ask myself this question: In what ways do I not look like Jesus? Scripture tells us that as Christians, God is conforming us to the image of Jesus (Colossians 3:9-10; 2 Corinthians 3:18). And so being mindful of the ways that we don’t look like Him is an incredible aid to prayer. It gives us things to repent of (how we’re not measuring up) and things to ask for (growth in these areas). It also gives us reasons to thank God when we consider how much He’s already made us look more like His Son. Charles Spurgeon once gave similar advice to those who struggle with knowing what to pray for:
“But,” says one, “I do not feel that I have anything special to pray about.” I know not who you are or where you live to be without special concerns for prayer, for I find that every day brings either its need or its trouble that I must tell to my God. But if we are without troubles, have we attained to such a height in grace that we have nothing to ask for? Do we love Christ so much that we have no need to pray that we may love Him more? Have we so much faith that we have ceased to cry, “Lord, increase it”? With a little self-examination, I am sure you will always discover some legitimate object for which you may knock at Mercy’s door and cry, “Give me, Lord, the desire of my heart.”
The truth is, we always need prayer, even when life feels “fine.” If you find yourself struggling to find specifics to pray for, go to a passage like Galatians 5:22–23, 2 Peter 1:5–8, or Psalm 15, which lists several characteristics of a godly life. Pray for God to grow these qualities in you. Or take time to read through Paul’s prayers at the beginning of letters like Philippians, Colossians, or Ephesians. Take his words and pray them over yourself. Additionally, when we remember to pray these things not only for ourselves but for those around us, we will truly never run out of things—or people!—to pray for.
God is conforming us into the image of Jesus. And this is a process He promises to complete (Philippians 1:6). So, as we pray that God would help us and others to look more like Him, let us pray with certainty that our prayers will ultimately be answered.
Spurgeon, C. H., and Robert Hall. The Power of Prayer in a Believer's Life. Lynnwood, WA: Emerald Books, 1993.