What to Pray About

(The following article was written in early March 2020 and is scheduled for publication on May 3rd, 2020, at the Cedar Park Church of Christ. RTS, age 14)

Quite often in my Christian walk, I struggle to come up with things to pray about without saying the same things over and over.  When I say the same things a lot, it becomes “routine,” and I begin to lose focus.  I know I’m not alone, so I figured this was a good opportunity to teach myself and others at the same time.  It can be tempting to stop praying altogether when we become bored listening to our own prayers.  Fortunately, the Bible is full of ideas for improving our prayer lives.

But wait – does that mean it’s wrong to pray repetitious prayers?  Well… yes and no.  The Bible is pretty specific about that.  In Luke 18:1-8, we find a parable in which Jesus teaches about a woman who was very persistent, and then in Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus Himself prays three times in a row that God would not require the crucifixion that He knew was imminent.  However, in Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus also warns about praying vainly with empty words like the Gentiles did.  So, we see that our prayers can repeat the same things over and over, but only if done in the right way with a sincere and humble heart.  With that in mind, what SHOULD we be praying for?

First and foremost, we should be praising and thanking God!  The song Count Your Blessings comes to mind (a feat none of us can actually attain!), and of course, a wonderful example of praise can be found in the 8th Psalm:

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Next, we should confess our sins and our anxieties.  Lay them all out for God, asking for forgiveness or help as appropriate.  This humbles us and causes us to rely on God’s mercy and grace. (1 John 1:9, Proverbs 28:13, 1 Peter 5:6-7, Mark 9:24)

There are many situations and people we should be praying for.  Some are specific to our lives today (like a family member with a medical need), and some are generic to everyone (like government).  1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” It doesn’t matter who is in charge and whether or not we agree with their decisions.  We still must pray that God’s will be done through the actions of our government so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.

We should pray about other churches. A perfect example of this is in 1 Thess. 1:2, where Paul states: We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, In fact, each time Paul writes a letter to a church, he mentions that he has been praying for them! Not only should we pray for other congregations, but we should pray for those who are teaching and leading them so that they will be brought to a better understanding of God’s word and be able to spread the Gospel to more people. This is especially true for congregations like those in China where all the members are women, or churches that don’t have anyone qualified to lead as elders.

There are SO many other things to pray about. Some of these things have specific scriptures linked to them, while others are simply general principles. Unfortunately, I don’t have the space to discuss them in depth, but here are a few to consider:

  • Wisdom (James 1:5)
  • Forgiveness (Psalm 6)
  • Healing (James 5:13-15)
  • Safety (Psalm 140:4)
  • Go through the informer/ directory
  • Visualize those who sit within two rows of your seat
  • The lost, whether never baptized or they’ve fallen away.
  • Your teachers/mentors
  • Your parents
  • Your children
  • The elders
  • Men we support
  • Engaged couples or newlyweds
  • The military
  • New converts
  • Peace of mind (Phil 4:4-7)
  • Important decisions
  • Widows and orphans
  • Ability, wisdom, and opportunity to teach others the Gospel

Ultimately, there are many, many people and things that someone can pray about. In fact, more ideas can come from reading through prayer hymns in our songbook. All you must do is start praying and keep it up.  Form habits and routines, and perhaps even keep a prayer journal, as you consider one last scripture, 1 Thess. 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Because there is always something more to pray about (again!).

The Decision Spectrum

(The following article was published at the Cedar Park Church of Christ on October 14th, 2018. -RTS)

The decision whether to follow God or not is the single most important decision one will ever make.  The Bible gives us countless examples of people’s decisions regarding obedience to God and what became of them because of their decisions.  As with any other type of decision people make, there are a spectrum of answers to be had.  Let’s look at the ways that some Biblical examples have responded to God’s call of obedience and how we continue to respond even today:

NO – Some people respond to God by simply refusing to trust Him or to believe Him.  In the book of Exodus, Pharaoh was given many chances to obey God by allowing the Israelites to leave captivity.  Time after time, he refused until the death of the firstborns changed his mind.  That wasn’t the end of it, though.  When he let the people go, he didn’t do it from a heart of obedience, but a heart of frustration.  He later regretted the decision and chased after the multitude.  This decision resulted in even more death, because the Egyptian soldiers were swallowed up by the Red Sea after the Israelites had crossed safely on dry land.

In the New Testament, we are told that even the demons believe and tremble, yet they refuse to obey (James 2:19).  In Acts 7, when Stephen was preaching to those who opposed him, they hardened their hearts against the word of the Lord, and they stoned Stephen to death.  Disobedience ALWAYS results in death, whether physical or spiritual.  In James 1:15, we read, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”  Clearly “no” is always the wrong answer.

YES, BUT MY WAY – While most people agree that no means no, there are a wide variety of “yes” answers.  Each of us has our own will, and each of us desires to do things in our own way.  Looking first at the Old Testament, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:1-2) As a result of their perverted obedience, God sent fire from heaven to take their lives.  In 1 Samuel 13, Saul also offered a sacrifice in an unauthorized way, because he did not wait for Samuel the priest as he was instructed to do.  Only priests could offer sacrifices to God.  Because of this, the kingdom was ripped away from Saul and given to David.  God requires obedience in His own way.

Looking at the churches of Asia in Revelation 3, Sardis was told in verse 1 that they looked alive to those who saw them, but God knew on the inside they were dead.  In verse 16, Laodicea was rejected because they were neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm.  Neither of these churches fully obeyed by doing God’s will with the right attitude.  “My way” is the selfish way.  God’s way is the only way.

YES, BUT MAYBE LATER“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Prov 27:1) “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

Our lives are filled with people, things, events, expectations, and worries that distract us from the will of God.  If we allow procrastination to rule our thoughts, there will never be a “good” time to obey.  The problem with procrastination is that we tend to forget to come back to whatever it was that we put aside.  We forget about God!

Moses made excuses to God in Exodus 3 hoping God would ask someone else to do the task, the Athenians in Acts 17 said of the gospel, “We will hear you again about this,” and Agrippa in Acts 26 said, “You almost persuade me to be a Christian.”  Each pushed aside the words which God wanted them to take to heart.

In the words of the song penned by Philip Bliss, “Almost cannot avail, Almost is but to fail! Sad, sad, that bitter wail, Almost, but lost!” We have no guarantee of tomorrow.  God told the rich fool in Luke 12 that his life would be required of him on the very night that everything was going perfectly for him.  He had seen so much success, and he saw nothing but more on the horizon.  God had other plans.

YES! – God requires obedience immediately, and He also requires it to be done with the right attitude.  When Abraham was told to leave his home in Genesis 12, he did.  In Isaiah 6:8, God said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah replied, “Here I am! Send me.” In Acts 2, as Peter and the others spoke to the multitudes who had gathered, some were “pricked in their hearts” and obeyed immediately.  While Philip was teaching the Eunuch in Acts 8, the Eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” There was no hesitation.  They stopped the chariot, and he was immediately baptized.

What was the result each time a “no” or “partial” yes was given?  Ultimately, death and destruction.  Look at the “yes” responses, though.  They always led to blessings.  We have been blessed with the opportunity to live eternally in an unimaginable paradise.  Do you truly WANT to do ALL that the Lord requires you to do so that you can live there?  It’s your decision!

-Ben Smith