2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2-3)
For What Are You Asking?
You won’t see specific answers when your requests are so vague. Do you ask for anything outside of what God’s good character already provides?
Me: God, be with Sally today.
God: I already am. I’m omnipresent and promised never to leave you or forsake you.
Me: Lord, bless the Smith family.
God: They are blessed. They woke up breathing today and ate breakfast. They have clothing and shelter. Is there anything else you’re thinking about?
A great example of specific prayer is in Mark 10:46-52. Let me summarize it: a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside in Jericho. When he heard that Jesus was walking by, he cries out twice: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.
Jesus called Bartimaeus over to him and asked this question, which could greatly change your prayer life: What do you want me to do for you?
Do you see how Jesus pushed Bartimaeus beyond vagueness to specificity? Have mercy on me is not a bad prayer, but Jesus could have easily said: I already am merciful: you’re not in the pits of hell suffering for your sin right now. Instead, you’re still on this earth.
Specific prayer forces you to consider your situation and fine-tune your request to God’s will. It forces you to consider the desires of your heart and align them with God’s will.
Look how Bartimaeus fine-tuned his request: Rabbi, let me recover my sight. Now we see what mercy really meant to him. This request must have been in line with God’s will because he healed Bartimaeus, resulting in others praising God (Luke 18:43).
Tips for Praying Specifically
- Consider Jesus’ question: What do you want me to do for you? Don’t be tempted into selfishness (James 4:3 is clear about our motive), but let it push you beyond vagueness.
- Keep a prayer journal of specific requests, and then record specific answers. I keep a black Word notebook in my back right pocket so I can write down requests as I think of them or are asked to pray. Looking back over what you were praying and how God has been answering prayer will help you fine-tune your requests to His will.