"We do not know what we ought to pray for..." Romans 8:26
If ever there was an understatement about my prayer life, this is it. This may be a shocking confession for a pastor to make but I sometimes go into lockdown when I start to pray. It's not that I don't know how. I've been doing it since I was old enough to remember beginning with the familiar "Now I lay me down to sleep..." It's more about not knowing what to pray.
I think I really got a jolt back when I was in college. I remember being challenged to pray for some of the weaknesses in my character by one of my mentors. So, I began the spring of my freshman year to pray for patience--something I've never had an abundant supply of. I prayed with all my heart that God would begin to produce patience in me. Rather than the magical "poof" and the overnight change that I expected, God sent me to California for the summer to spend 10 weeks teaching children in a day camp. Talk about developing patience...boy, did I ever. It wasn't the way I expected but it definitely re-shaped me the way I had desired.
Then, it happened again while I was in Texas attending seminary. I was praying about some selfish thoughts and habits that I had. I knew that they did not honor God so I simply asked that he would make me more selfless, a servant for others. Within two weeks I met the woman I would eventually fall in love with and marry. Nothing will teach you about serving others more than true love. And God had done it again. Changing my heart in ways that I didn't expect but that were exactly what I prayed.
So, be careful what you pray. You never know how God will answer...but He WILL answer. It may come as an overnight supply. Or, it may come as a trip to another state. It may come in the form of a new person God brings in your life...or, in some cases, takes out of your life. I had always prayed for a better prayer life and a stronger faith. The loss of my wife and son brought me both. As always, I tell you that I do not believe that God caused that accident. But in His omniscience (that's a fancy word for His ability to know all things), God carried me through that great tragedy AND answered a prayer that I had prayed.
Don't know what to pray? Don't worry. The rest of that verse says this: "...but the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Just keep believing that God hears every prayer and that He cares deeply for what your needs are...in a way our words cannot express.