What does the Bible say about it?
Intercessory prayer is when you petition God for someone else. Petitionary prayer is about you and your needs. The old King James Version called it supplication.
Let’s use the question-and-answer format for clarity and conciseness.
1.. Why Must We Ask?
God commands it.
In Matt. 7:7-11, Jesus issued the command to ask, seek and knock. Those are present tense imperatives—keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on asking. Everyone who asks receives, everyone who seeks finds, and everyone who knocks has the door open for him. God is willing to give you good things, if you ask him for them.
We have our own needs.
Phil. 4:19 says that God will supply our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Those needs are not only spiritual, but also material.
We should follow the example of God’s inspired people of Scripture.
1 Chron. 16:4 says that David appointed Levites to minister before the LORD, to petition the LORD.
In Dan. 6:11 spies went to find out whether Daniel was keeping the decree to bow down to Darius. They found him praying and asking God for help. If he needed to do that, then how much more do we?
In Dan. 9:17-18, the prophet and administrator Daniel was interceding for his people before God. But he was also asking or petitioning God for himself.
2.. How Must We Ask?
We ask in faith.
In Mark 11:24, Jesus said that if we had the faith as small as a mustard seed, we would see our prayers answered. We also need to speak to the mountain. Speaking in prayer is important.
In John 14:12-14, Jesus said that if we ask anything in his name, he will answer. What does it mean to ask in his name? His name stands in for his person and character. You must ask for things according to his person and character. Don’t ask for selfish things with selfish and bad motives.
We ask with thanksgiving.
Phil. 4:6 says that we are not to be anxious about anything, but with prayer and petition, and thanksgiving, we present our request to God.
We ask in Jesus’s name.
John 14:6, 13 says that we can ask anything in Jesus’s name and he will answer. But be cautious. Jesus’s name stands in for his person and character. We must ask things according to those two aspects. His name is not a blank check. It must be treated with respect and awe.
John 15:16 says that the disciples did not choose him, but he chose them. Purpose: so that they would bear fruit, not only in their character, but in their witness. Then whatever they ask of the Father in Jesus’s name, he will give it to them. Does this verse apply to us? Of course.
John 16:23-24 says that in those days, his Father would give them anything they ask in Jesus’s name that their joy will be complete. This applies to us, also.
We ask without worry.
In Matt. 6:25-34, Jesus gives a long teaching about no anxiety. There’s no need to worry about food, clothing, and shelter. Just seek first his kingdom, then all these things will be added to you (v. 33).
In Luke 12:22-31, Luke records the same teaching (probably delivered at different times), and adds that the Father has been pleased to give you his kingdom (v. 32).
3.. For What Do We ask?
We ask for daily bread (Matt. 6:11).
We can ask for God’s provision, but not out of anxiety, but in faith that our loving Father wants to give us those things, even the entire kingdom (Matt. 6:11)
We ask for forgiveness (Matt. 6:12).
In the Lord’s Model Prayer, God would forgive our debts or trespasses against him, as we forgive our debtors or those who trespass against us. It’s a two-way street God forgives us, as we forgive others (Matt. 6:12).
Don’t accept the unbiblical teaching circulating throughout the church, especially in America, that says we don’t need to ask for forgiveness, but just confess that Jesus is our righteousness. Yes, it is beneficial to confess his righteousness, but we also need to confess our sins, as the Spirit prompts us.
See my post:
We pray for freedom from temptation (Matt. 6:13).
That means that God would keep us from the hour of testing, and also deliver us from temptation and the evil one (Matt. 6:13).
We pray for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).
If our dysfunctional fathers know how to give good gifts or not bad ones, then how much more will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Luke 11:13).
We pray for boldness to witness effectively (Acts 4:29-30).
Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin, the highest council and court in Israel, and testified about the name of Jesus. Then they were released and went back to the community and lifted up their prayers to God, so they could boldly proclaim the name of Jesus (Acts 4:29-30).
We can pray for safety in travel (Ezr. 8:21-23).
Ezra gathered the men before returning to Jerusalem and requested that they pray for a safe journey back to the holy city (Ezr. 8:21-23).
We can pray for healing (Is. 38:2; Matt. 4:23).
In Is. 38:2, Hezekiah was told to get his house in order, because he was going to die. He wept and prayed, and God took pity on him. He was healed.
In Matt. 4:23, Jesus healed every disease and sickness among the people. Why not ask him to heal your disease or sickness? Go for it!
James 5:14-15 says:
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. (Jas. 5:14-15)
Those verses lead over into intercessory prayer (praying for someone else), but I quote it here because we are supposed to pray for healing when we are sick. We pray the prayer of faith.
We can pray to have a child (1 Sam. 1:11).
In 1 Sam. 1:11, Hannah, who had been childless, ask God for a child, and her prayer was answered with Samuel.
We can pray for anything (John 14:14).
Jesus said: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” His name stands in for his character and person. You ask for anything that conforms to those two things, not just to fulfill your lusts or spend your answer on your own pleasures or with bad motives (Jas. 4:3).
We surrender and pray according to God will:
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:13-15, NIV)
When we do pray in accordance with his will, he hears us (v. 14) and he answers us with what we had asked (v. 15). Done! Great (conditional) promise.
How does this post help me know God better and pray more effectively?
In the last section, the list of things we can pray for is not exhaustive. As the last point says, we can pray for anything.
It is perfectly legitimate to ask God for things you need. There is nothing selfish per se about praying for yourself, but the big warning is to ask with right motives and not out of anxiety. Ask in faith, according to his will.
Prayer flows out of confidence before God that he will answer because we no longer have an uncondemned heart (1 John 3:19-24; Rom. 8:1); and we know him so intimately that we find out from him what is his will is and then we pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15); we pray with our Spirit-inspired languages and our native languages (1 Cor. 14:15-16). But that’s what all believers should do; however, too often theory outruns practice. Pray! For a theology on how to respond when God does not answer our prayers, as when James was executed by Herod, see Acts 12 and the very last Observations for Discipleship section.
At that link look for the NIV Study Bible.