Learning to Pray for What You Want

This week I’m preparing to preach at Church of the Resurrection in Flower Mound. I’m excited to be with this community, they have been an extremely kind and generous partner to Holy Trinity McKinney, our church plant here in Texas. It seems serendipitous or even better, providential that not only did Resurrection’s rector, my friend Brian invite me to preach right as I was arranging our July schedule of visiting other parishes but also because their summer preaching theme is, Praying the Psalm, PERFECT!

So I’m currently preparing my sermon entitled, Learning to Pray For What You Want; Some thoughts on the Soul, Shame, and Salvation in Psalm 25.

I won’t share my entire sermon here, I’ll post a link to the audio as soon as they put it up! But I do want to share a few things I’m noodling on as I prepare for Sunday.

Learning to Pray for What You Want

On the surface, yes, we need to pray for what we want and we do need to learn to do that. Many well-meaning Christians shy away from praying for what they want because they think it’s ungodly, selfish, or simply too petty for God to care about their everyday, ordinary desires. As Christian’s, we need a deeper understanding of God’s care for our everyday, ordinary life. Maybe to start, we need an increasing awareness of God's abiding presence! God is always and already near and If the creator and sustainer of all things, both deeply cares for our ordinary life and is always, lovingly present to us, whether we acknowledge it or not, it then seems fitting that we would bring any and all our wants and desires, from little to big, to him in prayer. The secret, which isn’t really a secret, is that God already knows about all these desires. We know this, of course, but we often live like we can hide or shield or save God from our petty or unholy wants. Nope, that's not how it works! However, you should be ready to not always get what you want, thank The Rolling Stones for the reminder. And, we should be prepared to have our wants changed by God in the process of prayer!

This is the other angle of “learning to pray for what we want.” We need to learn to pray to want the right thing. We need to not only pray for our requests, our desires, but we need to pray for our desires themselves. Praying that our desires are in line with the heart of God and the will of God.

The reality is that our wanters are broken (I believe that's a Dallas Willard phrase). Our desires are out of order. These disordered desires have historically been an essential aspect of theological reflection and spiritual reflection. We have wanted things more than the one that created those things; we put the goods of creation above the God who created them. Our desires, the things we want, have a tendency to grow legs and run wild in our heart and minds. Therefore, we need to learn to pray for what we want! Or you might say, we need to pray for our desires to be rightly ordered and the grace to want the right things at the right time, while always wanting God above all things.

This prayer of self-dedication from the BCP articulates this well…

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Or the Collect for Purity we prayer ever week might even be better…

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I might say, "so control our wills and our wants" or “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts and the desires of our soul…” but who am I to add to perfectly good prayers! We need to pray this prayer and prayers like it!
Here are some great ones from the new ACNA Book of Common prayer. Skip ahead to page 646 for the prayers for various occasions.

We need to learn to pray for what we want!

Psalm 25 cries out for God’s protection from shame and to be led into the way of truth and salvation. However, the first thing the psalmist does is to offer up his soul to God. The soul in the Old Testament is all about desire, hunger and thirst, this place where we have been created needy and vulnerable and continually found wanting. This soul, this needy and wanting life then is the first thing the psalmist offers up to God in prayer.

The good news of God throughout the biblical narrative is that the eternal God is the eternal answer to our wants and desires. Or as Jesus puts it; “those who drink of the water I give them will never thirst again.” (John 4:13) We seek temporal solutions for our desires and find temporal and temporary satisfaction at best. When we pray for our desires, when we pray to want the right thing not just anything that might temporarily satiate our hunger and thirst, we are then seeking the eternal solution. This solution is what enables Paul to say, “I have learned the secret to being content (or satisfied) whatever the circumstances might be… whether having plenty or being in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12)

In the end, learning to pray for what we want is an exercise in asking God to conform our desires to his and ultimately praying to be formed in such a way that we don’t simply want the right things but we want the one who provides us with all things that are beautiful, true, and good.

My prayer for us this week is that we learn to begin to pray for what we want. And I don’t know about you, but often I find myself praying and pleading with God, “Help me to want to want the right things. Help me to want to will the one thing. Help me God to want, to desire you!”