Intercessions in church and in small groups tend to follow a pretty predictable path: jobs, exams, upcoming events, mission partners and, of course, health needs.
Nothing wrong with praying for such things – nothing at all. But the prayers of the Bible are rarely about such things. They are much more frequently about one’s own, and other people’s relationship with God.
Suppose, says David Powlinson, someone asks you how they might pray for you. And imagine the impact of the following response:-
“I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and have been inattentive and irritable to those nearest and dearest to me. Please pray for me, that I will awaken and turn from my preoccupation with work pressures, recreations, health problems, or money. God promises to help me pay attention to him. Ask him to help me remember and focus. Ask him to help me to take my family and other people to heart. Pray that I will take refuge in him when the pressure is on. The Lord is my refuge, but I’ve been taking refuge in TV and food.”
Most prayer requests, says Powlinson, ask God for external blessings. But biblical prayer will focus on how God can meet us, change us, comfort us, strengthen us.
How can we help one another in this regard? First, by modelling what it’s like to be in touch with our real needs before God. Second, by studying what the Bible shows and tells about prayer. Look at the Lord’s Prayer. Look at the Psalms. In real prayer we stand before God in the reality of our need for mercy, guidance, strength.
We will find (and this was Powlinson’s starting-point) that biblical praying opens up possibilties for biblical counselling.