“I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.” Mark 11:24
“…but you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.”
Prayers of Supplication
Prayers of supplication, also called prayers of petition, are when we come to God and ask Him for something. When we ask for something on behalf of others, it’s called a prayer of intercession. And it seems like a simple enough process. We all know how to ask for something we want.
But the area of praying to God for something seems to create more problems than any other type of prayer. Some of the issues we’ve seen discussed and debated are:
- God already knows what you need; you don’t need to ask Him.
- By asking for something, you’re admitting a lack in your life and God has promised to provide for all your needs.
- If your prayer isn’t answered, it means you lack faith…or there’s too much sin in your life…or you didn’t ask properly.
- You only need to ask God once. If you ask more than once, you lack faith and insult God.
- You need to repeat your requests—God rewards persistence.
And so it goes.
All of these statements are supported in scripture, in one way or another. But usually that “support” involves pulling a verse or two out of the Bible instead of trying to understand the complete message that’s being expressed. Then that verse or two is held up as the definitive, final word and often a “rule” develops around it.
We believe there’s a larger, broader, and more inclusive way to look at prayers of supplication that’s firmly based in the Bible. It doesn’t involve snipping out verses that agree with us and it doesn’t involve putting ourselves in God’s place, to pronounce what He will or won’t do, what He does or does not like.
First of all, the Bible is full of prayers of supplication. In fact, the Hebrew and Greek words for prayer mean “request” and “petition.”
Second, we have the example and the teachings of Jesus himself. In helping us form a close, personal relationship with God, he encourages us to ask for things, just as children ask their parents. He goes even farther, telling us “…everyone who asks, receives…” (Matthew 7:8) and “…how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.” (Matthew 7:11)
So it seems clear that going to God with our requests is something we are supposed to do. That doesn’t mean, however, that God takes on the role of Santa, looking at our list, deciding who’s worthy, and then—as the cliché goes—granting, denying, or telling us to wait.
Our requests can range from the lofty and spiritual—like praying for world peace and that everyone’s hearts would be transformed with love—to the very commonplace—like praying for the end of a nagging headache. We believe God is as concerned about the daily details of our earthly lives as He is about our eternal relationship with Him. So we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that there is anything too small or too petty for us to take to God. Jesus makes that clear.
At the same time, coming to God with our requests, great and small, must take place within a larger framework. That framework, also made clear by Jesus, is faith.
Having faith in God is one of the major recurring themes driven home by Jesus in the gospels. Great faith was rewarded with miracles. The apostles were often scolded when they showed a lack of faith. Indeed, Jesus said that with enough faith, we could move a mountain simply by saying so. “Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)
This is probably a good time to bring up the subject of “unanswered” prayer. It doesn’t come up in prayers of praise, thanksgiving or confession. Unanswered usually means we asked God for something: asked for something to happen or we asked for something not to happen and that request did not appear to be granted. All too often, we are made to feel like the problem was we prayed without enough faith. So in addition to our disappointment—or worse—we are saddled with guilt for not having enough faith.
Jesus did say we could move mountains with enough faith. But he never said prayers would be denied unless a certain threshold of faith was reached. There is unmistakable mystery in the entirety of God’s will. Even Jesus didn’t have all the answers. (Matthew 24:36) So no one can presume to understand why certain events happen or do not happen, why some requests appear to be granted and some do not. But this much is clear: Jesus was encouraging faith, not using it as a hammer to punish.
Sure, there are things that stand in the way of effective prayer: selfishness, unforgiveness, doubt, greed, pride, stubbornness, sin, to name a few. But these are not the reason prayers are not answered. Otherwise, none of us would ever have a prayer request granted because we’re all selfish, unforgiving, etc. These things stand in the way of prayer because they stand in the way of our relationship with God.
The plain fact is, not all of our requests will be granted. Jesus asked for the cup to be taken from him in the Garden of Gethsemane and it was not. He asked three times, and each time he deferred to the will of God. We should pray with the same understanding.
One interesting concept to consider is "prayer bowls." They are probably more spiritual than material, but they seem play a role in releasing God's power here on earth. Mentioned in Revelation 5:8 and again in Revelation 8:15, it appears that the bowls must be filled before they are tipped to release God's power. Filled with our prayers.
