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What should I pray for?

Unsplash/Ben White
Unsplash/Ben White

In 2010, my name was placed on many prayer lists as I battled a rare form of cancer. My friends and family, along with complete strangers, interceded on my behalf to ask God for healing; wisdom for my medical team; protection for the hearts and minds of my young children; and God’s comfort, peace, and strength through several months of treatment. As redeemed children of God, we have the privilege of coming to Him in prayer, whether for ourselves or others, amid a crisis like cancer or in the ordinary challenges of life in a fallen world.

The Westminster Larger Catechism defines prayer as “an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies” (WLC 178). In this definition, we learn that prayer involves confessing our sins and praising God for His goodness to us. Prayer also provides an opportunity to bring our requests to God, and that is the aspect of prayer we will focus on as we consider the question “What should I pray for?” Scripture guides and shapes our prayers by showing us how to pray for physical provision, spiritual blessings, and fruitfulness in good works for the glory of God.

Prayers for physical provision

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If you’ve had a loved one suffer from illness or watched your teen drive away on his own, you understand why prayers for physical health and safety often rise to the top of our prayer lists. These prayers feel pressing, and they’re also scriptural. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). We find prayers for physical safety in psalms such as Psalm 31Psalm 91, and Psalm 118. When we bring our physical needs — whether large or small — to the Lord, we acknowledge that He is the One who provides, protects, helps, and heals.

Prayers for spiritual blessings

I’m often tempted to run through my list of requests for safety, health, and protection, then close my prayer journal and move on with my day. However, as we look at the intercessory prayers in God’s Word, we discover an emphasis on spiritual blessings and sanctification.

Our Savior models this type of prayer for us along with the petition for our daily bread:

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:12–13).

Following His example, we pray for forgiveness, a heart of mercy that extends forgiveness to others, and deliverance from temptation.

The Apostle Paul often prayed for the spiritual needs of others. He prayed for wisdom, hope, strength, love, faith, confidence in the Lord, spiritual understanding, endurance, discernment, purity, sanctification, and comfort (see Eph. 1:15–22Eph. 3:14–19Col. 1:9–11Phil. 1:9–111 Thess. 5:232 Thess. 2:16–17).

These prayers of Paul serve as wonderful examples for us to follow as we pray for ourselves and others. The spiritual blessings God gives to us in Christ equip us with the hope we need to persevere through all circumstances (Rom. 15:13).

Prayers for fruitfulness and good works

Paul’s prayers also asked God to increase the fruitfulness of the work he was doing for the Lord. Paul’s letters demonstrate that his primary concern was the spread of the Gospel and the advancement of God’s Kingdom. He asked the Thessalonians to “pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thess. 3:1).

We see prayers for the fruitfulness of others in his letters as well. He prays that the Colossians would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). He prays for the fruit of righteousness for the Philippians and that God would establish the good work of the Thessalonians (Phil. 1:112 Thess. 2:17).

When we pray for fruitfulness for ourselves and others, it reminds us that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Persevering in prayer

At times, we may grow discouraged when it feels like God isn’t answering our prayers. We may struggle to understand how our prayers make a difference if God is sovereign and His will always comes to pass.

In those moments, we find encouragement in God’s Word. Psalm 62:8 exhorts us to find refuge in the Lord through prayer:

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

2 Corinthians 1:11 teaches us that we help others by praying for them. We’re commanded to pray without ceasing, knowing that because God is sovereign, He hears our prayers and answers according to His perfect will (Rom. 12:12Col. 4:2–31 John 5:14–15).

Those who have been united to Christ by faith can draw near to the Father’s throne of grace with prayers and petitions (Heb. 4:16). Prayer leads to praise, as God receives the glory and thanks for the ways He provides. Let’s not forsake the privilege to find our refuge in our sovereign, faithful God by bringing our requests humbly before Him.

This article was first published in Tabletalk, the Bible study magazine of Ligonier Ministries. Find out more at or subscribe today at

Marissa Henley is an event speaker and writing coach. She is author of Loving Your Friend through Cancer and writes regularly at

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