Spiritual Practice

Prayer: It’s Not About Us

Will Penner

Santa was the best part of Christmas when I was a kid. I loved going to the mall to sit on his lap and to tell him everything I wanted—things I was absolutely sure would bring me eternal happiness. As I grew older, my tastes changed. The toys and gadgets I sought became more complex and expensive, but I still imagined how much better off I’d be if they were given to me.

In college, I worked at a hotel where the guests expected someone to open doors, to carry their bags, to fetch extra towels, to bring them ice, and to help them get tickets to local events. Many of the guests tipped well, though some felt they were entitled to service.

Human beings naturally want other people to meet their needs, whether for children’s toys or adult conveniences. We like being able to go to a drive-through, to order what we want, and to have it delivered in seconds. The problem is that we often treat God the same way.

devozine praying circle124820010God is not available to take our order and to deliver it as we wish; to be our hotel concierge, making our lives more comfortable; or to be Santa Claus, giving us everything we think we want.

After spending three years with Jesus, who prayed all the time, the disciples asked him to teach them to pray; and he taught them what we call The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5–15). The disciples didn’t simply pick up a sense of how to pray by being around Jesus. They needed more direct instruction; and I, for one, am grateful.

The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that the focus of prayer is to get in line with God’s will, rather than to treat God as a divine bellhop who is ready to do our bidding. Prayer doesn’t conjure up God to act as a genie or a fairy godmother. Rather, through prayer, we seek to be transformed more and more into God’s image, in which we were initially created.

Asking only for the desires of our heart is an indication of immaturity. Young children often see their parents in terms of what they can do for the kids. As children grow, many begin to see their parents in a different light, appreciating their advice and enjoying their presence as much as their presents.

Similarly, in a relationship with God that is maturing, we decrease and God increases. In our early years, most prayers include only selfish desires, not unlike our letters to Santa. As we grow spiritually, we begin to yearn to be transformed into better people, cleansed of selfish motives and more attuned to God’s character and direction for us. Our prayers reflect our desire to grow. Prayer is not about trying to change God’s mind but rather about being in sync with God’s desires.



patient skateboarder Ftr TSP 100597046One way to mature in prayer is to seek moments throughout the day to connect with God and to re-center ourselves in commitment to God’s will. Choose three to five times in your day when you can pause to ask God to help you cultivate a particular fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), an edifying mindset (Philippians 4:8), or a forgiving spirit (Matthew 6:12b). Those moments could be when you go to your locker between classes, put your keys in the ignition, look at your cell phone, or engage in another habitual practice. Make a commitment to try this practice for two or three weeks; see if your attitude of prayer begins to shift away from asking for what you want and toward trying to discover what God wants.


Will Penner is a husband, father, teacher, youth worker, author, and speaker in Fairview, Tennessee. He’s still learning how to pray with an attitude that focuses more on God and other people than on himself.

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