Prayer | Figuring Out What to Pray For

In my last post, “I’ve Stopped Treating God Like a Genie,” I took you through a bit of my prayer life journey. That post was more “what I don’t do anymore” than “what do I do now.” This post is the beginning of “what do we do now.” Thankfully, Christianity isn’t a blind faith, but a faith that has at its center an orderly, magnificent God. This means that we can know not only how to pray but what to pray for.

The core practice of Christianity is the Two Great Commandments: to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself. This is our DNA. This is our base code. The whole Bible is an exposition of what it means to love God and love one another and how to do that. It is within the two Great Commandments that we figure out what to pray for.

The Greatest Commandment (and the other one like it)

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

-Matthew 22:36-40 (NKJV)

At the center focus of Christianity is God in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The central practices and emphases are the love of God and the love of others.

I want to acknowledge at this point that I’ve been saying that the second great commandment can be summed up “love one another.” It’s true that it says “love your neighbor as yourself” and that Jesus is quoting Leviticus 19:18, but the last time someone asked Jesus who his neighbor was, Jesus told one of the most famous and scathing parables in the Bible, “The Good Samaritan.” This dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees eliminated race/mix-ethnicity, class, religion, urgency, and uncleanness as viable reasons against treating someone as your neighbor. Jesus also said in Matthew 5:44 that we are to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” So, yeah. It’s just easier to say “love others” because we have no license to hate any person that we encounter.

I also want to acknowledge that this passage references “The Law,” yet we are a people who are not bound to keep the Law. We are under Grace. However, Grace did not scrap the Law, but flows from its fulfillment in Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20; Luke 24:44-45; Romans 10:1-4). Our justification before God is not because the Law disappeared, but it is because we are accounted righteous because of Jesus’s work.

Love Acts: A Brief Observation on Loving God and Love One Another

The love Jesus commands (a.k.a., agape) takes another person as its object. It is self-sacrificial. It seeks the good of the other. This love is related to chesed in the Old Testament which is characterized as kindness and mercy. Both agape and chesed are characterized by zeal, motion, and outward orientation. This is the love that each person of the Godhead continually shows to the other two. The Trinity fundamentally demonstrates love for God (for they are all the same essence and being) and love for their neighbor (as they love one another).

We also love, but not like God. All of our love has a focus, and our love acts on that focus. But not all of our love is created equal or unselfish. Love from brotherhood, camaraderie, and physical passion focus on Myself + Someone Else or just Me. However, the love of self-sacrifice, that Agape love, does not include “me” in the object. Eternal life in Christ allows us to let go of loving ourselves; we don’t need to anymore. For a much better treatment of this subject, I highly recommend The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.

Everything we do should be measured according to love. We must ask ourselves: “Is what I’m about to do loving towards God? loving towards others? Both? Is what I’m about to do loving towards one, but despises the other?” If our answers are “yes” –except for that last one– then we are acting in love.

What to Pray for?

We pray for what we love.

We are made to love. What we love will see our devotion and defense. We must learn to love according to the Two Great Commandments and pray accordingly. The Two Great Commandments are the distillation of obedient living; the foundation for obedient living begins with prayer.

When I’m examining my motive for my prayers, I start with these questions:

  • Loving God. Do the things I pray for reveal an affection and passion toward God or do they reveal my selfishness and pride? I’m learning. In the past, I followed God because of fear and duty. Now, I’m learning to follow Him out of faith, affection, and confidence in his goodness and righteousness. But it’s taking some growing-up in how I approach God.
  • Loving people. Who do I pray for? Certainly Mrs. Jones and Miss E. Often my prayers are limited to my family and a few friends. Honestly, I’m guilty of not doing the hard work of prayer and interceding for more people.
  • Resources. Do the things I desire in prayer ultimately help myself or others? I often get stuck in asking only for our daily bread or my comfort.
  • Intervention. Am I truly concerned enough with other people’s lives to beg for Godly intervention? Nowhere near enough.

The Word of God align our priorities and motivations with God’s. Praying this way teaches us obedience in what we seek. Focusing our prayers on loving God and loving others creates mobility and introduces a purpose beyond the basic “give us this day our daily bread” to “how shall we love You, Lord, and others today.”

 

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  1. […] post is a follow-up to “Figuring Out What to Pray For” where I discuss how to focus on prayers guided by the Two Great […]

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