A Community of Prayer Champions, Praying Churches, Prayed-for Communities

In her book, Live a Praying Life, Jennifer Kennedy Dean refers to some major misconceptions about prayer. The first of these is that prayer is only for material needs. This really resonated with me, especially since material needs-based prayer so often dominates prayer in our churches, in our small groups, and in our lives.

Jennifer points out that this type of prayer is not wrong, but that it is not meant to be the dominant theme of our praying lives. God already knows our needs, and he delights in meeting them - he is not a reluctant Provider who needs to be convinced through much travail to meet our needs. After all, he provides for the sparrows, and he values us much more highly.

Jennifer shows that Jesus taught that this type of prayer is the very simplest kind of prayer. I'm reminded of the reference in Hebrews 5:12 to milk vs. solid food. In that case, the writer was talking about the truths of God's word. Some truth is elementary - foundational, but not meant to be the end of our learning. A math major can't stop with Algebra; similarly, Christ-followers at some point must advance beyond the elementary teachings to more complex truths - what the author refers to as "solid food".

I wonder if prayer might be the same way. We begin by asking God for the simple, elementary things. Like a child asking his parents for toys or candy, we start with the mundane, the things that are right in front of us. But any child who grows to have faith in his parent's wisdom and love eventually starts asking harder things, like advice in difficult situations. Similarly, as our faith in God grows, maybe we need to be asking the more difficult things - like imploring God to grow the character of Christ in us or to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit.

As I look at the prayers of Paul for the churches, I don't see any prayers regarding material needs. I'm certain that Paul himself prayed for material things - like the removal of his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). But it seems like this type of concern did not dominate Paul's life. He seems to have spent himself in prayer over the spiritual needs of the churches to whom he wrote. Jesus also taught us to pray for our material needs, entrusting them to the Father. But if you look at the Lord's prayer, only one line is devoted to this.

It seems to me that Scripture is teaching us somewhat of a progression of prayer. All analogies break down at some point, and I don't think we advance past praying for material needs in the same way that the writer to the Hebrews expected the readers to advance past the elementary truths. But surely we get to a point where our concerns mature along with our faith, and surely this should be reflected in our praying lives.

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Comment by Lynn Barbee on April 9, 2011 at 9:57am
I'll have to look for this book! I have often felt frustration at the prayer lists I see, not that there's anything wrong with the requests, but over 90% of them are for material things, mostly healing. The real issue is not building a prayer life as it is about building a relationship. As our relationship with God matures, our hearts begin to see the things that God sees. Please see my blog post about the same topic, along with mention of a good book by Jonathan Graf on the same subject.

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