Prayer Must Be Specific
‘‘What do you want me to do for you?’’ Jesus asked him. Mark 10:51
The blind man had been crying out over and over, ‘‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’’ The cry reached the ear of the Lord, who knew what the man wanted, and Jesus was ready to give it to him. But first Jesus asks, ‘‘ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ’’ Jesus wants to hear from the man’s own lips not only the general petition for mercy but also the distinct expression of his desire. Until he declares it, he is not healed.
There are still many to whom the Lord puts the same question, and who cannot, until it has been answered, get the help they seek. Our prayers must not be a vague appeal to His mercy or an indefinite cry for blessing, but the distinct expression of a specific need. It is not that Jesus’ loving heart does not understand our cry or is not ready to hear, but He desires that we be specific for our own good. Prayer that is specific teaches us to know our own needs better. To find out what our greatest need is demands time, thought, and self-scrutiny. To find out whether our desires are honest and real, and whether we are ready to persevere in them, we are put to the test. It leads us also to discern whether our desires conform to God’s Word and whether we really believe that we will receive the things we ask. It helps us to wait for a definite answer and to be aware of it when it comes.
And yet how much of our prayer is vague and pointless. Some cry for mercy without saying why they need mercy. Others ask to be delivered from sin but do not begin by naming any sin from which deliverance may be claimed. Still others pray for God’s blessing on those around them, for the outpouring of God’s Spirit on their land or the world, and yet do not pinpoint a particular spot where they will wait and expect to see God answer. To all of us, the Lord asks, ‘‘What is it you really want and expect me to do?’’
Every Christian has only limited powers, and as he must have his own special field of labor in which he works, so his prayers encompass a particular group too. Each believer has his own circle, his family, his friends, and his neighbors. If he were to take one or more of these by name, he would find that this really brings him into the training school of faith and leads to personal and pointed dealing with God. When in such specific matters we have in faith claimed and received answers, then our more general prayers will be believing and effective.
Just as anyone who has hunted wild game knows that firing into the woods does not bring down the target, so in prayer we must have a target, an aim, and then fire upon it directly to see results.
As long as we just pour out our hearts in a multitude of prayer requests without taking time to see whether each one is sent with the purpose and expectation of getting an answer, not many will reach the mark. But if in silence of soul we bow before the Lord and ask ourselves some questions—‘‘ What do I really want? Am I asking for it in faith, expecting to receive an answer? Am I ready to place the thing in the Father’s keeping and leave it there? Is it settled between God and me that I will receive an answer?’’—we will learn to pray in a way that generates faith and expectation and ultimately receives concrete answers.
This is one reason why the Lord warns us against the vain repetitions of the Gentiles, who think they will be heard because they pray so much. We often hear prayers of great earnestness and fervor, in which myriad petitions are poured forth, but to which the Savior would undoubtedly answer, ‘‘What do you want me to do for you?’’
In a foreign land on business for my father, I would certainly write two different types of letters. There would be family letters, affectionate and newsy, and there would be business letters, containing orders or requests for what I needed sent or done. And there might be letters combining both types of news. The answers would correspond to the letters. To every question and subject of the letters containing the family news, I would not expect a specific answer. But for each business request I made, I would be confident of an answer and expect a desired article would be forwarded to me or a particular request be taken care of at home. This business element must also be present in our dealings with God. Along with our expression of need and sin, of love and faith and consecration, there must be a pointed statement of what we are asking and what we expect to receive. The Father loves to show us His approval and acceptance by His particular answers.
But the word of the Master teaches us more. He is not only saying, ‘‘What do you want?’’ but ‘‘What do you will ?’’ One often wants something without willing it. I want to have a certain item but I find the price too high, so I resolve not to buy it. I want but do not will to have it. The sluggard wants to be rich but does not will it. Many a person wants to be saved but is lost because he does not will it. The will rules the whole heart and life. If I really will to have anything that is within my reach, I do not rest until I have it. So when Jesus asks us, ‘‘What will you have?’’ He is asking whether we purpose to have what we ask at any price no matter how great the sacrifice. Do we so will to have our request that even though He delays the answer for a long time we will not rest until He hears and answers us? It is sad that many prayers are merely wishes, sent up for a short time and then forgotten, or sent up year after year as a matter of duty, while we remain content without the answer.
You may ask, ‘‘But is it not best to make our wishes known to God and then let Him decide what is best, without seeking to assert our will?’’ By no means! This is the very essence of the prayer of faith to which Jesus sought to train His disciples: One does not only make known one’s desire and then leave the decision to God. That would be a prayer of submission for those cases in which we cannot know God’s will. But the prayer of faith, finding God’s will in some promise of the Word, pleads for that until it is given. In Matthew 9:28, we read that Jesus asked the blind man, ‘‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’’ Here in Mark 10:51 He asks, ‘‘What do you want me to do for you?’’ In both cases He said that faith had saved them (see Matthew 9:29; Mark 10:52). So He said to the Syrophenician woman, ‘‘Great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire’’ (Matthew 15:28 NKJV). Faith is nothing but the purpose of the will resting on God’s Word and saying, ‘‘I must have this.’’ To believe truly is to will firmly.
But does such a will contradict our dependence on God and our submission to Him? By no means! Rather, it is true submission that honors God. It is only when the child has yielded his own will in entire surrender to the Father that he receives from the Father liberty and power to will what he would have. But when the will of God as revealed through the Word and Spirit has been accepted by the believer as his will too, then the will of God is that His child should use this renewed will in His service. The will is the highest power in the soul. Grace wants above everything to sanctify and restore this will—one of the chief traits of God’s image—to full and free exercise. As a son who only lives for his father’s will is trusted by the father with his business, so God speaks to His child in all honesty: ‘‘What do you want?’’ Often spiritual sloth under the guise of humility professes to have no will because it fears the trouble of searching out the will of God or the struggle of claiming it in faith when found. True humility is always coupled with strong faith, which only seeks to know the will of God, and then boldly claims fulfillment of the promise ‘‘Ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you’’ (John 15:7).
Lord Jesus, teach me to pray with all my heart and strength so clearly that there may be no doubt as to what I have asked. May I know what it is that I desire so that when my petitions are recorded in heaven, I can record them on earth too, and note each answer when it comes. And may my faith in what your Word has promised be so clear that the Spirit may indeed work in me the liberty to will that it come to pass. Lord, renew, strengthen, and sanctify wholly my will for the work of effective prayer.
Blessed Savior, reveal to me the wonderful condescension you show us by asking us to say what it is we want you to do, and promising to do whatever it is we choose. Son of God, I cannot understand it. I can only believe that you have indeed redeemed us wholly for yourself and are seeking to make our will your most efficient servant. Lord, I yield my will unreservedly to you as the power through which your Spirit is to rule my whole being. Let Him take possession of it, lead it into the truth of your promises, and make it so strong in prayer that I may hear you say, ‘‘Great is your faith. Be it unto you even as you will.’’ Amen.