I was meeting with a dear friend recently, and I end our times together by asking what I should pray for him over the next few months. He told me the first thing that came to mind, I gave him a look he knows all too well, and he replied, “Yeah, that’s not specific enough, is it?”
Like Pavlov’s dogs, I have apparently trained him to think about very specific prayers when he’s around me. I almost always ask, “Can we make that more specific?” Or, “What are you really hoping for out of that?” Or, “How will you know when God is blessing you in this or showing you a different path?” Now that I think about it, that might be a little annoying…
Praying With Specificity
I was chatting with my brother (Chris) recently, and he was getting ready for his gig as a humorous speaker at a Christian men’s conference (shameless cross-promotion by linking to his site). So I asked him how I could pray for his upcoming speaking engagement:
Chris: Any prayer that has the phrase “hit it out of the park” will be fine.
Cody: Ah, but how will you know if you hit it out of the park or not?
Chris: Hmm…I guess if tons of people come up to me the next day and tell me something they got out of my talk.
Cody: What’s “tons of people?”
Chris: If I’m being honest, I’d take one.
Cody: All right! I will pray for at least one guy to come up to you the next day and tell you something they got out of your talk.
Chris: Can I add in a request that they get their church to book me for speaking gig, too?!?!
Did you notice how digging deeper honed his prayer request and also revealed one of his values: that people find his talk useful, not just funny? Would your prayer requests benefit from getting more specific?
I like to run the SMART test on my prayers just as I do with all my goals. A prayer is SMART (link to article) if it is…
- Specific – What do I truly want to happen?
- Measurable – How will I know if/when God answers?
- Attainable – Has God shown in Scripture that he might say “yes” to a prayer like mine?
- Relevant – Does this matter to me and to God?
- Time-Bounded – Am I giving God time to work on his own schedule? Am I committing a tangible amount of my own time to this prayer?
What Does Scripture Say?
And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. – 1 John 5:14-15 (NLT)
If you read this passage carefully, you’ll notice that it makes a distinction between asking for what pleases God and what doesn’t. That’s Relevant. It also acknowledges that God always hears our requests and often answers them – God is listening so it might be Attainable.
The best SMART prayer in all the Bible, however, is found in Joshua 10:12-14:
On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (NIV)
Notice he didn’t pray just for God to make them victorious. He wanted victory that day, he needed light to do it, so he just made a small request for the Lord of the Universe to pause the sun. Unfortunately, it looks like God was only willing to do that once and Joshua already called dibs.
- Specific prayers help you see what you truly want to happen
- Measurable prayers help you see God’s response
- Attainable prayers are similar to requests God has granted elsewhere in Scripture
- Relevant prayers are in line with God’s heart and your own (so God wants to say “yes”)
- Time-Bounded prayers give God time to work on his (probably slower than you want) schedule while also committing yourself to the task
- What are some specific prayers you have prayed?
- How can you take a generic prayer and make it SMARTer?
- Will you be bold enough to ask people to be more specific when they ask you to pray for them?