This post is adapted from an article I wrote for Pray! magazine, Issue 62, Sep/Oct 2007.
Why are you asking Me for that? I sensed the Lord inquiring recently when I was praying a well-worn request for an area of my life that needed His sanctifying touch. It seemed to be an odd question. I wasn’t sure I’d heard Him right. But I responded, just in case.
Well, Lord, because it’s the right thing to ask. You want me to be free of this unChristlike character trait, don’t You?
As He often does, He answered with another question: But how about you? Do you want to be free of it? Are you asking Me to touch this area of your life because you really want me to, or because you feel obligated to pray that I will?
I realized I was having a real-life experience of Proverbs 20:27: “The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being.” As I got painfully honest with myself, I realized I didn’t want what I was asking for all that badly. I was praying out of a sense of duty. So, following David’s example in Psalm 51:6, I asked the Lord to teach me truth and wisdom in my inward being.
The Holy Spirit showed me many things that afternoon—misunderstandings that needed correcting, hurts that needed healing, and His perspective on a situation I’d been viewing in only two dimensions. He showed me how I could pray about the issue I’d brought to Him earlier in a way that would not only be honest but would also reflect my heart’s desire. In fact, by the time we were done interacting on the topic, I realized I had a deep, God-honoring desire I had not recognized previously. As I began praying according to that desire, my prayers gained an amazing new fervency. I was praying about the same issue, but now my heart was fully engaged.
When I had this experience with the Lord, I didn’t realize I was living out what François Fénelon, a 17th-century French theologian had said more than 300 years ago. Fénelon went so far as to say, “He who asks what he does not from the bottom of his heart desire is mistaken in thinking that he prays.”
God wants to give me the desire of my heart (Psalm 37:4). My deepest and truest desires, I believe, come from the Holy Spirit. It’s only as I—by the help of God’s Spirit—recognize what those God-given desires are that I can really put my heart into my praying.