How many of you have wished someone good thoughts and prayers? Who has almost flippantly asked or offered prayer? Who has forgotten to pray? I know I can attest to doing all of the above.
I believe in prayer. Revelations 5:8 identifies that our prayers are an incense for God. We are to pray unceasingly, continually filling the throne-room with the sweet perfume of our worship and supplication. I imagine a loving father with drawn eyes and elevated chin just soaking in the aroma of our many prayers. Even better, I envision his joy as he passionately exhales and powerfully fulfills each prayer with his breath.
But I also believe that empty prayers are less aromatic. In Matthew, Jesus encourages the blind men who call out to him, to ask specifically.
As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
"Have mercy on us!" is a pretty general request. I'm confident that Jesus knew where they were going with their request, he knows everything, but he wanted them to ask specifically. The only reason I can think of is that there would be no question that their prayers were answered. And also, I guess, that they determine what was most important for them.
When we ask people to pray with no specificity, two things are lost. We miss the opportunity to allow Jesus to be glorified and we miss the opportunity to humble ourselves.
When there is no doubt as to what the request is, there is no doubt when it has been answered. When you pray for God to "help" someone, are you ever really sure if or how they have been "helped"? But if you pray for God to provide work, even a specific job, then you know that it was God when they got the job, and he can be glorified. This is true for us as well. When someone is ill or dies, often we tell people to call us if they need anything, and then we never hear from them. It's difficult for us to know how to help when we aren't sure of the need. But when you ask them what they need specifically and provide it, you know that their need has been met. It's just good practice to ask specifically.
It's important too, that we humble ourselves in prayer. When we make a general prayer, we don't necessarily dig deep inside ourselves or into the situation. They are often fluffy prayers. When we pray specifically, we are forced to look deep inside ourselves and see things we may prefer to avoid. But this is how we grow. We also grow by identifying and sharing these specific things with others. We are designed to be relational, and opening up to people about what is really going on in our lives is both freeing and bonding.
So may I encourage you to fill that heavenly throne-room with the holy fragrance of your unambiguous prayer, bond together, and honour Jesus.