How to not pray like a Gentile

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and study about different spiritual disciplines, or different practices that help us grow in relationship to God.  I have found some practices that I really enjoy and that help me to draw closer to God but others are more difficult for me and less rewarding.  But I ran across some advice the other day that has really been troubling me.  It said “Start your prayer with a request for what you need from God today.  Get yourself filled up first so that you can pour out for others.”

Theoretically I get it and partially agree.  You cannot pour into others if you are not full of the peace and presence of God.  Spending time every day (yes every day) to reconnect and find rest in our Creator is the faithful work of a follower of Christ.  But should we really start our prayers with requests about what we need?

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

~Matthew 6: 7-8

Is it really my top priority in my intentional time with God to ask Him for things?  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for things we need I’m just questioning whether or not we have to pray for that first.  Should our prayers start with the list of things we need?  What does that say about how we feel about God?  Is He just a supernatural Santa Clause there to give us what we ask for?

And while I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray for the things we need but I definitely think we have some issues knowing what we need.  A lot of the things we think we need are really just wants (see previous post).  If we pray for things we think we need before we ever ask God what it is He thinks we need we are missing out on an essential part of our relationship with God, namely, trust.  Trusting that God will provide what we actually need is foundational to our faith in and relationship with God.

Last weekend I got to spend an evening with sister and her family, including my one year old nephew, J.  Little J loves to talk but he doesn’t actually speak English yet so when he needs stuff he just sort of shouts and mimes things.  I have no idea what he needs although I try to guess.  But his mom and dad always know what he needs and they make sure he gets it.  Not only that sometimes when he asks for things in his baby language they know what he is asking for but they also know it’s not good for him…and they don’t let him have it.  Because they love and know him so intimately they know what he needs without him having to form any fancy phrases (or even simple ones) to ask for it.  And no matter how loud he gets, if something is bad for him they love him too much to give it to him.  Because providing for needs and discerning needs from destructive wants is what good parents do.  And our God is a great Father/Mother.

“Pray then in this way:  Our Father in heaven,  hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.”

~Matthew 6: 9-13

I think it’s critically important for us to start our prayers recognizing that God is holy and that as His children it is our desire for His will, not ours, to be done.  We start with silence and let God tell us what we need and trust that He will give us what we need to survive and serve that day.  Not necessarily a feast because sometimes what we need is a fast.  Sometimes we need plenty and sometimes we need to abstain.

So today don’t assume you know what you need because you don’t know what you will face today.  Don’t worry about fancy phrases or getting it just right.  Be humble.  Be sincere.  Be open.  Start your prayers the way Jesus taught us by asking for God’s will first and trusting Him to provide your daily bread.



I didn’t ask for that.


I remember very vividly the moment I fell in love with my nephew. I was sitting in worship on Sunday morning at the 11am service. We were still finishing up construction so we were in the gym and I was on the far right closest to the kitchen, always a distracting place to sit. It was children’s time and Pastor Pam called all the kiddos up to hear the children’s message. As the kids ran up, some of them laughing and some of them looking pretty nervous about leaving mom and dad behind, I realized that one day in the near future I would see my nephew (or niece we didn’t know yet) run up there. I started thinking about all the wonderful things this new little person would get to try and do and the joy he would bring to every part of our family life. And I cried. Not an ugly cry or anything. Tears of joy.

My nephew was born on May 20, 2013 almost exactly 9 months to the day that my sister and her husband were married. So you see he wasn’t exactly planned. I had the extreme privilege of being on the phone with my sister when she realized she was pregnant and it was both a beautiful and scary moment. Were they ready? This wasn’t the plan. But there was a joy, even in that scary moment of something new and unexpected, that came from the certain knowledge that this was a wonderful surprise. I’ll never forget the first moment I saw him and fell in love with him all over again. He was very unhappy but still so adorable (a quality he retains to this day).

We didn’t know to pray for a miracle like little baby J. We had no way of knowing how to ask for all the blessings he has brought our family. He’s an answer to a prayer none of us knew we had been praying.

There are things in this life that we long for. We pray for them daily, maybe even hourly, asking and pleading with God to hear our prayer and answer it. Sometimes we pray this way for years without ever hearing from the Father. There are people who long for children that never come. People who pray for healing that doesn’t happen. Prayers for relationships that don’t get better and don’t last. We pray for the things we want to see God do in our lives and the lives of those we love. And sometimes it feels like he doesn’t hear us. I have been there and it is agony.

But I have seen the other side of this as well. I have seen God answer prayers I never prayed but would have and should have if only I had known the words.

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.
Romans 8: 26

I don’t know what’s on your heart or even how God is moving in your life. I don’t know what pain you are in because of unanswered prayers. But I know that God is moving in your life. I know that God does hear your prayers. He never sleeps, never drifts far away. Say what you need to say to Him, even if it is how hurt and alone you feel. If you cannot believe that He is near or that He hears you that is ok. I will believe it for you and pray and hope that one day you will know it too.

It is good to serve a God who answers prayers we don’t know we are praying. A God who blesses us in ways we can’t foresee or think to ask for. A God who sees us and loves us. There are things in my life that I want to have or happen. But all I have to do is look at my nephew to remember that His plan is so much better than mine. It may feel scary terrifying or heartbreaking. And yet when I have surrendered and trusted (and yes, waited…sometimes what felt like forever because I am not a patient person) I have found that the blessings that God has for me are so much bigger and better than any that I could have imagined. Those blessings answer the prayer I didn’t know I was praying.

May you see God at work in your life today and may you know the joy of an answer to a prayer you didn’t know you were praying.