How else to explain a woman being healed of an ovarian cyst after 30 days of prayer, another in a coma becoming fully conscious after a year of prayer over them, and a man finally accepting Jesus after 63 years of prayer. (See Dutch Sheets' The Beginner's Guide to Intercession.)
It's apparent, then, that prayer doesn't go unanswered as much as it's abandoned before an answer comes. Our belief is that ALL prayer that isn't contrary to God's will can be answered, in His time. And perhaps when those prayer bowls are adequately filled. We just need to stick with the prayers. Which is another way of showing faith.
So the bottom line is ASK! And don’t be afraid to keep asking if the request is still on your heart. As we said, Jesus asked three times to have the cup taken from him. And he told the story of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) and the friend asking for bread. (Luke 11:5-13) Ask with sincerity. Ask with honesty. Most of all, ask with faith. Faith that your heavenly Father is always acting in your best interests, no matter how it may appear.
If faith was one of the major themes in Jesus’ ministry, love was THE major theme, over and above all the rest.
The greatest commandment of all? “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
Equally important? “…’Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:39)
And, of course, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1Corinthians 13:13) Prayers of intercession—praying for someone else—are a way to love others.
Again, Jesus is our example. He is the ultimate intercessor, dying for us and continuing to plead for us in heaven. (Romans 8:34) We have been granted his authority to plead on behalf of others. Consider it our sacred obligation as Christians.
And when we pray for others, it is in partnership with Jesus. When he says to “pray in my name,” the Aramaic idiom he is using means to pray in his manner, to pray with his understanding. It’s more than a phrase to add at the end of each prayer. It reminds us to pray with the faith Jesus had, with the assurance he had, and with the understanding of the role of God’s will in our prayers.
Without this understanding, we could slip into praying by “formula,” saying all the “right” words in the “right” order. Ask the seven sons of Sceva about using the words without the understanding. (Acts 19:13-16) Not only was their prayer not answered, they had to flee, naked and battered, from an evil spirit.
Prayers of intercession are often in the form of corporate prayer. For instance, an entire congregation may pray for the health of a member. Prayer chains are similar, where a prayer request is prayed for and then passed on to the next member in a network of individuals. Both are ways of getting more people involved and adding more power to a specific request.
Can God’s will be changed by prayer? There are examples of it happening in the Bible. We are not puppets. God created us as beings with free will. Which means it’s possible to have an authentic dialogue with God. There are no guarantees, of course, but it never hurts to ask. And if one hundred people ask? Or a thousand…?
One other point about prayers of intercession. There are people who are particularly gifted when it comes to praying for others. They often know a prayer request before the request is made. They have insights which could only have come from God. For some who are extremely gifted, intercession becomes their ministry.
That doesn’t mean the rest of us should allow our own efforts at intercession to be hindered. Prayers of intercession do not belong only to the members of a “special Club.” They belong to all of us. Again, consider them your sacred obligation as a Christian and as a partner of Christ.
One important point to remember: God loves us for who we are, not what we do. We need to do the same--love God for Who He is, not what He does.
Are there specific instructions for prayers of supplication? Despite what others may claim, we could find none beyond the advice Jesus gave, especially with what we call the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9-13)
The most common style for prayers of supplication is conversational. It just comes naturally, as if we were talking to a friend. Or a parent. That’s what Jesus was doing when he instructed his disciples.
In a church setting, there are sometimes formal prayers of supplication, usually concerning a general request that would apply to everyone. It’s also possible to use devotional prayer as supplication, depending on the passage of scripture or other writing that was chosen. A few verses on faith, for instance, as a way of asking for deeper faith. Similarly, prayer walking often involves intercession on behalf of an area or the people within an area being walked. Spontaneous prayers of supplication are certainly possible. Meditative prayer, on the other hand, being wordless by nature, doesn’t really lend itself to supplication.
In summary, in prayers of supplication, we present God with our requests from our heart. And He responds—always—by presenting His will, also to our heart. We can have complete faith that will happen. And we thank God for it.
Go to Meditative Prayer