Do you remember the British Telecom TV adverts in the 1990s, with Bob Hoskins? They always ended with the catchphrase “It’s good to talk”. And indeed it is. Communication is an essential part of any healthy relationship. For example, imagine a child who didn’t speak to his parents at all:
- A child who never said please or thank you when their parents gave them things.
- A child who never expressed an opinion or a preference.
- A child who never told their mum and dad what food they liked, what games they enjoyed, what their favourite toys were.
We might think the child was ungrateful, but it would also be a very sad state of affairs. If a child never spoke to its mum or dad we would think there was something seriously wrong with their relationship. The child’s parents could be forgiven for wondering whether their child loved them, trusted them or even liked them!
So its no surprise that the Bible encourages Christians to talk to our Heavenly Father in prayer. We are to communicate with our Creator, we are to speak to our Lord and Saviour. Even Jesus himself prayed frequently and fervently to his Father when on earth, and he gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a model for us all to follow.
We thought last week about the value of praising God in our prayers, didn’t we? Ken reminded us of the value of praising God for his goodness, his greatness, his grace and power. The value of giving God the glory that he rightly deserves. As Christians it is right and proper for us to praise our Heavenly Father when we pray – to adore him and say ‘hallowed be your name’.
But another aspect of prayer is asking God for things. Things for ourselves and others. Those two types of ‘asking’ prayers are technically known as petitionary prayer and intercessory prayer. Its probably the type of prayer that comes most easily and naturally to us. But why should we ask God for things, and what sort of things should we be asking for ourselves and others? That’s what I want us to think about today.
But before I go further, let me first pray for God’s help! Father God, thank you for the privilege of prayer. As we think about asking prayers this morning, help us to understand how and why we ask good things of you. Amen.
Why should we ask God for anything?
So why should we ask God for things? Why should Christians ask God to give things to ourselves or others? The simple answer is that we are encouraged to in the Bible. As we see in the first verse of our passage this morning, we are urged to pray and make intercession for everyone. Jesus himself encouraged his disciples to ask God for things. For example, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, he said: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. ‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:7-11).
You see, Christians can ask our heavenly Father for things because he is good and he is great. He is generous and he is almighty. We can pray to God with complete confidence that he is willing and able to answer our prayers for any good thing.
When we ask God for something in prayer, we are also showing him what is on our heart, what our priorities are, what is causing us most anxiety at the moment. Sincere prayer is the ultimate stress-reliever! As it famously says in Philippians chapter 4: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
Some of the Old Testament psalms are wonderful examples of honest, heartfelt prayer. The psalms include countless prayers asking God to intervene in the lives of individuals and in the life of nations. The psalms are littered with heartfelt requests for God to judge evil, save his people and release the oppressed. Honest heartfelt prayers for God’s help express our dependence on him – they are spiritually beneficial and remind us that we are not self-sufficient and ‘sorted’ on our own. You see, pride and petitionary prayer are incompatible. A proud person will never ask God for help – they think they can do it all on their own. But a wise man, a humble Christian, depends on God for everything – even our every breath. So we should develop the ‘humble habit’ of asking God for whatever we truly need.
What should we pray for?
So it is good to ask God for things. We can be confident that he is willing and able to give us good things in answer to prayer. We can be confident that petitionary prayer will reduce our stress and help us become more humble. But what, then, should we pray for? What things should top my personal prayer list this week?
- For Crystal Palace to survive in the Premier League, perhaps?
- Or for England to win the World Cup this summer?
- Or maybe I should ask for the winning numbers for next week’s national lottery?!
In one sense the answer is that we can ask God for anything truly good – for anything that will genuinely benefit ourselves or others. So I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with praying for a car parking space, for a new job, for better health or for anything that else that we honestly think we need. After all, the Lord’s Prayer even tells us to pray for something as basic as our daily bread.
So any kind of well-intentioned prayer is permissible. Any kind of sincere request to God is alright to ask. But the Bible in general, and today’s passage in particular, suggests some particular priorities for prayer. Some things that its especially good to ask God for. I’ve summarised them as Good Government, Personal Godliness, and Gospel growth.
