It is no surprise that human beings have a tendency to be selfish and self-centered in their prayers—to “ask amiss,” as James 4:3 puts it. But as we saw in the last chapter, God will not honor such prayers, and that is only right.
The Bible doesn’t merely tell us, however, that improper prayers will not be answered. It also gives us clear instruction in what people and things we should pray for. An old Southern preacher once said, “There are two basic kinds of prayer: shotgun prayers and rifle prayers. When you pray shotgun prayers, you just pray in some general direction, hoping you’ll hit a target. With the rifle prayers, you take careful aim and shoot, knowing you have a specific target in mind, and knowing that your prayers will accomplish their desired end.”
So if we want to pray and receive answers to our prayers, we must give proper attention to this very important matter of, “targeting our prayers,” so as to prevent the possibility of praying amiss.
For Whom Should We Pray?
Not necessarily in exact order of importance (for they are all important), there are a number of people and groups of people for whom we should be concerned enough to pray.
- We should pray for our families. These people are our prime responsibility. We cannot, we dare not, overlook them. We must pray for our parents. We should pray for our children. We should pray for other relatives who are living with us. We should pray for those who are miles away, either in schools or jobs.
Abraham prayed for his family. He prayed that his wife would bear him a son. He prayed that God would supply a sacrifice in Isaac’s stead. In fact, one of the prime reasons God chose Abraham to be the leader of his nation was because, “I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD” (Gen. 18:19). God chose Abraham because He knew he would assume spiritual leadership of his family.
- We should pray for the salvation of all people everywhere. “I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Tim. 2:1).
John Knox prayed, “God, give me Scotland.” David Livingstone prayed, “Give me Africa.”
Hudson Taylor prayed, “Give me China.” All of these men had visions that went beyond their own limited borders. But perhaps John Wesley’s encompassed them all, including his own, when he declared, “The world is my parish!”
If “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) for that world, then we ought to pray for that world. God said, “Ask of Me, and I will give You / The nations for Your inheritance, / And the ends of the earth for Your possession” (Ps. 2:8).
- We should pray for our own city. Though Jonah was not native to Nineveh, the city became “his” when “the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me’” (Jon. 1:1-2).
When Jonah eventually did as God commanded, multiplied thousands turned to God—all because one man obeyed the voice of God that spoke to him as he prayed.
Jesus prayed for Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt: 23:37).
Have you wept over your city? Have you prayed that your city’s inhabitants would turn to the living God? Praying for our city is certainly within the scope of the plan that Jesus had in mind when He said, “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8). Personalize these words of Jesus by substituting the name of your own town or city.
- Pray for your nation. Certainly America has become a great nation because of theprayers of those early settlers of our country. Even from the outset, the discovery of our land can be attributed to our heavenly Father. Christopher Columbus gave credit to God for directing him to this New World. In his logbook he wrote, “It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel his hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies.” He went on to say, “There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous inspiration from the Holy Scriptures.”
Read any of the Old Testament prophets, and see how they yearned for their people, Israel, to return to God. In our own time, if ever a country needed prayer, America does. We should make it a matter of urgency to pray for our churches and schools, for our mothers and fathers, for our children. Pray that the children will be protected against the sin that is rampant in the schools and colleges. Have you been praying for your country?
- We should pray for protection from adversaries. Jacob did:“Deliver me, I pray, from thehand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children” (Gen. 32:11).
Moses prayed for victory over Israel’s enemies. King David prayed for victory in the many battles he fought. We should pray for our great land. Pray that our land will have peace within its borders. Pray that our young men will not have to go to war. Pray that we will be protected against threatened nuclear holocaust.
- We should pray for the workers in Christ’s service. Many joke about the “soft”lifeministers, evangelists, and missionaries have. My friend, please don’t be guilty of such joking at the expense of your servants for Jesus’ sake. I know of no more grueling, demanding service than that for our King. God is not a hard taskmaster, but those who are in earnest about the Kingdom realize that their task can never be finished.
Often these great men and women work too hard, for too many long hours, and literally burn themselves out for the gospel. And why do they do it? Because there is no one to stand in the gap to help them.
