Chapter Four: What is Prayer of Petition?
When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he encouraged them to begin with worship (“Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name”) and a focus on God’s will (“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”). But he also acknowledged that, at one time or another, they would have needs. And this is the reason that he also told them to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” So what is a prayer of petition?
A prayer of petition can be defined as the kind of prayers where “the persons praying humbly acknowledge their need and express themselves as trustfully depending on God to meet it out of his sovereign resources of wisdom and goodness.” This is the kind of prayer that recognizes both our poverty and God’s great riches. But even more, it highlights the grace of a God who desires to provide for us.
Meaning of Prayer of Petition
Any time we make a petition to God and ask for him to move or provide, we are engaging in a prayer of petition. This is not only one of the most common forms of prayer in our lives, it’s also one of the most common in the pages of scripture. Every time that a man or woman cries out for mercy, asks for healing, or prays for forgiveness, they are making a petition to God. And as you reflect on your own prayer life, you can probably best remember these kinds of prayers. These are the prayers that get clear answers. They’re the prayers that we tell others about. Petitions make up the bulk of our prayer lives.
With that said, you may be wondering, why didn’t we discuss the prayer of petition first, if it’s the most common? And I would respond by telling you that there’s a very good explanation for why we don’t begin with petitions.
Why Petitions Don’t Go First
As we’ve just noted a few lines ago, Jesus told his disciples to wait until they had first praised and oriented themselves toward God, his Kingdom, and his will before making any petition to God. As human beings, we are prone to focusing on ourselves. By beginning our prayers with praise, worship, and thanksgiving we get ourselves in the right frame of mind to petition God for the things that we need. Beginning with these acts of adoration reminds us of everything that God has already done for us. They help us to stay focused on the truly important things. They transform our petitions from selfish grabs for more stuff and more honor into God-honoring and God-focused requests.
This is why the prayer of petition doesn’t go first even if it does make up the bulk of our prayer lives. We learn this lesson from the Psalms where requests are almost always preceded by thanksgiving and worship. Consider Psalm 106 which begins with the words, “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD, or declare all his praise?” (Psalm 106:1-2).
Petition goes after praise
Only after lifting God’s name up, do we find any kind of petition. But after recognizing God for his goodness and love, the Psalmist goes on to pray, “Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them, that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance” (Psalm 106:4-5).
Petition follows praise. We’ve already noticed that Jesus follows this same pattern in the Lord’s Prayer. It’s a pattern that you’ll find again and again as you read the various prayers and psalms scattered throughout the Bible.
So, now that we understand why we lead with praise and thanksgiving, we should examine how the Bible teaches us to make petition to God.
Praying in Jesus’ Name
When teaching his disciples about prayer, Jesus said to them, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14 NASB). Because of these words, Christians have traditionally ended their prayers with the words, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” But making petitions “in [his] name” doesn’t mean that we simply end the prayer a particular way. This is prayer - communication with God - not a magic spell or incantation.
Praying in Jesus’ name means that we pray in his spirit and according to his will. This is why Jesus immediately follows the above words with the simple command, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Praying in Jesus’ name is intimately connected with living in obedient love for God and neighbor. After all, these are Jesus’ commandments. As he told his disciples elsewhere concerning these two commands to love God and neighbor, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).
Right motives for petition prayer
As a result of this, if we petition God out of hate or anger or bitterness, we’re not praying in the name of Jesus and shouldn’t expect to have our prayers answered. When we pray from wrong motives, God does not respond. James makes this fact clear in his letter when he writes, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Before we can truly pray in Jesus’ name, we must pray out of the same motives that he prayed. We must have the same attitude that he had when he petitioned God the Father and asked if he could avoid the cross. It was an attitude that was willing to say, “yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).
This is one of the reasons that many Christian traditions recommend prayers of confession before any prayer of petition. One might even argue that Jesus had this very idea in mind when he gave the disciples the Lord’s Prayer since he told them to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). As we examine ourselves and confess our faults, we prepare ourselves to ask God. To ask for the things that we truly need and not just for the things that we want.
Once we understand the gravity of praying in Jesus’ name and prepare ourselves accordingly, only then are we ready to offer a prayer of petition to the God who loves us and desires to provide for us.
Praying with Perseverance
It would be nice if prayer included a 24-hour guarantee - where all prayers were guaranteed to be answered positively within 24 hours. Unfortunately, prayers aren’t always answered so speedily. I once knew a woman who prayed for her husband’s salvation for nearly forty years before he finally placed his faith in Jesus and became a Christian. Forty years is a long time to pray for something. And yet, the Bible teaches us that we shouldn’t give up as we make our petitions. This is especially true if we know that they are in the will of God.
In fact, Jesus told his disciples several parables with the express purpose of encouraging them to pray with perseverance and hope. In Luke 18:1-5, Jesus told them about a widow who continually came to an unrighteous judge, asking for him to give her legal protections. He wouldn’t do it at first but as time went on, he finally gave in to her. And he did so, not because he was righteous but because she didn’t relent. Jesus then told the disciples that if an unrighteous judge will act because of the perseverance of a single widow, then certainly the righteous judge and king of the earth will move in response to the faith-filled prayers of his people.
God answers our petitions in His own way
With all of this said, we should recognize the fact that every request isn’t answered the way we might like. Paul prayed a prayer of petition three times, asking for the thorn in his flesh to be remove. But he was met with the simple words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Those probably weren’t the words Paul would have preferred to hear in the moment. But he continued to trust God and God used Paul’s trials to more fully form him into the image of Christ.
This is one of the most important things for us to remember: We are not God. We don’t know everything he knows. And because of this, he may allow things to happen that we don’t understand. He may allow petitions to go unanswered. But we can remember this: He is faithful. He loves us. And he “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Recommendations for fruitful prayer life
If we’ll keep these lessons in mind, they will help us to have a more fruitful and faithful prayer life. Beginning with praise, worship, and thanksgiving will put us in the right frame of mind to ask God for the things we need. We won’t merely pray in Jesus’ name with our words, we’ll do so with our entire lives. And we will persevere in our prayers, knowing that God desires to answer and provide. However, we’ll not become proud or demanding. Instead, we will make our prayers confidently but humbly, recognizing that God is far wiser than us and knows what we really need in each moment.
 Packer, J. I. (1993). Concise theology: a guide to historic Christian beliefs (p. 188). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.
Part 1:CHRISTIAN PRAYER – Ultimate Prayer Guide Part 1
Part 2.: WORSHIP AND PRAISE – Ultimate Prayer Guide Part 2
Part 3:THANKSGIVING PRAYER – Ultimate Prayer Guide Part 3
Part 5:BLESSING PRAYER – Ultimate Prayer Guide Part 5
Part 6:INTERCESSORY PRAYER – Ultimate Prayer Guide Part 6