It seems to me that prayer can sometimes become a game we play, either with ourselves or with others. If God “answers” our prayers - that is, gives us what we want - we feel affirmed in our belief. If God “doesn’t answer” our prayers - that is, does not give us what we want - we wonder whether he is there at all, or what good is he anyway.
Do you relate to this?
This approach to prayer sees prayer as, first, an opportunity to get stuff from God and, second, an opportunity for God to show himself to us. This is far removed from the biblical picture of prayer, however.
The biblical portrait of prayer is complex, and certainly contains examples where answered prayer provides a testimony to God’s existence or power. But generally, prayer is not seen as a way for God to prove himself to us by conforming to our wishes. Instead, prayer is a gift that allows us a chance to conform to his will.
That is why Jesus gave instructions such as these:
* “Pray for your enemies.”
* “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
* “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
* “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
In each of these instructions, Jesus urges that we make requests to God – but not the kind of self-serving requests that we often fill our prayer time with. These requests are those that conform our desires and direct our minds to God’s will rather than our own.
Of course, Jesus' most powerful example in prayer is when he prayed, "Not my will, but yours be done."
Should we make requests in prayer for personal concerns? Certainly. The Bible has many examples of such prayers being answered to the glory of God, and I can add a few of my own. But if our prayer life is solely concerned with self-oriented requests, well… this is a very strange and unhealthy relationship to have with Almighty God, and perhaps no relationship at all.