How Do I Know What to Pray?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

I am so overwhelmed. Why doesn’t God meet my needs? I pray and pray, and He doesn’t seem to hear or care. Am I praying for the right things?  When I went to church, my pastor talked about the difference between God’s perfect will, God’s will, and God’s permissive will. I’m really confused. How do I know what my needs really are? How do I know what I’m supposed to ask for? If I get it wrong, is that why I don’t hear from God? Give me some insight about how to be certain that I am asking for real needs and not just my wishes.


Dear Angela,

The best way to sort God’s will, needs, and wants is by following the biblical principle of gazing and glancing.

We gaze at God’s face and glance at our needs.

When we gaze at God’s face and glance at His hand in our lives, we will have the right relationship and understanding of God. If we reverse our gaze and glance, staring at our needs and only briefly glancing at God, our spiritual lives deteriorate rather quickly.

Consider Peter in Matthew 14:25-30:

“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’

‘Come,’ He said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”

Peter walked successfully on the waters of the sea of Galilee by gazing intently at Jesus and glancing occasionally at the waves. However, when he reversed his gaze and glance, he screamed, “Lord, save me!” as he sank beneath the waves. All was well until he reversed his gaze and glance.

Let’s give Peter some credit. It takes real faith to step out of the boat and into the sea.

But then, there were roller-coaster waves. Peter took his gaze off of Jesus. Instead, he gazed at his circumstances—and he sank. In verse 31, Matthew writes: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ He said, ‘Why did you doubt?'”

Then, Peter reversed his gaze and glance and walked the rest of the way to Jesus.

Perhaps you have lost your job, your spouse, or your health. It’s hard to keep eyes on Jesus. Do you question God’s care? You will survive as long as you get your eyes back on Jesus—like Peter.

Bad Things Happen When We Shift Our Gaze from God to Our Needs

1. Reversing Gaze and Glance Allows Circumstances to Dictate Our View of God.

Oswald Chambers wrote: “If we only look at our needs we will get in a huff with God when He doesn’t give us what we want.”

What if our need is more money, and we measure God’s love by how He meets that need? Suppose we receive $500. We think, “God brings a little bit, so God loves me a little bit.” But suppose we receive $10,000. We think, “God loves me a lot!” This is a lie that goes directly against scriptural truth.

Many couples can’t have children—often for a medical reason. This was an issue in the Old Testament. They believed that barrenness was a curse from God. Today, we know it is not a curse; however it is a deep, painful disappointment.

A couple in our church couldn’t have children, so I prayed with them for her to get pregnant. Six months later, they shared the good news: she was with child! I was so impressed! My prayer really worked. My prayers had power!

Soon after, they moved away. The couple returned several years later with twins! I was so excited to see the fruit of my prayers. When I mentioned that prayer to the parents, they confessed, “We didn’t want to tell you, but after you prayed, we went to a fertility clinic, and it worked so well, we had twins.”

Perhaps you have prayed for a healthy baby. If you have one, you say, “Yea! God loves me!” If you have twins, you say, “God must really love me!”

But what if you have an unhealthy baby? You cry, “Maybe God doesn’t love me after all!”

When we focus on our circumstances, we have a distorted view of God.

2. Reversing Gaze and Glance Assumes that We Know Our Needs Better than God Does

Most of us have little idea what our needs really are.

I knew a man who needed a car. When I prayed for him, God said, “Stay out of this. Don’t give him the money. His finances are a disaster—he’s not following biblical economics. He’s wasting My money. I need to teach him a lesson.”

Perhaps you have prayed for a wayward child. Maybe God’s answer is to bring that child to repentance through tough love.

Remember, God is more passionately interested in taking care of you than you are.

Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

3. Reversing Gaze and Glance Opens Our Lives to Satanic Deception

Satan can provide counterfeit answers to prayer to ruin our view of God and distort our relationship with Him. We need to learn to see the face of God before we seek His hand. If we only see His hand, we can be deceived and led astray by the enemy. Satan distorts prayer in many ways.

Heather was teenager with good morals and values. She got involved with a boy who had a bad reputation. Her parents knew he was not good for her.

Her mom said, “Pray about it and see what God says.”

Heather prayed, “God, if Rich calls by 7:00 tonight, I’ll know it is your will for me to date him.”

Satan got involved. “I will answer that prayer!” Rich called at 6:59! Satan prompted the call. Now Heather operated under the assumption that this was God’s will, but God never had a thing to do with it. When Heather got pregnant, she said, “God what have you done to me?”

We have a distorted view of God because our prayers are so need-based and crisis-oriented. Gazing at our needs first leaves us open to Satanic deception.

4. Reversing Gaze and Glance Means That Our Sins Are Hard to See

God will not answer the prayers of Christians who are harboring sin in their lives.

David wrote in Psalm 66:16-18“Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 59:2“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”

Invisible sins are always more damaging to God and to us than visible sins. If we only seek the hand of God, we will never see those sins. But if we seek the face of God, our sins will be revealed, ready to be confessed and forgiven.

We can never sin so much that God won’t hear the prayer of repentance.

Remember the promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

5. Reversing Gaze and Glance Is Idol Worship

An idol is whatever man conceives in his mind to meet his needs without turning to God.

Crisis-praying is the least effective praying we can do. When we are in crisis, we are in the worst position to see our problems from God’s perspective.

I wanted to God to answer my prayer about relocating our church. I prayed for Him to help us sell our current site to a big box store so we could finance the church’s move to a much larger site. The neighborhood around our church was in an uproar. They protested the sale and won.

How could God thwart my prayer? God had a much better solution. But the church had become my idol. I wanted to grow it my way.

Learning to Transition from the Here and Now to the Eternal Is the Holy Art of Prayer

Philippians 3:10-11 gives us the biblical motivation that will sustain us in prayer: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul also reminds us of God’s purpose in Galatians 4:19, teaching, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

When I seek only the hand of God and not the face of God, then my gaze and glance are reversed. If I am only interested in moving a mountain and not knowing the Mountain Mover, then my gaze and glance are reversed.

Get the point? Paul’s prayers are concerned with maturing the inner spirit where God lives. That’s how to pray. That’s how to truly know God and find peace and contentment.

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