2) State Your Petition
Prayer starts with praise of God’s character and then it clearly states the petition. Jesus taught us to be specific about our need in prayer, so state your problem.
After praising our Lord for who is and recognizing who we are approaching in prayer, it is appropriate to state our petition, in the same manner Jesus specified, “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12).
When we are specific about our petition, God can be specific about His answer. When we are clear about our need, it is easier to recognize God’s specific leading in meeting that need.
Prayer is intentional about its petition. Petition means to make a request, a desire, or a want known. The word petition may bring to mind an image of collecting signatures as a petition to be submitted to the authorities in order that a circumstance or situation can be changed or reversed. It is a very purposeful activity.
Prayer asks God for very specific requests. It is to simply state, in prayer, what the burden and need of your heart is. James 4:2 says, “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” The tragedy of today’s prayer movement is not unanswered prayers, but un-offered prayers! It is so simple that it is overlooked – our Heavenly Father wants us to bring our petitions to Him!
James 4:3 goes on to say that when we do ask, we “ask, and receive not because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lust.” In other words, the answer may be only as right as the asking!
Asking is the Key
Jesus teaches us to use the word ‘give.’ He is saying that we should not hold back from asking God. If you are a parent, you may be able to relate with me regarding two types of situations that personally annoy me: 1) when my children ask me for something in an improper, whining, or demanding manner; and 2) when they will not tell me what they really want!
It pains me when in those instances they either feel they cannot trust me or think that I cannot do anything about it. I imagine that our Heavenly Father must feel something similar – hurt that we will not trust him or allow him to do something about our need. Jesus is saying, tell God what you want!
God is the source of all things. He is the Creator God. He is the Giving God. He is the Living God. He is the only God! “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” -James 1:17.
We can approach the God of Heaven with our petition because He desires us to approach Him. Remember that He is our Heavenly Father. If we as human fathers desire our children to approach us, how much more does God desire His children to approach Him!
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” -Hebrews 4:16.
God will not manipulate. God will not force you to change, or to receive, or to be someone you will not. Scriptures teach us in 1 John 4:16 that God is “agape” love. His love is an unconditional love. He does not love us because of anything we can offer Him. He loves us despite of us!
He will not manipulate us into asking of Him, but His love assures us of His desire that we make our petitions known to Him. Jeremiah wrote, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.” -Jeremiah 31:3.
Our Daily Needs
Jesus teaches us the difference between needs and wants. Bread is a basic staple food. It represents a basic essential need. Jesus didn’t pray our daily steak, but our daily bread.
God desires that we come to Him with our petitions. He desires that we also think through our petition. Again, think about this through the parental perspective that Jesus gave us.
If your 7-year-old wakes up hungry and she approaches you asking for chocolate covered mocha ice cream for breakfast, how are you going to respond? On the other hand if your 7-year-old wakes up hungry, and she comes to you asking for a warm bowl of oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, now how are you going to respond?
God is teaching us to petition Him for the essentials in our lives. Now I believe that God does care and works in behalf of the small things in our life, too. However, in the model prayer of Jesus it is the essentials of the physical and spiritual that Jesus addresses.
God cares about meeting our physical needs. The Bible says this, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” -3 John 2.
God cares about meeting our spiritual needs. Just as we said bread is the basic essential of food, so we can say that forgiveness is the basic essential of faith. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteous.”
Jesus assures us that God does forgive us, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” -Matthew 6:14-15
If you want a specific answer, you must follow the example of Jesus and make a specific petition. There are times in our lives when we may not be able to be specific about our true need.
However, we should be as specific as possible, even if it is just asking for guidance or for open doors to your next step.
David Jeremiah, a church pastor and a popular Bible teacher explains it this way… “How often have we prayed something like, “O Lord, be with cousin Billy now in a special way”? Have we stopped to consider what it is we’re requesting? Imagine that you are a parent who is preparing to leave your children with a babysitter. Would you dream of saying, “O Betsy, I ask you now that you would be with my children in a special way? No way. You would say, “Betsy, the kids need to be in bed by 9 pm. They can have one snack before their baths, and please make sure they finish their homework. You can reach us at this number if there’s any problem. Any questions before we go?” We are very specific with our requests and instructions for our babysitters. We want them to know specifics. It should be no different with prayer.”
How Prayer Works
When Jesus taught “give us this day our daily bread” he illustrated a forgotten truth about prayer. Jesus did not teach that we are to bow our heads with open hands, palms up, awaiting the arrival from heaven of a fresh loaf of bread. No, Jesus showed by His prayer that we are to view prayer as an activity. Prayer is not passive it is active.
This is made clear when we consider the gift of manna to the Israelites in the desert wondering. “Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.” -Exodus 16:4.
The lesson is daily prayer with daily requests for a daily need. The need was supplied from above, gathered by the people, and the opportunity was therein to give God the glory.
Today, we pray for the ability to earn the wages that will pay for the bread, which we purchase from the grocery store to take home to feed our family. And we give God the glory for answering prayer!
We pray, we expect, we move forward, and we receive the answer. We ask, claim, and receive. We pray and do what we are able and through faith we rely on Him for what we cannot do ourselves.
Jesus had his own three step way of explaining it: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. -Matthew 7:7-8
Prayer is the combination of divine power with human effort. Prayer is not necessarily easy. It is not biblically sanctioned magic. God is not an ecclesiastical Santa Clause whose job it is to respond to every church member’s whim and whine. Prayer is God’s gift of spiritual discipline that allows us to partake in His divine work.
Praying in Plurals
Prayer is not an inward activity as much as it is an outward action. The principle of petition, as Jesus taught, is to think and consider the needs of others. It is to pray in ‘plurals’.
The Old Testament prophet Samuel considered it a sin to not pray for other people! Samuel said, “Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way…” -1 Samuel 12:23.
Biblical prayer is prayer that has a heart for other people. Christians who discover the joy of prayer are Christians who freely share the blessings of prayer with others. They join with others in prayer, they offer to pray for others, and they pray in ‘plurals’ when they do pray!
Intercessory prayer builds bridges for God’s divine power. It calls on God’s intervention into the lives of the recipients and moves the intercessor into action on behalf of others. It is difficult to pray “Lord, please provide food my neighbor” and not respond to the unction of the Spirit to carry a bag of groceries over to their door.
If you are a pastor wishing your flock would be more active in outreach, do not try to scold them into getting off the pews, inspire them into getting on their knees!
Ask them to make a stewardship pledge – not of financial fulfillment, but of the practice of prayer on behalf of others! Who will commit to pray for the salvation of a lost friend or family member? When they begin to engage God in prayer on their neighbors’ behalf, God will inspire them to action on His behalf!
Prayer is a Ministry
Prayer demands our action. Not that the text says, do it or else, but that it is very hard for a believer to be selfish and it is even harder to be selfish in prayer!
There is a great insight in Acts 6:2-4, when the apostles ask for the selection of deacons to assume the task of the hands-on operation of the church, when they declared “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (ESV).
Now there are several applications in this passage that I could draw inspiration on, but my point here is that these men, the twelve apostles, had the attitude that prayer was indeed a ministry that required priority.
Summary of the Principle Petition
Having paused in praise, your heart is now prepared to present your petition to your Father God. Like a child who approaches his Dad’s pant legs with a rightful awe and respecting spirit. Prayer is not the art of demanding. It is not to be patterned after a Christmas wish list. Prayer is approaching the throne of God and seeking His glory in your life and the world around you. Prayer is asking with the right spirit, for the right things, and in behalf of the right people.