The Vague Prayer Syndrome

The older I get, the harder it is for me to come up with a Christmas list, birthday list, and a Father’s Day list. I’m not sure why it’s so hard. Maybe it’s because I buy what I want? Could be that I know that it hurts the budget? Maybe it’s because I don’t want to make sure I ask for the best possible thing and I don’t feel like I have time to really think it through? I’m not sure. But it’s a challenge for me. And from talking with others, it’s a challenge for them.

Do you know who this isn’t a challenge for? Kids. When it is time for them to come up with a “gift list,” they have no problem at all. They know exactly what they want. They have no regard for the budget. None! They don’t think about whether or not it is “wise” for them to use their limited number of “presents” on that circled option in the magazine they keep showing you. Children know how to ask for stuff and they know how to ask with specificity.

Part of embracing a childlike identity involves embracing specificity. It means that we learn to get specific with prayer requests. And as easy as that sounds, I’ve found in my life and the lives of those I’ve helped learn to pray, that it is difficult. It takes a good deal of work to help people pray with specificity.

Why? Because most people suffer from what I call, the “VaguePrayerSyndrome.” The “VaguePrayerSyndrome” is where you only pray vague prayers. Those vague prayers are so vague that you would never really know if they were answered by God in any meaningful way. These prayers are general prayers that don’t create any expectancy for an answer or any excitement when they are answered.

As someone who still battles the “Vague Prayer Syndrome,” I know what it sounds like—“God be with us today…” Or, “Bless this food…” The great news is that God answered those requests with a “yes!” How do I know? Because he promised us in Scripture that he would “be with us” and “bless us.”

Do you ever pray prayers like this? Do you only pray like this?

It’s perfectly fine, of course, to pray these prayers. But when you learn to get specific with your prayer requests, God becomes real in your heart and life in a way that he never would without that specificity. And when he becomes real in your life, when you get a glimpse of him working specifically in your life, it changes you. Fearful people experience peace. Bored people find purpose. Frustrated people find patience. Empty people get filled. People reach goals that are beyond their abilities to bring about.

I’ve seen it over and over in my life and in the lives of the people around me. That’s why we say, “Specificity leads to visibility.” When we get specific, the invisible God becomes visible in our lives in a way that he wouldn’t without that specific request. How do you see the invisible God? Get specific with your requests.

Instead of just saying, “Make today go great,” say, “Cause someone to encourage me by the end of the day.” Or, in regards to that staffing effort at work, say, “provide a new employee this week that we know is the one.” Here are some other examples:

God, will you send someone to encourage me today?

God, will you make my encounter with ___________ encouraging tonight?

God, will you cause my parents to speak to me more kindly in the mornings this week?

God, will you make my boss affirm my work on this project this week?

God, will you make this physical ailment go away by Thursday?

When God answers those requests, you see God working in your life in ways that lift your heart out of the mess of the world. You start to really believe you have a Father in heaven that cares about you and your problems and plans. You start to awaken the childlike faith your heart was made for.

This is exactly what you see throughout the Bible. When you read the Psalms, you see them specifically praying that God would deliver them from specific fears, help them overcome a specific enemy, revive their soul, and more. The Israelites prayed for a specific deliverance from Egyptian oppression when they were slaves in Egypt. They prayed specifically for God to save them when they had their backs up against the Red Sea and an Egyptian military coming after them. Daniel specifically asked for deliverance from the Lion’s Den. Jonah prayed specifically for God to get him out of that fish’s stomach. Nehemiah prayed that God would help him build a specific wall. And the list could certainly go on. In all of these situations, they knew if God answered those prayers. And because they were specific with their prayers, when the invisible God answered their prayers, they “saw” him in a way that they wouldn’t have without that specificity. Their specificity led to visibility.

The same is true for us. When you are bold enough to pray specific prayers, you give God an opportunity to become visible—real—in your life, in a way, he wouldn’t without that specificity.

Ask God to work in specific ways, at specific times, and watch him work. Will he always give you a yes? Of course, not. But many times he will. And when he does, you’ll find that your sense of his presence in your life is greater than any prayer request he grants.

J. Coppenger

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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