Sometimes, I don’t know what to pray for. James 1:5 tells us wisdom is always a good idea. But what does that mean, exactly, in practical, everyday life?
Probably a lot of things, but here are three prayers I prayed during college and what happened because of them. They’re kind of terrifying, but I highly recommend them.
1. Pray that God will reveal your sin to you.
This took me until sophomore year to get up the courage to try. Because, you see, I like to think I’m perfect sometimes. So really, there’s nothing in my life I need to work on, right?
Wrong. So wrong. Once I prayed this prayer, I started noticing my hidden attitude problems, from my desire to always be right to the fact that I didn’t really listen to others—I just waited to talk. Suddenly, I had a very long list of things to work on.
But I also have a God who specializes in helping out with those long lists, and shows grace when I mess up. That’s a pretty important thing to note when praying this particular prayer to avoid either despairing because of your pathetic, miserable status, or of shifting into legalism overdrive to fix all the problems yourself.
It’s not fun to realize there are parts of you that are disgusting and terrible, kind of like cleaning out the back corners of the fridge and discovering a year’s worth of mold growing in a cottage cheese container. But to get rid of the messes, you have to be aware of them first.
2. Pray to become three things that you are not.
Junior year, I prayed nearly every day that God would make me gracious, wise, and strong, because those are not things I naturally see in myself.
After that, I saw variations on those traits everywhere in the Bible. 2 Timothy 1:7 says we’ve been given a spirit of power (strength), love (graciousness) and self-control (wisdom). Micah 6:8 says the Lord requires three things of us: to do justice (strength), love kindness (graciousness), and walk humbly with your God (wisdom). And so on. It was pretty cool.
Honestly, these things are always going to be areas I’m working on. I’m not there yet. But sometimes, repeating something like this reminds you of what really matters. God is extremely interested in who I’m becoming. Sometimes I forget to care about that, consumed with what I’m doing instead—all of the daily choices and stresses and accomplishments and annoyances of everyday life, which, really, aren’t all that significant in the scheme of things.
What are three areas you’d like to see growth in your life? Write them down, and pray that God would help you develop them.
3. Pray for increased emotional capacity.
During senior year, I learned about this thing called a “monkeysphere.” According to Urban Dictionary, it’s “The limited capacity of primates to conceptualize others as distinct and relevant individuals (from an article on Cracked.com). Studies suggest that for humans this limit is about 150 people, and those outside the monkeysphere are not really considered people at all, but one-dimensional bit characters.”
Basically, it means our inability to be able to treat every individual we meet as an actual person because of sheer numbers. It’s the reason I cry when a family friend dies, but not when I hear about a death on the evening news. It’s what makes us able to fight in wars, read about the Holocaust, and delete people from our Facebook friends list without feeling overwhelming sadness. More positively, it’s also what allows us to make deep relationships with a few good friends.
I knew that during my senior year, when I would be tempted to pull away from people, I actually wanted to increase my monkeysphere. I wanted to hear about people’s struggles and really care, make friends with an entire dorm, and be fully present at the youth groups I help with.
And I also knew that was impossible, because I have a limited emotional capacity.
So I asked God to enlarge my monkeysphere for me. Looking back, I can totally see how that prayer was answered. It was one of those quiet little miracles that most people wouldn’t notice from the outside.
In the weeks leading up to graduation, a few people have asked me what I’ve learned. I would start with these three things. Because they taught me that when we pray, and especially when we pray for growth in ways that can be hard, God answers.