Prayer: How Do I Know What To Pray For

Should we pray for things that are within our control or that we can accomplish ourselves (e.g. working harder, being more patient, or being more disciplined)?

Thank you.

Justin A.

Dear Justin,

Many years ago, a South African immigrant to America (Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s mother, to be specific) asked a friend to pick up some strawberry jelly for her at the store. When the friend delivered the requested jars of jelly, the immigrant was confused. She was actually asking for a Jello-type dessert mix, but in America jelly means something quite different.

Among the words prone to misunderstanding, prayer ranks rather high. We are often exposed to the idea of praying to God as children, yet what exactly we are doing needs constant refinement and growing awareness as we mature.

In ancient Jewish wisdom, prayer is made up of three components: recognizing and praising God; making requests; and acknowledging and thanking God for what we have. Unfortunately, some of us confuse prayer with begging. As we explained in our chapter on the Hebrew word for prayer in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language,

“Begging is an act of self-centeredness: I have a need so I am asking you to take care of my need. You are only a facilitator for what I want. Unlike begging, prayer requires us to find a way to emerge from our self-centeredness.”

You are correctly recognizing that prayer is the opposite of begging. Anything is possible with your effort and God’s help. You are absolutely correct that lying in bed until 10 in the morning while praying to God for economic success would be ridiculous. It is harder to see but equally ridiculous to think that our hard work will automatically define our success. Nothing is completely in our control. We need to both ask God to bless our endeavors and also to take action and work on ourselves. The two go together; they are not an either/or choice.

You can and certainly should ask God to help you overcome impatience, laziness, meanness, or any other character flaw. At the same time, you need to create and implement a plan that will move you in the right direction. When you are successful even in a small way, thank God for giving you the strength to do what you needed to do and give yourself a pat on the back as well.


Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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12 thoughts on “Prayer: How Do I Know What To Pray For”

  1. Thank you for this great reminder of what prayer should be all about – taking the focus off self. Very much appreciated! I have never forgot something I learned about prayer in my youth group (a long way back). When you pray you should use the acronym ACTS – which is Adoration – worship directed to God, Confessing – coming humbly before God recognizing our sins (shortcomings); Thanksgiving – recalling just how blessed with really are) and lastly Supplication – asking/looking to God for your needs. I think this is basically what you said with the addition of the confession part.
    Wishing many blessings to you both.

  2. I always gain valuable and meaningful insights everytime I read Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s and Mrs. Lapin’s writings. Thank you!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you very much Filemon-
      Good to hear from you and we both appreciate your kind words

  3. Quoting my youth pastor Clay Houston from way back when:
    “Don’t let your prayers become putting all your begs in one ask-it.”

  4. James 1:5-6 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering,. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. KJV 1769

  5. Brian F. Tucker

    Dear Rabbi,
    Thanks again for your thought provoking insights. I recently heard another preacher on TCT explain it some what differently but with the same theme (for want of a better word). That is that we can’t just pray for what we want. We must also recognize that he is in control. It’s his plan and his power. He sometimes lets us go our own foolish way just to bring us back to him. I pray every day just to be able to get done what I have to do. Never the less his will be done. Amen.

  6. Boom ! Just what I needed for today, words of wisdom.

    My mentor in business taught me ‘Pray like everything depends on God , work like everything depends on you & watch how the two come together and work out for you!’

  7. I find your program to be sound, based on Heavenly Father’s word and very helpful. I watch no other religious programs because they are based on the thoughts of greedy, powerful preachers. I am not Jewish, but i do recognize a humble servant of the Father. Thank you. Sincerely Berlin Templar

  8. I think I would go a little further in this. Many times in my life I have been faced with decisions that would be life changing. At those times I have prayed and asked God to give me wisdom and discernment in the decision making process. Sometimes the weighing is like a cost benefit analysis. Am I looking at all the right factors? Am I weighing them properly, in the sense that my final decision will not only be to my benefit in a personal or financial sense, but will it serve to draw me closer in relationship to my Lord. One such decision faced me very shortly after my mother’s sudden death. I was offered an opportunity to take a job with another agency with a promotion and a substantial increase in pay. For most people accepting the new job would have been a no brainer. But I prayed and asked the Lord to guide me. In doing so, I realized that the new job was not for me. I was dealing with my own grief as well as an elderly grieving father. I had to make numerous sudden trips to my home town to deal with my father’s issues. I would not have been able to juggle the responsibilities of a new job along with the various family issues. On the other hand, the people I worked with were wonderful. They knew me and extended much grace to me until I was able to get my family issues resolved and get back on a more even keel.

  9. My how much we have lost through the years.

    Prayer is not to ‘convince’ God to bend to our will, but to help us know Him so we bend to His.

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