Pray for your pastors. Pray for your evangelists. Pray for your missionaries. Pray for your church officers. Pray for your Sunday school teachers. Pray that more help will come so that they can more effective1y share the good news. “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (Matt. 9:37-38). Pray for all who are involved in spreading the gospel of the Kingdom. Help them carry their tremendous load.
- We should pray for the leaders of our land. “Prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks,[should] be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
If ever a man needed someone to pray for him, our president does. Even though he has some of the very best counsel possible to obtain, and even though he delegates thousands of important decisions, the really big decisions are his alone. President Harry Truman said it well when he stated, “The buck stops here.” Pray for our president.
Pray also for judges and other law-making and law-enforcing bodies and individuals. Pray for governors, mayors of cities, and legislators. Pray daily for these and other individuals in authority by name. We can change our nation by our prayers.
For What Should We Pray
We have many biblical examples of what God’s people have prayed for. Perhaps by taking a closer look at these godly people and their effective prayers, we can get an idea of the wide spectrum of things and situations for which they prayed and thus generate more faith to receive for our own praying. The list is long and varied, but in these few pages the following illustrations will provide a sort of spot check to show us the kinds of prayers that God has answered for His people.
- You can pray for the physical needs of life. For example, water is an absolute necessityof life. People can live a lot longer without food than they can without water. And when the people of Israel followed Moses out of Egypt and into the Sinai desert, they faced several sit-uations where they did not have water fit to drink. On such occasions, Moses took the problem to God. We see one of these in Exodus 15, where the people came to a place of bitter, undrinkable water and Moses “cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and when he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet” (v. 25).
God doesn’t always do miracles in response to the physical needs of His people, but He promises to provide for them one way or another if we seek first His kingdom (see Matt. 6:33), and He invites us to pray about them.
- As King Hezekiah did, you can pray for physical healing. This incident, too, was covered in a previous chapter. The king was very ill and God had told him he was about to die. But King Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed. When he did, God said, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. / And I will add to your days fifteen years” (2 Kings 20:5-6).
Our all-powerful Lord is able to heal any ailment, and He invites you to pray for the health needs of yourself and others in accordance with His Word and will.
- You can pray that God will assist you in your family affairs. Zacharias, the priest, and hiswife, both of them elderly, desired a child. So they prayed and an angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard” (Luke 1:13). I personally know of a number of couples in a similar situation, some of them young, and some older, who have asked God for a child, and He has given them one.
- You can pray for demons to depart. Jesus did.“For He said to him,‘Come out of theman, unclean spirit!’ Then He asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many’” (Mark 5:8-9). God answered Jesus’ prayer, and He will do the same for us when we pray it with the same authority and power.
Many people are fearful of casting out demons. But it’s not difficult. All you have to do is to say, “Lord Jesus, You are the captain of my salvation. And You have all power. You’ve got more power than this demon. So, in Your name, I command that demon to depart and this person to be set free!” If you are living for God in every dimension of your life, you can pray such a prayer in confidence in a loud voice, and the demon will have to go.
- You can pray that God will send spiritual assistance. Cornelius was a Roman armyofficer who was seeking God. When Peter came to him in response to a vision, Cornelius said to him, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and
behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard’” (Acts 10:30-31).
I know of numerous occasions when God heard the cry of a hungry heart by sending spiritual assistance. If you are crying out to God, be assured that He will send someone to you who will be able to show you the way to Him.
- No matter what your need, you can call upon God. When David was a shepherd boy, heoften spoke to the Lord as he herded his sheep. And even later, when he became king, he continued to bring his needs to his heavenly Father: “I waited patiently for the LORD; / And He inclined to me, / And heard my cry” (Ps. 40:1).
No matter who you are; no matter what your need; no matter if your concern is for yourself, another person, or a situation, God’s Word plainly shows us that He will always meet the needs of His children. He said, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts [spiritual thirst], / Come to the waters; / And you who have no money [spiritually bankrupt], / Come, buy and eat. / Yes, come, buy wine and milk / Without money and without price [I will provide for you, God is saying.]” (Isa. 55:1). He also said, “Seek the LORD while He may be found, / Call upon Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6).
Come to Him. Thrust yourself into His loving arms. He will show you how to pray, for whom and for what to pray, and He will satisfy the longing in your heart.