“Zooming Out” in Prayer

Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary has a characteristically insightful piece on what she calls the “granularity of prayer.” She says she has a tendency to want to pray for incredibly specific things, and gives this hypothetical example:

Let’s say our car breaks down. It will cost $684 to fix it, but I don’t have the money, and I don’t have any way to get the money. My husband needs the car to get to work, so we must come up with the money immediately. Let’s think about the different levels of granularity at which I could pray about this. Here’s one extreme:

Lord, please send a man wearing a blue hat to arrive at my front door on Monday morning at 9:15 carrying $684 in cash, mostly in $20 bills.

That is an extremely specific prayer! Now, let’s move up a level:

Lord, please send me $684 on Monday.

Up a couple more levels:

Lord, please send enough money to cover the car repair, sometime before it negatively impacts my husband’s job.

Now, let’s move up so high that the car isn’t even necessarily part of the picture, and neither is my husband’s current job:

Lord, please let us continue to have the resources to meet our basic physical needs.

With each new prayer, she’s stepping back a little more, and a little more.  She does this by asking “why” to each prayer: why does she want the $684? why does she want her husband to be able to go to work, etc.  And she found that as she stepped further and further outward, she ended up with the prayer,

Lord, I just want you.

That’s a beautiful insight, and it’s perfect for my station in life right now.  As regular readers know, I passed the bar and am now officially an attorney, and am just trying to figure out where I am supposed to be working.  At first, I was praying very specific prayers of the “Lord, help me get this job” variety.  But I’ve been increasingly aware that left to my own devices, I could easily go in the wrong direction: a job which I hate, a job which undermines my moral values, a job God doesn’t want me to have.  It’d be easy to turn a specific job into something which I covet.  Instead, I’ve been working towards simply placing things in His hands, and asking what He wants me to do: what’ll draw me nearer to Him, what will be most pleasing, what’s the best use of the talents He gave me, etc.  It’s nice to see someone like Jen who’s further along this road, so I see where I need to be headed: even the prayers I’ve been praying have been centered on me, and what I’m supposed to be doing; I need to be working towards those prayers which are more fully centered on Him, and my desire to be nearer to Him.  Anyways, I’m a big fan of this spiritual insight, and I encourage you to read her entire post.


  1. It is very easy to be overly specific in our prayers. I think she hit the nail on the head when she said, “But I think that far too often my own prayers for very specific things have been motivated less by childlike trust and more by a desire for control.” I know that for myself, I worry so much about the immediate problem that I only expect Heavenly Father to answer it in a particular way. When He takes longer that I thought He would or He answers in an unexpected way, I begin to worry. However, He is very good (to say the least) at fulfilling my underlying request even when I’ve been over specific. Jen’s post was a wonderful reminder to consider how I communicate with the Lord.
    Ps. I hope we are still on for dinner this weekend.

  2. There’s danger the other way, too, of letting the prayers run into abstract angelism that doesn’t touch the actual concerns of life. . . .

    Perhaps the concerns need to be a subject of contrition for letting them obsess us, or a prayer for strength of bearing the cross of being continually plagued by minor matters, but sometimes in petition for the thing itself (if it be His will).

  3. Jennae, sounds good – and I love shrimp.

    Mary, I definitely agree. Jen actually addressed that a bit in her post, about how what’s needed is finding the appropriate level of “granularity,” as she put it. It just so happens that for me, that means zooming out. Probably wouldn’t have hurt to be more specific about that originally, but I’m glad you honed in on that.

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