Firstly, good government. In verse 2 today we are told to pray “for kings and all those in authority, so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives”. We are to ask God to help our political leaders, to ask him to give them wisdom to rule with justice and mercy. Our own government certainly needs our prayers as it wrestles with the challenges of terrorism, Brexit and the Syrian civil war. But most of all, we should pray that governments across the world will preserve the freedom of Christians to follow Jesus and share our faith. We should ask God to protect Christian’s liberty to live peaceful, godly lives. Do pray for Christians experiencing persecution in communist counties and many parts of the Middle East. Ask God to turn the hearts of those countries’ rulers, so that the rights and liberties of Christians are respected. Do look at the website of Christian Solidarity Worldwide to inform your prayers for the persecuted church.
As well as good government, a second priority for prayer should be our personal godliness. Verse 2 of our passage this morning urges us to pursue a life of godliness and holiness – and in verse 10 Christian women are encouraged to clothe themselves “with good deeds, appropriate for [those] who profess to worship God.” Being godly and holy means living more like Jesus, it means showing more of the fruit of the Spirit in our life. Fruit that includes love, joy, kindness, patience and self-control. And those are great things to ask God for. Pray that God will get to work in our hearts and minds, and in the minds of our Christian brothers and sisters, so that we increasingly bear fruit and become more like Jesus.
In fact, being godly is even more important than being physically healthy. Of course Its good to pray for sick friends and relatives, and to ask that God may heal them. But its even better to pray that God will use their illness to make them more like Jesus. Prayers for healing may extend someone’s lifetime, but prayers for their growth in godliness will do them good for eternity. There is no better prayer than to pray for someone to know, love and trust the Lord Jesus, whatever their personal circumstances.
Thirdly and finally, we should ask God for Gospel growth. We should pray for more people to become Christians and for Christ’s Church to grow. We should ask God to open the hearts and minds of our non-Christian family and friends, asking that they will hear, understand and believe the good news about Jesus. We should pray that God will give us good opportunities to share our faith with non-Christians – and ask for the courage to make the most of those opportunities.
So that’s three G’s to ask God for – good government, personal godliness and Gospel growth. Taken together, they produce another ‘G’ – God is glorified! God is honoured and glorified when his people are free to follow Jesus, when our lives look more like Jesus, and when non-Christians are wonderfully converted. That’s plenty to pray for!
How does God answer our prayers?
Let me finish this morning by assuring you that God always answers our prayers. That may sound a little optimistic, but its true! If we are Christians God always hears our prayers. Our heavenly Father never falls asleep, gets diracted or loses interest in us. He is always attentive to our prayers, and always responds rightly and wisely.
Now, of course, God’s answers to our prayers may not always be what we want or expect. God’s wisdom and goodness means he always answers Christian’s prayers in the right way, at the right time. He will always give us what we need, not what we might want or expect. God’s answers to our prayers are a little like traffic lights:
- Sometimes they are red (meaning ‘no’) because our prayers are sinful, selfish, unwise or wrong in some other way.
- Sometimes the answer we get is amber (meaning ‘wait’), because the timing is not right.
- And sometimes God’s answer is green (meaning, yes). Any mature Christian will be able to tell you about some wonderful answers to prayer they have received.
Even when God does say ‘yes’ to our prayers, his way of answering them may not always be exactly how we expect. For example, he may answer a prayer for a sick person by giving them patient endurance and inner peace, rather than physical healing.
His answers may surprise us in other ways too. I love the story of a man who was stuck on his rooftop in a flood – he was asking God to help him. Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to him, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded man shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowboat went on. Then a man in a motorboat came by. He shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” “No thanks”, said the man on the roof “I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the motorboat went on. Then a helicopter hovered overheard and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” The stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away. Eventually the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!” To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you want?!”
You see, asking God for things is not magic, but a real relationship. Christian prayers to God are not orders to be obeyed, but requests to an all wise, almighty Father above. Be assured that our good God will always respond to our prayers, but not always as we expect – be ready for some unexpected answers! With that in mind, why don’t we talk to him now? Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, thank you that you love to hear our prayers. Help us to have the faith and humility to ask good things of you. We especially ask for greater godliness and the spread of your Gospel, that you will be glorified. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.